80+F on Easter? In CT? That is definitely horse riding weather. After doing a few small projects around the farm this morning, the family went on an afternoon trail ride from home. We only rode for about 5 miles in 1:20, but there were some important lessons learned.
Amanda is building her confidence and endurance in the saddle on the trails. She did the whole ride today without any leadline assistance, including 4 small water crossings which are usually a challenge for her on Huey. She didn’t have any problem handling the trotting.
Vicki rode Duchess. This is only her second time out on the trails with Duchess and they are making progress. Today she rode in a bitless bridle and that definitely helped. It’s definitely different having a mare back in the herd. Duchess isn’t completely comfortable with all the boys yet and she will threaten to kick or bite any horse that enters her space. Unfortunately, there were a lot of motorcycles out today as well and in the first encounter, Huey ended up too close and Duchess kicked him, hitting Amanda’s foot. It didn’t actually hurt Amanda, just scared her. That also rattled Vicki a little. Later in the ride, Duchess threatened to kick Dakota when he rode up too close on her butt and it made Vicki really upset. She decided to get off and walk for a while (about a half mile) and then mounted back up when she had calmed down. While it may not seem like much, it was an important lesson for Vicki about backing off when her emotions run too high and calming down to handle the situation.
Overall, the ride was a success. No one got thrown. No one got hurt.
When we got back home, Vicki stayed on Duchess and joined Mojo and I in the front pasture for a little jumping. This was the first time Vicki has gotten to taken Duchess over anything other than ground poles. We didn’t work too long and we kept everything low, but they did very well together. Vicki has learned to control her canter speed and in the bitless bridle, they seem to be getting along better. I didn’t have much opportunity to take pictures because I was jumping Mojo (who was a rock star!) but I did shoot a short video clip of Vicki trying a simple approach at the canter. Despite the challenges on the trail, after over 2 hours of saddle time, she was all smiles as we headed in to the barn.
This morning I (Rob) did my 5th half marathon at the Colchester half (all 5 have been there). In very uncharacteristic weather, it was 60F when we started at 10:00. I completed the 13.1 miles and 881′ of elevation in 1:58 (9:00 min/mile pace). Nothing like burning 1800 calories before lunch.
After a quick shower and bite to eat, I met Anna and the kids an hour and a half after I finished the race. They had a trailer load of horses and it was time for Pony Club mounted games practice. I rode Mojo, Anna rode Dakota, and Amanda rode Huey for the first session. Then Alex rode Dakota and Vicki rode Devil. Everyone had a great time, but if this weather continues we will need to body clip some ponies! By the time we got home and unloaded the trailer, everyone was ready for some dinner and a movie.
A few months ago, Dakota left to become an occasional trail pony. While not every horse that comes to our farm is a lifetime horse (or pony), it was clear in the weeks and months after Dakota left, that both Anna and Alex really missed him and I had rushed the decision to move him on. This week, we got the news that the girl who had Dakota had a fall and was scared to ride. Time hadn’t helped the issue and the family was considering passing Dakota along to some other friends, but wanted to check with us first. Their was no hesitation. Anna and Alex picked up Dakota on Friday. We are currently thinking we will keep Dakota as a trail pony and not stress this arthritic issues by doing arena work. Maybe he will ride in a LD endurance event, but I don’t see 50 mile rides in his future.
This afternoon, I rode Mojo, Vicki rode Teddy, and Anna rode Dakota for a very short route. Alex and Amanda decided it was too cold to ride since it was in the upper 20s. I was testing a saddle (that didn’t work out), so about 30 minutes was plenty of ride time. Anna enjoyed the reunion (and I think prefers his calm demeanor over the Arabs that Vicki and I prefer). Welcome home Dakota!
Update – only a few minutes after posting, a long time friend got in touch about Dakota. They already came to visit him and he will be going to their farm this week to be a trail pony for grandkids. If things don’t work out, he will come back to us.
For the past few months, we have struggled with some indications that Dakota was not cut out for the volume of riding and competition that we, as a family, participate in. After a recent round of lameness, we pursued further examination of Dakota’s legs to determine what was going on. The results were devastating for Anna and Alex in particular, as both has developed a significant bond with Dakota. Dakota has a cyst on both left and right front pastern bones and arthritis (diagnosed by a vet with xrays). These issues make him not suitable for a high-use home like ours. He is currently pasture sound, but shows some lameness if worked in the arena. As a result, we have decided to start the process of looking for a new home for Dakota. His info/ad is listed below. Please feel free to share a link to this post if you know of a good match for Dakota.
Dakota is a 9yo, 14.1hh grade pinto pony. He is some sort of gaited horse cross because he will gait when bitted in a curb bit, but otherwise is a W/T/C pony. We have owned Dakota for almost 3 years. He is barefoot, has a current Coggins/rabies, and his teeth were done in the spring. Dakota trailers very well and is an easy keeper – he currently eats hay and hay pellets with supplements. He lives in a herd (currently geldings only, but he gets along with mares) and prefers to be out at night, but will stall as well.
Dakota has logged hundreds of trail miles since we got him and did a 30 mile Limited Distance endurance ride last fall and 25 mile Limited Distance in the spring. He has also done many hunter paces, participated in Pony Club camp, and has been ridden by adults and kids. He has camped over-night. Dakota doesn’t test electric, but if spooked, he will bolt through electric fencing. Therefore, he needs a hard fence, with or without electric inside.
Unfortunately, Dakota has a cyst on both left and right front pastern bones and arthritis (diagnosed by a vet with xrays). These issues make him not suitable for a high-use home like ours. He is currently pasture sound, but shows some lameness if worked in the arena. Dakota would do best as an occasional trail horse or as a companion.
I am a barefoot trimmer and pulled his shoes 3 years ago. He is absolutely fine for trimming and he will go to a new home with a current trim and full set of 4 Renegade Vipers for trail riding. Dakota is not very trusting of new people until he has a bond with the handler. We believe Dakota was mishandled by a farrier prior to us owning him, based on my experience as a farrier.
Dakota has been handled by kids the entire time he has been here. He is kid safe; he actually prefers to be handled by kids over adults. He is wary of men (see farrier issue above) but not dangerous, just nervous.
Dakota trail rides in a hackamore and is best suited for a quiet, balance rider because he is sensitive and forward under saddle. He has good brakes, but he is not a kick ride. He will cross water, logs, bridges, etc, but does get a little nervous around motorcycles and bikes. He is not a spooky/looky horse on the trails. He has been regularly trail ridden by 10-12 year old kids.
Dakota is offered free, but vet and farrier references will be required and checked. A home visit will also be done, either in advance or as part of delivery. We are willing to trailer him to you.
Now that May is coming to an end, our schedule is calming down a little. Things have been non-stop with music concerts and horse activities. This weekend, Alex and Vicki participated in the local Pony Club eventing rally at Mystic Valley Hunt Club. At a Pony Club rally, the parents can help set up the area first thing in the morning, and then the rest of the day is up to the kids. We arrived at MVHC at 7 and didn’t leave until about 5:45 that evening. The kids had horse management inspections (including verifying all required equipment was present and labeled), a written test, formal inspections of rider and mount, dressage tests, stadium jumping, and cross country jumping. Parents are not allowed in the areas at all, so it is all up to the kids.
It was a long and hot day, but the team managed to keep their spirits up and had some good rides. Alex and Nike had great jumping rounds. The jumping Steward (keeping track of which rider was next and sending them into the arena) turned to me after their first jumping round and said “Is he your son?” I said yes. She replied, “I was not prepared for how well he would ride. They are a really good team.” It perfectly captured Alex. He was moping around during the course walk and acting like he hated everything. But as soon as they enter the jumping course, it’s pure business and Alex had a huge smile on his face.
As good as Alex’s day was, Vicki’s was even better. She rode the best dressage test I have ever seen her ride and it was reflected in her 69 score. Then on the stadium and cross country courses, she had clear rounds and loved every minute of it.
At the end of the day, the team won 1st place in Horse Management and 5th overall.
Yesterday was wet and still hot, so we gave the horses a break. This evening, we decided to head out for a trail ride. Alex really didn’t want to go, so he got a pass (I’m sure Nike didn’t mind). For those who have been following, King had EPM over the winter. We have been bringing him back into work slowly and are cautiously optimistic that he might actually make it back to competitions this summer. This evening, Anna rode King, I rode Mojo, Vicki rode Dakota, and Amanda rode Huey.
Amanda is becoming quite the trail rider. We only rode 5 miles over 1:15, but Amanda was constantly announcing when we needed to trot or walk based on the terrain, although her default is always more speed. They did plenty of trotting and cantering. She and Huey are a great team. Mojo was great. I love his trail demeanor and he is very level headed. He is definitely powerful and loves to race, which makes him a great match for me.
Hands down, the best part of the ride tonight was watching King back in work. King was the first horse that was “my horse”. We bought him in 2002 for me and he has been a rock star. The last 2 years have been rough with injuries and illness, but tonight he had every bit of his power back and was moving great. I look forward to his return to hunter paces.
This morning, Anna and I rode the NEATO 25 mile Limited Distance Endurance ride at Arcadia in RI. Anna rode Dakota and I rode on Mojo. Since Mojo only arrived on Sunday, this was a bit of a gamble. He has experience in LD rides, but the longest I had previously sat on him was about 45 minutes. We took the horses over yesterday afternoon and vetted them in. We set up some corral panels that were tied to the side of our trailer and the horses shared the space (Dakota and Mojo get along great). Alex hung out with me at horse camp while Anna took Vicki and Amanda to their music concert. The girls stopped by on the way home to drop off a few things forgotten in the barn and to pick up Alex; I really like the 15 minutes from home rides. I camped over with the horses.
This morning, we had a sitter at the house at 6 so Anna could get back to the ride. We tacked up and waited a few minutes to head out after the ride started at 7:15. I had been warned that Mojo tends to be strong and hot for the first few miles. I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t crazy, he just wanted to go. We held back some and worked on patience and listening. After the first 4 miles, we had been averaging a 7 mph pace which was faster than we planned. We slowed the horses and made sure we didn’t overdo it. Anna was concerned that Dakota was not as fit as at the GMHA ride last fall. We also had some technology issues. While we love our Garmin 310XTs for tracking distance and speed, we also use them for watching the heart rates on the horses. Today, we didn’t have good connections and Dakota’s heart rate reading was running about 35-40 bpm higher than it should have. There was a lot of discussion during the ride about whether or not Dakota was in distress. Of course, every time Anna put him in front and let go of the reins, he started trotting at 12+ mph. I voted that he was fine.
When we came in from the first 15 mile loop, Dakota actually pulsed down to under 64 bpm (the required level) faster than Mojo. That ended the concerns about his fitness and proved that technology isn’t always great. I ended up riding the second loop without the heart rate monitor recording on Mojo because of the bad data. It is just a distraction that isn’t needed and I think Anna and I are both going to shift to using heart rate as an occasional training tool, but compete without it. Maybe.
After our 45 minute hold we headed back out. We ended up averaging about 6.2 mph on the first loop which was fine. We took it easy on the second loop of 10 miles. In the end, we completed the 25 miles with a ride time of about 4:15 and averaged just over 6 mph. Both horses cleared the vet check at the end and were deemed fit to continue, which is the criteria to be awarded a completion.
Mojo and I had a good ride together. We have a few things to work on, such as personal space. Mojo likes to be in my space and stood on my feet more than once. He also likes to use me (and Dakota) as a scratching post for his head. Despite these minor things, he moves out very nicely on the trail and has a powerful trot. He had no problem holding a trot up to 12+mph.
I do have a few things I want to change before another distance ride. Anna and I have both been somewhat unhappy with the halter/bridle combos we bought last year. She has recently switched to using a rope halter and adding a basic trail bridle. I think I’ll be making the same change. Also, I got a few rubs from my clothing (like sock tops on my calf where the calf and saddle touch) that require fine tuning before going up to any longer distances.
In the end, it was a good ride, but now we have to get ponies ready for the kids to show tomorrow!
How show season officially kicked off this weekend for Sawyer Family Farm. Friday evening was spent in the barn trimming hooves, kids clipping fetlocks and bridle paths, washing ponies, braiding manes, and loading the trailer. The kids elected to spend some allowance to buy a sleazy for each pony to keep the mane a little nicer overnight before a show. Devil didn’t seem to care about his purple sleazy as long as it had a hole to eat through. Nike was less impressed with his green sleazy, although I believe he has likely worn one many times before.
Saturday morning, everyone was up by 5:30 for breakfast and to load ponies. We were at the CT 4-H Horse Show by about 7:45 and spent over 9 hours on the show grounds. It was a bright, sunny day and great weather for showing. The Barnyard Buddies 4-H Club was represented by Alex on Nike, Vicki on Devil, and Alexis on Ace.
The 4-H Horse Show starts with Showmanship. All exhibitors must do Showmanship to participate in mounted classes. There was a bit of waiting around since Showmanship is one at a time. Vicki got the highest score of the three in Showmanship, but in reality, none of the three enjoy it or put much effort into Showmanship. They prefer to ride.
Throughout the day, Alex and Vicki were competing against each other. Vicki only moved up to walk/trot/canter classes for 1 show last year. There were 9 junior (under 13 as of Jan 1st) riders in the English W/T/C classes for Equitation (judging more of the rider position), Pleasure (judging more of the horse’s movement), and Discipline (correctly executing the movements within a specified time). Alex got 5th in all 3. Vicki got 6th in all 3. Alex was simply happy to beat Vicki. Vicki was disappointed, but I think it finally made her realize it is harder to show in those classes than she expected.
There was a fair amount of waiting in between classes while the senior riders did their classes. Devil and Nike were both extremely well-behaved. Nike is a seasoned show pony at 23 years old, so I think he was explaining it to Devil. One thing about Nike is that so many people recognize him. At this show, an instructor we had never met recognized Nike from when she taught the girl who owned him more than 10 years ago. He is one of those gems that makes the rounds in the local barns teaching kids how to ride.
Vicki chose to enter the English Trail class. In that class, the kids must ride a specified pattern that includes various obstacles such as a wooden bridge, weaving cones, and ground poles. One obstacle was to stop the horse in a box made from jump poles with 2 front hooves outside the box and 2 rear hooves inside. Then side pass the horse keeping the pole between the front and rear hooves, including a 90 degree turn around a corner. Vicki gave it a noble effort, but Devil just didn’t understand what she wanted and they didn’t complete that obstacle. However, the next obstacle was to back your horse through 2 cones, make a 180 degree turn around a 3rd cone, and continue to back out between the original pair. They completed the series flawlessly and the gate attendant mentioned Vicki did better at that than any other rider she had seen. In the end, Vicki was thrilled to learn she won the class!
Throughout the day, Amanda was very well-behaved. Her favorite event is the cake walk, which she looks forward to all year. She is very outgoing and always manages to find a new friend.
At the end of the day, the Gymkhana classes were held and included Bending Poles, Arena Race, and Barrels. This year, the W/T/C Gymkhana classes had 6 entries: all juniors and all riding English (which is a little different). It was nice to see some kids entering just to have a fun time. Devil was the smallest pony in the class and it showed in his times. The short legs make it hard to outrun the bigger horses. Alex was the most experienced in the class and as a result, got 1st in 2 of the events and 2nd in the 3rd event. That was good enough to win the Gymkhana Division (and gave him 6 total wins over his sister).
After a long day, we headed home. Luckily Chinese takeout was on the way home. We unloaded ponies and ate a quick dinner. After dinner, the trailer was unloaded of some items and reloaded with others, because Sunday was the 1st West Greenwich Hunter Pace for the season!
One really nice thing about the WGHA hunter paces is they are close. Since it is only a 15 minute drive, we can get up at 7 and still make it to the ride with plenty of time. Today, Anna rode Dakota with Alex on Nike, Vicki on Devil, and Alexis on Ace.
Amanda and I hung out at the trailer and I worked on changing out the interior trailer lights to LED lights while they were gone. They rode 11 miles in about 1:54. As soon as they got back, I could tell it hadn’t been a relaxing ride for the group. The fatigue from showing on Saturday had a definite impact causing some melt downs (Vicki) on the trail. Compounding the problem, Devil is in the best shape of his life and was full of energy and giving Vicki some trouble because he wasn’t tired at all. After a filling lunch, everyone was feeling better. Anna scored 3rd in her division and the kids placed 4th in the junior division. It was amazing to see 14 junior teams at the hunter pace today! Next time, maybe we won’t schedule the kids for 2 days of events. Maybe.
Tonight, I will be picking up a new horse for a pre-purchase trial. It will be after dark by the time we get home, so stay tuned for new pictures later this week.
Today, we joined a group ride with NEATO (New England Arabian Trail Organization) at Pattaconk State Forest, which was a new venue for us. We rode just the single 10 mile loop. We were originally planning to do 18 miles, but the day got started a little later than planned and we had 5 flat tires on the trail. A “Flat Tire” on the trail is our code word for a boot problem. We have been having a lot of boot problems lately, but we have some Renegade boots on order and hopefully, that will reduce the number of boot casualties.
This comic is such an amazingly accurate illustration of my relationship with Echo. Don’t get me wrong, Echo and I are getting along great. But out on the trail, he goes into full Arab mode. Last summer, Misti literally spooked at a Butterfly crossing the road ahead of us. It seems Echo is quite untrusting of rocks. In particular large rocks on the side of the trail, flat rocks in the road, and rocks that are a different color than other rocks. Throughout the ride today, as Echo would veer to the side, Anna would laugh and say “Perhaps a bush.” It was the scary mud puddle that caused a spook resulting in my forward somersault over Echo’s shoulder.
Even though we didn’t ride as far as originally planned, it was a good training ride and I think we are still on track for Alex and Vicki to do their first 25 mile ride in May. Echo, Dakota, Nike, and Devil all did great.
This morning we awoke to just under an inch of snow. This has been one of the weirdest winters (and now springs) since we moved to CT 10 years ago. By the time we went out for morning chores, it was still snowing, but the snow on the ground was melting. By lunch, the wind was blowing enough to drop the wind chill a fair amount and the snow on the trees was turning to ice. So we went for a trail ride.
Amanda came to breakfast in her mermaid wrap that was made for her at Christmas by a family friend.
Today’s trail ride featured 6 miles of an air temperature about 37F, wind chill in the 20s, and ice constantly hitting us (and the horses) as it blew out of the trees. There were only 4 of us on today’s ride: I was on Echo, Alexis on Ace, Vicki on Devil, and Alex on Dakota. The 3 ponies did great. Echo was great for the first half. When we hit the turnaround point, I moved him from lead horse to last horse. He didn’t care for that and it made the second half of the ride more interesting. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t want to trot behind the others. It is definitely an area we will have to keep on working on. I did decide to run him out a little to burn off some of the energy (the ponies were all happy to keep trotting along quietly as we pulled away for a couple of minutes). Echo established a new top end speed today at 25.8 mph. He sustained higher than 20 mph for 1/4 mile, but we had to pull up when 3 of his 4 boots had come off and were holding on by the gaiters. I’m not really convinced the Gloves (hoof boot) are designed for speeds above 20 mph because that seems to be when we consistently have problems. I also rode Echo in an S Hack today for the first time. I was overall satisfied with the control and stopping power. The advantage of riding in a hackamore when doing trail/distance riding is it is easier for the horses to stop and eat/drink at breaks along the way. Next weekend we will do a longer conditioning ride with at least Dakota, Devil, and Echo as we continue to prepare for our first 25 miler of the season in May.
This morning the kids were up and hunting eggs at 7. There are no pictures, because like I said, the kids were up. They did follow the “rules for the egg hunt”. Vicki decided to make up rules for the Easter egg hunt and posted them on the fridge yesterday. Here are the rules:
No waking anybody ’till 7:00.
No starting to gather eggs ’till everybody is up and ready.
No opening eggs ’till you are inside (plastic eggs filled with candy).
No stealing eggs from other egg hunters. (Amanda’s rule)
No bikes. (Amanda’s rule to prevent the older siblings from having an advantage)
No candy before breakfast.
Apparently, it was also a competition (because Vicki is quite competitive) and there were pre-determined criteria for the winners.
1st place – Golden egg
2nd place – Silver egg or most eggs
3rd place – Least eggs
It took about 30 minutes for the egg hunt to be completed and judged. I know this, because at 7:30 Amanda showed up in our room crying because she lost. Actually, she got second, which was evident when Alex got upset because a 5-year-old beat him. Vicki collected 70 eggs including the golden egg (can you tell she is competitive). Amanda had 43. Alex had 39. There was no sympathy for the losers. We had a discussion about losing. Not everyone wins in this family.
Earlier in the week, we spent almost 6 hours (4 of which included all the kids) working on cleaning up the tack room in the barn. Saddles and bridles were cleaned. Tack was reorganized. Items were identified to be sold. This morning, we cleaned up the tack room in the horse trailer and then loaded the trailer to haul out for a trail ride.
Today was the first time we ever hauled 5 horses and ponies in our trailer so the whole family could ride off-site. We have a 4 horse slant load trailer, but the rear tack folds flat. Devil and Huey have no problem sharing that space. We left them loose like in a stock trailer and they had plenty of room to move and turn around. We hauled out to Arcadia, which is less than 20 minutes away. Amanda has been on many trail rides with Huey at home, but this was the first time she got to ride him at an away event. Anna still keeps a lead line from Dakota to Huey.
The weather was nice in the mid 50s by the time we were ready to ride and we opted to ride from the Midway parking area, which gives immediate access to nice open fields. The ride wasn’t as peaceful as some, because Amanda kept yelling “Faster!” “Canter Huey, Canter!” We knew her stamina wouldn’t be great with the trotting and cantering (and the temps). Huey was a rock star. He walked, trotted, and cantered at all the right times. Amanda had a blast. She is definitely a speed demon. While she probably isn’t ready for the hunter paces quite yet, she is light years ahead of where Alex and Vicki were at her age as far as trail experience and confidence goes.
Amanda was satisfied after 4.3 miles in 50 minutes (a 5.1 mph average). When we arrived back at the trailer, there was a quick change of Alex off Nike and onto Dakota. Nike and Huey stayed at the trailer with Anna and Amanda while Echo, Dakota, and Devil went back out with Alex, Vicki and I for another 5.7 miles. The second outing was almost all trotting except for short walk breaks and a little cantering at the end. Alex and Vicki have decided they plan to join me for a 25 mile ride in May and it’s time to get kids and ponies ready for the ride.
The second round was a good workout for all involved. Devil is the one we are most concerned about because his legs are so much shorter than Echo’s and Dakota’s. We determined that Devil was able to maintain a nice consistent trot up to almost 8 mph. We were able to average 6.3 mph on our second round, which is well above what we need to average to complete the ride in May. With the kids, faster is actually better because time in the saddle and keeping them fueled with calories will be the biggest challenges. Alex and Vicki tested out wearing their Camelbacks during the ride and that seemed to work. It eliminates them needing any kind of saddle bags and allows them to sip water continuously during the ride. We also bought both of them triathlon shorts to wear under their riding pants to reduce the risk of rubs from 4-5 hours of saddle time as we increase the distances.
By the time we wrapped things up, temps had dropped back into the 40s. Everyone was happy to get home, unload all the gear, do evening chores, and head inside for dinner. We enjoyed some Easter cupcakes for dessert made by Anna, Vicki, and Amanda.