Take One National Seashore and Just Add Horses

Headed through the dunes onto the beach.  Photo by Equine Adventures.

Headed through the dunes onto the beach. Photo by Equine Adventures.

What do you get when you have the unspoiled beauty of one of the United States’ National Seashores and add horses?  You have one bucket list item scratched off your list.  While on vacation last week, I took three of the grandchildren on a beach trail ride with Equine Adventures ( http://www.equineadventures.com/) located on Hatteras Island in North Carolina.

I have heard the stories of sketchy operations with tack held together with bailing twine with horses that should never carry inexperienced riders, but Equine Adventures is not one of those.  This ride was top notch and I would go back in a heart beat.

The rides occur either early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day and the biggest of the coastal bugs with voracious appetites.  Even though there was a great breeze once you were on the beach, you do have to ride through the unspoiled maritime forest to get to that breeze.  That means that you are fair game to any and all hungry mosquitoes and biting flies that call the forest home.  We doused ourselves in 30% DEET and escaped unscathed.  One of our guides missed a shoulder when applying her bug spray and had no less than thirty bites by the time we reached the beach.  Ouch!  I get itchy just thinking about it.

The ride is a great way to see parts of the island that are mostly inaccessible to the normal tourist.  Hearty hikers and mountain bikers might give these trails a try, but your average visitor will never see this part of the seashore.  When your sure-footed horse is winding its way through the trees, you realize that the roots of these trees are what help hold the island together.  You see the native deer who are unafraid of the horses, and the horses are unafraid of them…Ike, take note that there is no need to run like a banshee.

It is thrilling to climb the dunes and emerge on the unspoiled beach.  No rows of houses, no hotels, no tacky souvenir shops.  Just sea turtle nests, piles of dried seaweed, seagulls and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance.  If you are an experienced rider, you get to add the thrill of galloping in the sand with only the sound of the waves and wind in your ears.

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The reason for such a successful ride?  The guides do an excellent job matching horse and rider.  When you make your reservation, they ask each rider’s age and experience so that they can make the best pairings.  The well seasoned trail horses will take care of their inexperienced riders even with the loosest of reins – no worries about unscheduled gallops.  Each horse has its own saddle and bridle.  All the horses are barefoot – if only I could be so lucky.  All the horses were in excellent condition – no small feat considering all the hay and feed have to be brought over to the island.  I learned that obtaining hay can be an all day excursion.

If riding on the beach isn’t already on your bucket list, add it.  You will not regret this incredible experience!

p.s. They are looking for a seasonal guide for the rest of the season…

 

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Happy Easter!

So glad Mom is wearing those dumb bunny ears.

So glad Mom is wearing those dumb bunny ears.

Ike and I would like to wish everyone a very Happy Easter!  We are taking the day off and spending the day with family.  I should have known that after the Santa Hat debacle from Christmas, that Ike would not be a willing bunny ear wearing horse.  When I walked into Ike’s paddock carrying the bunny ears, this is what happened…

We’ve had some great work this past week including a tough lesson with Ms. C.  There are only two weeks left before our first show of the season, so there is much work to be done before our debut at First Level at a rated show.  What was I thinking?!

Happy Birthday Cigar!

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Today is Ike’s brother’s 18th birthday.  According to The Jockey Club, he turned 18 on January 1st, but I like to acknowledge the actual day.  He has been a part of the family for 9 years.  Cigar is incorrigible.  I tried my best to turn him into a dressage partner, but he fought me on each and every ride.  In his mind, you could not win unless your nose was stretched far out in front of the rest of your body.  It must have driven him crazy when I said that no, we could not gallop down centerline…although we actually did that at one schooling show when he decided the herd of sheep were to be feared.

He has given me a black eye, a bloody nose, a crooked finger, bruises, sprains, and whiplash.  He might be incorrigible, but he is my grumpy old man and Ike’s buddy.  Happy Birthday Cigar, we love you!  🙂

 

Monkey See, Monkey Do

"Oh, hello.  Were you hoping to ride today?"

“Oh, hello. Were you hoping to ride today?”

It can be said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; however, when your role model isn’t exactly clean-cut and at the top of the honor roll, you worry about his influence on a younger generation…yes, I’m talking about the less than stellar guidance that Cigar is providing to Ike.  I worry that Ike has been led astray by his older brother.

Even Ms. C has commented that perhaps putting Ike in the paddock adjacent to his brother wasn’t our best decision.  Ike used to quietly graze or eat hay in his paddock.  If he was startled, the worst he would do was stand at the gate and stare at the house until someone came to rescue him.  Since moving in next door to his brother, he now takes flight around his paddock, bucking like a banshee and sliding up to the gate like a reining horse.  The boys also think it is fun to casually walk to the far end of their paddocks, turn, and gallop to the other end.  It doesn’t seem to matter who wins as the game is repeated over and over and over until it is time to get funky.

Ike used to be a neat horse.  Rarely did I have to remove much dirt and his coat was always shiny and his mane tidy.  Well, those days are O-V-E-R.  As you can see in today’s photo, he has been taking his brother’s advice and spends his time wallowing in the mud.  Today, it took me more than 30 minutes to remove enough dirt to ride without embarrassment.  Once mounted, I found some funk I missed up behind Ike’s ears.  Thankfully, no one but me would notice it at that height.  Now that the temperatures have risen, wearing a blanket is out, so mud removal is a daily activity.  All this dirt makes me miss my polo wraps with the pig faces on them; they’d be quite appropriate these days.

Luckily for me, Cigar has yet to influence Ike as far as his training.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  It took 7 years for Cigar’s “meteoric” rise to First Level.  Ike’s progression has been just a wee bit faster as he has reached First Level after only 2 years.  His work as of late has been stellar.  Perhaps it is the fact that his rider has finally caught a clue coupled with the fact that Ike has gained muscles in all the right places.  We have been working hard to get ourselves ready for our first outing of the year which is now a little over a week away.  Our lessons with Ms. C are very focused.  “Where is your outside shoulder going?”  “Is it going where your horse is going?”  “Half halt!”  “Again!  He didn’t hear you.”  When I ride on my own, I try to replay the lesson in my head to replicate the correct positioning.  Where is my pocket-sized Ms. C to carry with me?

Our riding isn’t the only thing getting prepped for next weekend.  The trailer was inspected, and the short in the braking system was fixed.  I finally replaced my stirrup leathers; the ones I purchased in 2006 were starting to show their age.  New polo wraps have been purchased.  Ike has his stall reservations made and has his health certificate.    My new DerDau’s made their first appearance at the barn.  I still walk like Frankenstein in them, but they were comfortable to ride in from the very first ride.   They have a spiffy new bag to protect them.  My new Ecogold saddle pad (http://ecogold.ca/) arrived.  It is lovely.  I now want a whole stack of them.

The weekend promises to be a nice one.  We can only hope next weekend is as well.

 

 

Black and Blue and Sore All Over!

My two nurses made sure I was well cared for when I made it home.

My two nurses made sure I was well cared for when I made it home.

Well this has been an interesting week.  If you had asked me while I was sitting in the emergency room how I would be feeling four days later, I’d have told you that I’d be back to walking the dogs, practicing my vinyasa yoga, and dancing to my Zumba DVD by now.  Boy, was I WRONG!

I could barely walk Monday night and it would have been comical for you to see me trying to get out of the bed Tuesday morning.  I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck.  I suppose getting hurled to the partially frozen ground off a galloping horse isn’t quite equivalent, but it sure did take a lot out of my body.  I’ve had spills before, but I was younger and bounced back rather quickly.  Mr. D told me when I finally retrieved my car on Thursday that he was certain that I was unconscious or severely broken because I did not bounce when I hit the ground.  “Thud” is the word that came to mind.

I managed to knock the scab off my nose today while in the car.  Next thing I knew I had blood streaming down my nose and into my lap as I cruised down the road to the barn.  Awesome.  I was able to scrounge some napkins out of my center console to sponge up the flow.  What a mess.  I ended up folding a napkin, placing it on the wound, and holding it in place with my glasses.  And no, I did not take a photo.

Today I was finally able to walk a little more normally and not have to take the stairs one at a time while gripping the rails.  I no longer grimace as I sit or try to get into the bed, and thankfully the whiplash has lessened.  And thank goodness it is wintertime and I can cover up the bruises with layers of clothing.  Yikes!  I am very colorful in multiple places.   There are bruises covering my right foot and ankle, my tailbone, my left waistline, and the granddaddy of them all is a hand-sized bruise down my left hip and thigh.  For those of you who like to stare at car accidents, I share the following:

Not as bad as some of my sprains from high school track.

Not as bad as some of my sprains from high school track.

Pretty.

Pretty.

It was good to finally see my boys yesterday and today.  Our arena still looks like an ice skating rink, so I suppose if I had to be out of commission, this is a good time to do it.  Ike and I had a good chat about what happened.  He was apologetic, but did ask if I could purchase a bb gun to scare away the vultures.

Not sure when I will be back in the saddle, but hoping that it is sooner rather than later.

She Didn’t Stick the Landing…

"Um, Mom, why are you laying in the stonedust?  I was trying to save us both."

“Um, Mom, why are you laying in the stone dust? I was trying to save us both.”

So, Ms. C sometimes watches Ike gallop and buck his way around his paddock; she’s also said that she hopes that he never does that while I’m in the saddle, “You are doomed if he does.” Well, she was right.

Had not been in the saddle but for a few minutes when all hell broke loose.  Mr. D happened to see the entire event unfold.  The vulture that had been sunning himself decided to take flight.  Ike decided he was a flying boogie man and went from walk to gallop like a racehorse.  He bucked once, and I was okay…it was the second one that got me. I attempted a front flip with a half twist dismount. I did not stick the landing. Landed hard on my left hip. Also managed to twist my right ankle. My pride is also a bit broken.

Mr. D grabbed Ike and put him in his stall. He then brought the tractor to the ring and I hitched a ride in the bucket (thankfully, no photos of my newest mount).

After 3 hours in the emergency room, I learned that all my years of drinking milk have paid off. Nothing is broken, but boy am I going to be sore. Bring on the muscle relaxers and Aleve. Cannot wait to see the bruising.

BTW, the funniest moment in the hospital came when a bunch of stone dust fell out of my pants…bet they don’t see that every day!

Time to rest! Alison

Gallop Away the Tears

Photo by High Time Photography

One of the photos of Ike and me that my Grandmother loved. Photo by High Time Photography

There are tears in my eyes as I write this post.  My grandmother has had a couple of difficult weeks, and we just received the news this morning that she passed away peacefully in her sleep last night.  I am heartbroken.  She was an amazing lady who almost made it to her 91st birthday.  Earlier this year she moved from the home where she had lived for the past 70 years, 60 of them with my grandfather who built the home.  She was a strong woman with strong opinions.  I can only hope to be half the person that she was.

She was my one of my biggest fans and always enjoyed hearing of my equine adventures.  I would send her DVDs of my rides so she could see us in action.  I recently came across a photo of Ike, myself and my husband that was taken by a friend and sent it to my grandmother to let her know I was thinking of her.  My mother told me that it brought great joy to my grandmother in her final days.

My animals have brought and will bring me great comfort as I deal with my grief.  The dogs and the horses each have their own way of putting a smile back on my face.  The dogs lick my tears from my cheeks and curl up with me on the bed.  The horses softly nicker and nudge me with their noses.  I stroke their necks and ears and share my memories.

I wrote the following a few weeks ago when I was feeling down about her failing health.  I am no Maya Angelou or Emily Dickenson, but it is written from the heart and dedicated to the memory of my Grandmother.

Gallop Away the Tears

I want to gallop away the tears

They just don’t seem to stop.

My heart is breaking and the tears are streaming

Drip, drop, drip, drop.

I escape to the barn

And there I privately cry;

The neck of my trusted steed is wet

As I tell him how hard it was to say goodbye.

He must sense my sorrow

For the only sound one hears,

As I methodically move the brush

Is the falling of the never ending tears.

I want the move with the wind

Hooves pounding the ground below

And gallop away the tears

That flow and flow and flow.

The shared moments and happy times

Are kept in my memory to stay.

I will keep you in my heart always,

It will get easier with each passing day.