Thursday, October 30, 2014

MSPCA Beach Ride Recap

Photo by Holly Jacobson, Massachusetts Horse []
The MSPCA Horses Helping Horses Beach Ride was this past Sunday and  though I have attended before in previous years, this was Maggie's first time at the event. Being an MSPCA alumni and all, I was really proud to bring her and show her off as an adoption success story!

Sideways beach ears.
Maggie has been to the beach before, though not this specific beach. Frankly, Salisbury Beach isn't my favorite to ride at (Crane Beach in Ipswich is my favorite, though it's more expensive to ride at) because the sand is so deep it's a lot of work for the horses to walk through.

"Mom, what's are we DOING here?"
The other different thing about this event compared to other times Maggie has been to the beach is the sheer number of horses that are there. This year there were over 160 horses and riders - that's a lot of horses in one space!

Photo by Newburyport Dog Walker []
Maggie and her barnmate/my friend's horse, Rio, we're both absolute champs. I'm not sure how far we made it down the shoreline before we decided to turn around, but I'd say it had to be at least 2 miles. We did some trots and a canter, let them splash in the water, and even walked underneath a very scary pier with minimal hesitation.

So spooky! Photo by my friend, S.
We rode for probably about an hour and a half to two hours and then walked them back to the trailer, stripped their tack, and then took them back out on the sand for some more photo ops.

New FB profile pic, obviously. Photo by my friend, S.

I also wanted to see if Maggie would roll in the sand or in the water, but she surprisingly did not.

The best part of these MSPCA events are seeing the staff and being able to actually show them how far Maggie has come. The farm manager was even there this past weekend, and he hadn't seen Maggie since before she I began fostering her - about 3 years ago I think!

We then got Maggie and Rio settled in the trailers and went over to the pavilion where lunch was being served. The past MSPCA benefits that I have been to have all been catered by a local restaurant called Borelli's which has THE MOST AMAZING WHITE LASAGNA EVER. Seriously, it's that good. So good that it is deserving of all caps. 

(Sidenote: I am happy to report that loading went MUCH better than it did last weekend...I trailered a friend's horse to a show on Saturday and did some loading practice with Maggie while I had the trailer hitched anyway)

I managed to raise $365 thanks to family, friends, and coworkers! And since I raised over $100 I got a lovely t-shirt :) I also bought $4 worth of raffle tickets (because that's what I had in my wallet at the time) and I ended up winning a cool photo of some artsy horseshoes on canvas. I have to go claim it this weekend - I'll post a pic when I get it in the house!

So thanks to all those who made the event a huge success! I believe the grand total amount raised was just under $20,000!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Travel Tuesday - Puerto Rico

The reason you haven't heard much from me lately is because my husband and I traveled to Puerto Rico for a long weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (Oct. 19th). We didn't actually take a honeymoon after our wedding last year, so we were treating this as a sort of anniversary celebration/ belated honeymoon. I'll tell you a little bit about the trip in general and don't worry, I'll throw some horse related things in!

We flew out of Boston on Friday and due to hurricane Gonzalo, which was en route to Bermuda at the time, our flight was delayed a couple hours so that evening after checking into our hotel we really only had time for dinner before I was exhausted and ready to collapse in bed. 

Saturday was my husband's birthday and after room service breakfast (YUM. Rarely will we splurge on something like this, but for birthday/ anniversary/ honeymoon, why the heck not) we headed to the northeast tip of the island to Farjado. 

In Farjado, we went to La Reserva Natural de las Cabezas de San Juan (The Heads of San Juan Nature Reserve) where we had a tour of a mangrove swamp, a rocky beach with some very impressive waves, and finally a tour of the second oldest lighthouse in Puerto Rico. Our guide was very nice and I learned quite a lot about mangroves and how they contribute to the ecosystem. The view from the lighthouse was pretty fantastic and we also saw a ginormous iguana (which I wasn't fast enough to get pictures of unfortunately.)

Looking back towards the island from the lighthouse. Laguna Grade is in the foreground.
The nature reserve is also home to Laguna Grande, one of three bio-luminescent bodies of water on the island, and the largest bio-luminescent lagoon. After our tour of the nature preserve, we drove a little south to a bay where we had reservations for a night kayak tour of the lagoon. We bummed around the little beach town next to the bay until it was time to check in with our tour guides and we got some delicious smoothies (which were called frappes there and really confused us for a minute, because in Massachusetts a frappe is basically an extra thick milkshake.)

When it was time to kayak we started out in Las Croabas bay and then found the opening to the lagoon, which is a mile long river through the mangrove swamp. It was pretty darn dark in there. We had glow sticks on the bow and stern of the kayaks that gave off a little light, but that was all. The water in the lagoon was pretty incredible! Picture blue sparkles coming from around your hand when you dip it in the water. The lagoon is full of a plankton called Dinoflagellates, which, as a defense mechanism, glow blue when the water around them is disturbed. So whenever you stick your hand in the water, or your kayak paddle, or the fish under the water moved...BLUE! Very cool. (No pictures because it was too dark.)

The next day we drove about an hour west to Arecibo, home to the world's largest single aperture radio telescope. (Now that I look back on it, between the bioluminescent lagoon and giant telescope, it was kind of a nerdy trip. That's how we roll.) The Arecibo observatory has been used to map the surface of Venus and incoming asteroids, locate missing satellites, and find quasars and other cosmic objects far far away.

After visiting Arecibo, we went back towards San Juan and stopped at the Bacardi Distillery on the way. We took a tour and yes, there were free samples. No complaints there.

Lastly, we went into Old San Juan as the sun was setting and trekked through the streets in order to get up close to the old fort El Morro. On our way there we accidentally passed through a cat sanctuary and my husband made friends with a few of the residents and I attempted to take pictures in the dwindling light while simultaneously avoiding being rubbed on (I'm really allergic to cats.)

El Morro was beautifully lit up, and even though we couldn't go inside since it was after hours we could still walk all around the outside. 

We ate dinner that night at an amazing restaurant called Marmalade, which I would highly, highly recommend and then that ended our trip since we were off to the airport the next day! (Although, it wasn't quite the end to our trip since our flight Monday got cancelled and we had to get one Tuesday. But whatevs.)

Now, for the horses. Unfortunately, we encountered all of these things while driving and were too slow to get any of my own pictures.

On our way to Farjado, I noticed a small ranch-type place on the side of the road with a big sign out front that said "Ponylandia." The creative naming here obviously intrigued me. We drove right by, never to experience Ponylandia ourselves, but judging from the Google it looks like a place where, essentially, one would rent a horse to ride around on for a little while.

In case anyone is interested, I found a 50% off coupon on what looks like a Groupon-type site:

"Pay $7 instead of $14 for 2 laps and enjoy Ponylandia @ Luquillo"
So there's that.

The next day, as we were driving down the highway towards Arecibo, we passed an interesting horse trailer. The vehicle itself was traveling only around 55 mph, so we easily passed it. Good thing it was going fairly slow too, because it was essentially an open air stock trailer that didn't even have a front wall too it - so all the wind was blowing in the horse's face. The horse was tied facing forwards in the trailer and frankly it seemed pretty calm.

Not my pic, but it was kind of like this:

After we got off the highway the road to the observatory was very rural; it was narrow, winding, and very hilly. We came around a corner at one point and right in front of us were two guys riding Paso Finos down the road.

A little further down the road we passed a horse tied on a long lead rope to a speed limit sign. The horse was enjoying the long grass on the side of the road. There was a house within sight down the road that I guess the horse probably belonged to, but it was just chilling for the time being.

Then on the way back down the same twisty-turny road, we came upon another "horse trailer" except there was no actual trailer involved. Instead, the horse was just loaded in the back of the pickup truck; the walls of the truck bed had some additional metal siding to contain the horse a bit better. I tried to get Dan to take a picture of this but I wasn't about to stop and stare and I did t slow the car enough so we just barely got the horse's butt.

Again, this one isn't my pic but it was like this:

Finally, as we were nearing our hotel back in San Juan, I happened to look to my right as I was driving and noticed a horse cantering alongside the road, inside some sort of industrial park looking place. A hundred yards or so further down the road were two guys with a long rope stretched out between them. I presume they intended to catch the aforementioned loose horse. Frankly, I would have been quite interested in seeing how that worked out for them!

At first when I saw the horse in the open air stock trailer, I was admittedly a little taken aback ("That doesn't look very safe!") Seeing horses in these settings is certainly out of the norm for me, but it's a reminder that different people do things differently. And I got to thinking about the least the open air one...I bet they had minimal difficulty loading that horse. We ask a lot of our horses to get into these dark, enclosed boxes... And in fact, neither the horse in the trailer or in the back of the truck looks the least bit nervous. 

One more thing, completely unrelated to Puerto Rico: While I was Googling "horse in pickup truck" I found the most adorable Lego horse trailer. Where was this when I was a kid?

Want. But never load your horses into an unhitched trailer, kids.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm Back!

It's been a full week since my last post. This is partly because my husband and I went away for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary (more on this another time - a Travel Tuesday post perhaps?) and partly due to the fact that work is sucking my soul a little bit right now.

I haven't ridden Maggie since Pipestave two Sundays ago now. She's probably been enjoying her little vacation, but I think she was pretty happy to see me when I came from the airport to the barn the other day. 

We've been getting heavy rain and wind from a Nor'easter yesterday and today so the ring is completely sloppy. I probably won't get the chance to ride until this weekend.

On Saturday there is a two-phase at a local farm that I think I'll be trailering a barnmate to. When I get back from that I'll probably do a little remedial trailer loading with Maggie. I don't want a repeat of the Mule Moment from Pipestave. 

Sunday is the MSPCA Beach Ride, which I'm very much looking forward to! (There's still time to donate if you feel so inclined!)Then the following Sunday (Nov 2) me and a friend will be doing a local hunter pace. I've never done a hunter pace before, so I'm excited to see what it's all about! 

How is thee only one weekend left in October? Geez.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Shameless Plug for the MSPCA Beach Ride

In just a few weeks I plan to take Maggie  up to the annual Horses Helping Horses Beach Ride fundraiser, an 8 mile trek along Salisbury Beach to benefit the MSPCA at Nevins Farm.

For anyone unfamiliar with Maggie's story, she was seized by the MSPCA from a case of neglect in 2011. You can read much more about her story and how I came to adopt her by clicking on the "About Maggie" tab in the navigation bar above.
Maggie - February 2011 (Photo courtesy of the MSPCA)

Maggie - May 2014
Suffice to say here though, that I am so obsessed with this horse (you may have noticed) and am incredibly thankful to the MSPCA equine staff, the volunteers there, and the foster home that she went to before me for their incredible work with this mare and all the other horses that come to them.

The MSPCA at Nevins Farm is one of the largest equine rescues in the area, and they are the only full-service rescue center in New England for surrendered, abused, or injured horses. 
In 2012, the MSPCA took in a herd of around 30 neglected miniature horses. (That's me on the left applying flea powder during a volunteer day.) Photo by The Eagle Tribune.
In addition to their adoption services, the MSPCA also has an equine ambulatory service that provides transport of injured horses to veterinary hospitals. They also regularly provide training to first responders about how handle horses in emergency situations (trailer accidents, stuck/down horses.) In addition, they provide outreach to the community with seminar series and summer camps.

But wait there's more! Not only is Nevins Farm home to rescued horses, they also take in other farm animals such as chickens, geese, pigs, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, and cows. In fact, Maggie isn't the only animal that I've adopted from the MSPCA: I also adopted a goat, Billy Boomer, through them. He was surrendered after living a portion of his early life in the basement of a city apartment. He's the loveiest goat ever and even played a role in getting me and my husband together :)

Billy Boomer, wearing a hat he made for himself out of a shavings bag.
Money raised through the Horses Helping Horses Beach Ride will specifically benefit the MSPCA Equine and Farm Animals Center and help other horses like Maggie (and goats like Billy) to thrive and find find loving homes. 

I am extremely excited to bring Maggie to the beach ride this year as an "alumni" and show her off! She's living proof of the potential that rescue horses have to be someone's perfect companion :)

Visit my donation page HERE.

Read more about the MSPCA HERE and more about Horses Helping Horses HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WNRDC Pipestave Hill Horse Trials 10/12/14

I'm going to start out with this pic (even though it's a spoiler) because Maggie's expression here so perfectly sums up the day:

3rd overall out of a class of 9 is really not bad, I know, but it's tough cause I feel like we could have done so much better. 

We started the day with what I think is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to equestrians, particularly when you're on your way to a show: the dreaded refusal to get on the trailer. Yes, Maggie the Mule made an appearance. I don't know what got into her, but she wanted NOTHING to do with the trailer that morning. It was the most trouble I've ever had with her getting on the trailer. I'll spare you the nitty-gritty details, but by the time I got her loaded I was sweating, shaking, and had a bit of a sinking feeling in my gut. Apparently Maggie and I were not going to see eye to eye today. Why? I still do not know. Even so, off we went to the show. 

We were running about 25 minutes behind schedule and, wouldn't you know it, the show was running about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Just as I had mounted up and was walking over to the dressage warm-up I heard my name being called over the loudspeaker that I was wanted at dressage check-in. I continued to make my way over and was informed by the steward that I was actually on deck. Nice. Fortunately, they don't force you to go earlier than your scheduled time and I still had around 15-20 minutes left. Not that that made me feel any less pressured to rush the warm-up. 

Now, I'm still trying to figure Maggie out in terms of what she needs for warm-up. I think I'm finding out that it really just depends on the day. We've had times where she was so relaxed that warm-up took only 10 minutes and there have been other times where she's been so tense and high strung that I felt like she could have used a whole hour. This time I was getting an in-between read on her. There was some of the normal tenseness at the start, then she settled down a bit and started to give. 

Getting more relaxed now
So I spent around 10 minutes trying to get her to come forward and soften, all while guiltily glancing at the ring steward every so often. With about 5 minutes until my actual start time I decided she felt ok and told the ring steward I was ready to go in. (The steward was super nice by the way, and didn't make me feel rushed at all, it was just the situation that had me flustered.)
Decent canter
So we trotted around the area until the bell rang and then down the center line we went. I went to track left at C and only then did I really notice how much leg I was using. Like, I was using a LOT of leg. I have never had to use this much leg on Maggie before. She felt like a pluggy old school horse. My gas pedal had suddenly disappeared. This became especially evident when I asked her to pick up a canter and we failed to pick it up between K and embarrassing. And she had been doing SO well with canter transitions lately. Then, to make a crappy canter even crappier, I just couldn't keep her going through the entire circle and she fell back into the trot. How embarrassing...again. We got 5's on the whole trot/canter, canter 20 m, canter/trot series. 

The rest of the rest was more of the same: leg, leg, leg, leg, leg. It was also accentuated at the walk. She usually slows down quite a bit at the walk because she thinks it's break time (something I'm trying to work on with her) and it was even more apparent this time. If you look at the video you can really see me working at it during the free walk. For the right lead canter I was at least prepared for what was coming and was able to get her to pick it up in time and hold it.

The first time I watched this video back my immediate reaction was, "Ok, it's not quite as ugly as I thought." We're not holding contact as steadily as I'd like, but at least she's not running around like a giraffe. The second time I watched it was I noticed just how much I'm visibly kicking her. Like, every. single. stride. When schooling at home I usually ride with a dressage whip. I don't use it often, but it's handy to have for getting a little more responsiveness when I need it. With Maggie, she usually just needs a swift tap of it to say "wake up!" but I've never actually used one at a show. I would have given just about anything to have had my whip in my hand during that test. 

After the dressage, I tied her back up to the trailer to strip her dressage tack and give her a break before jumping. I tried giving her some little peppermint horse treats as a peace offering and she downright refused them. Not gonna lie, I was feeling a little rejected right then. Clearly we were still in a huge fight. Thinking that perhaps a tastier treat would make us friends again, I went to the concession stand in search of something more palatable. Lo and behold NEER North was selling mini cinnamon buns loaded with frosting. How tasty! I bought a couple and proudly offered one up to Maggie. She spit it out. Jerk. I ate one (or more...) myself instead.

As it got closer to stadium jumping and I began tacking her up again, I was getting increasingly nervous that her pluggyness would carry over from dressage and she wouldn't feel like jumping. Fortunately, my fears were alleviated after pointing her towards the warm-up jumps a few times and having her charge them with her ears pricked like normal. Phew. We jumped a nice clean stadium round, much to my relief. I had actually been toying with the idea earlier of scratching if she just didn't seem into the jumping today. Fortunately she was; at least more so than dressage.

Thanks to the friend of a friend for these two stadium pics (that's totally legit photo credit, right?)

So we mozied on down to the XC course next and I started to really get nervous again. After all, I'm still not as confident going XC with her as I'd like to be. I'm always nervous that she'll slam the brakes and I was still doubly nervous since our poor dressage display, even though she was strong in stadium. I popped her over the oxer warm-up fence twice before heading over to the start. When it was our turn to go, I pointed her at he first fence and she went forward fairly readily and cleared it despite giving it a little bit of a hairy eyeball. We blew around the course - me still internally freaking out about life in general - and she gave most fences a good look, but I kept on kicking and you know what? WE JUMPED CLEAR. Good Lord, my legs felt like jelly when we were done. I was seriously relieved and actually quite glad that was over with.

XC course map

Fence 3:

Fence 4:

Fence 5 (she gave this one a really good look):

Fence 9 (I think we cleared it...):

Fence 10:

 Fence 11 (my "wings" make an appearance):

After untacking Maggie, cooling her, and getting her settled back at the trailer I finally ventured over to see what my dressage score was. Normally I would have been curious enough to check it before stadium, but I really had no desire to know at that point. I had gotten a 37.9 which put me in 6th place after dressage. A refusal from someone else during stadium had bumped me up to 5th after that. Checking back later after XC was factored in, I found that we ended up 3rd overall after a few others had refusals in XC. 

So,long story short: despite a crap dressage test I was actually VERY proud of my Maggie for two clear jump rounds. I keep telling myself that I've just got to have more confidence in her. Watching our stadium rounds back, I can really see that she knows what her job is; and since I'm the one that taught her to jump, that makes me incredibly proud. But on the flip side of being the one that taught her to jump, part of me still expects her to spook whenever I point her at something new. That's where learning to have confidence in her is going to come in. Also, keep in mind that this was her second XC run ever - so really, not too shabby at all. 
Sideways ears
"Sideways ears"
D'awwww...can't even handle the cute
This photo by Sophia Bitel, Massachusetts Horse
But despite those insights and lessons learned, this expression still sums up the feeling of the day:


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pre-Show XC Schooling (Horsey Weekend Part 3!)

Sunday morning I hitched the trailer up fairly early to meet a friend of mine at Pipestave Hill for some pre-show XC schooling. This is a friend I knew from college and she has a new young horse that she's bringing along, so Pipestave was the perfect place to get both our horses over a variety of fences. Unfortunately, she discovered that her horse had a nasty hoof crack that morning so she ended up bringing her older mare, also named Maggie, with her for the outing. Her Maggie is an old pro and they have evented up to training level.

I hadn't actually ridden my Maggie since Tuesday at this point, so I was glad to have a little while to warm her up on my own before my friend arrived. I warmed Maggie up on a loose rein and then with a little contact, mostly at the trot. We did a canter in each direction and she settled into a really comfy and un-rushed rhythm each time - good girl! Aside from a soccer game on one of the lower athletic fields, we where the only ones there! Maggie was nice and relaxed. 
All to ourselves!
The ground was also looking a little wet from the rain the previous week (hence the not riding since Tuesday), but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as slippery as it looked. There was no slippage at all through the session!
Double the Maggies, double the fun!
When my friend arrived we headed down the hill to the XC course and started popping over some little jumps after trotting a few circles. Maggie went over all of the elementary sized fences with no problem. We did the little coop coming out of the woods (fence 3 at our last show there) where she hesitated, and she was a little skeptical once again but did go over it better. There's also a teeny tiny bank that Maggie and I went up and down for the very first time without a problem at all (good girl!) as well as a fake ditch (just some telephone poles on the ground with dark dirt in the middle, no actual hole in the ground) that she went right over without any issue. I didn't except her to have any issue there anyway, considering she tries to jump trot poles and dark puddles.
My friend and her Maggie
We made a big loop around one of the trails on the outside of the course which leads back in front of the athletic fields and around to the parking area. It was at a fence near the athletic fields that I ran into our first problem. There was a narrow fence probably around 2' high made from a wooden pallet that I thought would be good to try. Maggie decided that she wanted nothing to do with the fence and slammed on the brakes twice. I'm not sure if it was the look of the fence - a kind of airy pallet - or maybe the dead brush in the fence (though that would surprise me because we've practiced with a lot of random fillers at home), or perhaps that the grass in front of the jump was a little on the long side and she was skeptical of the take-off area. I have no idea, I'm just speculating and probably over analyzing it. I'd put my money on her not likely these pallet style fences though, since she's refused these before.
This is from earlier in the summer, not this part weekend, but it was the same style jump.

There we go.
So on the third try I got her over it...kind of. She actually ended up jumping more up than across and her back feet somehow took the jump with her and we busted it in half. Oops. My friend took a pic of it and said she'd let the event organizer know (she volunteers a lot for the event and knows everyone). I apologized profusely and offered my time, money, and an extra pallet that I have hanging around if they wanted help fixing it. My friend assured me it was ok, and that at least it happened before the event instead of at the event. Still embarrassed...

The next fence we came to was a wide, rounded coop and I was surprised when my friend told me that it could be used in the elementary and MBN courses - looked BN to me! I figured I'd better practice it in case I had to jump it at the show. Good logic, except for the fact that we had just broken a fence. Maggie refused twice again and then we got over it the third time with some assistance from my friend on the other side of the jump making me count how many fingers she was holding up.

We then went down the hill again and tried a BN sized coop where we got one refusal before getting over it. I then tried doing a slightly smaller one in height but it was a little wider and Maggie absolutely would not go over that one. At this point Maggie was really behind my leg and I think she was getting quite tired. I figured I shouldn't push her too much lest we break another jump, so we finished on a good note over a tiny coop.
Last jump of the day - are her front legs crossed??
Then we went for a quick splash down in Mill Pond and a short hack through the woods before calling it a day! I'm definitely happy that I got to get out and school once more before our last show of the season and also glad that one of my friends that l don't see very often was able to join me!