We start STILL ANOTHER MONTH with a trail ride! I am in heaven! Sara and Kim, and Sparky and Ava take off into the park with my peddling along on my bike. You have to understand – I love my bike!
Anyway, today is the third time that Ava has ridden off the ten acres untethered. Because I am setting the pace, they both enjoy a great deal of trotting. I take a video of Sparky trotting along side me on a narrow woodland path but, when she becomes unsettled with the rattle of my bike baskets, she bolts twenty or thirty feet to catch up with Sara. Ava handles it really well. Halfway down the path, we see a truck coming our way. This is an off-road trail with “no motorized vehicles allowed” posted at both ends. I pull out my camera to grab a photo before realizing it is a couple of park custodians. As we visit, I notice that an unknown hiker has stuck a turkey feather into a tree. Sparky and Ava go back to retrieve it.
September 2 ~ This is a wonderful morning. I am walking Ruby out for her morning grain. We stop for a treat at the outside front and back of the east pen. Ruby’s wheelbarrow is waiting for us, forty-seven paces beyond the back of the horse pen. There is a low, quiet breeze but she takes no notice as she enjoys her grain. Afterward, she grazes for better than five minutes before we head quietly back to the arena. A wonderful morning. Inside the arena, she circles once at walk on the longe. When I ask for the “tttttttttttt” of the trot, I can see that she recognizes the pending request. I call it a request – not a command. When I quietly raise the switch a good three feet away from her hip and ask, “ttttttt-trot, she picks it up! GREAT! She trots ten steps and I ask her to stop and give her a treat. On the second request, she trots a full circle before I ask her to stop; and on the final request she circles THREE TIMES before I ask for the stop. I lavish her with praise and huge head scrubs. We the collect the toy bin from the causeway, and I dump the six toys into the arena. As she picks each up, I identify it by name and ask her to give it to me – Bag, Bottle, Spool, Redball, Bone, and BooBoo. I drop each toy into the bin as she goes for the next. When we are finished, I walk the tub to near the causeway door. She picks each toy from the tub and gives it to me. I toss them into the causeway and slide the door closed when we are done. Much time as passed and I still need to pick pens.
September 3 ~ Ruby and I enjoy a pleasant breakfast on the trail. She trots BOTH WAYS on the longe. Picking her six toys in and out of the tub THREE TIMES leads to boredom. This morning, while standing on the box, I lean the farthest I have yet over her back. I have to stack the blue mounting steps on the box to reach my knee onto her back.
September 4 ~ Ruby breakfasts on the trail nicely, and trots on the longe. Kim and Ava find a deer antler on the trail while riding the back ten. Someone has dragged it onto my property and chewed through to the marrow; but I add it to my collection of earthy things, nonetheless. Ava decides she is old enough to assist with the ABC game; and she plays with Ruby and her six toys.
September 5 ~ Ruby again breakfasts nicely on the trail. Her longe line trotting is not as nice as yesterday. She prances a few steps before stopping to ask for her treat. All four girls play the ABC game – none particularly well. But, as you know, I have been incredibly inconsistent. After putting Sara and Sparky out for hay, I gather just two toys – Redball and BooBoo. Standing outside Ruby’s stall, I ask her to touch one or the other a half-dozen times. She does poorly, spending most her time trying to grasp Redball’s rope – landing on the correct request randomly. I clean all four of her feet in her stall and then strap on the surcingle. I leave her in her stall while I take Zena out to join Sara and Sparky. When I ask Ruby to come out, she hesitates at her stall door – head out but body in. She does not want to come through with the surcingle on – clearly remembering her fear from when she came through the tack room door with the western saddle some time ago. Finally, she gingerly steps through the door and, quivering slightly, takes her treat. She then bolts out of the arena and into the outside pen, racing and bucking the entire perimeter. Bummer. She returns, running into the arena before coming to a panting stop at her mother, who is still standing by the door. Together, they walk to the hay rack in the outside pen. It takes me fifteen minutes to pick the arena and pens. When I pass Ruby with the wheelbarrow, I stop and give her a treat. She has worry curls in her brow, so I wipe my hand over her eye and tell her she’s okay. After picking, I return to the outside hay rack, give Ruby a treat, and ask whether she would like me to remove the surcingle. I pull the securing leather loose and give her a treat. I finish the unbuckling, and give her another treat. I then pull the surcingle off, the cinch coming up the far side and over her back, and give her a treat. We stand for a moment so that she can mouth the leather before I return it to the tack room.
September 6 ~ Today would be my parents’ anniversary. Dad died in 1988 and mom in 1996. I wonder what they would think if they knew I was STILL so consumed with horses. If you have read my “about” page, then you know I grew up the middle of six kids in a subdivision. By the time I was sixteen, we had surely outgrown that house, and my dad wanted to move to a lake where he could have a boat. Instead, they bought a ramshackle farmhouse on ten acres where I got my first horse. Dad said we could not afford a house on a lake and, maybe, that was true. When I was twenty-nine and divorcing, I sold two of my horses and leased one out. But, I brought my four-year-old stallion home to the little barn where I had kept my first horse. It was clear that dad felt good that he could stack hay in the barn for me again.
In the afternoon, my niece-Denise comes for a trail ride. She arrives quite upset about something – don’t remember what – but we take a long slow walking tour of the park and she comes back relaxed. In the evening, the girls and I play ABC’s. After watching a Facebook video of a dog dancing in time with his young owner – to Celtic music, no less – I decide to teach Ruby to copy me. No consistency with me, as you can see. We lift our left and right feet, and move forward and backward in step.
Septemer 7 ~ Brrrrr! It is chilly today – especially for early September. Instead of walking Ruby down the trail for breakfast, I take her to the tack room. She has not been in here for a while, and Bill will be coming tomorrow to trim hooves. After clipping her ratty mane (Kim will shoot me), she lets me pick and clean all four feet. In the arena, I have her pick the toys off the ground and put them in the blue toy bin – then have her take them out of the bin and put them in a black hay tub. She only wants to trot on the longe a few steps before stopping for a treat. Hmmm. We play “copy me” – left and right foot lifts, walk forward and back, and front leg crossovers. I have my hand on her lead right up by her halter, and she is more interested in my hand being there than in paying attention. Still, after a dozen tries, we end on a really good right foot cross over left. When I put the horses out, Zena stays in to investigate the toys. They are still in the black hay tub. She touches only before asking for a treat. When she actually mouths one, I comply with a treat; but she never actually picks one up.
Bill trims hooves in the tack room on September 8. I show him my verbal and visual cues for asking Ruby to pick up her feet; and he is impressed when Ruby lifts her front left. Before starting the back, I ask Bill that, if Ruby pulls away, to please let her put it down, walk back up front, look her in the eye, and tell her you need to pick up the back foot. He says, “Well, okay…” She pulls away, he follow my request and, on the second try, she holds it for him nicely! I have to admit though, for the other back foot, I feed her lots of treats while he works. But, all-in-all, he admits she behaved much better.
I do little with the horses on September 9, because Ollie’s mom, Connie, is going to bicycle with me, before it gets too hot. But, Ruby and I still get out for our trail breakfast. I am actually being rather consistent! In the afternoon, Judy arrives from Traverse City and we spend the evening sitting with the girls.
September 10 ~ Wow. I do little with the horses again this morning. I jinxed myself by boasting that I was being consistent. Kim has convinced me to head off to a local lake to join her for a stand-up paddle board lesson. I surprise myself by balancing on the board for a good hour. But, just as we are coasting into shore, I turn to say something to the instructor and land on my butt. I suppose the experience was enjoyable, but do not understand why someone would rather do that than glide along in a kayak.
September 11 ~ Gary has never been to Niagara Falls, and I have not since, like, the fourth grade. So, Kim cares for the horses while we take off for a few days. She cares for the girls as if they were her own – giving them time to graze outside every day. As each year passes, I find myself thinking less that I “own” these horses. I would rather say they are in my care. Or, that I am responsible for them. I even had a problem writing the September 9 entry about “Ollie’s mom, Connie.” If you remember, Ollie is the beautiful chestnut gelding who needed his pen posts replaced. Connie is clearly not Ollie’s mom, but I could not bring myself to type the word “owner.” The word “partner” seems to encroach on our husbands. Maybe, I will call them “buddies.” But, they are so much more than that. At any rate, as much as Gary and I enjoy Niagara Falls, all the pavement hurts his feet and he gets winded walking the long and rolling paved paths along the Niagara River. We find ourselves resting often.
Wende comes down early on September 16 to enjoy breakfast with the horses. We walk Ruby down the path – something I have not done for almost two weeks. This is the first time a second person joins us. Ruby is comfortable with Wende, and we enjoy our time together.
September 17 ~ Wende comes down early again and we walk Ruby down the path for breakfast again – another good morning. She leaves me with pieces of Plexiglas left over from one of her projects – for me to use on the window of my tool room slider. Plexigas is expensive and I appreciate her gift.
September 18 ~ Kim brings her friend Karen over for a trail ride. She reminds me that Karen rode here last year – so, why do I not remember? I recall her visiting, but do not remember her on the trails. She enjoyed the paddle-board lesson with us last Sunday, so we have had time to visit. Instead of including Sparky in the ride, I pull out my bicycle. I want the exercise, and Sparky does not need to carry our weight,. After saddling and mounting, it is pretty clear that Karen does not have good command of the reins. I am glad I opted for my bike. On the trail she says, “I never rode out here last year. I just walked Sara around the pen.” Kim says, “Really???” We enjoy a good ride with good conversation but, if there were to be an emergency, Karen would be hard-pressed to collect Sara. The next day, she is so saddle sore that she can barely walk.
September 22 ~ What a wonderful morning! Ruby walks waaaay down the path for her breakfast without a second thought. She is so relaxed that I kneel down by her tub while she eats. It is just a great morning. Later, an electrician examines the arena and offers a quote to replace ballasts in two of the arena lights ($350); and to install wiring and an outlet for the winter water tank ($500).
September 23 ~ What can I say? It is just another super wonderful morning. Ruby walks quietly to her grain tub, better than halfway to the back of the ten. (You may have noticed that, at some point, I traded out the wheelbarrow for a tub that I just leave out back.) Often, she drops her head to smell the trail. I wonder what-all has walked along there during night. I kneel as she eats her breakfast and, when she is finished, I have to actually encourage her to stop grazing in order to walk back up to the barn. An old friend, Jeannie, is visiting from Alabama, so I am on a timeline.
To make the day even better, Andy brings the twins, Reagan and Taylor, for an overnight. Taylor practices her archery in the back yard – darting among the trunks of tall pines as she aims her arrows toward a target on a hay bale. It is too hot to ride; but we play fetch with Ruby and get a rare precious video of Taylor with the horses.
Reagan’s severe cerebral palsy keeps her up at the house, listening to sports with Gary. But, at day’s end, I slide a roll-away between my bed and the window so that I can hold hands with her. The rhythmic hum of her tube feeder lulls us off to sleep.
On September 25, Gary and I drive two hours to visit the Grand Rapids ARTPRIZE International art fair because Bill, my farrier, has a HUGE metal art sculpture on display.
September 28 ~ Ruby and I have a wonderful morning on the breakfast trail. We stay out for a good ten minutes after she finishes her grain.
I lay the lead over her back and walk off into the sumac bushes; and she follows. We meander slowly back to the barn. Wonderful.
It is raining on September 29, so Ruby and I enjoy her breakfast in the tack room. I have stored the summer tools away to make more room for her.
September 30 ~ Just another good day on the breakfast trail. Instead of attaching the twelve-foot lead, I just thread a short, thin rope through her halter ring – wondering whether I need more rope. Traditional training suggests that the rope be long enough that, should she bolt, I would have time to brace myself before she reaches the end – and sturdy enough that I might wrap it around a tree to break her bolt. But, if I would not do either of those things, to a friend or to my horse, then I might as well have a less cumbersome lead. And, it will keep the twelve-foot from dragging on the ground. The field is busy this morning. We hear squirrels in the trees, and autumn leaves are falling all around us. A bee busies itself in the weeds around the base of the grain tub. On the way back to the barn, Ruby gives me “worry eyes.” I think there are just too many little noises out here today. I let her stop to listen when she feels the need, and give her a couple treats. When we reach the back of the horse pen, she bolts for the arena. It is nice to know she is not dragging the twelve-food rope with her. When I walk into the arena, she is playing with the empty grain servers I left in the causeway. I small talk with her while removing her halter and then go about my business of picking the arena and pens. The thought of punishing her for bolting does not cross my mind. I must be learning to relax. Other horse handlers might just say I am stupid.
In the afternoon, Sara, Kim, Sparky, Ava, Bike, and I head way out into the park. We keep Ava out there for a good two hours. Last fall, we told her that, if she wanted to trail ride this summer, she would have to stop begging to ride the big horses and get to know Sparky. Well, it sure has paid off because Ava has enjoyed a great first summer on the trails.
Try to remember the kind of September, when days are mellow and leaves so yellow…