Sunday, November 22, 2015

Arena Time for the Trail Pony

On Wednesday of this past week something odd happened. My daughter had a test in all her classes that day (poor thing), which meant no homework. And no colorguard after school. My daughter was free for the evening. And the arena was dry at the barn. Soooo...of course I recruit her to video a ride for me since I have no trainer observing whats going on with my riding. Not that we are in any sort of training regimen. But is it nice to know that your pony tries his best to respond to your aids and even though I can feel his response I want to see what we look like. 

First of all, Razz has essentially been a trail horse for almost two years. We enjoy an occasional jumping round but it's mostly been stress free sand kickin'. Don't expect to see a nice, round, compliant dressage pony. And if your the type to beat people up with comments insulting their eq then you can leave this blog now because I was 32 years old when I had my first legit dressage lesson and there's certain things about my self taught seat that just aren't gonna change at this point in the game. I know what my riding faults are concerning proper english flatwork, my previous trainer explained everything to me. That being said, let's carry on with how things went.

My horse hates flatwork with a passion. I believe it just bores him to no end. He loves to jump though. Once I got tacked up and in the ring we walked a couple laps in each direction to loosen up and let Razz get his mind in "arena mode". We've ridden in here only a handful of times. Most of the time the footing was super sloppy due to all the rain. And today there was a large rain cloud headed our way. I had about a half hour to get a good ride in. When I was ready to begin working I started on the left lead. That is my boy's better side. We trot a couple laps and I have to constantly bump him with my heels to keep him in a working pace. He gives me a hard time on the first pass of the in gate. We then do a few canter laps down the long side of the ring before having a couple 20 meter circles (or something resembling 20 meter circles) on the far end. After our circles we went down the long side again in an extended canter/hand gallop type of thing. I click to my pony for a trot and kiss for a canter so you will probably catch some of that in the audio.

I then switch my diagonal and whip for the right lead and we use the same pattern of trot, canter, 20 meter, and extended canter on this side. At one point a military jet flies over in this clip. There is a Marine Corps Air Station maybe 10 minutes from here and everyone (people, domesticated critters, & wildlife) is used to the heavy air traffic. 

The wind is picking up now, which means the rain cloud is getting closer and I decide we are ready to jump. Someone else had been in here recently popping over a few randomly placed obstacles. I left everything as it was and jumped the only pole actually set in standards. It was originally an oxer but the front pole was knocked down. I moved it and my sweater (tossed on the pole when I got warm) out of the way. Eyes up and canter, here we go. As we begin Razz is bouncy in the hind end and his tail is swishy. I know in his head he's thinking about a small buck but he doesn't give me one. We line up for the jump and I speak to him letting him know to get himself ready. There were some poles on the ground setting me up for a two stride take off. Razz is a notorious chipper and the ground poles really make a difference. I'm not sure how high the jump was, probably 2'6" give or take. We sailed right over. It felt really nice. We go around two more times. It's all about fun for us. 

We then trot a few more laps down the long side in either direction before cooling out. The first few sprinkles are coming when we head back to the barn. Razz isn't clipped and he's a bit sweaty. And his cooler is in my garage at home so I put him up in his stall to enjoy his fruit salad of carrots and apples. As he's munching i am brushing and toweling him off until I feel comfortable turning him back out. He will come in later for dinner but there's still a little time to enjoy with his pals in turn out. All in all I am happy with the ride. No we won't be picked to represent the U.S. in any format anytime soon, but that doesn't matter to me. I have a healthy pony, a nice farm to ride at, a daughter that doesn't mind accompanying me to the barn, and today life is good. After the barn we go to our favorite restaurant for dinner and bring something home for the hubs. And that rain cloud? Lets just say I made a good call riding on Wednesday, because Thursday we got 7 inches of rain.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Trail Magik?

Until this past week, I had ridden into the Croatan forest three times and all three times I entered through a gated ranger service road. It's easy enough for someone on foot or a horse to walk around the edge of the gate. This point is used by a lot of people to gain access to the woods. I have seen up to six vehicles parked in front of this gate before. Once your on the other side of the gate the road is heavily graveled and it sucks for the horses. Especially since everyone at the barn is unshod. I have always let Razz pick his own path on the shoulder of the road in this stretch. Better than going down the center but still large rocks are everywhere and clearly neither one of us enjoy it. I'm guessing the rocks stretch on for about 250 yards, and getting past them is totally worth it. 

This week I find out that a fellow boarder has discovered an alternate way into the Croatan that avoids most of the gravel. And once I hear this I am obsessed with finding out where the path is so I immediately plan a ride with her. We strike off around mid afternoon and take the usual route to the access point. The local farmers are kind enough to let us use their tractor paths to get to the woods. That's a huge help, otherwise we would have to take the shoulder of a main paved road. Once we're at the ranger gate I find out we DO have to take the shoulder of this main paved road for roughly 30-40 yards. I trust Razz with the traffic so I follow my friend and stay as far from the pavement as possible. The path cuts right into the thick forest, it's clear enough that we easily follow it but tight enough to be on constant tree limb guard. I am stoked as we walk along grabbing branches and discussing plans to come back with tools to clean the path up. 

I moved my horse on August 11th for the sole purpose of riding this forest, and it's only my fourth trip in. Rain (lots of rain), insects, and my daughter's schedule have kept me from being able to ride in here as much as I would like. This new trail is making life much easier for my pony and I'm happy. The path hooks around to the right and ends on the gravel road we're trying to avoid. We only have to use a small stretch of the nasty, rocky road before we get to the fun stuff. The gravel ends at a grassy opening and the wilderness begins here.

open, grassy area. This point of the forest is a little higher and doesn't tend to flood

We see a hunter on the other side of the clearing. He has a rifle slung over his right shoulder and a dog on a leash in his left hand, and as soon as he sees us he turns around and disappears back into the thicket he came out of. He had just arrived for an evening hunt. But it's Sunday and there is no hunting in here on Sunday. Legally. I don't feel bad at all for ruining his plans. This time of year he gets six days a week to hunt, I get one day a week to ride safely. Go home dude. My trail buddy and I chuckle about how quickly he left and we make our way further into the forest. The weather is perfect and I can tell both ponies are enjoying themselves also. 

hacking along nicely

Then we approach something strange on the trail. Now given all the miles I've hiked in the mountains I've seen my share of calling cards that previous hikers left to be admired or get you thinking. But something was different about this one. It instantly struck me as a symbol left by someone who follows a nature based religion. I have no idea what it is or who left it here. It could honestly be anything. But I can't imagine a hunter leaving this particular creation behind. My friend's horse spooked slightly when he saw it, Razz looked at it hard and snorted. We both rode by without disturbing it in any manner. It has bugged me all week as to what the hell this was.

We pass the symbol and continue on, getting into the thicker part of the trails. The land lays a little lower where the growth is thicker. There are four nice trail options from here. Each one is a great ride, and we find out one by one that each route is flooded. I can't believe this. We had 18 inches of rainfall in a storm almost two months back, but that should have been gone by now. Or so I thought. I am shocked by how long the standing water remains, and wondering how long it's gonna take to go away. We've been in the woods for maybe an hour before my riding buddy says she's ready to return to the barn. I was bummed that everything was wet but still glad to at least get in here. We turn around and head back toward the forest clearing.

back where we started
Not looking forward to the gravel, we decide to skirt the edge of the forest clearing just in case there's another trail hidden somewhere. And guess what? There was! In we go, the trail is rather dry and seems to be slowly looping back around to the original "new path" we took in. I'm hoping this is the case as it would mean a way in with no gravel at all, and (bonus) a much more scenic path. The trail just kinda fizzled out and we begin trucking along on no path at all. But it wasn't long before we did make our way back on to said "new path". Excellent! 

just before our newest path fizzles out, crossing some water

now we are completely off trail, trusting our sense of direction

My friend's horse was anxious to get home, as he is soured to his pasture mate (same owner, the two have lived together for 15 years). We came out of the forest on a mission and got back to the barn rather quickly. The whole time I'm thinking about when I can get back in and clean up the new entrance, and connect it to the fizzled out trail. We stopped long enough to have a look at the pigs. Razz has finally learned that cows and pigs aren't scary horse-eating monsters. 

Another trail ride on the books, I'm learning a little bit more about the area every time we go out. And enjoying every minute. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Trip to the Sand Pits

We are getting our first real cold snap now. I guess it's par for the course, being mid November and all. The best part about it cooling off is the lack of insects. Prime forest riding season is just beginning. Another season that is just beginning? Hunting season. Deer hunting specifically. The Croatan can be hunted every day except Sunday, and quite a few people take advantage of this privilege. When hunting is an issue, but I still want to get in the woods, an alternative trail is the sand pits. That's what my husband and I refer to it as anyway. The rest of the boarders call it "the woods" but my husband used to go 4 wheeling on these same paths as a teenager and he says the neighborhood folk call it the sand pits. 

It was around 55 degrees out, and I am cold natured, so I put on my fleece Kerrits and headed off to the barn around 2 in the afternoon. I couldn't believe my eyes when Razz greeted me at the gate. I usually have to cross a huge pasture to grab him because his little herd likes to graze at the farthest point from the barn. Once I brought him in and started grooming I see he has acquired a few extra pounds lately. When did this happen Razz? I didn't notice it yesterday when I was holding you for the farrier. 

we may have to cut you back to half a scoop buddy

I finish my grooming ritual, which is very thorough and takes close to an hour, and get all tacked up. No saddle bags needed today because my husband is hiking with me. We both love to hike so it is not an issue to persuade him to join me. We leave the barn property when we cross the bridge over Shoe Branch.

this bridge is a really nice touch to the farm
It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to get to the sand pits on the shoulder of two paved roads. They aren't super busy with traffic but a lot of people drive fast. Fortunately the shoulder is large enough that I feel comfortable riding them. 

just making sure you're still back there babe :)

almost there, just ahead on the left

I get to the sand pit entrance first. My husband is always about 20 yards behind me. Which means even though we're together we are really on two different hikes, both lost in our own thoughts. The entrance is kinda dark. Razz marches right in just like a brave little trail pony should. 

we're goin' in (no his ears aren't funky, they're covered in bug repellent just in case)

From the moment you get in the woods its obvious why this is called the sand pits. Its a new growth forest, and its thriving in deep white sand. I'm guessing there are forty acres here, give or take. The bugs are almost nonexistent. Thank you cold snap :)

we're going left

Today the woods are quiet. Razz is doing his usual look and sniff as we walk along. The sand is good footing to ride when you're horse is barefoot. I used to keep him shod all the way around but the new barn doesn't allow shoes. I will probably pick up some easyboots or something similar before its all said and done. For now we are good though. As I ride the thought of how chubby my pony has gotten enters my mind again. Looking down at his sides I can't help but notice the small trace of appaloosa in his winter coat. A few white spots above the big whorl on his hind quarters. They are on both sides, but the chestnut is drowning them out this time of year. Summer coat has way more white flecking on his rumps, but still not enough to make a legit appy blanket.

good pony

the only trace of his appy roots
There are several trails that fork left and right, sometimes you get to intersections with three options. Anyone coming in here the first time needs a guide and a good sense of direction to make it easy on themselves in the future. We covered a few dead end trails, and I whistled loudly just in case there was a hunter hidden somewhere. Eventually we came back around to the main loop trail. To loop around without backtracking the same route we have to skirt across the edge of an apartment complex. The land the apartments are on used to be part of the woods. They were built about five years ago. A group of skateboarders was in the parking lot and they seemed a little shocked to see me and Razz pop out of the woods. We cut across, no problem.

coming up on the apartments

just passing thru

and headed back into the woods

We get back into the woods and continue on our way. There are lots of deer tracks and shoe prints in the sand here. There are deer prints all over the woods, but shoe prints only in this area. I figure it is apartment dwellers walking their dogs but strangely there are no dog prints. I begin whistling once more. Better safe than sorry. By now its roughly 4:30 and the deer become active around this time. So do the hunters. There aren't supposed to be any hunters in here but someone could go rogue, you never know.  The husband is still trucking right along too, on his own quest scanning the path for sharks teeth.

yep, still back there

At this point Razz picks up the pace a little bit. It's the headed home walk that all horseback riders are familiar with. The sun is getting lower in the sky. I am not ready to leave the solace of the woods quite yet, so I soak up the last half mile I have left in here. Eventually we make our way back to the beginning of the loop trail and out of the sand pits.

the beginning of the loop, going right is the trail we just covered, straight leads out

out of the sand pits, back onto paved roads
For a good portion of our ride back to the barn I was on the buckle. My pony felt really good stretched out underneath me. He maintained his homeward bound pace, but never broke a walk. I love him. Once we leave the road I use a grassy path that runs alongside Razz's pasture to get back to the barn. The sun is really starting to set and it casts a nice glow. Razz calls out to his herd letting them know he's back. I thank mother nature for her gift of a beautiful day and pleasant ride in the woods. We cross the bridge and our ride has come to an end. The hubs goes on up to the truck and tailgates while I untack and feed my pony his fruit salad treat of carrots and apples before turning him out with his buddies. 
coming home on the buckle

almost back, what a lovely evening

Monday, November 9, 2015

About The Barn

I love this facility. It has actually made me appreciate the beauty of eastern NC a little bit more. What a perfect location. I can basically ride off in any direction. Following is a photo tour of the barn. Enjoy :)

barn entrance, you have arrived!

paddocks line the driveway, complete with feeding huts

coming around to the top barn, this is not my pony's barn

another angle of the top barn, any  horse along the driveway with a stall is in here

just past the top barn is a round pen. go right for the arena or left for the patio

crappy shot of the ring

people patio, yes we grill & hang here. very cool group of boarders. notice diego kitty in the background

looking downhill at the lower barn, wash pit in foreground 

headed that way...this is Razz's barn

two apartments up top, ponies below. im kinda jealous of the people who live up top

continue on downhill past the barn & over the bridge to get to the croatan and the sandpits, two of my favorite rides

coming back uphill, a different angle of the patio, round pen and top barn

a look inside the lower barn with Razz parked in front of his stall

looking out from the barn toward Razz's huge pasture. yes it rains here all the time

speaking of the devil, there goes Razz out to join his pasture mates. that alley funnels him out to the huge field in front of those barns and silos in the distance

About The Horse

Where do I begin? His name is Razz. I would have chosen a different name but he knows his name and that's who he is so that's that. Razz is 16 years old. He's half thoroughbred and half appaloosa. He grew up and stayed in an urban type environment until our move to the Croatan forest. 

Razz is completely trustworthy along a busy street, going past loud lawnmowers, whirly gigs and tacky yard decor, cable or phone line trucks with all the flashing yellow & white caution lights, you get the picture. But take him to the country and ride him past way Jose. At least not at first. Pigs either. Now we have gotten to where he is ok with livestock, but he doesn't take his eye off them in passing either. Once we're in the forest he's a dream. I think he likes it in there as much as I do honestly. The stimulation of new terrain or new smells are good for him because he is always thinking. Just like my arab, ALWAYS thinking. 

We jump in the ring occasionally. I max out at 3 feet and rarely go that high. When you get to be my age and you didn't grow up jumping a certain amount of self preservation drives you to stay closer to the ground. And I don't have Aflac so I kinda need to go to work the next day.

One of Razz's original owners turned him out all winter in a blanket and never checked on him. It left a white line scar across his chest. He also has a scar on his right hind where hair doesn't grow at all. I don't know the story on that one but it definitely looks fencing related and so far so good, no problems in that leg. The injury is at least eight years old because I've known Razz that long even though he's only been mine for 2 & 1/2 years, and the scar has always been there.

Razz showed up at the hunter barn I previously boarded at as a lesson horse. He would buck with riders so only the better students rode him. But no single person ever stuck with him long enough to form a real relationship with him. I got him because I was ready for a larger horse that I could dressage with and I knew his history. Horse shopping was very off putting for me, due to all the nasty tricks of the horse trade. I leased him the first few months. And as expected, he bucked, and the more I rode him the larger the bucks got. It was his evasion, he is really a lazy horse. Not an always willing to please dressage pony. After about three months of predictable bucks he just stopped, realizing it wasn't going to work. I purchased him and we did the whole combined training thing for a while. But honestly its just not what either one of us want to do full time (in Razz's case never).

I love this pony dearly. He and I are on the same wavelength. We have our moments, sure, but who doesn't. We've been so good for one another and I hope we have a lot of great years ahead.

meet Razz

just hangin out

still just hangin out

grass is good

in the big ring at the old barn

please tell me i'm not the only one who tags along to shows without entering anything just because the rest of the barn was going and you didn't wanna stay behind at an empty barn

enjoying the Croatan

our only show, i'll do an entry on it sometime

Sunday, November 8, 2015

About Me

Hello equine blogging world :) My name is Julie. I live on the NC coast. Being here is ok but I'm a mountain girl at heart. I am a mom and wife, a screen printer by trade, and a high school colorguard/band volunteer when needed. I've been riding pretty much my entire life. At birth the bones in my right leg below the knee were curved slightly too much inward and I had to wear a Forrest Gump type special shoe. One of the correction therapies suggested by my doctors was regular riding lessons. Since I was lucky enough to grow up on a large cattle farm we had room for a pony, and having my own was the obvious thing to do once my parents saw how much I loved to ride. I've owned a horse ever since. 

My path with horses has taken a few turns over the years getting to this point. Learning to ride in the mountains like I did is definitely one of the finer joys of life. My serious riding history (not counting the endless hours of leadline) began with the three horses I grew up on. One large pony and two registered quarter horses. They were great horses and I could go into detail but everyone has those horses they learned to ride on so you already know what i mean. That was 20 years ago...

I moved to Tennessee and worked as a trail guide on a few different horse farms that were all owned by the same businessman who knew very little about horses. On my first day working i got to chose the horse I would ride regularly. My choices were all younger, low mileage animals. One was absolutely drop dead gorgeous. A large muscled grey gelding about 17 hands high. I picked him and fell in love. We got along so well, I rode him daily and I wish I could have purchased him but I still had my own horse who stayed behind in NC. I left Tennessee after 2 years and ended up here at the beach. 

Horse life at the beach is way different compared to growing up in the mountains. The bugs are larger and more ferocious, the humidity unrelenting, costs in general are higher. My first beach horse was a 14.2 textbook bay arab. And it was my first experience at a boarding facility. Much different from the strictly trail riding farms. I show up with my feisty new trail arab at a hunter barn located right in the heart of subdivision central. It was less than a mile from my house, and affordable so how could I go wrong, right?? I couldn't understand why no one there got excited about trail riding, even if we only had access to a couple and the tide had to be low to use them. Well believe it or not I lasted at that barn for ten years and I grew to love it there. Owned my arab for eight of those years. Have owned my current horse, Razz, for two and a half. 

In mid August of this year I moved Razz about 10 miles inland to a farm that adjoins the Croatan forest. The time had come to get back to my roots and out into nature. This blog is an effort to share my experiences in this inspiring place and connect with like minded people who love their horses and being outdoors. Happy trails!! May the journey never end...

Hello everyone, it's me 
At work, printing press in the background.
Being a band mom, this pic snapped @ Wake Forest University, resembling something from the 70's

Working at my old barn before I moved to the Croatan. I was weekend barn manager and it was a great experience for my husband to get hands on with horses of all types.