"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Weather Gods

The weather gods were up to their early spring antics this past weekend.

I woke up to a cloudy, rainy day. Charles was working so I went to the gym while waiting for the rain to stop, then headed out to the barn when it looked like the skies were clearing up a bit.

I pulled Lily from the field first and set her up with a flake of alfalfa to munch on while removing the encrusted mud from her coat and tacking up. I knew the trails and fields were going to be way too soggy so I figured we'd do canter sets up the slope of the gravel road.

This was our first solo outing with a goal since...October? Maybe the beginning of November? I don't remember when the last time was that we went out by ourselves, just Lily and I, other than the one failed attempt shortly after moving to the Frederick barn (which I didn't blog about because it was all of 15 minutes of "Lily, mules are not carnivorous").

Lily hesitated at the driveway but ever since the last failed solo outing, I've been riding with my dressage whip again. I never ever touch her with the whip (it's just not necessary with this horse; the only times I've touched her with it has been on rare occasions when reinforcing lateral work and all it takes is a whisper touch on the body part I want her to move); I simply tap my leg or the stirrup cage with it if Lily gets balky. When a squeeze of my leg didn't get her to go forward on the driveway, I tapped my stirrup cage once. Lily gave a little jump in surprise but walked forward. Lots and lots of praise!

She turned to the left of her own accord and broke into a trot before I asked for it. Good girl!

My goal was 10 reps of trotting or cantering up the hill and walking or trotting down the hill. It was our first hill set session since before Fort Valley in October, and I wanted to use it to gauge her fitness as well.

The road in this section is gravel and it had mixed in really well with the earth underneath it...so fresh gravel had been dumped on the road recently. From a distance you can't tell very well but the new gravel is obvious when you get closer. Lily has pretty solid feet, especially since I stopped micromanaging them, but mud + rain + snow all contribute to softer soles: she lowered her head and trotted up the gravel of her own accord but I could tell she wasn't 100% comfortable. After that round I asked her to use the grassy road verge for our reps. She cantered up the hill and trotted back down for the first 4 reps and then she was breathing hard, so we simply walked down after each canter rep down so she could take a full break. This worked very well. I really, really need to re-do her blanket clip! I think it will help. She is a shaggy winter beast at the moment.

By the 6th rep the verge where we were cantering and walking was getting a little deep (because mud under all the grass). Amanda had told us how to get to the BO's hay field and I saw the entrance from the top of the road hill now that I knew where to look. So I asked Lily to go up to the hay field, which is basically another hill that springs out from the road.

Lily gave a big startle as she stepped onto the hay field, but I couldn't see what on earth had spooked her. There was nothing there; not even the wind was blowing. Lily paused for a moment, then, knowing what was expected of her, sprang forward into an easy canter up the hill. I had forgotten that even the hills were soggy from all the rain and snow melt and I could hear her hooves squelching in the ground with each stride. We reached the top of the hay field and walked back down. And then I heard it: a crackling, buzzing and popping above us. It was actually pretty loud when Lily's hooves cantering through the mud weren't drowning it out and I ducked instinctively, not knowing where the hell the sound was coming from.

Did you know that power lines crackle when rain water hits them? I sure didn't, and there are power lines over the hay field. The lightest drizzle had started when I asked Lily to step onto the hay field: the sound of the raindrops hitting the electric lines was what startled her.

Lily was absolutely fine but the sound disturbed me enough that I decided to use the other half of the road, going up towards the barn driveway and away from the power lines, for the remainder of our hill sets.

Yes, my horse is braver than I am.

Lilybird was a rock star and we finished with one extra set going up and down the road at a walk to cool down. It was good to have my endurance and trail pony back to her normal self FINALLY!

I tied her up by the round pen with another flake of alfalfa and her grain. She continued eating happily while I went to fetch Gracie.

She may be a little out of shape but she sure has retained her booty throughout her extended vacation this winter!
G-Mare is starting to associate Charles and me with food, since it's the first thing she gets when we take her out of the field, and she came right up to me when I walked out into the paddock by the barn. She'll occasionally nicker at us too, which is awesome. :) Even if it's only because us = food.

I didn't feel like riding Gracie out on the now wet roads so after she was done eating her grain + meds, I decided to do a ground work session with her in the covered round pen. I've only done round pen work with her a handful of times and I really wanted to test her previous knowledge.

Amanda had said we were welcome to borrow some of her training equipment. There is a carrot stick in the tack room so I brought it out to the round pen. I was honestly inspired by a post Melissa wrote a while ago on her blog, Tales of an Endurance Wannabe. I loved the way she had Vegas the mustang turning with just a flick of her carrot stick and I wanted to see if I could get Gracie to do that. She will turn at my request at liberty but she does the incorrect turn-to-the-outside. We started out on the longe so she could get the idea of what I wanted. I'd point the carrot stick in front of her while requesting her to stop. She would halt and turn to face me. I would then flick the carrot stick to get her to turn away in the opposite direction. She understood right away, so I let her off of the longe line and she gave me some really nice work. We worked on the same thing: trot, halt with the carrot stick + verbal halt command, then change direction with the flick of the carrot stick. I don't like drilling her because she does get bored and starts to get creative, so we only did about 15 minutes. I then asked her to walk and she did a lot of stretching down with a swinging back.

She has a ridiculously huge stride at the walk. She overtracks by at least a foot. It's like riding a camel.
Her most collected gait is actually slower than her regular free walk!

Stretchy mare is stretchy
She's funny in that she drools while working, whether with a bit or without, whether with a rider on board or on the ground. I don't think I've ever noticed that on a horse before, and I've forgotten to mention it on here before. Not a lot; just a little lipstick. Of which I have failed to get pictures of.

She got groomed and I put both mares back out in the field as it started to rain harder. Thank you Weather Gods for letting me work with my horses!

The rain slowed back down to a drizzle on the drive home and I was able to witness this beauty on the mountain, the likes of which I had only seen in Elkins, WV since leaving the island.

Rain clouds stuck over the mountains.
Home is on the other side of them.
I had missed this kind of view SO MUCH. You guys have no idea!
Going down the other side of the mountain. The fog/rain clouds obscured the peak!
I got home grinning from ear to ear. The ride on Lily, the session with Gracie, the rain, the fog, and driving through the clouds had all been the most wonderful gift.

I was having a very lazy morning so I just strength trained at home until the sun came out from behind an overcast sky...but the wind continued. Dammit. So I got dressed and off I went to the barn.

The wind was worse out there. The forecast had said 40 mph gusts, but what we were getting out at the farm were 40 mph constant winds. Lily didn't care. I set her up with her alfalfa by the round pen, where she was receiving the wind in full force, and she dug right in. I tacked up with the idea of hitting the trails, figuring that once we were in the shelter of the trees the wind would not be as strong.

She's had a small swelling on the inside of her left cheek, right by her bars. The vet checked her mouth before the move and declared we could wait another 6 months to do Lily's teeth, as they were excellent. I noticed the swelling last weekend but it had decreased significantly in size over the week and I had stopped thinking about it. On this day, however, it was larger in size again and Lily was very sensitive to having it touched. I had ridden on a loose rein the last 2 days but I wondered if the bit had somehow irritated the spot. I gave Lily a dose of bute and was about to untack and put her back out when I remembered the S-hack.

I put it on with her bridle to make sure it didn't touch the side of her face where the swelling was located. It didn't. I played with the reins and it still didn't touch the swelling. I free lunged her in the round pen in both directions to check her attitude and she was quite willing. Completely unconcerned with the gale blowing outside.

So I hopped on and rode her around the round pen to be 100% SURE that the S-hack didn't bother her. It didn't.

Right at that moment the wind somehow blew the round pen door open. Lily came to a halt and looked out, ears pricked. I thought, "I guess it's now or never!"

Mind you, I had not ridden Lily on the trails with the S-hack yet. Any trails. We had only ever done 2 paddock dressagey sessions with it. And here I was taking her out onto these new trails by herself on one of the windiest days ever without a bit. But I actually felt good about this decision.

Lily walked out quite gamely and went on up the road at my bidding. We were literally walking into a wall of wind. It was blowing so hard and so strong that I had tears running back from my eyes. As if we were galloping. Except we were walking. It literally took my breath away.

We made it up to the bridle path between the neighbor's farm and the bunker house. Instead of heading up towards the trails, I chose to follow the fenceline in the other direction, which borders a grove of trees. We are allowed on this section as well and it was a welcome respite from that insane wind: the trees completely blocked it out. Lily picked up a trot of her own accord and we trotted on until we came to the end of the tree line. We then turned around and went back towards the bridle path. Going up the bridle path, we were back to walking into the wind full-force. GRRRRRRR...

Lily looked at me out of the corner of her eye. "Are you sure about this?" she seemed to ask. But she kept on walking. Tears were pouring back from my eyes and I had to squint to be able to see. I ultimately turned Lily around. No, it was too much. I just couldn't deal with that kind of wind.

But I couldn't have been prouder of my girl!!! I parked her back with her alfalfa and her grain while I fetched Gracie.

I set G-mare free in the round pen in an attempt to pick up where we had left off the previous day but Gracie was very "up", for which I can't blame her given the weather. We did end up with a mare that had both forgotten "whoa" and to turn to the inside to change direction. She was very worked up. I ultimately let her run around and get some energy out; sometimes you have to do that with her before she's ready to pay attention. When she started looking to me for direction, I asked her to halt and put the rope halter and longe line on her. We then reviewed moving her front end away from the carrot stick from one side to the other. We then did this at the walk, asking for a whoa and then changing directions. I then asked her to trot, and she obeyed when I requested the halts and changes of direction.

So I then set her free and we reviewed changing directions at the walk for a few turns of the round pen and called it a day while she was relaxed. I ended up working her for longer than originally planned but I felt it was a good session. She had her grain dinner while I finished putting stuff away.

I had just released both of them back into the fields when I saw the BO, Elena, and her husband, Phillip, working with one of the goats. (The goats are cashmere goats and need to be combed to remove the undercoat that is turned into cashmere wool.) They waved and I went over to say hi.

We got to talking about being a vet vs vet tech vs RN and then Phillip asked if we had explored around Frederick much. I told him we were in the process of doing so; we had an idea of downtown from hanging out there but weren't yet familiar with all of the surrounding areas.

Phillip cocked his head and grinned, "Have you been to Spook Hill yet?"
I said, "Noooo...what's Spook Hill?"
He was very excited. "I'll take you there right now! It's only 5 minutes away."
Elena was laughing. "No, you have to wait for Charles! Show them when he's around. He's going to love it!"
Phillip: "She can take him later." He was determined to show me this place.

Alright then. We hopped into his Jeep and he took off down the main road, winding in the opposite direction from home and into the tiny town of Burkittsville. It really is only 5 minutes away.

In the meantime, he told me the story of the farm and their house. I am a sucker for stories, especially family stories, and even more when it's stories of people's dreams coming true. I knew part of the story from googling the farm before deciding to move the horses there, but it's even better to get the full version from the people that actually lived it!

Phillip parked the Jeep in front of P.J Gilligan's Dry Goods Store in town. It felt like we were in a time warp. We were surrounded by 19th century stone and plaster houses, all brilliantly maintained.

"I think the Dry Goods Store is still open," he said. "The owner sometimes closes later on the weekends."

Photo from the PJ Gilligan Dry Goods & Mercantile Co website.
There was a stone step made up of a simple slab of stone, and looking down I noticed it was worn down on one side, the kind of thing that only happens after centuries of people stepping on the same spot. You can actually see what I mean in the photo above if you look at the store entrance.

Phillip walked in first and I followed. The first thing I noticed upon entering was the wonderful smell of pipe tobacco. And then I saw the five gentlemen with full gray beards sitting around the wood stove in the center of the store. They all looked up to greet us.

Talk about a time warp!

The wood-burning stove around which the men were gathered. Photo from the internet.
Phillip introduced me as one of his boarders and explained that he was just showing me around. I looked around shyly and one of the men, the owner of the store, piped up: "Women are welcome here too, you know." I burst out laughing. He continued, "The ladies seem to not like the fact that we smoke our pipes in here but you are welcome to join whether you smoke a pipe or not!" I grinned and thanked him, and this gave me the confidence to really look around. I was instantly fascinated. There was a wealth of real antiques from the 19th century. There is a dry goods store in Harpers Ferry that we have gone to, but this one was even better because it is still a real store where you can buy things if anything fancies you.

After a quick look-see, we stepped back out. Phillip looked at me expectantly. "That was SO COOL!!" I exclaimed! He beamed. "Isn't it? He actually dresses up in 19th century garb during the summer to man the store."

We got back in the Jeep and continued on up the hill behind the town. Phillip asked me to describe the land in front of us. We were going down a slope with a small mountain beyond it. There were cars behind us so he took the Jeep all the way up the mountain and into Gathland State Park, which is basically the house of the former Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend. Phillip pointed out the monument that Townsend had had built to honor war correspondents and the ruins of the old house.

National War Correspondents Memorial. Photo from here.
He turned the Jeep around and we went back down the hill and up a small rise. Here Phillip stopped the car and put it in neutral. We were facing a small rise.

The car slowly started moving UP THE HILL ALL BY ITSELF. And as it continued on up the slope, IT PICKED UP SPEED. And no, Phillip was doing absolutely nothing; he was just sitting there with his feet off of the pedals and hand off of the gear shift.

Ummm can you say creepy?

So legend says that the ghosts of the civil war are trying to move cars towards safety (away from the mountain; the Antietam Battlefield is on the other side of it) or are stuck in a limbo where they think they are still at war, pushing cannons and artillery pieces.

And that, my friends, is the famous Spook Hill.

There are actually several different explanations for the phenomenon, but I'll let you google that and leave you with the ghost theory. It's far more fun anyway. ;)

Phillip then took us the longer way home so he could show me where the cider house was (they have an orchard and they make their own regular cider and hard cider that you can buy!) and the old grange, a building where the local farmers used to get together to share innovations in farming and technology that made their work easier. I had never heard of the term "grange" before but I do know what a "granja" in Spanish is (another term for farm or "finca") and I'm going to guess "granja" comes from "grange"! Fascinating, no?

We then headed on back to the barn.

I thanked Phillip profusely for this tour that had been offered out of nowhere. I had no idea there were all of these places so close to the barn, and it just reinforced my love of Maryland all over again: there is so much history here, and I find it awesome that the locals appreciate it, protect it, learn the stories and pass them on.

It was a great weekend, but Monday was even better!

To be continued...

Maryland farm. Photo from here.


  1. It's great that you have so many training options now. Sounds like you can turn in any direction and have places to ride and work the girls. You definitely picked the perfect spot for Lily and Gracie. I love the views on your drive home. When you learn more about the area, I'd would love to come for a tour. I did spend some time in Frederick when we were preparing for Jillian's wedding in Libertytown, but I didn't see that much of the area.

    1. We'd LOVE to give you a tour!!! Anytime!

  2. You have major cajones for riding in the wind. Wind is the one ride killer for me. And Spook Hill sounds like my kind of place. Glad you got some riding in despite the weather.

    1. Me too! And Spook Hill was out of this world. ;)

  3. You live in a beautiful area, wow! Almost makes me want to move...and then I remember the ice and snow, lol. I'm so glad that Sensible-Lily has made a reappearance :D. Abby used to get frothy lipstick when being worked too. I never did figure it out - she didn't seem to be excessively licking or chewing. Funny that G-mare does the same thing.

    1. Hahaha you live in a nice part of FL. I loved my time in the west coast there; such a different vibe from South FL, and it was nice that it actually really cooled down for a while in the winter. I enjoy remembering and living vicariously through you. ;) I do love the mountains and people here, though. That is fascinating about Abby! Good to know there are other horses that do that.

  4. sounds like you got in some excellent riding and work despite the footing and weather!!

  5. I had no idea that powerlines crackled like that! What a good girl for getting over it so quickly.

  6. I remember the first time I heard power lines in the rain...kinda freaked me out too! Spook Hill sounds so cool! Someday I hope I live somewhere half as pretty and interesting lol.

    1. It's funny because we almost moved to NC, so reading yours has been an interesting "could have been" for me. :)