Friday, October 31, 2008

Horseless Friday: Happy Halloween!

I do a horseless post (almost) every Friday. But ok, I can't resist this time...

Trick or treat!
I found this photo here.

Clipped from the Wikipedia entries onHalloween and Trick-or-treating:
Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain.[...] The term Halloween is shortened from All Hallows' Even.[...] The carved pumpkin, lit by a candle inside, is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols in America, and is commonly called a jack-o'-lantern. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).

So, get out your Rutabagas! For some more photos of trick-or-treating ponies, visit this gallery courtesy of the ClickRyder email list.

Or if you are feline-fine, visit this gallery of costumed cats!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Green Mountain National Forest (Vermont) opens trails to equestrians

The Green Mountain National Forest is opening 35 miles of existing trails to horseback riders. The trails are in the towns of Woodford, Glastenbury, Winhall and Stratton.

Although the trails have been designated, Reeves said signs identifying where the new uses are acceptable won't be posted until next year. The service is also working on maps with the new trails highlighted. When available, the maps will be posted on the service's Web site.

Read the whole article. "Existing trails in Green Mountain National Forest opened to horses, cyclists"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Horseless Friday: Winter is on its way

I do a horseless post (almost) every Friday. This Friday I've observed that winter is on its way. This month we've had a thick fog every morning at sunrise. The fog has been leaving a white frost which melts by midmorning. Wednesday night we had some snow flurries over the midnight hours, although nothing accumulated for long. Every year it has snowed before Halloween in the 15 or so years that I've lived in Vermont. Although I sometimes tell my southerly friends that after enough global warming, I'll be enjoying Florida weather up here in January.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Armani caught a case of mumpappoloosa

...or is it pintopox?

Armani has never had white hairs before, except for a small crescent on his forehead and a few sprinkled hairs on his left-fore pastern.

Late this summer, I noticed more white hairs on his body. Then the white grew with his winter coat. Now he has a number of white spots. They are mainly on his forehand and hindquarters. They range in size from a pencil eraser to my pinky nail. Along with the spots, he's grown a sprinkling of white hairs on his flanks.

I took a few photos. Armani's shiny coat mirrors the flash. So it is hard to see the spots in these photos. They are very obvious in person. In the first photo I drew red arrows to a few of the spots.

Pity me! My mother works me so hard I'm getting white hairs!

I also did some online research and discovered this is not unheard of. One possible explanation is "Birdcatcher spots" as they are popularly known. I got the impression it is not certain if these are inheritable or not. These may come and go over a lifetime.

So I will just have to wait and see...

Birdcatcher the horse
"Birdcatcher spots"
Guide to basic equine coat color genetics

PS: Armani apologizes for the condition of his halter, "Mommy caught me chewing on it!" Don't tell him but I've already bought him a shiny new one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A good day and a bad day

Horses, like people, have good days and bad days. Since Armani's English speaking skills are not exactly on a first-grade level, it can be hard to understand what is bothering him on the "bad days". Sunday was one of those days. He couldn't stay focused on me, was behind the leg, temperamental, and spooky. I had a cold that day, it was windy, and I'd been away for two days before. I know him pretty well now. And based on previous "bad days" I know that all three of those things bother Armani.

Since he was stressed and I was feeling sick, I decide to take it easy. We gave up on dressage and took a (fizzy) walk through the fields and went home.

Then on Monday we had a lesson. There had been work men and bucket loaders in the arena all day putting up new siding. Armani and I were the first "Guinea pigs" to try riding in the arena. Would there be fireworks today? Yesterday he was afraid of his own shadow. Today was another day though, I thought. My cold was better and the wind was quieter.

Armani gave me one of the best rides so far. He used his back without (much) argument. We leg-yielded and even side-passed. He even tried something new, halt-to-canter depart. He understood the request and only took a stride or two to get into canter. Our instructor praised his canter work and said it was getting even better than his trot. (That is saying something for a half-Morgan. They're known for their trots.)

Sure the pendulum swings pretty widely on Armani. But everyone has good and bad days. I just accept and forget our bad days. I feel good about where time and work has brought us so far and how much we've both grown over the last year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Last month my husband and I visited the Vermont State Fair, where we saw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police perform their Musical Ride. My husband is French-Canadian a generation back, so I made sure to point out how incredibly handsome the gentlemen Mounties were. Naturally, I mentioned being mounted added to their appeal.

A few things we learned:
- The group who performed for us was nearly 50% women.
- The Mounties must salute an official before and after the performance. In this performance a local Chamber of Commerce member accepted the duty.
- Proceeds from the performances go to charitable causes.

I found two videos of a Musical Ride:

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sitting trot versus rising trot

I started out riding at a children's hunter barn. My teenage instructors encouraged me to only post at the trot because it was better for the horse's back. And so I have always posted at the trot by default. However, as an adult, my instructor has encouraged me try more sitting trot with Armani. I'm finding that I'm better able to use my seat aids and that Armani feels more relaxed over the back.

Lately, I've been trying sitting to Huey's trot. Admittedly Huey's trot is a Ford to Armani's Cadillac. Huey lacks topline muscle and I suspect I'm the first rider to ask him to stretch and relax under saddle. However, as I began sitting trot with Huey, I immediately felt him relax his back. He stretched towards the contact and sighed.

Both my horses are more comfortable when I sit the trot. My conformation might explain it. I'm tall and rather - erm - top heavy. When I sit at the trot, my seat feels more engaged in rhythm with the motion. My seat is loosely coupled with the horse, connected but soft and actively following the motion. And as my seat follows, my core muscles stabilize my upper body. I picture hula-hooping or ballroom dancing with a partner. To quote Behind the Bit, "sit is a verb". There are a number of resources if you follow that link.

But doesn't that go against conventional wisdom? Scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands recently found that the extension of the back is similar in rising and sitting trot.

So perhaps the comparable comfort of sitting versus rising trot may depend on the rider, tack, and the horse. And that old conventional wisdom may not be true for everyone. Are you and your horses more comfortable with sitting or rising trot?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do horses possess cognitive reasoning?

Behind the bit recently relayed a story about Harvey the Horse's moment of genius. I found myself nodding in agreement.

I try not to anthropomorphize my pets. I think expecting them to behave as "baby humans in fur suits" creates an unrealistically high bar for them, and will cause me to be disappointed in them when they behave as animals. However, I frequently observe that they are more intelligent and feeling than "dumb animals".

When our family friend who trains Border Collies met Armani, she observed he had "dog like intelligence" and "probably gets into trouble a lot if he doesn't get enough mental stimulation". Armani is an equine Houdini. Some days he escapes more than once. He escapes more often on the days he doesn't see me. If he cannot open the latch, he'll break the latch; if he cannot get under the fence, he jumps the fence. Otherwise, he'll dismantle the fence. If it is electrified, he might chase a companion through it first.

Armani always whinnies when he sees me. If I take too long to get him out of the pasture, he can start squealing and working on the gate. He also displays jealousy if I spend time with other horses, particularly Huey. When I help mom with grooming and tacking Huey, Armani fusses. Does he reason that Huey is getting treats and attention from me that he wants for himself?

Morgans have a reputation for intelligence. Does he take after daddy's side of the family? I found these interesting observations on equine social intelligence including a Morgan. However, there's something to be said for Huey, who only wakes up from his stupor for treats; "from a subjective observation it was noted that the horses which learned quickest had also been the most difficult in training to ride".

You also may want to check out these photos from the Equine Research Foundation. They were featured on Animal Planet's Most Extreme: Thinkers episode where horses rated as #7. I'll have to record that episode next time it's on!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Horseless Friday: Go nuts! (for hickory nuts)

I do a horseless post every Friday. This Friday I've gone nuts; for hickory nuts! It's fall here in Vermont and the wild things are getting ready for winter. As my husband and I took our stroll, we found that the hickory trees along side our road are dropping their bounty.

Identifying Hickory nuts

There are a number of hickory tree species native to North America. Did you know that pecans are part of the family? Many of the species are hard to distinguish.

Hickory nut memories

Nuts can be enjoyed fresh or dried until the green husks turn brown. Then remove the outer husk and crack the shell. They can be used any time you'd go for walnuts or pecans. Here are some unusual recipes I found. But if you are feeling very adventurous, go wild with hickory nuts and brussel sprouts! I have to try that!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Before and after: Armani

My best friend came up from Connecticut recently to visit us. She and I learned to ride together as youngsters. We were your typical barn rats; coming early for lessons to groom and staying late to hand out treats. She was the third person I called when I bought Armani (after my husband and Mom). And she came up to visit him a few weeks later. The first photo is one she took then. Armani was 4 and 3/4 years old, rump-high, thin and unmuscled. He asks me not to show this photo to girlfriends.

Armani, the pimply teenager

This visit she saw Armani again, a year later. She kept saying how lovely he looked, like another horse. She also loved him under saddle. I've been really proud of the progress we've made together. But I only see the gradual change over time, not the night and day change a year makes. So I went back to the old photos to compare with today.

Armani today

There are two challenges to photographing Armani: Armani and Mom. Armani just finished his work out and wanted some grass. Since I was holding him, he kept wiggling and did not stand squarely. He also tends to "relax" after work. My mother had trouble with the digital camera, "But won't it run out of film if I take too many?", and also kept pointing out when Armani "dropped" something "naughty". "Oh no, you can't put that on your blog can you?" Hence my smirk.

Doesn't he look good though? Can you believe it's only been a year?