Monthly Archives: July 2010

Tour de Force

I’ve been training my gelding, Saxton, for a year and a half now.  I can’t begin to describe (without a long and probably boring treatise) all the exercises we’ve done, the hundreds of repetitions of various exercises we’ve been through.

But don’t think I’ve had to put up with drudgery, because I’ve really enjoyed it.  But for what?  All to the end that I could ride him and enjoy him, and not fear that he might do something silly and hurt me.

Horses are big, powerful creatures, and an unreliable horse is a danger.  Our little friend, Floyd, is in a serious state at the hospital this week because he was thrown out of a speeding lumber wagon when the pony pulling it ran off.   The horse and buggy people have their own dangers to contend with, and a simple life can still be as complicated as ours.

I got into horse training because my own big, powerful, new gelding was a bucking fool.  He wanted to stand around and eat hay, not go riding.  Most (wiser) people would have sold him right away, but I chose to keep him and re-train him.  It’s been a long journey, and sometimes frustrating, sometimes discouraging, sometimes very, very rewarding.

Today delivered one of those exceptionally rewarding experiences.  Cecily rode her mare Spur, and I rode Saxton out on a long trot three or four miles northwest on the neighboring country roads.  We trotted out, then trotted back for about an hour and a half, practicing training exercises.  Saxton was great.  Not only did he act sensible and respectful and responsive, but he actually improved the exercises we’ve been working on by leaps and bounds, where doing them in the arena he was getting a little balky.

The last time I tried taking him out of the arena onto the trails was last fall, and he was silly and spooky and nerve-wracking to ride.  Three out of about five earlier rides he’d bucked me off.  But the continued work, the persistence, the practicing and learning as much as I can, has been well rewarded today.  I feel like Saxton’s graduated from grade school now!

On to High School!  There’s still so much we can learn together!

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Three Babies

We went down to the horse barn one morning, and there, up in the trees across from the barn, was a Mama Raccoon and her three babies.

They curiously looked at us, and climbed a little higher in the trees.  They were happy to hang on and look at us for the longest time.

At long last they thought it was safe, or got tired of watching, maybe.  They climbed down, and waddled away after their mother into the woods.


Filed under Nature

I Love the Cows

Photo by Ree Drummond

The Cow

Robert Louis Stevenson

The friendly cow all red and white,
I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with apple tart.
She wanders lowing here and there,
And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
The pleasant light of day;
And blown by all the winds that pass
And wet with all the showers,
She walks among the meadow grass
And eats the meadow flowers.

I love this poem, and I love this photo by Ree Drummond of I have been educating myself about photography, and about mastering the art of using my own Canon Powershot A590 with all its cool functions.  The photography tutorials (and recipes and ranch life stories) at Ree’s site are fun and informative.  And she blogged a great love story about how she met and married her rancher husband, whom she affectionately calls “Marlboro Man.”  Don’t start reading that unless you have three hours to blow, because it’s a page-turner!  I totally blew off my twice-monthly shopping excursion to “town” one day because I got sucked into it!


Filed under Farm, Poultry and Other Animals

The Proof

Three seasons.  Two grave disappointments.  One more try.

At last the recompense, the thrill, the intense satisfaction.  The proof that you can succeed against the odds.  Ripe, red tomatoes in a deep woods, northern garden.  Up here they are subject to frosts, wild temperature swings and the choking shade of an encroaching forest.

More work.  Learn more.  Try again.  Do it differently.  Again.

Success.  So, so sweet.


Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard


By twenty past nine this morning I had already managed to head out in the gray drizzle to enjoy the vegetable garden with a cup of coffee.  I’d fed and mucked the horses, colored my hair (sssshhh…), preserved a second batch of raspberry jam, started a load of laundry, and baked a batch of biscuits to have with the new jam.  If every day were this productive, Aspendale Farm would resemble our Amish neighbors’ tidy farms! I do not know how they do it!

But some days are for pleasures other than humming through the “To Do” list.  Yesterday morning we woke early and headed out through the fog to a dewy raspberry patch south out of town.

Up one row, then down the other side we made our way, popping succulent red raspberries into our containers until we’d stripped every last berry off the row.

Then back home to give the horses and chickens a late breakfast, and into the already moist, warm kitchen to begin turning that beautiful batch of berries into giddy treats.

All that stirring and mashing and boiling and ladleing was so very well worth it.  Sticky-sweet, red drips all across the kitchen admitted to our agreeable task.

We are rewarded with a fresh supply of raspberry jam for toast, biscuits, and cakes, and most importantly, with our annual fresh raspberry pie – a tradition well worth waiting and working for each year!

We look forward to the day all the raspberries come from our own patch.  As we can, we continue expanding our little patch from its current 40′ to the required 100′ or so it will take to supply our yearly larder.  But for now we are happy to eat fresh from our own patch and go a-berrying at someone else’s patch for our year’s supply of preserves.

Fresh Raspberry Pie

Cooked crust for a one-crust pie

5-6 cups fresh raspberries

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

3 Tbs. cornstarch

In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and sugar.  In a small saucepan, cook 1 cup fruit, mashed, with 1 cup water for 2 minutes.  After 2 mins., add sugar mixture, stirring well, and cook over med-high until it bubbles, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn.

Fill crust with half the remaining fresh fruit, and pour 1/2 the cooked fruit over top.  Spread remaining fresh fruit on top, and pour the remaining cooked fruit mixture over all.  Refrigerate several hours and serve cold.


Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard, The Country Kitchen

Horsework Before Housework

We’ve only been training and riding in smatterings here and there the last month or so.  Traveling and having five birthdays in the immediate family in six weeks will do that to you!

Still, we have been making a little progress.  We’ve chipped away at it here and there as we’ve been able to make time.  Cecily has been riding Sophie, Betsy’s little yellow haflinger mare, to get her a little more respectful and responsive under saddle.  Betsy is still such a new rider that Sophie needs the ginger taken out of her before Betsy can get on.  But this morning Betsy rode my black gelding, Saxton after I’d tuckered him out with a lot of trotting and cantering.  Danny actually rode Sophie when Cecily was done with her, and did a fine job of practicing his one rein stops.  I’m glad to see the two little ones back in the saddle.  I’m hopeful that they will feel confident in their ability to ride and to control their horses by the time cold weather hits.

Cecily has been teaching Sophie to flex to the bridle, which is very useful in a one-rein stop.  A horse who will flex instantly (bend their head way around to the side when you pull one rein) will stop instantly, as they can’t run very well with their heads bent far around to where your stirrup is.  That way, if the horse spooks or gets silly and threatens to buck or take off, the rider has complete control to stop the situation before someone gets hurt!

I am always impressed with Cecily’s tenacity as a horsewoman.  She has only just turned twelve, has been riding since she was newly ten, and training horses for about a year.  She gets frustrated, she has problems with the horses, but she keeps on until she works through it.  I admire that in her.

Photo by Chrisada

In addition to working Sophie, she also works with her retired harness racing mare, Spur, who is granddaughter to the famous Cam Fella.  Cam Fella is showcased at Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Fame as the sire producing the all time highest earning harness racing offspring (over $2M).  That would include Spur who won somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-12,ooo in her career.  That was, of course, well before we got her, and we would love her tremendously if she’d never earned a penny in her life! LOL!

Cecily has been teaching Spur the “Cruising” lesson at the trot and canter, and teaching her to “Follow the Fence” at a trot.  I’ve been doing the same with Saxton.  Cruising is where you ask your horse to trot or canter.  Then you expect your horse to keep that gait until you ask for a different gait.  So if they try to speed up or slow down, the rider corrects them and brings them back to the gait they’ve originally asked for.  You don’t steer at all, but let the horse go wherever he wants, so as to work on only one issue at a time.  Obviously we do this in the arena where the horses can’t really go anywhere!  The purpose of this exercise is to teach your horse that he has the responsibility to maintain the gait you’ve asked for.

It is good teamwork to ask your horse for a gait and have him give it to you until you ask for a different gait.  It is a poor team who are fighting each other over whether to walk, trot, or canter, and can be dangerous as well.

After that, “Follow the Fence” is merely trotting or cantering alongside the fence (or from tree to tree if you desire), in a straight line.  On the surface it sounds simple and unnecesary (to me anyway), but most horses can’t really just travel in a straight line.  This teaches them to take responsibility to go in the direction you point them!

Each new exercise we bring to the horses is an enjoyable challenge.  It is improving our skill as riders and trainers.  I never considered myself to have a good seat,  not since I was in high school anyway, and was not confident that I could both stay on a horse and control him!  But hours of posting the trot (rising and falling in the saddle in time with the hoofbeats) and now more and more cantering continue to improve my confidence in my ability to stay with my horse.  The basic respect I have earned from Saxton through controlling where his feet go, have given me the confidence to really get on and ride.  And the ability to stop him at any given moment has given me the self-assurance to ask him to do new and unfamiliar things.

Although we have been limited lately in the amount of time we’ve had to work, it’s a high priority this summer, and the glib motto “horsework before housework” has been reality for us, as I’d much rather let laundry stack up and the carpets need a vacuuming than let the horses stand idle, forgetting what we’ve already taught them!  After all, the warm months when we can work without worry of ice injuring us or our horses, are short and disappear quickly!

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Home Again, Jiggity Jig.

We’ve been traveling again.  It’s always a relief to come back home, especially after being away quite a bit lately, but it usually takes me a good week to get back into the routine.  Meantime I do a lot of wandering around wondering what I would normally be doing if I hadn’t been out of touch with things for several days.  So not a lot gets done.  But here’s a quick update:

In the time we were gone from home the strawberries have petered out, the raspberries continue to ripen a few at a time in the newer, sparser bed, and a few blueberries have ripened as well.  It portends good things for future years to have a few nice berries in each young patch.

The delphiniums, foxglove, and field daisies are straggling along with a few blooms left at the end, but there is one wild daisy that sprang up in our flower garden that still blossoms exuberantly.  It’s so cheerful I hate to let it know that most of its cousins have lately given up.  I just keep enjoying it every time I pass the garden.

When that is gone, the purple coneflowers (echinacea) will be in full bloom, and all the pink impatiens and royal lobelia that Cecily started from seed in late winter will fill in with bushy color. And somehow we manage to get lovely, big, fuschia roses on two small bushes.  That’s a pleasant surprise, for I believe roses don’t typically do well with such harsh winters as we have.  But I don’t know a whole lot about the variety we planted.  We just picked them up inexpensively at a local store and gave them a try because at the low price they were offered at, it wouldn’t be a tragedy to lose them.  We’ve lost several others, anyway.

On another note, we got ten full cords of  logs delivered tonight for our winter fuel.  We’ll get another ten cords in later, when we’ve repaired the path that leads from the road in toward the woodshed.  The soil here is deep sand, and such a heavy delivery truck just sifts bucketloads of it out of the way and digs its monstrous tires deep into the ground.  We’ll need to get a semi-load of crushed limestone in to line the long drive a couple inches deep and mound it up in the center for a nice, solid packed base that will withstand rain runoff and keep the heavy equipment with its huge tires afloat!

I believe it was Thoreau who said that wood heats thrice:  When you fell it, when you split and stack it, and finally when you burn it.

With all the travel, we’ve been hard-pressed to work with the horses very regularly lately.  With JJ (the oldest, who turns 15 tomorrow) home on break from his work with Whispering Hope Ranch this week, he’s spent some time riding Saxton bareback – even cantering without the saddle.  Brave fellow!  We had wanted to take the three big horses out for a trail ride this week, but due to their lack of regular work I felt a couple of them were just too full of sass to safely take out on the roads.  So we’ve stayed in the arena, continuing to work on teaching them to be responsible to move in a straight line on their own without needing to be guided back into line along the way.  We will hope to venture out with just two of them in the next few days, after JJ’s returned to work with the Ranch.

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Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard, Horses