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New England Fox Trotter Club
The Only Recognized Affiliate of the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Association in the Northeastern United States

Mary Batt's Adventures with Jasmine

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another great trip to Texas began this day. This year, I am taking only one horse, my 6 year old Missouri Fox Trotter, Jasmine. She made the trip in fine style last year, with Taz, my 14 year old Arab/QH. However, this year, he is being leased to a riding student, as is Midori, my Arabian mare. I am somewhat concerned about the additional stress on Jasmine of travelling alone, but the money saved, plus the empty space in the trailer is well-worth it. You see, I am hoping to find another foxtrotter to bring home!!!

This year once again finds the driveway a mess! Snow, ice, you name it...I plan to have it sanded early this morning, and wonder of wonders, they arrive on time! But I am still concerned about driving down it with Jasmine in it. It is a very steep hill, and at the end, is a high bank. I can just picture us sliding down and over the edge...a good friend and riding buddy, Pete Shippee, agrees to come over and drive the trailer down empty while I lead Jasmine down, and load her in the street. Perfect scheme! Pete sends me off with good wishes and a safe start.

The trip down 95, then 495 to 84 West is uneventful for the most part. However, in Waterbury, CT, the interstate is closed, due to a propane truck turning over and spilling propane all over. All traffic is forced to exit onto some unknown road, while the area is evacuated. I pull over, and start callling friends and relatives, hoping to find someone at a computer who can google me past this mess. Finally, a friend in Florida, Rick Whissel, answers my call, and does a great job routing me around and back onto 84, west of the incident. Oh, the wonders of the computer age...

All is well for awhile, until it starts to snow...the last hour is through a driving blizzard, with more than one car off the road....we finally make it in to Silent Farm, in Goshen, NY, about 9 hours and 450 miles from our start. I have stayed at this place twice before, and it is like coming home....John and Mary, the managers, welcome us to a nice box stall, and a comfy apartment. They even bring me some pizza for dinner!!! Above and beyond is what Silent Farm is all about. After the pizza, I head out in the blizzard to the barn, to give Jasmine a little turn-out time in their huge indoor ring. She is ecstatic, has a good roll. We do some free-schooling, then I hop on, bareback, with just the lead. I just rode about 15 minutes, but after 2 months of not riding in snowy, icy Maine, it was HEAVEN!!! That one brief ride made the whole day worthwhile...

Once again, Jasmine is not drinking too much. I have brought water from Maine, and she sips at that. She is also refusing her "slurpy mix", which she usually gobbles up...a mix of grain, soaked beet pulp, salt, other goodies, is not well thought of this year....but she IS eating hay, and making manure, so she is probably OK....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I awake to a major storm, just as had been predicted. I had hoped to make Charlottesville today, to stay with John Davis, my employer of many years ago, and now a good family friend. However, it is sleeting and raining, and is expected to continue all day. The truck and trailer are covered with at least a half inch of ice....I opt to stay put; luckily, no one else is scheduled for the stall or apartment, so it is ours once again. I spend the day cleaning tack and watching movies, and slogging through ice and sleet and snow back and forth to the barn. At one point, my feet feel like frozen chunks of ice...but, I do have a nice ride on Jasmine, who actually remembers some of our dressage work from this past summer...She feels great, and does a fine fox trot and easy canter.

I also spend some time thinking about the book I am planning to write on this trip. Over the past year, I have begun to integrate horses into the mental health therapy I do. Formally known as equine facilitated pschotherapy, or equine assisted psychotherapy, it basically helps clients deal with such emotional issues as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, phobias, abuse issues, relationship issues, to name but a few. I have already seen incredible results, with Jasmine playing a key role with several clients. There seems to be a dearth of literature on the subject, so my thought is to write down some of my experiences to date, detailing how horses have helped clients, and friends, to deal with emotional "stuff". I also got to thinking that there must be a wealth of experience and stories from other folks. So, I would like to invite each and every one of you to take a moment and think of what owning, riding, relating to horses has meant to you. How have they helped you become who you are? How have they been part of your journey? What do YOU see as the benefits of being around these magnificent creatures? And consider writing this down and sending it to me via e-mail. I am hoping to include such stories and anecdotes as part of this book, which I hope will help other therapists, as they seek to partner horses with healing...I'm also looking for a title to said book. Ideas, anyone?

Thursday, February 14, 2007

Jasmine seems to have survived the storm and the stall in fine shape, though she is still not drinking as I had hoped. Still not eating her slurpies either...stubborn beast...We are loaded and on the road by 8 am, which for me is early!!! I am quite fond of sleeping in. However, we have a long way to go...The weather has totally cleared, and we have dry roads and blue skies all the way. I am once again getting a little worried about Jasmine; at one rest stop, she refuses not only slurpies, water, but even a tasty apple!!! By now, we are in West Virginia, with some grass peeking out. I unload her, and right at the gas station, with traffic roaring all around, I lead her to a grassy field. No more refusing!!! She puts her head down and does some serious grazing...From years of riding endurance, I know that this is the BEST thing I can do for her. Grass contains water and electrolytes, both of which I am guessing she needs. After 30 minutes or so, she hops right back into the trailer. Foxtrotters are SO great! She is so willing and cooperative....I can't say enough for this breed. I have loved owning Arabians for many years, but have fallen in love all over again with this great breed, and especially with this wonderful mare...

We arrive in Charlottesville around 5 pm, at a gorgeous place called Spring Hill Farm. It is about 80 acres, with a long drive. Mature trees and white board fencing welcome us. Jasmine has a large field with a shed. She runs around, rolls, but then starts callling to the other horses...they ARE herd animals!! The owner, John Hedges, kindly agrees to let her pal up with his gelding, whom he says is very docile. "Bumpy" is a 16 hand draft cross, a premarin foal whom they have had for many years. For those of you who are not horse folk, premarin horses are foals born to mares kept pregnant for the hormone in their urine. That hormone is isolated and purified, and is a major drug used in hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal women. There has been much controversy over the years around this sometimes cruel and sad treatment of horses. In many cases, the mares are kept strictly confined, to maximize ease of urine collection. In addition, many foals are destroyed, if no homes can be found for them.

In any case, Jasmine and Bumps run around madly for awhile. He makes the very grave error of getting too close to her hind end; flying hooves instill the proper degree of respect. As alpha mare, Jasmine is polite, but will NOT tolerate rude male behaviour. You go, girl!!!

I arrive at John Davis' home, ready to collapse, but it is Valentine's day, and John has a little surprise for me! He is part of "Rivanna", a barbershop quartet, and all day long, he and his 3 buddies have travelled around town, serenading ladies, hired by their loving gentlemen friends to sing for them. They have done over 15 "gigs", must be close to exhaustion, not to mention laryngitis, but they serenade me as finely as if I were the only lady in the world! A single red rose, impressive voices, and dazzling Valentine outfits make this an evening to remember. The only down side is that the moment the first note hits the air, Chani, my very nervous dog, dives under the sofa, and refuses to come out...they have traumatized the poor thing....John and I have to actually move the sofa to pry her out...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Today is a rest day. I head out to Spring Hill Farm, saddle up Jasmine, and head for the trail. My trail guides are Betsy, age 14, and Mary, age 12, who are waiting with impeccably groomed horses. Jasmine is an utterly filthy mess, with red Virginia mud coating her head to tail. But, she looks happy, and is drinking well. We enjoy an hour long trail- ride through woods, fields, and some quiet country roads. Jasmine is raring to go, wanting to run. Her very fast, ground-covering walk are way too fast for these quarter horses. She grumpily slows her pace, but we are both eager to move out. The only thing she has trouble with is the goats...the farm has 4 goats in a pen adacent to the barn. Jasmine must think those horns are meant for her....she spins, tries to run, but does NOT rear, thankfully...we spend about 15 minutes working in front of the goats, who in their fascination at this entertainment, take to leaping on their little house, and shaking their little heads at us. It gives us a great opportunity to practice some lateral movements, some of which are requested, some of which occur spontaneously. But, we end on a loose rein, walking calmly around the little beasties, so I judge the session a success.

John Davis and I have a great lunch at the Michie Tavern, an historic restaurant adjacent to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. We then enjoy a fine bike ride which winds in and around and up the hill to Monticello. The bike trail is incredibly well-done, with wooden bridges crossing ravines, and a surface excellent for biking or jogging. John shows me the cemetery, where Jefferson is buried, as well as his best friend, who is actually one of John's relatives many generations back. We wander around Monticello, drinking in the history and the very welcome spring sunshine. A very relaxing day. Tomorrow, we head out again, to visit with Lynnette, in Durham, North Carolina.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

After a quick breakfast and goodbye hugs to the Davis clan, I head out to Spring Hill Farm to pick up Jasmine. Betsy is already up and does a fine job of helping me catch and load Jasmine. She has been so very helpful during this layover. One never knows what to find or hope for on these layovers. Sometimes folks are there to meet and greet you, sometimes not, and you sort of have to guess where to put the horse, and wonder who, if anyone, will be feeding and watering her. Not here! Each and every time I have come out, someone in this family has been there, ready to help me. I highly recommend Spring Hill Farm to other travelling equestrians.

Our trip south to Durham is uneventful. We cover the 250 miles in about 4 hours, and arrive at the barn where Lynnette keeps her horse, Monty. Monty is a 4 year old Appendix gelding which she just purchased last year. In fact, I trailered him to her barn on the day she got him, on my way back from Texas last year. He is recovering from a fairly severe case of canker, a foot disease new to me. It is fairly horrible, and involves the rotting out of much of the frog of the foot. He needed quite a bit of (expensive) veterinary care, and she even had to move him to a different barn, with drier footing for his poor hoof. He looks to be recovering nicely now. Jasmine is in a small pen next to him, under a big old pine tree for shade. It is a beautiful day, 50 degrees or so, and quite sunny.

After letting Jasmine settle in, we saddle up, and head first for the outdoor ring, as Lynnette has not ridden Monty in quite awhile. He is feeling really good, and throws in a few bucks for good measure. We carefully watch for any signs of lameness, but he looks totally fine. So, a short trail ride is in order. This farm has an incredible cross-country field, hilly, with a good variety of jumps, including some banks, ditches, water crossing, plus the usual logs and gates. I recall my days of doing low-level eventing, many years ago. It is such a thrill to take a horse at a gallop over these obstacles. I notice a mild urge to try some of the low ones with Jasmine, but thankfully, that soon subsides....falling off hurts way too much these days, and recoveries take ever longer. Lynnette is training Monty to jump; I am content to practice standing still with Jasmine, as she works around us. This is a good exercise for Jasmine, as she has been getting way too eager to keep up with anything that moves. After awhile, we head out on the trail. There is a state park near here, and Lynnette has been eager to explore it. The trails are in fine shape, and both horses seem glad for the chance to be out.

Jasmine is sweating so much when we return that I have to blanket her against a chill. I am really hoping to get her a full-body clip soon, to avoid this, as well as hopefully to avoid all the skin problems we ran into last year.

Lynnette, her boyfriend Clay, and I enjoy an unusual dinner at a Brazilian steak house. It is unique in that waiters dressed as gauchos bring around to your table huge skewers of meat. Lamb, pork loin, grilled chicken, sausage, flank steak, sirloin steak, are but a few of the offerings. A huge salad bar, homemade mashed potatoes, and fried bananas (!!!) complete the menu. I turned my nose up at fried bananas, but Lynnette persuaded me to try them, and then I couldn't stop! They are fried just enough to soften them, then dipped in a cinnamon sugar coating. A fine end to a wonderful day....

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another much-welcomed rest day for the three of us. Lynnette, Clay, and I head to the barn for a trail ride. I am on Jasmine, Lynnette kindly invites Clay to ride her beloved Monty, and she herself rides a jet-black Arabian mare, 20 years old, who has not been ridden for "many years".....and then, would only allow a rider to go bareback, with reins on the halter. She will not tolerate a bit....I keep my motherly mouth shut, and hope Lynnette survives. Which, of course, she does...It is a fine ride, and Clay's first!!! He does a wonderful job, and does not look or ride anything like the usual beginner trail rider. His position is excellent, his confidence high, both of which make for a safe and fun ride. He has decided to try out my treeless saddle; unfortunately, Monty has quite high withers, and the saddle keeps slipping back, almost onto his croup! Monty is a good sport about it, and thankfully does not buck...Lynnette has to readjust it at least 6 or 7 times. Gives Clay good practice in mounting and dismounting. We spend a couple hours out on the trails, then put the horses up for a well-earned rest. Lynnette has a paper to write, but I talk her into watching a movie with me as she works... I'm a bad influence!!! We have an early night, as I leave early tomorrow.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lynnette and I enjoy a quick breakfast together, then I head out to the barn to pick up Jasmine. It is a beautiful day, and I am sorely tempted to take a quick ride. Now that the snow is gone, I am loathe to let a day go by without riding my black beauty. But, we have quite a long way to go, so we are off directly.

It is about a 6 hour drive to Camden, South Carolina, where my sister Sue, and her husband Lou live. They have moved here several years ago from Columbus, Ohio, when Lou retired. Both are avid horsepeople, enjoying mostly fox-hunting. Sue was the Master of Hounds in Columbus, very unusual for a woman to hold that most-revered spot. Their place is most beautiful, with a fine, modern house, which Sue has decorated with her many original works of art from her days as an artist. The barn is also lovely, with 7 box stalls, wash rack, tack room, and guest apartment. Currently, my niece Noelle is living there, helping with the horses, and getting ready to go to college in the fall. She hopes to attend an equestrian college in Northern Virginia.

Jasmine settles in to her new surroundings very well. She is not happy at being alone in a paddock, and spends a lot of time running around, and whinnying to the other horses, but eventually settles in. She finally takes a good long drink of water. Hooray!!! Sue and Lou have well water, which I guess reminds her of our good Maine water. She has her own fine stall at night. We have a fine dinner of beef stew and homemade rolls. I enjoy meeting Noelle's boyfriend, Joe, whom she recently met. Noelle and Joe have adopted a pair of lovely Alaskan husky pups, whose mother was stolen! They were just a few days old, so Joe and Noelle have had a real challenge feeding and nurturing them. They live in a pen next to the barn, and are always howling to be picked up!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sue, Lou, Noelle, and I head out after breakfast and chores for a trail ride. The land is flat, sandy, and the trail meanders through hunt country, with pines and scrub brush everywhere. Jasmine has a much faster walk than do their horses, even though the others are much taller. At the trot, we are better matched; her fox trot can be fast or slow, depending upon their pace. She wants the lead, but agrees reluctantly to stay in the back. Then, they take off at a hand gallop!!! Jasmine follows, willingly, eagerly, wanting to race! She responds to my requests to slow, but just barely. At one point, there are some hunt jumps; I resist the bigger ones, then think, "what the heck, surely she can take a log..." And she does, in very fine form, without breaking her canter stride. It feels good to jump again; we do one more, then my good sense takes over once again, and we go around the last 3 or 4. It would be just my luck to fall off and ruin my trip to Texas!

After chores, we sit in the sun, visiting and holding the puppies. Sue and Lou enjoy the country and weather, but have not found the people to be very welcoming, Sue and Noelle especially. It would seem that if you are from the North, you can't quite cut it. Sue tells multiple stories of being ostracized, ignored, put down. Lou agrees, but says "I just give it right back to them..." I am surprised to hear of this Southern mentality, always haveing had the image of welcoming Southern hospitality. I have found just the opposite to be true in Maine. As folks from "away" (Colorado) 15 years ago, we had anticipated some of the same attitude, but it just didn't occur. Folks in Maine have been very warm, friendly, welcoming. I feel sad for my sister...

After another great dinner Sue has prepared for us, we head into town (Camden), for tryouts for a local production of "Oklahoma". One of Sue's friends, also from up North, is trying out for the lead, and has asked Sue to come to give her moral support. She is very nervous, but does a fine job, and later we find out she has gotten the part! Sue tries to talk Noelle into trying out, as Noelle has an exquisite voice, but she firmly demurs....Sue is disappointed; she had wanted to show the southern ladies what the northern folk could do. I admire Noelle for sticking to her guns, but decide to keep that opinion to myself....

totally forgot to mention that while at my sister Sue's in Camden, Jasmine got a total body clip! What an ordeal! Sue has done this for many years; I had never seen it done. Picture a giant, whirring, shaver, a windy day, with glorious black hair flying.....everywhere. By the time we were done, hair was in our eyes, mouth, nose, down every small crack and crevice of clothing, not to mention all over the ground. Took Sue almost an hour. Jasmine was totally fine with it. I stood at her head, talking to her, telling her how good she was going to feel, how great she would look. Sue wondered if she had been clipped before (no), as she seemed to know exactly how to shift her muscles to allow the clippers to do the job most effectively. Now, she will not sweat so much when we ride; I also hope to prevent the plethora of skin diseases she got last year. The vet had recommended doing this to prevent that. On the other hand, now I am responsible for keeping her warm on a chilly night. Most nights, she will wear her rain sheet, as it still is in the 50's at night in these parts.

She looks kind of funny with the new cut. Her face and total upper body have been done, but not her ears, legs, or of course mane or tail. Her legs are the funniest, with long, Maine hair streaming down 1 to 2 inches.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

After our morning ritual of barn chores and sitting in the sun, soaking up the rays and the puppy breath, Sue and Lou help me pack up the trailer, and around 11 am, I head out. The weather is clear and fine, but a very bad thunderstorm is expected. with torrential downpours. It never appears, and we roll into Trickum Farm, about 15 minutes south of Atlanta, around 5 pm. Jasmine once again has not eaten or drunk anything. Yet she continues to load easily, climbing right onto the trailer when asked. Given the fact that she is not eating or drinking, I am surprised she is so willing to enter a situation which is so stressful for her. Once again, I am amazed at the willingness of these gentle giants to do our bidding.

She has a large pasture to herself, and spends most of it trotting around searching for another horse. Having only one horse this year has been so much easier for me, but harder for Jasmine, I fear. As the leader of her herd back in Maine, she is used to have constant contact with other horses. Now, if she is lucky, there will be one in sight, and she immediately bonds to him. Tonight, she will have a stall adjacent to one of the owner's horses for company. Debbie Lowe, a former endurance rider, urges me to leave her out for the night, but with her new short coat, and absence of buddies, I fear she will be miserable, and insist on a stall for her. At home, I never have these decisions to make; she is with her herd, she has a shed, she has the appropriate coat for the season, it's all her choice. Now, I am responsible for making the right decision for her, and frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. She's way smarter than me, horse sense-wise, anyway....oh, well, we do the best we can...

Chani and I head a few exits south to stay at a very nice La Quinta motel, the only one that accepts dogs. I am tempted to head out for a nice dinner, but am too tired, and content myself with left-overs from lunch, and car snacks. My favorite has become the dried prunes Liselle brought from Abu Dabbi for Christmas for everyone. I rolled them in sugar, and they are a real treat. They have practical uses, as well, which I will leave to your imagination...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We are on the road early, as today is one of our longest days. Atlanta to New Orleans, about an 8 or 9 hour trip, if all goes well. The storm that everyone was talking about has still not hit, but I move quickly to organize our stuff. Jasmine has drunk water and eaten some hay during the night, as well as cleaning up her grain, but once again has not eaten the beet pulp slurry, which last year she seemed to love. Sue mentioned that her horses have been turning it down also, just recently; she thinks the formula has been changed; something about beet pulp being an ingredient for some sort of fuel. I did not follow that conversation too well, but in any case, Jasmine wants nothing to do with it. She ate it at home, but now I recall, it was the old stuff from last year....I bought her a new bag, thinking to get some nice and fresh for the I wish I had tried some of the new stuff out with her at home, as there is a whole tub of that old stuff left.

The predicted rain hits, in full fury, pelting the car and truck with sluicing rain, and driving winds, for several hours. No one seems to slow down, however; guess these southerners are as used to rain as I am to snow.

The trip is eventful for another reason. Back in Maine, our elderly pony, Gaby, is having some serious health problems, and I spend much of the day on the phone with Gail Manzo, a dear friend who is trying to sort it all out. Some weeks ago, Gaby was not eating her hay, a fact noted by my youngest horse person, Chloe, age 11!!! Chloe spends time just watching Gaby, and observed that she seemed to be having trouble eating her hay. Sure enough, Chloe was right! When the vet came to do spring shots, he found that an upper molar was very long, probably interfering with her eating. I had a hard time getting the equine dentist to return my call; eventually, the mention of the vet visit did the trick. Steve came out about a week ago, and found the tooth not only long, but infected. He had to remove it. Gaby seemed fine for awhile, but now, perhaps this tooth was the cause of the problem. Of course, it could be something else, like colic, or some other more sinister "something". By now, Rick and Gail were saying she was not eating hay at all; even more serious, she was not drinking! I had recommended a few days ago that they start her on the wet beet pulp, and thankfully, she gobbled that up. It is soft and yummy. (recall, it is the old, good stuff. guess it was fortuitous that I left it...)

Gail was willing to call the vet, but as luck would have it, both our local vets were out of town, in Las Vegas, at a convention. Learning, no doubt, how to treat old ponies' teeth... I gave Gail some alternate numbers, and one finally called back. She wanted to know if someone would be on the property to authorize euthanasia, if necessary!!! What? She has a TOOTHACHE!!!, not a deadly virus! Well, says the vet, all her symptoms could be related to total system shut-down, as so often happens in old ponies. She would come check her tomorrow morning, do lots of blood work to see which systems were shutting down....poor Gaby...poor AROD! All the other horses have left, including his mother, and now, Gaby might die...poor little guy.

I call Rick to give him the news, and he goes apoplectic!!! He does NOT want to deal with a dying pony...anyway, Gail spent the rest of the day gathering stuff to help Gaby till the vet arrived. She is a true friend and accomplished horseperson. She was even willing to listen to my directions on how to give a shot for the intramuscular injection of antibiotics in the neck. We used the beautiful leather horse that Sheena Bunnell gave me from India as a discussion model...thanks again, Sheena! Bet you didn't know how useful that guy would come in...

Jasmine and I arrive at the place near New Orleans around 6 pm. LONG trip; we are both tired..she romps around in a very wet field for awhile, I get my boots totally soaked from all the puddles, then decide to ride for awhile. I jump on bareback, and we just ride around the property, do a little dressage in the indoor, then back she goes into the field. Richard, the barn manager, assures me he will put her in the stall for the night. Tonight, her companion is a tiny pony in an adjacent run...good luck, dearie...

Friday, February 22, 2008

We get a rather late start, owing to me sleeping in!!! I am so upset by Gaby's troubles, I had to take a sleeping pill, then just couldn't wake up. At the barn, there are quite a few dogs. One, a huge Pyrenees mountain dog, has fallen in love with Chani, who, unbelievably, seems just as interested! The other is a tiny, fluffy little lap dog of some sort, with a droopy eye. I ask Richard what ails her eye. Well, a few years ago, she had not had much experience with horses, and got in front of one. He stepped over her, but she got so terrified that her eye popped out!!! I kid you not, that's what Richard said. They took her to the vet, but it was too late, the eyeball was out for good. Vet wanted to put her down (where have we heard that before...???), but Richard said she would probably survive just fine with one eye, and so she has...

Around 10:30 am, Gail calls, the vet is here. Wonder of wonders, this is a VERY healthy old pony!!! All her systems checked out, but the tooth socket from the extracted tooth was very infected. Gail said the smell was horrible! Vet cleaned it all out, and put her on oral antibiotics twice a day, warm water, and beet pulp slurpies. Said it was really a good thing she was eating the slurpies, as that was the only hydration she had gotten over the last few days. Rick had already thought to bring her warm water. He amazes me sometimes...So, looks like Gaby will be just fine, just needs a bit of extra TLC. Hopefully, she will eat the medicine dribbled over her grain; otherwise, it has to be mixed with applesauce and given orally, like dewormer. Not as bad as giving a shot, but still a pain to do.

Our drive into Texas is uneventful. We stop at the welcome center, and I give Jasmine a long rest, while I explore a nature preserve there. They have even built a boardwalk out into the swamp, with informational markers along the way. Most notable is one about the alligator turtle, that is huge, and has scales across the top that makes it look like an alligator when partially submerged. Then, it has a little appendage to its tongue that shoots out to catch stuff, bugs and such. No swimming today for moi!

We arrive at Rhapsody Farms, our home away from home while in Texas. Jasmine is delighted to have finally arrived, and has a good roll in a nice sandy pen. She has to be quarantined for a few weeks, but then will be in with Liselle's horse, Bazeen. For now, she has a nice pen with a shed, and all the hay she can eat. It is quite cool in the evenings, so she still gets a blanket at night. Gary, the owner, is very nice, and makes us feel right at home. He has about 20 acres here, with 2 horses of his own, and just a few boarders. The riding is on local backcountry roads, with one going down to a river, the San Jacinto, I believe, where trails criss-cross it.

It is great to see Liselle and Austin again. Liselle meets me at the barn, and helps me unload. Then, home to their place just a few miles away from the barn. I am in their guest room for awhile, as they are putting in a new floor in the apartment above the garage that I usually use.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I am so exhausted from the long trip that I sleep right through breakfast! Liselle and Austin have gone to Panera, followed by errands. OK, the breakfast would have been great, but errands? UGH!!! I use the time to start to organize my rig for the next adventure, the Sam Houston Rodeo Trail Ride, for which I leave tomorrow.

When Liselle returns, we head to the barn for a quick ride. Jasmine looks well, still miffed at being alone. She thoroughly enjoys riding out with Bazeen, on the local roads. We have to keep it short, as Liselle is invited to a baby shower for one of her co-workers, and she invited me to come along. The highlight of the party is the "Dirty Diaper" game....the hostess took 12 paper diapers, and melted, in the microwave, different kinds of chocolate candy bars in each diaper. You were supposed to guess, by sight, smell, and, for the adventurous, taste, which diaper contained which candy bar. You can't imagine how the sight of that chocolate in the diaper turned one off to tasting...anyway, it was a good party, and I ate way too much. A movie and late dinner finished off my second great night in Texas.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The day is spent organizing for the trail ride, and helping Liselle and Austin put a new floor into the apartment for me. They are really working hard to finish that, why might that be? I like to think that they love the work, not that they are eager for me to once again have my own place...probably a little of both... I leave around 2 pm to have Jasmine finally shod, and to go to the ride site. I can't wait!!! This sounds like a real adventure!!!

Monday, February 26

We arrived last night at the ride site, a large field with about 2 dozen other rigs, plus a herd of free-roaming burros! I was warmly welcomed by all, and many hands joined in to help me set up the portable electric fencing for Jasmine, and generally get organized. Most had never seen this type of portable corral before; everyone else ties their horse to either the horse trailer, or to a tree. I used to do that, but there is always the danger of the horse getting tangled in the tie line. Jasmine was a bit nervous, but calmed a bit when she saw all the other horses. However, when the burros came over as I grained her, she got all worked up again. They wandered off at the crack of a whip, and from then on did not bother her.

The other major difference is the fancy rigs everyone else has! Big horse trailers with beautiful sleeping quarters in front of the horse quarters. They were sort of puzzled when I explained that I just sleep in my truck. It is quite cozy, with an air mattress, comfy sleeping bags and blankets, with two interior lights for reading. The only part I really hate is having to find an outdoor bathroom in the middle of the night. Maybe I could somehow add a toilet...

This morning found us up early: 5:00 am. I am NOT an early riser! But, the sky was lightening, and it promised to be a beautiful day. You are on your own for breakfast; cold cereal and milk is my usual, and to my surprise, others must do the same; I smelled no bacon, no coffee, none of the goodies I associate with camping. These folks were serious about getting an early start! We rode out around 7 am, with 18 miles to do.

This trail ride is but one of many "Houston Rodeo Rides". Folks all over Texas are heading, by horse, and by covered wagon, to Houston. One group has been on the road for 3 weeks now. Our group has about 300 riders, with about 13 covered wagons, with another 2 to 6 folks in each wagon. The pace is SLOW, SLOW, SLOW!!! Endurance riding people, this would drive you CRAZY!!!! These are all calm, slow quarter horses for the most part, and almost everyone just walks, each group behind their particular covered wagon. You are allowed and encouraged to go visit other wagons, at whatever pace you so desire, and Jasmine and I had some fun fox-trotting and cantering along the grassy shoulders. Yes, this is a road ride, something I had not realized.....cowboys sometimes galloped up and down the grassy strip also, whooping it up. This is also a fairly hard-drinking crowd. Before noon, I had been offered at least 5 different drinks: Bloody Mary, Buttery Rum, beer of all sorts, a cold juice drink which I unwisely gulped, till I realized it was loaded with rum...I finally started to decline the kind offers, and dug into my Sweet Tea.

Lunch was served by the side of the road, a delicious chicken and dumpling stew, with corn bread on the side, as well as apple crisp for dessert. You tie your horse to a tree while you eat. No place to sit, but I untacked Jasmine and used the saddle as a place to lean against. Interestingly, no one else did. They did not even loosed the girths. Unthinkable for endurance riders!

The whole string of riders and wagons covers almost a mile, and traffic is totally stopped, enforced by outriders and police. My wagon friends told stories of unfortunate souls who try to cut in, or speed by. No ticket is issued; they are arrested!!! Texans take this rodeo thing very seriously!! Horses have serious right-of-way all the time, but never more so than during the rodeo days. People come out from homes, stores, school, to wave and take pictures. We were always welcomed, and rode right through the town of Montgomery, down the Main Street. Montgomery is a quaint old Western town, with storefronts designed to look like the old West. We felt right at home.

We arrived in camp at 4 pm. How's that for a pace??!!! 18 miles in 8 hours!!! I have never ridden so slowly!! At a competitve ride, we usually cover 25 miles in 4 hours; at an endurance ride, in which you want to win, 18 miles might take 2 hours...these folks were commenting on how quickly they had ridden this year...

We rubbed the horses down, gave them their dinner, and went off to ours, once again catered at the ride site. As I was walking off, Jasmine rolled, and I luckily stopped to watch. She very athletically rolled over -- right onto the electric fence! Of course, it spooked her, and when she jumped up, it was all tangled around her legs!! She was fairly calm, merely walking around a bit, but before I could catch her, she disentangled herself, and jumped out, and off she went!!! Luckily, she only went 1 camp over to visit another horse, and was quickly caught. That was the end of the clever electric pen. Not only was she endangering herself, but other horses. Loose horses create all sorts of chaos, and as a guest, I did NOT want to cause any grief. She spent the night tied to the trailer, and did OK.

Tuesday, February 27, 2008

A bit of confusion this morning left me frustrated and out of sorts. From the wake-up call (which I did not hear), to incorrect directions to the next site, to a frenzied ride back to the start of the ride in a van driven by an idiot, to missing the start of the ride, I was NOT a happy add to it all, someone had kindly ponied Jasmine out with the rest of the ride, but I can no longer mount from the ground, so I had to walk along leading her, till I found a parked truck. From there, I stepped aboard from the bumper, and as soon as I was aboard Jasmine, the world got brighter. Rain had been predicted, but never materialized. This was a shorter ride, only about 12 miles, to the town of Tomball, where there was a welcoming ceremony for us at the train station. A reporter from the local paper interviewed me about my travels with Jasmine and Chani, and promised to send me a copy of the article. The mayor presented gifts to various folks, including me and Jasmine!!! They are really making us feel quite welcome. Everyone seems fascinated by our travels, and the fact that we are in the ride. More good food, and we were off again.

Some of the sights on the ride are unforgettable. There is one huge truck pulling the portable toilets. There are 5 for the men, 5 for the ladies. Every few hours, the whole ride stops, so everyone can have a go. Someone holds your horse. However, there are those intrepid souls who just can't wait. They simply hop off their horse, hand the reins to a friend, and climb aboard the moving thrones....incredible...but what really fried my brain was the cowboy who hopped OFF the horse, directly onto the slowly moving toilet, tied his horse to the side of it, and went on in. He was in there over an hour, until folks started yelling to him to get out NOW! There was an approaching school bus, and no room for the horse. He came dawdling out, on his cell phone, hopped aboard, and off they went.

Another unusual feature of this ride is how the horses are watered. Behind the toilets is a huge water tank, hundreds of gallons. It has a spout opening directly into a large stock tank. At the ride site, and at various stops, you just take your horse over to the tank, and fill 'er up. No one gives their horse water at their own campsite. Some clever horses have learned to drink on the move. Riders just go on up to the moving tank, the horse sticks its head in and drinks while walking. A kind lady spent over an hour with me behind this tank while Jasmine learned this fairly adroit skill. The truck varies its speed, so the horse has to move fast enough to keep up, but not too fast, or it will bang its knees on the tank. Took Jaz a while, but eventually she learned.

A final sight I will share is that of the cowboy cooking sausages, and hamburgers on the grill set up on the back of the moving wagon. Folks in his wagon just came up, got their goodies from him on horseback, and munched away. Ours had donuts today; Jaz finally learned she could come up to the wagon, with the flag flapping on both sides, and the plastic garbage bag waving in the breeze, and not die...while I got my donut. Beats walking...

Tomorrow is a layover day, and I am sick of sleeping in the truck, so I bring Jaz home, and spend an hour in the hot tub, before falling asleep in a bed that is much closer to a toilet...

Wednesday, February 28, 2008

A rest day. Spent doing laundry, sorting junk, reorganizing. Jasmine has also managed to loosen her new shoes, so the farrier comes out and puts them back on. He also adds studs, as the rest of the week is totally on pavement, and this will give added traction. I have not seen this kind before: the shoes have holes drilled into them, and the studs are totally removable. They will come off after this ride is over, since they can grab on soft ground and pull a tendon.

Around 4 pm, I will head back to the campsite, for dinner, and tonight, a dance. Liselle and Austin plan to join us. I am off again to load up the dear equine and have some fun!

Thursday, February 27, 2008

It is another very early start today. I do manage to hear the sound truck blaring the wake-up call, "Cattle Call", which I now can no longer get out of my head. These camps are a very noisy place...between generators booming, and bands playing half the night, it is not what you would call tranquil...

We begin by moving the rigs into the next campsite, the Houston Racetrack. We are in a paved parking lot, along with all the other riders from our trail ride. Another wild ride back to the horses...I am getting used to it...Jasmine once again is being ponied; I am getting used to that, too, as is she. Great flexibility is required for these rides...a good learning experience for both of us.

Today's ride is on roads where there pretty much is no shoulder, so all road riding. Jasmine is a real handful at first. I guess her rest day really wound her up! Not much in the way of scenery, just good food and good companionship. At day's end, she is once again tied to the trailer, but seems very content to be back with her buddies and her new nomadic lifestyle.

Tonight, I am informed, we need to move the rigs, arriving at the final campsite around 10 pm. Riders will sleep there, in the rigs, and be driven back to the horses in the morning. WHAT!!!??? Leave my horse? Unthinkable! I am not THAT flexible...sorry, no other way to do it, they say. 3 cowboys stay at the racetrack grounds to watch the horses, who are tied in a row to a long overhead picket line. Also unthinkable, as Jasmine kicks at anything that comes anywhere near her. She has already kicked two horses at the ride, even though she wears a red ribbon in her tail as a warning to unwary riders. They agree to tie her with LOTS of room between her and other horses. I still have misgivings, but REALLY want to do the rest of the ride. I agree to picket her as planned for 3 hours before we need to leave, and observe how she does. She is totally fine, calm and relaxed.

However, with only 30 minutes to go, two of the other horses have a go at one another, with way too much kicking, rearing, and biting. The owner decides to tie the instigator RIGHT next to Jasmine. Can't have that, I say. Too bad, he says, go tie to a tree out in the field. Not happening, I say. I will load now, and go home...we glare at one another for awhile, then he agrees to move his horse, after giving him a short "time out" with Jasmine next to him. I spend the final 30 minutes standing right next to those two, ready to break up a fight...the owner finally does move his guy elsewhere further down the line. The cowboys assure me she will be fine, and off I go to the next site, around 10 pm.

This is the best site yet! Memorial Park, right in downtown Houston. It is many acres, very wooded, with picnic tables, and shady, wooded glens all around. It will be home for 3 days to over 8,000 riders, wagon drivers, volunteers! The rigs are crammed right next to one another, each trail ride sharing a large paved "pad", with the horses to be picketed nearby, off the trees. By now, they are used to my insistence that Jasmine have her own space, and one of the trail riders helps me prepare her place for tomorrow.

I fall asleep to the sound of generators, country music, and worry about how my girl is doing back at the racetrack...

Friday, February 29, 2008

The "cattle call" is WAY too early for this woman...5 am! I can't understand how for many years I willingly and eagerly arose at 3 am to feed and water before the start of a 5 am endurance ride! Guess the advancing years are taking their is no longer fun to sleep in a truck, and struggle to hoist the body out for multiple calls of nature. Getting dressed modestly presents another problem. It is hard enough to pull on clothes whilst standing up, a real challenge to do so while lying down, and not letting any body part peek over the bottom of the windows. However, it is a bright, warm morning, and some kind soul brings around kolache for breakfast. These are tasty sandwiches made of grilled sausages wrapped in cheese, which is then wrapped in some sort of dough and baked. Very tasty, very rich. I throw in a few DiGel for good luck...I am also gobbling ibuprofen regularly now. Back in my endurance days, they were known as endurance M & M's...

We are all invited to stuff ourselves into the back of an 8 horse stock trailer, with hay bales to sit on. Then, it's hold on tight while the same crazy driver carts us back to the racetrack. I am still nervous about Jasmine...did she survive the night without ME??!! YES, she did, in fine fashion. She is just where I left here, totally relaxed, totally hungry. No one feeds your horse for you; in fact, I was the ONLY one who fed that morning! These folks think the horses work better on empty stomachs. They have also never heard of electrolytes. I was mixing some up for Jasmine when one woman asked what I was doing. Explaining the task brought a look of puzzlement...apparently some of these horses are ridden only at the rodeo trail rides, and once or twice the rest of the year in similar, smaller settings. A different world...

The ride today is around 12 miles, winding through commercial settings, with traffic roaring by. Underpasses, tunnels, overpasses, Jasmine takes them all in stride. Probably deaf after the roar of the generators and cowboy music each night...I have become adept at grabbing a drink from the covered wagon folks at the walk, and tossing my trash into the bag at the end of the wagon without Jasmine veering off. We are just a couple of cowpokes by now!...the moving toilets still elude me, however...I have to wait for them to stop. I think I will take a pass on that particular challenge and accept my limits.

Can't recall if I have already told the next story, if so, skip on ahead. At one point, a gentleman in at least his 80's, known only as "Turkey", is riding in the back of our covered wagon, watching Jasmine foxtrot. He can no longer ride, due to back pain. He states, "I thaink I cud rayd thet thar hoss...I'd tayk reaaalll gud cayr of much we talkin' for ya'll to leave her here with-in me?" I hastily explain that she is my best friend, and no sum of money could part us. (Rick is probably dropping dead from shock right now...) But I thanked him profusely for the huge compliment. To offer to buy another's horse is indeed a vast honor.

Another cowboy at some point during the ride wanted to race us. At the walk. He had observed Jasmine's unusually fast walk, and wanted to best us. "Okay", I agreed, "you're on." Jasmine swung out at about 6 miles per hour. He got ahead of us, but at the jog. Just could NOT make that horse walk fast..."Sure do lak thet thar hoss" was his final comment, as he tipped his hat, and trotted off...

These Texas men are uncommonly polite to a lady. They always tip their hat, and call me "ma'am", even the little boys. Or, they call me "Miss Mary". One makes me feel old, one like a is common to refer to any woman, despite her age, as "Miss"...I find I rather like it...

All is not perfect, however. A rather disgusting habit the men (and ONLY the men) have is spitting. They all chew tobacco, and quite regularly let loose with a stream of smelly spit. They don't check the wind direction either...I asked one of the women how she could stand that. She seemed puzzled by the question and answered, "Oh, that's just what men do..." Hmmm, where have I heard THAT before? And truly, NO ONE seemed to mind! I had the good sense not to bring it up again, but hard a hard time keeping the offended mouth shut...

We roll on into Memorial Park around 4 pm (yes, that is 8 HOURS to do 12 miles...), and are greeted by cheering fans lining the streets, roaring their approval. Jasmine settles in nicely to her high-tie. After organizing the camp, we stroll off to cheer the largest group, the Salt Grass Trail Ride, about to arrive. Then, there is country music with dancing, and an award ceremony for the best trail ride, judged by standards which are not apparent to me. Our group does NOT win, and they seem quite disgruntled. No one in our trail ride cheers the winners...not very sportsmanlike. I recall a similar time when Lynnette's high school ski team did not place first, and they did not cheer the winners. Coach ROARED, "Mt. Blue, ON YOUR FEET!!!" Cheering quickly commenced. I felt like doing the same...

Liselle arrives around 7 pm, and we decide to stroll around the park and take in the sights. One of the women cautions us about the group next to us, citing as a reason that they are black. Liselle stares blankly at her "So?" My mouth drops a foot..."What's wrong with that?" She just replies, "We just don't want you over there." Unbelievable....this is the group of mostly black riders that has ridden the same trail with us for the last few days. All are incredibly friendly; no racism evident during the ride. Perhaps it is just that one woman....saddening.

Dancing and drinking seem to be the norm for this night. The din is deafening. Liselle and I turn in early, me to the truck, she sets up in the horse trailer. I take a sleeping pill just to be able to fall asleep. Tomorrow is the big day! The parade of all 8,000 of us through downtown Houston...I quiver just to think of it...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Today is the big day! The largest parade each year in Houston is this one, where thousands of horses, cowboys, covered wagons, cowgirls, parade right through the streets of downtown Houston.

The parade starts at 10 am; we arise early, again, to be ready to roll. We have to ride 3 miles to the parade site, then about 1 mile of the actual parade, then 3 miles back. I offer to let Liselle ride Jasmine, while I ride in the covered wagon. And pray that she accepts. My bones and joints are killing me. Plus, riding Jasmine past what has been described as a "nightmare" is not exactly thrilling. Liselle is a much more confident and skillful rider. Thankfully, she is enthused, and hops aboard. I am the only passenger in the covered wagon, for some reason. So I get to pass out drinks (no alcohol allowed for the parade, which almost resulted in some of our troops dropping out..go figure...), and waving vigorously.

The first few miles pass calmly enough. Then, as wagons are organized and sent down the parade streets, things start to get dicey. There is a lot of starting and stopping, which the covered wagon horses do NOT appreciate. One starts to fret, quite a bit, rearing at one point. I debate the relative sanity of staying aboard, or trying to hop off. I choose the former. One of the drivers leaps down to calm the horse, and another cowboy stands in front of him. As soon as the line starts moving, he is OK. Meanwhile, Liselle and Jasmine are having a fine old time. All is well with my babies....

Soon enough, it is our turn to enter the actual parade. My heart stops. Ahead of us is a true "tunnel of terror". At least for horses...there are spectators at least 10 to 15 deep. Screaming, waving flags, blowing airhorns, cheering. Helicopters fly overhead, getting pictures for the news. Ice cream trucks blare music for their treats. Utter bedlam...I am SO glad Liselle is riding, and I can cower in the wagon. Jasmine does great, as do the covered wagon horses. The only time Jaz falters is when some young soul blows an airhorn RIGHT next to her. But Liselle quickly brings her back under control, and all is well.

We learn later that the spectator crowd numbered around 500,000!! I think that is about half the population of the entire state of Maine!!! WAY more people than I had even dreamed of! They sure do love rodeo and horses down here...

We make it back to Memorial Park with only one further incident. The street sweepers are already out, cleaning up after the horses, and once again, Jasmine spooks, as do many of the other horses. No disasters, though, just enough to keep us on our toes.

We end the day with a final cookout and farewell hugs. Once again, everyone wants to know if I have enjoyed it, is it what I had anticipated, and will I come back? I let them know what a fantastic time I had, how much bigger and better it is, and yes, I can hardly wait to come back...not really sure about the latter, since I can hardly walk...but, as time goes on, I am sure it will be just like having a baby. You forget the misery and only remember the good parts!!!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Well, one of you facetiously wondered, now that the rodeo trail ride is over, what will I be doing with my time? Today's answer appeared around 5 pm, in the form of a goat! Liselle and I were making dinner for some of her friends, when all 4 dogs started to attack the floor-length kitchen window! Barking, snarling, leaping and lunging, they were furiously defending their castle against --- a GOAT! You need to picture Liselle's house to really get the picture. She and Austin live in an upscale subdivision, tiny lots, gorgeous homes, fantastic, mature landscaping. Not the sort of place inhabited by a goat...but, just down the road live our horses, and presumably, this goat. Mr. Goat is in Liselle's driveway, and some kind soul helps us herd him/her into the backyard, which is small, totally enclosed, and home to a pool, hot tub, as well as a lot of nice plants....the dogs go crazy, racing from window to window, and dinner party plans go on hold...I can't wait to see Austin's face when he sees Mr. Goat. Maybe I will tell him Liselle bought him as a birthday gift for Ross (Lorien's husband), who wants to raise goats when they move to Farmington...I could bring him back with Jasmine in the horse trailer...

To be continued....

Friday, March 28, 2008

The last few weeks have flown by, with nice, warm weather, getting a little on the humid side. All it has to do is hit 90 degrees with lots of humidity, and home I fly!!! Or at least drive...

Jasmine came up with some leg swelling briefly, but a few days of rest and cold water hosing seemed to do the trick. I have been riding mostly in Jones State Forest, about a 15 minute drive from the barn. I often load up the horses and dogs, and meet Liselle there after work. She has been putting in rather long hours, preparing for what seems to be an endless series of presentations.

I have also started trying to go to some cultural spot once a week. So far, made it to the Houston Zoo....not sure if that meets the criteria for culture, but it sure was fun. I thought I would have the place to myself, as it was midweek. But it was Easter vacation, and the place swarmed with kids...I went to the children's zoo, and thoroughly enjoyed watching them tussle with the goats, and crawl through a tunnel in a tank filled with fish above and below.

Today, Liselle and I are driving to Galveston, which is about one hour south of Houston. There, she is entered in a triathalon. She will do a quarter mile swim, in Galveston Bay, followed by a 12 mile bike ride, and finish with a 5K run. One of her friends from work is joining her; I am in charge of cheering! We are staying at the Moody Gardens Hotel. Moody Gardens is on of the big attractions in Galveston, with a variety of museums, IMAX theaters, aquariums, and gardens. Liselle has not done too much training for this, unless you count all our "carbohydrate loading" AKA pizza nights....

Monday, March 31, 2008

This past weekend was a lot of fun, though Galveston is a very industrialized city, with a strip of hotels and beach homes for swift contrast. Moody Gardens Hotel turned out to be fabulous and luxurious...multiple pools, a hot tub, and a restaurant with a dress code.....which we couldn't meet. We ended up at a very unusual restaurant called Rainbow Forest Cafe. After passing underneath a waterfall, you are greeted by a large monkey, presumably with a human inside, who leads you into a veritable forest of vines and cawing birds and monkey calls. Animated elephants and gorillas add their piece to the din. Every 30 minutes is a "thunderstorm", complete with thunder, lightning, and even noisier animals. This is the spot to bring a wide-eyed 3 year old. Get those grand-kids going, ladies....I want my grandchild flooded with all this din so he/she will never be afraid of a storm...

Liselle did GREAT at the triathalon, finishing 17th out of 103 in her division, for first-timers. Full triatholons are mind-boggling: 5 or 6 miles of swimming; a 100 mile bike ride, and a 25K run!!! They did not have one of these at this particular race, but did offer a half and a quarter triathalon on Sunday. Liselle and her friend Sabrina, who is from Italy, really enjoyed the weekend. We shared a room and a lot of laughs, as they got all their gear together....didn't think I'd ever see Liselle in a swim cap!!!! Some of the participants, including Sabrina, found the swim in the bay a bit overwhelming. Much different from the clean, clear pools they are apparently used to...rumors of sharks did not helpl things...

Contestants ranged in age from an 11 yr. old boy to a 79 year old woman! There were a number of folks in their 60's and 70's, who really inspired me! I MIGHT be able to do the bike ride, but no way could I do the swim or the run. It actually makes me want to do some long-distance bike riding, now that the knees seem to be better. The men's division was one by a 30 something man from Boulder, CO, the national triathalon champion. Though the announcer expressed his, and presumably everyone's, delight in being honored by this guy's presence, I for one thought he was a bit of a prima donna. He is the national champion for a FULL triathalon (remember, 100 miles etc...), so doing this introductory one was probably less than he trains daily....reminds me of when the 100 mile endurance champion waltzes away with the first place ribbon for my lilttle 25 mile ride. Anyway, everyone seemed to have a great time. The event began at 7:30 am and was over by 11 am.

Liselle and I spent the rest of the afternoon at Moody Gardens, enjoying the rainforest, the aquarium, and an IMAX about the Grand Canyon. Though it focused on environmental issues surrounding water usage from the Colorado River, there were numerous scenes of a wild river, at one point in my life, that was one of my goals. To raft the Colorado through the Canyon...I pictured a calm float trip, with everyone sipping on Margueritas...this was a totally out-of-control trip, with bodies shooting out of everything from rafts, to canoes, to kayaks. And not a Marguerita in sight. So, I will happily mark THAT goal as not happening. Years ago, Rick and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon, and he wanted to go down on the mule trip. No way, said I, am I entrusting my life to an ass! I have a strong fear of heights, and the idea of a 2 mile drop just a foot away did not thrill, we hiked down a short way, and that was more than enough for me.

Sunday, we spent the day on projects around the house. Liselle is determined to build a gate system to corral her dogs from the gardens we have both labored hard to get prettied up for the spring. She came up with building a gate on either side of the pool. One end is attached to the house, but the other end is free-standing. If the dogs hit it hard enough, as they chase those delightful squirrels that run all over, they, and the gate, will most likely end up in the pool. It is an interesting design...we shall see how it works.

Friday, April 5, 2008

I had an interesting couple of rides with Jasmine from Liselle's barn where I am boarding Jasmine. About 30 minutes, by horse, from the barn, is the San Jacinto River. It is a veritable playground for 4-wheelers, with tons of sandy strips, banks, dirt roads etc. Liselle rides there a lot, and says it is a fun place to ride. We found it with no problem, and even better, no 4-wheelers around! It is very deep sand, and someone else cautioned me about the sand-traps, or sinkholes, so I was very cautious....all I could envision is that scene from Never Ending Story, where the little pony sinks down into the quicksand!!! We stayed on the 4-wheeler tracks and had no was very peaceful, with a number of cranes, or maybe they were ibis, standing out on a sandbank, or gracefully swooping through the air.

We took a different route back, through what is known as the Magnolia Neighborhood. It is a 100 year flood plain, and very desolate. Roads are half tar, half dirt, most homes are decreiped and unoccupied....a few intrepid souls still abide there, or least their barking dogs do...It is a maze of intersecting streets, circular cul-de-sacs, and dead-ends. I was soon lost, go figure...luckily, an elderly gentleman was finally found, and we struck up a conversation. His house, as are so many of them, is up on stilts, about 20 feet in the air. The last flood was in 1994, and he ended up with 18 inches in his house, making the water over 20 feet deep!! He pointed out the way home, and we wandered on in eventually...I will have to explore those dirt roads at greater length next week.

Yesterday, Liselle and I trailered up to Sam Houston National Forest. They have been doing some controlled burning there, and the undergrowth ranges from blackened and still smoking, to a beautiful carpet of ferns that have filled in the burned area from last year. That part was just gorgeous, with the tall pines towering at least a hundred feet over the green carpet. All the multi-use trails are now open, so we decided to try them. Horrible!!! They are all twisty, covered with roots, ups and downs from the dirt bikes, good for walking only. Every time I asked Jaz to foxtrot, she stumbled, couldn't seem to maintain an even pace. Liselle thought they were a riot, and seemed to love trotting over it all, with her much more nimble little Arabian. I think Jaz has a much longer wheel-base!! The trails were also quite overgrown, and at one point, a vine caught me in the neck and almost strangled me. Unfortunately, that was one of the few times we were, no more dirt bike trails for this lady. Bring on the dirt roads!

Tomorrow, we are off to Davy Crockett National Forest, about 3 hours north, and Liselle assures me the trails are smooth, wide, and gorgeous...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well, the trails at Davy Crockett National Forest WERE smooth, wide, and WET!!! We had a torrential downpour here the night before we left, that extended over a large part of the state. Everything was wet, wet, wet. The park is about a 3 hour drive from Liselle's, through some very lovely wooded, but pretty flat, countryside. It is a very large park, and one whole section is devoted to horse trails!! The Piney Creek Campground provides about 15 sites, though since it is a National Forest, you can camp anywhere. When we arrived, there was only one other trailer there, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Liselle urged me to once again try the electric pen for Jasmine, and I agreed. We put Jaz and her horse, Bazeen, into a fairly large enclosure, about 24' x 20', and they got along fine for awhile. Then, Bazeen tried to eat some of her hay, and when she gave him "the look", he did not respond properly (moving off, FAST!!), but had the temerity to keep on eating! Well, Jaz is the lead mare, and promptly swung her butt at him, the next level of escalation. HE, in a fit of stupidity, tried to BITE her! One does NOT bite the lead mare...She promptly gave him a good, swift kick in the ass, which should have ended it. BUT, ol Bazeen kept at it, and pretty soon the two of them were really going at one another, teeth and hooves. Liselle and I yelled, threw stuff at them, and finally broke it up. Bazeen ended up with 3 kicks in various places, with Jaz not a scratch....we quickly built a separate pen for Bazeen, and peace was restored...

Heading out to the trails found us knee-deep in water. Running one point, Liselle spotted a large snake slither off...snakes here are mostly poisonous, and I was all for heading home, but she prevailed. No more snakes, and eventually, the water gave way to a gorgeous dirt road, where we explored and cantered to our hearts content. At one point I offered to let her try Jaz, and I hopped on Bazeen. He was very good. She has done an excellent job of training him. His mouth is like velvet, and he moves off your leg like a dream. His canter was actually comfy!! But his trot, big and bold, had me gritting my teeth in pain after only a few moments. I had to ask for my dear one back quite soon. Liselle says Jaz is the most comfortable horse she has ever ridden, but she just doesn't care too much for the gait. Says it feels like she's not moving at all....EXACTLY!!! No movement = no pain.

Back at camp, the other campers came over to invite us to dinner. They were from Dallas, with a HUGE rig. A four horse slant load with living quarters that had not only an 18' shortwall, but a slide-out as well. They were so proud of it, and eager to show it off. We happily enjoyed a fine feast with them, and turned in for an early night.

The next day was bright and sunny, as was yesterday. We have really lucked out with weather. No rain, no bugs, no humidity. Any of the former makes me want to stay home. Today, we tried a different set of trails. Again, the first half was full of water, but then they narrowed to a single track, and totally dried out. They became quite twisty, but not as bad as a few days ago, and NO roots. We had tremendous fun flying along at a canter, over logs, missing trees with our knees by inches! Bazeen is quite agile, Jasmine less so. But her gait feels quite steady and powerful today, and I was well-pleased.

We are back home in Conroe by late afternoon and enjoy some time in the hot tub. God, I will miss this life of leisure!!!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rick arrived today to spend a few days recovering from the awful Maine weather! I picked him up at the airport, and Liselle had the hot tub and strawberry Margaritas ready...heavenly. He is actually down here as a Christmas gift from Liselle. They are doing a father-daughter trip over the week-end, to Austin, Texas, where she has planned some winery tours, a show, and a train ride out into the hill country.

Austin, Liselle's boyfriend, gets in tomorrow, from a month-long trip overseas, to India, Algeria etc, for his work with an oil company. I imagine he will be totally jet-lagged, and needing a long rest, so I have planned a riding trip for myself this weekend.

Friday, April 11, 2008 to Sunday, April 13, 2008

Liselle found a paradise of trail riding earlier this year, with an endurance friend. It is called 7IL ranch, near Cat Springs, Texas, about a 2.5 hour drive from Conroe. 1,100 acres of well-maintained riding trails, about 25 miles of them. They have 3 separate loops, well-marked, so for once, I cannot get lost...I arrive in time for a 2 hour ride on Friday, than get Jasmine settled in. She has a large shed to herself, but no grazing. And no other horses nearby. I am puzzled, but pleased, by her lack of concern...There is a large barn here, with an outdoor ring, but no overnight facility for people. Other folks who have come all have those comfy horse trailers with the attached living quarters for the folks. I head off to the local motel, a very nice Best Western, about 20 minutes away. I am sick of sleeping in that truck!!!

Saturday brings another gorgeous day, with bright blue skies, temperature in the 70's and LOTS of wind!!! But once you get out onto the wooded trails, you are much more protected. Jasmine and I do 2 loops today, about 7 miles each, with lunch in between. All goes well until she spooks, and unloads me! As we came around a corner, there was a 15' hunting stand, which looks like a giant coffee can on a tripod. She went sideways; I did not...but, the sand was soft, and I soon clambered back on. With all my exercising at Curves, I can now mount from just a short log, or put her in a slight depression. Still can't quite get on from the ground, but it is coming...

Sunday dawns with another perfect day in store, though thankfully less wind. I met some folks yesterday who invited me to ride with them. As I am waiting, I tie Jasmine to the trailer, allowing her to graze. This is a very stupid thing to do, but my plan was to sit right next to her, reading and keeping an eye on her. However, the book was good, my attention was caught, and soon, so was she. The lunge line wrapped itself around all 4 of her legs, and she ended up with a nasty brush burn on her 2 back pasterns. I swear, these animals are worse than a kid....give them 2 minutes, and they will somehow find a way to injure themselves...she seemed OK for the moment, not lame, just not letting me touch it, so I decided to join the ride and see how it went.

I rode with some very interesting folks. Daniel and Catherine, from Switzerland, who have lived in this country about 8 years. She is an artist, and does the Swiss art form of paper cutting, creating amazing, detailed designs, that are then inked onto paper. Daniel is in the oil business, and is also a sailor. He thought Houston would be a good place to sail; not so! Apparently, the harbor is very poor sailing, so he took up riding instead. Got himself a beautiful paint horse, a living quarters trailer, and he and Catherin

e come here every weekend.

About 4 years ago, Catherine got bucked off a horse, and broke her back. She ended up in traction for over a year, and vowed never to ride again...however, this weekend, she is giving it a try! A friend has loaned her a very quiet, sweet quarter horse mare, and I am praying all goes well for her. She has a lot of courage! And I feel honored to be part of this very special time for her.

We take it very slow, walking only, and Jasmine is unusually good. Until, that is, she decides to roll in some deep sand. She managed to go from a strong walk to lying down with NO warning! My leg got caught between the saddle and the ground, and I now have a huge bruise. But, I managed to roll free, and she just stood there looking at me...luckily, Catherine's horse remained calm....I would have felt terrible if that incident caused a problem for Catherine.

After the ride, we all enjoy a nice lunch at their trailer, and Daniel provides me the latest Trail Rider magazine, which has good information about riding in Tennessee, exactly along my planned route. Hopefully, I will see them all again next year...

Rick and Liselle return to Houston quite late, having had an outstanding time! She had organized a really nice trip, with several wineries, a play, and the train ride, which he really enjoyed. He is off again on Monday, back to work in Maine.

I leave on Thursday, April 17, taking about 10 days for the return trip. I will come back a different way, via Tennessee, Arkansas, then on to Virginia and Pennsylvania. So far, I am planning a 2 day stay at a cattle ranch in Tennesee, where they raise Kentucky Mountain, Rocky Mountain, and Paso Fino horses, all of whom are gaited. They are also adjacent to good trails. I plan to ride Jasmine a few hours, then look at some of their sale horses...who knows, I may fill that empty trailer space.....

Another highlight will be a 2 day stay at Charit Creek Lodge, a wilderness lodge in the Big Creek Wilderness area, accessible only by foot, bike, or horse. I have to pack in grain, dog food, and personal gear; lodging and food is provided. You can take a 2, 7 or 15 mile route in. Depends on the weather....

Don't know when I will be by a computer again...take care, all of you. mary

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We get a nice early start, and drive 9 hours, and 416 miles on a new route home. We travel north on 59, which turns out to be quite a good highway, to 39 East into Bismarck, Arkansas. We are staying at the Bar Fifty Ranch, a working cattle ranch. (888-829-9570) They also raise Kentucky and Rocky Mountain horses, as well as Paso Finos. They have a new breed, called a "TaFino", a cross between a Tennessee Walker and a Paso Fino! It is an actual registry, but fairly new.

Jasmine has a stall in one of their many barns, and I am in a "cowboy bunk" room, small, with 2 single beds, a refrigerator and microwave and TV, which only seems to get one station, a religious one. Go figure. They do have a goodly supply of movies laid in, so I think I will survive. For the richer, there are fancy cabins; for the more adventurous, a campground. All are welcome to a hearty, home-cooked breakfast, for only $7. Other meals, you are on your own. I have brought stuff for sandwiches and cereal. All my money seems to be going to gas!

Friday, April 18, 2008

After a fantastic breakfast, I go with one of the ranch hands to look at horses. They are lovely, but none is anywhere near as good as Jasmine. The mountain horses are NOT comfortable, quite bumpy in fact, which surprises me. The only one I really like is the tafino, but she is very small, about 14.1 hands. They assure me that she will be FINE!!! Boy, they really do want to sell me a horse! And, after riding 7 of them, I was starting to get discouraged; all I wanted was to get back on Jasmine!

She and I went out for a long ride in the afternoon. They provided me with a map, which looked to be really well-marked. Colored ribbons, of all sorts and colors, including polka dots, as well as numbered plates hung on the trees to mark the spot where you were. "Wow," I thought, "At least this time I won't get lost..." HAH!!!! How wrong I was! All went well for a few hours, though I did notice that the round plates were non-existent...all the trails seemed to go every which way, but I was able to follow the white loop, for awhile. Then, I came to an intersection where white went in 4 different directions. I called the ranch, talked to one of the hands, who, after a 15 minute conversation, admitted he did not have a clue as to where I was. Suggested I just follow my route home. Since this is what I usually end up doing on new trails, I figured I would be OK. But darn, I had really hoped to make that loop.

About 15 minutes into the ride back, I met a couple on Tennessee Walkers. Chris and Crystal Larsen, from Grenada, Mississippi, they were out for the day, and had a GPS!!! I asked if I could join them, and they were fine with that. Turns out they are certified trainers of gaited horses, in the program designed by Brenda Imus, the reigning queen of gaited horses. Kind of like a John Lyons or Pat Parelli trainer. They watched Jasmine move, and said she did a wonderful running walk! 12" overstride! As she moved faster, she went into a saddle rack. No sign of the foxtrot...hmmm....guess I should start looking at Walkers! Their horses were gorgeous palominos, with none of the craziness I have come to associate with Walkers. Chris said you have to look for the old bloodlines, Heritage, to get the calmness. He had one for sale back at the campsite, and I am looking forward to riding him tomorrow.

We did a really hilly trail, with lots of twists and turns, and finally meandered back to camp. They invited me to dinner with the friends with whom they are travelling. They all met in a chat room from, and now meet from time to time to ride together. Tonight was Mexican night, and the food, and company, were awesome! They were fascinated by the story of my travels, and all hoped we could sometime meet again. A wonderful, welcoming group, all of whom knew and rode gaited horses. In fact, the whole time I was there, I saw nothing else but gaited horses!!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

After another great breakfast, I headed over to the campsite to look at "Trigger", an 8 year old Palomino gelding, who was gelded only a year ago. Boy, was he something! Beautiful, flashy, comfy! But, more spirited than I like. They ride with great big shank bits, and even with this, he was a handful! Reminded me a little too much of my life with Arabians. Sadly, I said no....I think Chris will have no problem selling him.

Today, we drive 384 miles, in 7 hours, along Rt. 30 east, picking up 40 east around Memphis, TN. We arrive in Fairview, TN, just west of Nashville, at the Lazy Susan Appaloosa Ranch (615-417-2925 cell/615-799-0991 home). The owner, Susan Morris, is on a vacation, but she has given me directions. This is a private home, meticulously kept, with 2 big goldens to greet us. She has two horses of her own, in a small barn, with a round pen, and a small field. A very upscale neighborhood that rather reminds me of our first home in Colorado. I am grateful for her trust in me, as the barn is unlocked and I am free to come and go at will. Jasmine enjoys a romp in the grassy round pen, then settles in for a relaxing night in a HUGE double stall.

I make my way to the nearby Deerfield Inn at Fairfield, where a comfy room, and a delicious buffet dinner across the street hit the spot. It has been a good trip so far, and Jasmine seems to be handling it a little better, drinking more readily this time around.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

After the ride on Trigger, Jasmine and I are on the road by noon. We drive 3.5 hours, and 197 miles to Bandy Creek Stables (423-286-7433), in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. It is about 2 hours north and west of Knoxville, TN. We are headed up to Charit Creek Lodge (865-429-5704) for 2 days of riding and relaxing.

The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River drains about 1,400 square miles of some of the most primitive and isolated land in the eastern US. It is one of only a few rivers in the US designated by Congress as a National River because of its historical significance as well as its wild and scenic beauty. Its 123,000 acres provides opportunities for hiking, backpacking, exploring geological formations such as natural arches, chimneys, rock shelters, as well as miles and miles of trails specifically for horses. Historical sites abound. The Big South Fork itself has plowed a deep gorge, reaching up to 600 feet in places, offering opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and waterfall gazing. Truly an amazing place!

Charit Creek Lodge is located in a picturesque valley bordered by several ridges, and next to Charit Creek. This creek was named in memory of a young girl named Charity, who lived here during the 1920's; she drowned in the creek during a flash flood. The lodge itself, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates back to around 1816. It may have been the home of one of the earliest settlers, one Jonathan Blevins. In its early days, it was part of a small community of hunters and subsistence farmers, and now provides great meals and simple shelter to hikers, bikers, and riders.

The only way you can get to the lodge is on foot, mountain bike, or horseback. Someone told me it was only 2 miles in. In fact, there are two routes for riders, one 7.5 miles, the other 9.5 miles. Since the lodge provides food and shelter, as well as stables and hay for the horse, you only have to pack in grain, dog food, clothes, and personal items. Liselle kindly lent me her dog pack, as well as a pack for Jasmine. Chani carried her food, and the grooming tools. Jaz was stuck with grain, my clothes, and a pitiful amount of personal supplies. "Let's see, should I take the hair dryer, or the knife..." All I managed to fit in was the knife, a small book, my cell phone, and a blank check to pay the good folks.

Chani did not take kindly to the pack. She had worn it, empty, only once before, and kept lying down as I tried to strap it on. Ever try to strap on a pack to a dog that is cowering, trembling, trying to be cooperative, but lying on her belly? I finally thought, fine, lay on your back, and I'll get it on that way. Worked great! Except now, the poor dog couldn't get up! She lay there like a turtle upended onto its shell, squirming every which way, unable to rise. I finally lifted her, and the pack, to an upright position, and off we went.

River crossing were multiple; one required Chani to swim. I thought she might drown, with the pack, but she determinedly forged through. The trail was extremely well-marked, thankfully, hilly, but not too rocky, with plenty of places for a good foxtrot, or running walk, or whatever it is she does. We made it to the lodge just in time for a 6 pm dinner. The stall was all ready for Jaz, with plenty of hay and well water. There is a main lodge for eating, playing games, reading, visiting. Bathrooms and showers are in an outbuilding, up 16 stone steps. Yes, I counted them, on my multiple nightly trips...There are 3 cabins, each with 4 bunk beds. Each bunk is a double size, so you can cram quite a few folks in. It was a slow day; I actually had a huge cabin to myself!!! The only other guests were a group of women, down from Cincinnati. There were 7 of them, a movie club group, and they had hiked 5 miles in. One poor lady must have topped 250 lbs., and looked ready to collapse. The leader had packed in a large box of wine, and they kindly offered me a glass.

There is no electricity at this place; oil lamps provide any light. Which was not much...I felt like Abraham Lincoln, trying to read by candlelight...At one point, I was carrying the lantern across the room, tripped over the wood stove, and the lantern went flying. Luckily, I hung onto the flaming base, and only the glass lantern broke. When I confessed my deed to one of the young men staffing the place, he hastily provided me with a small flashlight. Good thought...Even though there was a full moon, I hate to think of stumbling around in the dark, climbing 16 steps with that darn lantern!

I fell asleep listening to the 7 women in the adjacent cabin, sitting around the campfire, singing and carrying on like of them even howled at the moon....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Breakfast this morning was a delicious mix of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and GRITS!!!! YUCK!!! What anyone sees in eating gravel I will never understand….The ladies of last night were still laughing, though the one who admitted to howling at the moon seemed a tad embarrassed….they were soon off to hike back to civilization. Jasmine and I headed for the trails. Did a beautiful loop on one of the ridges surrounding the lodge. 12 miles or so, with a stop half-way to enjoy the picnic lunch that was packed. The woods here also have lots of dogwood in bloom, as well as redbud, a reddish-purple flowering tree that abounds in the woods and by roadsides. Another delicious dinner, with a new couple, down from Fort Collins in Colorado. They come every year for 3 or 4 days, to hike and enjoy spring. He is a photographer, she a nurse. They were much quieter than last night's group, so I had a good night's sleep. By now, I am getting used to the absence of electricity, and have even come to enjoy those lanterns. Somewhat….

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another nice breakfast, then I pack up Jasmine and Chani. We take the longer, 10 mile route back. It is a very hilly climb, up over another ridge. I am glad for the breast collar….Back at the truck, I quickly unload the packs and get the animals in the trailer and truck, for we have quite a few more miles to do before dark. We are headed to Abingdon, Virginia. I-40 takes us through Knoxville, TN, where we pick up I-81. I feel like I am finally on familiar territory again! We drive 265 miles, in 6 hours, (Lots of hills), arriving at the Gentry Creek Country Inn. Marilyn and Rick Mitchell (423-727-7080) run a combination inn for horses and people, with a horse rescue operation. They have retired, abandoned, abused horses, about 30 in all. Jasmine has a stall, and I have a beautiful suite, with a separate bedroom and living room/kitchen. The house has beautiful gardens, and is decorated in a very fancy, Victorian style, abounding in antiques, dried flowers, and lace. Not my style, but gorgeous, nonetheless. I am almost afraid to sit down! Dogs are not allowed, so Chani also has a stall, much to her disgust. She is more upset by far than Jasmine, and will not eat a thing…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This place, unusually, does not provide breakfast. I should have asked! I have a goodly supply of cereal and snack, and she kindly provides me with milk. But it is soy milk, and is horrible! Not good with the tea either, so I am looking forward to leaving soon, so I can get some good tea. However, they are adjacent to the Cheyenne National Forest, and I can't resist a ride. Rick kindly takes his ATV out and clears a few downed logs for me, so I can get through. The trail is all uphill, heading for Mt. Rogers, which he says is about 7 miles away. After about an hour and a half, I am sick of riding uphill. Jasmine agrees, and we plod back down. I have never enjoyed hiking uphill, and riding is not much better. No chance to foxtrot or do her great running walk. I suppose it is good for her hindquarter muscles, but fairly boring…and hard on her.

We have a short day today, only 136 miles, which takes us 3 hours. We are staying in Blacksburg, VA, visiting an old family friend, Jake Sewall, his wife Erin, and their daughter, Elena. Jake's folks, Dinnie and Richard Sewall, are two of our best friends back in Farmington. Jake and Erin are geology professors at the local university. They have invited me to stay with them; Jasmine stays at the Dori-Dell Stables (540-230-5698), a very fancy place that specializes in vaulting and paint horses. She has a good run in a large field for awhile, then is put up in a stall.

I get to Jake and Erin's around 6, just in time for dinner. Elena is fascinated by the horse trailer, and has to have a tour of it all. She is a bit afraid of Chani. Once again, Chani is not allowed in the house, and spends the night in the garage. Still not eating…Elena is just 4 years old, and happily takes me on a tour of the house and yard. Jake raises pigeons, and proudly shows them off. The family has just returned from a year in Holland, where both Jake and Erin did some post-graduate work. Erin shares her albums with me. They did a lot of travelling around Europe while there, including a trip to Greece, which looks absolutely delightful! Elena is a well-traveled young lady!

We are all in bed early; they have to leave for work quite early; I have a LONG day's drive…..

Thursday, April 24, 2008

After a quick breakfast for both of us, we get an early start, driving 378 miles in 7.5 hours to our final stop, Windy Ridge Farm, in Bethel, PA. Judy and Susie Reggio (717-933-5888) have a beautiful farm in the foothill of Pennsylvania. As we sit on their porch sipping wine, they point out the Appalachian Trail, which meanders through the hills just behind their property.

Judy is about my age, Susie looks to be in her thirties. Together, they raise warmbloods, as well as run a rescue facility for abused and retired horses. Susie has a delightful 4 year old daughter, who has fun showing me how she rides her pony, and clambering all over the truck and trailer. She has NO fear!!! At one point, she climbs up on the fence, and I think she is going to jump on Jasmine!

Sadly, this family is going through some tough times. Recently divorced, Susie shares her recent involvement with the state around some issues involving her daughter. They are going to court next week, and fear they might lose the the evening's end, we are all practically in tears...

Friday, April 25, 2008

After a delicious breakfast fixed by Judy, I load up a very happy Jasmine. She has had a large, grassy paddock with a shed, her very favorite accommodation. I am tempted to ride, but have another long day. After hugs and a fond farewell, we again hit the road.

Driving today is a nightmare! I take a different route. Usually, I take I-81 north to I-84. But, since I had to swing east to find last night's accommodations, I decide to continue east on 78, through New Jersey, and thence north to I-84. Driving in New Jersey is to be avoided at all costs in the future. Drivers are rude. If they see you indicate a lane change, they actually speed UP, to cut you off! The roads are horrible, with pavement either bumpy or rutted, with potholes everywhere. And yes, this IS a superhighway, not some back country road.

The only highlight is a rest stop by one of the highways. I get Jaz out, and soon, she has quite an admiring crowd gathered. Two little girls are especially drawn to her, and take turns hand-grazing her. As usual, she is very cooperative and placid, and even lets the younger one, about 4 years old, clamber up onto her tall, broad back for a moment of wonder. The little one sits there with wide eyes; her first time on a horse. Turns out they vacation near us in the summer, and we exchange phone numbers.

I think this is one of the very favorite parts of this kind of travelling. I have met so many wonderful people, mostly through a mutual admiration for Jaz. She just seems to draw folks over, and we readily get to chatting, usually about her, and horses, but at times about them, their lives, and problems....Horses truly are therapeutic, in so many ways...

Which reminds me, I still keep hoping some of you will share your horse stories! I started the book, but could not do too much. When I left, I copied many files to use in Texas for the book, onto a disk. Well, guess what? The disk was empty! I really am not much good in the computer area...But, I still plan to do it, and would love to hear any stories any of you might have about horses have been helpful to you, or those you know. I promise not to use your names, and to de-identify you in the book. Thanks!

Back to the trip:

We also hit a 2 hour delay, as the road is cleared of a major accident. Plus very heavy traffic in Massachusetts. After 10.5 hours, and 402 miles of driving, we finally pull in at 9 pm, our latest arrival yet. We are staying at Lucky Rooster Farm, in Concord, MA, where I fell in love with, and finally purchased, Jasmine, some 4 years ago. Mary Duffy and her partner run this farm, where they specialize in breeding, training and selling Missouri Fox Trotters. I have made arrangements to look at a few in the morning.

It is so late that Mary has gone home. Her partner's mom, a gracious lady of 89 years, lives on the property, and has waited up for me! She helps me unload and get Jasmine settle in. Which is no small task in the dark! Jasmine backs out too fast, and swerves her butt into a split rail fence, which shatters. She stands there blowing, snorting, and trembling at her mistake, but luckily doesn't move. She's not hurt, only shaken. Me too, as we are at the edge of a somewhat busy road, in the pitch dark. But we get her into her pen, show her the boundaries by flashlight, and then start the process of blanketing her. She is in a small pen with no shed, and it is FREEZING! Well, not really, but in the 40's, and she has absolutely NO coat! Blanketing a horse in the dark is a challenge, even with the help of a flashlight. But, bless her heart, she stands like a rock, while I fumble with clips and ties.

Exhausted, I thank my helper, and trundle off to the Best Western, a few miles down the road. For a few dollars more, Chani gets to join me in the room. I enjoy a hot bath, and fall asleep immediately.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Breakfast at the Best Western is outlandishly rich. Most chains nowadays offer a breakfast buffet, and it seems they all try to outdo one another. Used to be coffee, tea, and cereal. Now, you can make yourself a waffle, help yourself to fruit, yogurt, cereal, pastries of all sorts, and even enjoy hard-boiled eggs! All included in the price of the room, which is usually cheaper than the fancier places like the Hilton, which offers NO breakfast!

I stuff myself, and head back to Lucky Rooster. Mary has already fed and watered Jaz, and tells me how good she looks. She is having an open house that day, and kids are everywhere, patting the friendly horses and foals. Mary keeps them as I do, loose in a pasture, with sheds here and there. These horses are so quiet, well-behaved, and friendly. I fall totally in love with a chestnut yearling. Mary makes me a very good offer, and I am sorely tempted to bring him home. He is not only gorgeous and friendly, but also very good sized, standing a good hand over the other yearlings. But, that means waiting 2 years to ride or give lessons....I also look at Jasmine's half sister, also for sale, but she is rather small and stand-offish. The only ones I really like are not for sale, go figure. Oh well, better I sell one of my horses first anyway, before I add to the herd.

We leave Mary's around noon, and travel a familiar and uneventful 187 miles, arriving back at Fox Run Farm around 4 pm.

Jasmine seems ecstatic at getting back to her own place! NO SNOW, hooray! She runs and plays in the field with Gaby, our 33 year old pony, and Arod, the 2 year old Arabian.

It was another amazing trip....I can't wait to go again!

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