Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wacky Weekend Weather: From Shirt Sleeves to Eight Inches of Snow in Three Days

Wacky Weekend Weather: From Shirt Sleeves to Eight Inches of Snow in Three Days

After several weeks of lousy weather and mud, Saiph and I had a two-day window of decent weather so we decided to log some miles.  On Friday, we rode through the 1,000-acre Tusc Farm behind our barn.  It was a beautiful, but chilly afternoon with temperatures in the 40s.  I was wearing three shirts and a hoodie under my safety vest.  

Photo by Saiph of Tusc fields in January
We set out about 3 pm and so were grateful for the extra hour of Daylight Savings Time.  The late afternoon is one of my favorite times to ride at Tusc Farm because the sun low in the sky casts a magical glow over the expansive fields.     
We walked and trotted for much of the ride, but the hills were just too tempting.  With the simple word “up,” Queenie and Lily broke into an easy canter.   

Now, I have to say at this point that when I adopted Queenie, I didn’t mind that she was an older (17) horse because as I stated repeatedly, “I’m too old to do anything more than walk, trot.” Truthfully, I think I was too scared to go faster than a trot.

Every time I was thrown from a horse as a young rider, it was while cantering.  The first few times I cantered on Queenie, I swear my stomach dropped to my shoes.  No way that I wanted to be that scared.  

Well, after a few times cantering and hanging on desperately to the saddle horn, I found my seat.  After I cantered once without holding on to the horn, I was hooked.  I was Annie Oakley (minus the guns) cantering through the Old West.   

So with my new-found confidence and a huge grin on my face, we cantered up any hill we could find.  We explored new trails and areas for a total of 10 miles.  Six months ago, I never dreamed that I would be going on such lengthy—and fast--rides!  Queenie and I are working up to participating in a 25-mile endurance ride in June.     

Over the Bridge and Through the Tunnel to the Porta-John We Go!

On Saturday, it felt like Spring arrived with temperatures in the 60s.  Finally, I could ride in short sleeves rather than multiple layers!   We loaded the girls in the trailer and drove the five miles to the Agricultural History Farm Park.  

The park has over 20 miles of trails.  I had ridden one section a number of times when Queenie was at Millhaven Farm but Saiph was somewhat familiar with a different part of the park.  I always admire Saiph’s sense of direction and am glad that Lily likes to take the lead.  I’m pretty sure that I would end up riding in circles!

The trails had several interesting obstacles but our girls were up to the challenge.  First, we rode across a wooden bridge.  Farther down the trail, we arrived at a tunnel that goes under a major highway.  Lily was a bit hesitant to enter the dark hole but with some gentle prodding, she bravely stepped in.  Queenie had no problem following her.  In fact, Queenie hates being separated from Lily on the trail (but doesn’t hesitate to bite her best buddy if Lily should pass too close to Queenie’s stall).  

We had crossed streams but when Queenie seemed to look longingly at the water flowing through the tunnel, we searched for an area where the horses could drink.  It wasn’t easy because the banks of the stream were fairly steep but the formerly water-resistant Lily again said, “I’ll go first” and Queenie followed her.  

As we came out of the woods, we gave the “up” command and the girls cantered happily up the hill.  That would turn out to cause a few moments of panic later in the ride. 

We were on the edge of a large cornfield and Saiph said that she had always wanted to ride around the entire cornfield.  Sounded like a great idea to me!  Before we started that portion of the ride, however, I suggested we go up to the barn area of the park where I knew they had necessary facilities (i.e., porta-johns).  We rode up and Saiph remarked that because everything was closed, it felt like riding into an Old West ghost town (if you pretended that all the huge John Deere equipment wasn’t parked near the barn, that is). 

We took turns holding the horses and then walked over to a nearby picnic table to use as a mounting block.  Even on a three-step mounting block, I sometimes have trouble getting my foot into the stirrup.  Picnic-table height is perfect for a just-south-of-60 rider.  I immediately started thinking about building a taller mounting block for the farm!

As we started around the cornfield, I realized I didn’t have my cellphone.  I had put it in one of my saddlebags and I knew immediately that the last canter up the hill must have sent the phone sailing!  We rode back to the “ghost town” and quickly realized it wasn’t there.  As we were headed back to the field, two riders (cavalry to the rescue!) came toward us and when I asked if they had seen a cell phone, they said they had put it in my trailer.   Whew!  I could stop worrying about lost contacts and photos! 

Thankfully, the rest of our ride was uneventful and by the end of the weekend, we had logged another 17 miles.  

And this was what Monday morning looked like:


Monday, March 10, 2014

Welcome to Horse Ownership and Here's Your Vet Bill

The first few weeks after adopting Queenie seemed like a flurry of spending—saddle, bridle, blankets, grooming equipment, etc., etc., etc.   My friend Phoebe and I ran from one vendor booth to the next at the Maryland Horse Expo scooping up necessities and the occasional “you don’t really need it but…” item.  

I knew that a trailer was on my “someday” list but when I stopped by the Blue Ridge Trailer Sales exhibit at the Expo and saw a new trailer for below what I had set as my budget, I signed on the dotted line.   A week or so later, I found just the right truck to pull it—a huge (used) Dodge Ram pickup.  

Whew!   I’ve got everything I need so I’m ready to start riding the trails, near and far.  

But within a few days of moving Queenie to the boarding barn, I got my first introduction to those surprise vet bills that all horse owners know and dread.  Queenie came in from the field one evening with a swollen, watery eye.  I called the vet for an emergency visit (my introduction to the “barn call” fee).   As the vet examined Queenie, I started hearing the sound of a cash register and seeing dollar signs!

Queenie had apparently scratched her eye on a fence and had a corneal abrasion.  The vet prescribed eye drops and two follow-up visits.  Cha-ching.  Total cost = $500 and a few days of stall rest.  

Okay, now let the fun begin. 

Not so fast.  As soon as her right eye was healed, Queenie came in from the field with her left eye swollen and watery.  Another emergency vet visit, more drops, and you guessed it, another $500.  I was starting to get a cramp in my hand from writing checks.

Our best guess was that Queenie was allergic to something in the field that was making her eyes itchy.  

Not wanting either Queenie or my wallet to suffer any more, I started Googling.   I needed something that would offer protection from allergens and yet was comfortable for Queenie to wear.  After all, if she was annoyed by something around her face, she would be even more likely to scratch against the fence.   The eye protection would also need to hold up to horse high jinks.  Halter tag seemed to be a favorite game among several of the horses in Queenie’s field.  

I searched websites but none seemed to have quite what I wanted.  And that’s when I found Big Dee’s Tack and Vet Supplies.  Big Dee’s carries tack for thoroughbred and harness racing.  
This nylon hood fit securely

Bingo!!  They had a nylon hood that would fit securely around Queenie’s face and secure with Velcro.  Big Dee’s also carries hard plastic goggles in clear and colors (I got clear) that Queenie would be able to see through but that would be impervious to pollen or other allergens.  

I ordered both.  I had to remove the half cups that came with the hood and sew on the goggles.  I put my creation on Queenie and discovered something very important about my girl.  She is incredibly patient.  I could almost hear her sigh and say, “Okay, Mom.  If you want me to wear this ridiculous outfit, I’ll do it for you.”  

I admit that I worried that when this goggle-eyed creature walked out to the field with the other horses, they would either run in terror or attack.  After all, your average horse can be scared of a rock, piece of paper, or a shadow at any given point in time.  Luckily, her field buddies just gave her a “gee, what happened to you?” look and went on grazing.  

Queenie dutifully wore her unique mask and consumed 20 antihistamine tablets daily in her feed.  

When an article by John Kelley appeared in the Washington Post describing his problems with spring allergies, I wrote and said, “You think you’ve got it bad.  Look at my poor horse.”   

Queenie and her goggles were featured in the following short article in the April 24, 2012 issue of the Washington Post

 Sad is the life of the goggle-clad, corneally abraded,  pollen-allegic equine, such as poor Queenie here of Silver Spring, who kept rubbing her itchy eyes on fence posts. Hopefully she feels a bit better after the recent rains.
Glasses half full

John Kelley
Washington Post, April 24, 2012
I take some small credit for the recent rain, which came on the heels of my column about itchy, pollen-afflicted eyes. Just like washing one’s car (as I also did last week), writing about pollen is sure to bring a pollen-cleansing shower. 

Many readers sent me suggestions for dealing with spring allergies, from eyedrops to drugs to ice-cold washcloths. 

Silver Spring’s Kathy L. said it isn’t only humans who suffer this time of year.
“My horse has sustained two corneal abrasions after rubbing her itchy eyes on a fence,” she wrote. 

Kathy attached a photo of her solution. In addition to taking 20 antihistamine tablets daily, her horse, Queenie, wears goggles 24-7. They make her look like a fly. (A horsefly?)

By the way, Queenie came to Kathy after a career as an arabber’s horse. Those are the peddlers who sell produce on the streets of Baltimore from horse-drawn carts.


With some trepidation, I gave Queenie a break from her masked “Superhorse” look after two months.  Whatever had caused the problem seemed to be gone or Queenie had acclimated because she never had another allergic episode.  

I personally think the eye-scratching episodes were Queenie’s way of saying, “This isn’t going to be cheap, Mom.  Are you going to stick with me?”   Absolutely.  

And as you will learn in future posts, Queenie’s eye issues were the least of the problems (and the bills) we’ve faced. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Let the Blogging Begin!

I honestly never gave much (okay, any) thought to writing a blog.  I’m a freelance writer and editor. Why would I want to write in my spare time (what little there is)?  

But then I began reading my friend and riding buddy’s blog, Waiting for the Jump.  I realized that Saiph’s blog was pretty much a diary of so many things about owning her horse—fun rides, training for an endurance ride, health issues, etc.   I’ve learned so much since adopting Queenie that I wish I had kept notes.  

The more I talked with Saiph about her blog, I also realized that the equine blogging community is incredibly supportive of each other.  Mention that your horse has a sore back, and you immediately get feedback, information, and best wishes for a speedy recovery from fellow bloggers.   Saiph has blogging friends all over the country who have shared their experiences in endurance riding while she trains for her first event in April.  She’s received invaluable advice about everything from the best saddlebags to use to what she should eat during the upcoming 50-mile ride.  

Riding the Manassas Battlefield trail

What finally convinced me to start blogging?  Saiph and Gail (The Journey to 100 Miles) became “friends who have never met” through their blogs.  A few weeks ago, Saiph arranged to meet Gail at the Manassas Battlefield Park.  Queenie and I went along.  While Saiph and Gail did a faster, longer ride, I rode with Gail’s friend who had a wonderful Irish Draft cross.  It was such an enjoyable ride and again, I realized the power of blogs to connect people who might ordinarily never meet.  

So I am beginning my blogging journey today.  In future posts, I’ll recount Queenie’s and my riding adventures and I’ll look back on some of the joys and difficulties we’ve encountered over the past two years.  

Who knows, now that I've made yet another foray into social media, I might go really crazy and try that Twitter thing.