Saturday, February 12, 2011

In which Fiddle gets a Piratical haircut: "Chewed On By Bilgerats"

We are stepping up the "training miles" as much and as often as my work schedule and the weather allows, and Fee's winter hair is a hinderance:

(five miles into an 8.5 mile ride, and she is lathered. Weather is sunny and about 40 degrees)

So I dug out the clippers and read the directions:
"Start with a clean, dry horse."


Where in the Swampland will I find a clean, dry horse? Not at Haiku Farm, that's for sure.

Mud face. Sigh.

"Tidy the mane and tail out of the area to be clipped."
After braiding her mane, we venture into territory outside my skill set, as will soon be made obvious.

"Trace the pattern to be clipped onto the animal's body using chalk and a measuring tape for an accurate, even look."
I noticed almost immediately that the picture in the instructions, unlike my horse, didn't have multiple lines on the neck and the butt cheeks. Perhaps my lack of measuring tapage had something to do with that? Nahhhhh.

"Proceed to clip from front-to-back using long, sweeping strokes. Use the smaller blade to trim tight areas such as the throatlatch and face."

Bah hah hah ha ah ah hhaaaah.

Yeah. That didn't happen.

"A checkerboard pattern is sometimes stencilled onto the animal's hindquarters to create visual appeal and an elegant overall picture."

"The finished product: a neat, tidy appearance."
Or in Fiddle's case: "the appearance of having been chewed by rats."

Helpful rats.

Rats who want Fee to be comfortable through the next two months of training in mud.

Rats who love Fiddle no matter how stupid her haircut looks.

Rats who need another cup o' rum before looking at that photo again.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

In which horse trailers are contemplated in some amount of detail

Stacey at the Behind the Bit blog had an interesting post the other day about trailering safety.This was her tongue-in-cheek suggestion:It started a really interesting discussion between her readers. Some were completely paranoid about trailering--absolutely petrified by the mere suggestion. Others are willing to trailer, but have strict rules about frequency and duration of stops (interestingly, some insist on frequent long stops while others shrilly cry that there should be no stops whatsoever).

And then a few endurance riders piped into the conversation.

Endurance riders take transportation seriously. As a general rule, distance riders tend to be rather fanatical about safety. But generally speaking, endurance riders don't freak out at the thought of driving our horses 8 hours or more to get to an event. Some of us do it monthly during the season--or at least as often as we can afford!

I started to wonder why endurance riders have such an unusual attitude towards travelling...and this post is the result of some of the musings.Some of my comfort in trailering comes from familiarity with the equipment. Fiddle and I trailer out at least once per week all year round--and in summer, we load up and head out 3 or 4 times each week whenever possible. I drive the truck a lot, and I haul the trailer a lot. I'm familiar with how it drives and how it handles in all sorts of weather. I know how the rig is supposed to sound and feel, and I'm pretty confident that if it started sounding or feeling wrong, I'd be aware of the wrongness pretty quickly.

I'm also really happy with the rig we have now, too. The 3/4 ton diesel truck has plenty of "tug" to it, and more important than that, it has plenty of brakes. As a friend of mine likes to say: "If the truck won't go, you call a tow truck. If the truck won't stop, you call an ambulance." I know where my preferences lie on that issue.

Something my dad taught me years ago applies here: drive the rig so your passengers won't realize it's moving. I do that, even when I don't have passengers and even when I'm not pulling a trailer. It's good practice, so that when I do have somebody else along for the ride, I give them a nice, smooth journey. Since I don't do jackrabbit starts or slamming stops even in my teeny truck, I don't have to remind myself to avoid those things when I'm towing.

Because she is in the trailer so often, Fiddle doesn't fret about getting in or being in it. It's a familiar, secure place for her--a relatively calm, quiet place with a haybag and an interesting view out the window. Hana is a good traveller as well. This comes from practice and lots of it.

Neither of the mares was particularly good at travelling when we first got them. Hana was so out-of-shape that she was sweaty and exhausted by a journey of any distance--the effort of balancing and staying steady required her to use muscles that had no tone or fitness! I think a lot of people don't remember that the horse doesn't just flop down in the trailer like we do in the truck--they have to work to stay upright in there.

Fiddle didn't have much experience travelling when she came here. Fortunately, I had access to the ultimate horse trailer companion: the Toad. Toad had travelled thousands of miles to competitions in the years before I got Fiddle, and he was completely at home in a horse trailer. Fiddle's first journeys in the trailer, therefore, were alongside the Toad, who taught her to brace her feet, settle her bum against the back wall, snack hay from the haybag and watch the world go by out the window. Fee now enters the trailer with the same eagerness that Toad taught her to have in those first few trips.

What about stopping along the way?

If you're travelling across a state or two (especially in the West, where the states are big!) fuel stops are essential, and rest breaks are important for the health and safety of the driver and the passengers.

We deliberately drink water and tea while travelling so that we are hydrated when we arrive...and also so that we remember to stop and give everyone a break periodically! Fuel stops are an opportunity to offer a carrot, a fistful of grass, or a bucket of water. We also have favorite state rest areas with big grassy "pet walking" areas that are good for a few minutes of grazing for the horses on long trips.

We try to take longer meal breaks in places where we can park the trailer within view of the restaurant windows.I don't worry about anybody stealing Fiddle. Hana would go happily with anyone who called her "pretty", but Fiddle has a very short list of people whom she has authorized to hold her leadrope...and gawd help the unauthorized thief who might try to unload her. Fee would also rip the doors off the rig if some unauthorized person took Hana away from her. Sometimes, having a big bad b*tch mare is a good thing.

Finally, I have to say some nice things about a service provider:US Rider is the only roadside assistance plan that will cover your rig when you are pulling a live load. Triple-A won't touch live animals. State Farm doesn't even want to think about live animals. But when something goes wrong on the road and you call US Rider, the dispatcher who answers the phone will ask as part of the greeting: "Are you and your horses safe?"

I don't know that I've ever mentioned US Rider on this blog, but I've said elsewhere that it is one of the few horse-related bills that I pay every year with a smile. Some years I don't need to call on them for help...but when I do call, they help me. US Rider will tow your truck and your trailer if it won't start or drive. They will cover the cost of roadside repairs if that is a better option. They will replace your flat tire, bring you fuel, or jump your battery at no charge. The people who answer the phone actually know what you mean when you say, "the rig won't start and it's 90 degrees in the shade" and they will start working immediately to make everyone safe. I've rarely written fan letters to service companies before--but I've written one to US Rider. They've saved my butt a couple of times, and they do it promptly and politely. In today's economy, that's worth gold.

What do you think you do well when you're travelling with horses?

What aspects of hauling do you dread?