Thank goodness for The Google or else I would have lost this challenge a long time ago. This one took the longest to figure out and I spent hours online searching.
A book with a cat on the cover: Murder by the Slice by Livia Washburn.
Small town Texas, outside of Fort Worth, where the biggest concern is how to raise funds for the PTA. Two retired teachers, Phyllis and Carolyn, and recruited to help with a cake auction/bake sale at the yearly carnival. When a murder occurs, the entire town is rocked. Meddling, nosy and very sharp Phyllis begins her own investigation into the murder to find out the truth.
I found the book entertaining enough and realized 1/4 of the way through that it was the second in a series. It didn’t matter though, the author interspersed enough flashbacks of the important bits of the first novel that I felt filled in enough to enjoy the book.
It was well written, quick to read and predictable. The murder took a little while to occur, but the characters were enjoyable so I didn’t mind. One fun addition were the recipes from the bake sale that the author included in the back of the book.
My criticism is a personal irritation of mine in all books: after the characters are introduced, when they keep recurring I find it redundant to keep referring to them by both first and last name over and over again. I can remember who they are without it.
Is it a masterpiece? No, but it was enjoyable fiction.
Spring time makes me itchy for adventure. The last three weekends have been gorgeous and I’ve been fighting the urge for a day trip knowing that we had a lot to do around the farm.
This past Sunday was free of necessary chores and we piled into the car to head to a local destination I’ve been wanting to hit up since we moved here: Tryon, NC. It is just about an hour away and is a simple highway drive. I knew most of the shops would be closed, but that didn’t matter since I wasn’t looking to buy anything. Just being out in the sunshine exploring a new town was enough.
Sure enough, most stores were closed including the one restaurant I had hoped to hit up having been told to eat there by several friends. The Main Street was charming though and with nobody else around Wyatt could run around the sidewalk without threatening to bowl. anyone over.
We found an antique type store open near the end of the street and ducked inside. It was a really neat store and we had time to speak with the owners. They just moved here from years spent living in Germany collecting antique furniture from all over Europe. The pieces were large, solid and ornate.
Interspersed among the beautiful furnishings was pottery painted in a unique blue and yellow pattern. They explained that it came from Poland and was considered “art you can eat off of”. It was really beautiful but I was unable to snap a picture.
As I wandered around the store, which was larger than the outside let on with many rooms, I spotted a complimentary Keurig. Dusty and Wyatt were both complaining of being hungry, so I made Dusty a cup of coffee and Wyatt some hot chocolate. Knowing how hot the Keurig gets, I blew on the hot chocolate for a long time as we chatted to the owners before I gave it to Wyatt.
We were just heading out when Wyatt took a sip and the second worst nightmare a parent can have in a store with a child (the first being that they grab and break something you can’t afford to purchase in good form let alone broken), came true. Wyatt took a sip, burnt his tongue and flung the cup away from him. Hot chocolate went everywhere including soaking into an ornamental rug on the floor.
Thankfully the rug was old, worn and not for sale, but as I helped sop up the mess Dusty looked over at me and whispered “now we need to buy something” I nodded. Had it not been empty or had we not just spent 20 minutes chatting to the lovely owners, we might have been able to clean it up, apologize and slip out. As it was, I felt awful.
There was a beautiful horse painting I had spied in the back and so, once the lady owner and myself were off our knees once again, I asked to see it. It was reasonably priced and I purchased it.
Turned out that free cup of hot chocolate cost me $102. At least I got a nice painting out of it. It also happens to be the only horse themed artwork I own.
I’m tempted to just leave it at that, but there is so much to say. First though – it was soooo much fun and I still can’t wipe the smile off my face.
Let’s back up to how it all began…
Last Sunday I sent a text to my trainer (squee!) asking to set up another lesson with Gemmie at home. She was happy to come out, but had plans to take her lesson girls to Aiken for a xc school and wasn’t sure which day. I responded innocently that I wish I was brave enough to do xc, but I was pretty sure Gem would kill me to which she responded that I could use her school horse, Ralphie.
I froze. Really????
We decided that a jump lesson at her barn was a good idea before attempting anything over solid obstacles and the lesson became a reality Wednesday evening.
I had butterflies in my stomach all day at work and vacillated between extreme excitement and nervousness. It has been 7 years of riding Gem and only Gem plus I have never had a real jump lesson before. EEK!
I practically ran out of work. It was 30 minutes away and I arrived about an half an hour early. The grounds were really pretty even in the diminishing light and odd time of year where things are just starting to wake up. Two girls on gorgeous horses were having a jump lesson and when trainer J saw me, she came over to give me the run down on where to find my horse and his grooming kit.
Turns out Ralphie is a 24 year old Arab/Welsh Cob with dinner plates for hooves and great bone structure. Most of J’s clients have their own horses and Ralphie is her own personal horse. He was taken out of the lesson program when he had suspensory injury running in for his dinner (the man loves to eat) and was put out to pasture for a year to rest and heal. He came back stronger than ever and is mostly retired now. I brushed him out while he ate his dinner and then waited until her lesson was over to figure out his tack situation.
We walked back up to the jump arena and she asked my experience with other horses and jumping. Um…. I haven’t ridden anyone except for a few times on trail in 7 years and while I have popped Gem over jumps here and there, I have never had a jump lesson in my life. I’m sure she started to wonder what she got herself into.
AHHH…there is just too much to say!!!! Deep breaths…
We started at the walk as usual and there were so many things I noticed about Ralphie right away. Like he actually has brakes, a thing Gem most certainly thinks is optional. The slightest touch of my heel on his side sent him laterally with barely any effort. This horse is trained. What was really funny though was when J would start to apologize for him when he started to get “naughty”. I just laughed. Ralphie’s naughty is nothing compared to my Gemmiecakes. What did he do? Well, he could get a little snippy and when I would push him over to the rail he would then basically run over the rail and I could just hear him thinking “oh..you want me on the rail do you? Well, how is this? Close enough for you?” No drop the shoulder and spin 180 degrees. No get hollow and run off. No pissy head shaking and crow hopping. I giggled each time. in fact, I think I giggled through the entire lesson. When a dream comes true, you just have to enjoy every single moment of it.
The lesson again really doesn’t warrant a blow by blow. We walked and trotted on the 20m circle, then did the spiral exercises and played with transitions seeing how little effort it could take to get a nice transition. The canter was a shit show as I worked through some major Gem induced PTSD. My legs would tell poor Ralphie to go, but my hands would then clamp and tell him no. I finally got it sorted out and things were good. The second half of the lesson we worked over some jumps from the trot. She created two cross rails (here is where my complete lack of jumping knowledge is really going to shine through: I know nothing of your terminology) one was on a diagonal and if ridden straight had me on a line back to the rail and then it was a turn to the left for a second cross rail straight ahead. I think they were likely too far apart to really be considered on a bending line, but the turn had to be ridden correctly or I wouldn’t make the second jump. It also forced me to bring Ralphie back to a trot after the first jump, half halt and prepare for the second.
And this is where the light bulb finally went on and EVERYTHING CHANGED FOR ME.
About half way through the lesson, I just stopped and looked at J. Something was wrong. My right ankle was on fire and everything was just really, really hard to do. She kept telling me that I was posting off the back of the saddle and to bring my hips forward, but I physically could not change anything. I tried. I really tried. I understood what she was saying, but it just wasn’t possible. I looked at her and told her something was fundamentally not right. I know riding is hard. I know it takes time to create muscle memory and everyone has issues with position and what not, but this just seemed more difficult than it should.
She had me come into the center of our 20m circle and she had me move my legs onto his shoulders and just sit. Then I brought them back under me and my entire posture shifted. My legs dangled, my heels breathed against his side, I was sitting on a different part of my seat and it allowed my upper body to sit up straighter with shoulders back. All this without any effort from me. My ankle stopped burning, the tension went out of my elbows.
When I went back out onto the circle, Ralphie was noticeably happier about my balance. When I tightened my core, he listened. When I half halted, he listened. She had me cue the canter and it wasn’t scary anymore. He just went off with the slightest brush of my heel. The jumps came easily and I was able to balance him after each without any effort.
I was grinning like a fool by the time we were done. I can’t wait until the next one and hopefully by summer I will be confident enough to do a xc day with the pony clubbers.
Things I did right:
She didn’t have to tell me one time to move my shoulders as I turned or was on the circle. See, I can learn!
My jump position was actually spot on and stable. I think I’ll be participating in 2 point tober next year!
I jumped in good timing with Ralphie, neither ahead or left behind
I never once caught him in the face with my hands.
Things that need work:
Soften those darn elbows
Raise my hands. I tend to bury them in his withers which locks my elbows in extension
Don’t get grabby in the canter transition.
Slow my posting down. I’ve gotten so used to posting at 12 mph along with Gem on trail that it feels normal. No, that isn’t a good pace in an arena on a 20m circle. Slow it down.
Ride to the actual base of the jump. I tended to stop riding too soon creating a long distance for Ralphie. Ride all the way in
Practice sitting correctly with my seat which allows everything else to fall deliciously in place.
Go in order to prevent cherry picking the easy prompts
Any format – e book or print – but has to follow the prompt
Finish any book I started
I’ve managed to stick to these rules until now.
An espionage thriller: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre
100 pages in and I was so confused and tired of re reading passages that I gave up. I texted my mom saying that I hated the book. If she was into it (it was her pick after all), I would suffer through it, but her response was in agreement. In fact she texted back “Life is too short to read a bad book”
What is it about? Honestly, I’m not so sure. From what I gathered there was a big uprising in the Spy game in London which resulted in the old school Spies begin forced into retirement. The new crew do things very different. About 70 pages in or so, the plot comes to light a little in a story told by a new Spy who believes that the British are in cahoots with the Russians.
I stopped there, so who knows what happens to these guys, but I’m assuming they ferret out the bad spies, kick out the new boss and get reinstated. Of course, that could be all wrong too. I’ll never know.
What was so wrong with it? Literally everything. To start, I felt like I was dropped in the middle of a story and was expected to understand it all. The audience was obviously supposed to be British and into spy novels. The terminology, the slang, the locations…all were way over my head and difficult to grasp. The plot was slow to form, unless I just missed it, and even then was boring and predictable.
I don’t recommend this book at all although a Google search revealed that it is a movie now, so maybe just watch it instead. Unless you are the intended audience, then you may love it.
It is no secret that I’ve been lacking motivation lately. For the past year a trip to the trails meant a 45 minute drive to the barn, 20-30 minutes to hook trailer and load, 2 hours to the trail, then repeat backwards. It was a lot of time for little output. The last time I rode was with my friend Zoe and I had to get up at 5 am just to meet her at the trail at 9. I just got burned out on it.
Sunday though was too pretty not to ride: 76F and sunny with a cool breeze. Both Gem and I are terribly out of trail riding shape and it was time to head back out to test the waters. Dusty even came along with Wyatt and Einstein to hike while I rode. That meant the only time not with Wyatt would be the actual trail time.
I can’t even begin to express fully how amazing it was to wake up at 7:30 am (thats sleeping in!) and lazily make my way to getting Gem and still have her loaded up in 10 minutes since we had the foresight to hook the trailer up the night before. Then it was only an hour to my favorite trails. Once I was done riding, all I had to do was drive home. I put Gem out in the pasture and walked inside to change. That was all.
The ride itself was refreshing. With nothing looming on my ride calendar, no conditioning plan to fulfill and a fluffy, hair yak on a warm day, I had no reason to push things. For the first time in two years, I left my GPS watch and expectations at home. I just rode the trail, happy to have my favorite mare under me and my favorite views ahead. I trotted when I felt like it and walked a lot of it. I took the time to just look around, snap some pictures and breath deeply the fresh spring air. At one point, I pulled Gem up in a meadow and sat on her watching the goldfinches, blue birds and cardinals building their nests. It was amazing and just what I needed. I honestly can’t remember the last time I just enjoyed the time on the trail without staring at my watch and prodding Gem along to keep up the pace for conditioning. It was a good reminder of why I even ride.
The trail head was already busy at 10 am and I felt a little fumble getting Gem tacked up. It has been so long since I had her in her endurance gear. Once I swung up though, my butt felt like it had finally come home. I adore my endurance saddle.
I chose the green 6.5 mile loop as a good reintroduction for us both. It is mostly single track winding in the woods with some breaks out in the open. The trail system places the markers on your right although I have never seen anyone ride this trail the proper direction as most don’t like riding along the road at the start. I like going this way to avoid any crowds at the trail head.
I let her walk the entire first mile to loosen up. She was extremely lookie at everything, but didn’t pull any nasty stunts and mostly kept her pace. For my part, I used this first mile to work on halt transitions. I really need to remember to do this more often. When she si all nervous at the start, making her work through halts gets her to relax and think which is really beneficial.
The woods then dump out onto a dirt road. I recalled a time when we were both brave enough to blast down this section at a full bore canter, but not today. This day we just walked along, getting the feel for each other out in the open once again and enjoying the feel of the sun on my skin.
Once we got back into the woods, I started to ask for trot sets. I’d ask her to trot and maintain her pace for a while. During this I really worked on what trainer J had taught me: make sure my thumbs are up, close my fingers and relax my elbows. It is amazing how hard it is to force yourself to relax!
For her part, Gem worked hard for me. She trotted when asked although she did ask to walk more often than I would have liked. We continued to work on our halting and not walking off again until I asked. It was hard to work on rhythm on the trail since the terrain really dictates a lot of it and when it comes to going up or down I let Gem balance herself and choose as long as it is within the gait I asked for.
We made our way through this part of the woods which wraps around the lake. I like this side because the lake typically provides a cool breeze and Gem found a second wind through here. With the lake being so low, the water was actually lapping at the shore and this made Gem a bit more nervous, but still she responded well to me and didn’t even try to drop her shoulder, turn 180 degrees and run.
It had been way to long since I had ridden here last. When we first moved here, this trail system was only 25 minutes way so I rode here every weekend. I knew every inch of every trail. Once we moved houses and then barns, this place just got to be too far with others a lot closet.
I found myself not 100% sure how much farther each section of trail was and it was a little frustrating only because I had once known it so well. Once we hit the access road though, I knew we were about 2 miles from the trailer.
Gem seemed to be enjoying the more relaxed pace and was happy to trot when asked and came back easily to a walk. Around this point she started to act a bit funny and I knew she had to pee. She typically goes in the pasture when she sees me coming, but with the new arrangement she sees me so often she never knows what is up. Gem really hates to pee under saddle, so I kept giving her opportunity and she kept refusing but would then walk and trot as if uncomfortable.
The access road reenters the wood with about 1-1.5 miles left and once there I knew exactly what all was remaining. I really like to finish any ride strong and was hoping to trot in the last remaining bit. We crossed the road, but then ran into a really big snag. There was a piece of ribbon across the trail,blocking access. This system is really well maintained though, and there was a new trail off to the right with hoof prints.
A quarter of a mile down, if that, there were signs of hoof prints cutting back to the original trail. As I’ve mentioned, I am a rule follower to the T though and I didn’t want to ride back on a trail that was closed off. I kept to the new trail hoping it would end up somewhere close to where we wanted to be. I go a little concerned when the new trail veered off to the right when I knew the old one went left, but I was optimistic.
This new trail was not very good. While it was wide, nobody had cared about the branches overhead and I found myself laying down on Gem’s neck quite a bit. Thankfully, she si awesome at this type of stuff.
At one point, I saw the red trail off to my left. This was odd because the red and green are not together at this juncture. They run together across the road going into/out of the trail head but on this side of the road they go on their own in completely different directions. I now knew that we would not be meeting back up with green and debated turning around.
Once I hit that, I turned her around and looked for the red trail now off to my right. Once I saw the trail, I bushwhacked over to it and just took that back to the road crossing. Along the way I saw the full extent of the fire. There were large sink holes where stumps were burned out and the heavy smell of burnt pine was in the air.
Finally we reached the point where green and red split and crossed the road which put us about 1/2 mile from the trail head. Gem made quick work of this section, knowing we were not doing my typical green-red-green 20 mile loop, and we finished the ride happy, relaxed and having not parted ways.
Pasture management is an obsession of mine. When done correctly, even a smaller than preferred area for your horse can be kept lush, safe and healthy. It may take work, thought and planning, but it can be done and I find the topic to be fascinating.
Gem and Pete are on 3-4 acres. That satisfies the bare minimum for my region’s grass type, soil quality and terrain: 2 acres for the first horse and 1 acre for every horse thereafter. Your area may require more or less room depending on the above. We are fortunate that the pasture was previously used for what qualifies as hay down here and has a solid, mature root system of fescue. I prefer fescue to coastal because it grows year round, although it does need a good bit of water in the hotter months, and grows taller blades of grass.
Overall I am really happy with the soil and the grass growing on the acres we have access too. There are no hills in the pasture, but the land has a gradual slope which allows for good run off if it ever decides to rain. After a month of being on it 24/7, you can tell the horses have been grazing but there are still untouched regions and the grass has continued to grow and not be eaten down. We are only feeding 1/4 bale of hay at night and both horses have gained weight since being home. In fact, we had to cut Pete’s grain down again and I am watching Gem carefully while we get back into work.
There are two things that I don’t like: only having one pasture which eliminates the ability to rotate and rest one while they are on another (the best method to pasture management) and the vast amount of poop strewn everywhere. While I cant correct the first issue right now (plans are in motion for future use of the other 5 acre field) I can do something about the poop.
Most people will think I am being OCD or just plain nuts, but seeing all those big piles of poop in the pasture makes me itchy. A horse produces roughly 50 lbs of poop a day. They have been out there for almost 4 weeks, so they have produced roughly 2800 lbs of poop. And all that poop is in the pasture. Not only is it an eye sore, but it isn’t healthy for the horses or pasture.
The most obvious reason is the spread of parasites. Gem and Pete are not on a routine de worming program. We test a fecal sample twice a year for egg count and treat if necessary. They haven’t been positive in 2 years. I’d like to keep it that way. If they were carrying worms, allowing all that worm and egg filled poop to just lay in the pasture will spread those worms and increase the risk of reinfection. They were tested a few weeks prior to the move, so it will be very interesting to see what the fall test reveals. Big piles of poop also attract flies, their eggs and are just gross.
Another reason though, is seeds. Weed seeds that are not digested will be spread throughout the pasture putting your nice, lush grass at risk. If you have a larger area, it isn’t such a big deal, but I am working in a smaller area than I would like (I would prefer two 10 acre pastures to rotate between) and I don’t need the grass killed off.
The last big reason though has to do with the grass growth itself. Piles of poop not only kill off the grass via smothering, it also deters the horses from grazing in those spots as they go off to hunt cleaner regions. The pasture can easily become an area of rough zones, where the weeds and grass have grown tall and won’t be eaten due to the presence of manure, and lawns, areas eaten down to nothing and stunting the grass growth. Neither are good.
All that to say…I needed to do something with the 2800 lbs of poop scattered about the pasture. Most resources say to rest the pasture. Move the horses to another, drag and mow it and allow it to sit and renew while they create havoc next door. You do not want to drag or spread manure in a pasture that is being actively used. Read all the above about the spread of weed seeds and parasites.
The only option for me is to pick it out of the pasture. I probably look like an idiot to all the neighbors as I walk with wheelbarrow and pitchfork in hand, picking up poop from the pasture. It is also frustrating work since they are pooping right in front of you as you are cleaning it up, but it only took a weekend and I didn’t mind it at all.
Of course, this lead to the next dilemma: what to do with all this manure. A manure pile makes my skin crawl. I told you I am obsessed with this stuff, right? I mean, a big stinking pile of manure that attracts flies like crazy just won’t work for me. After even more research, I settled on my solution.
A compost bin. Or three.
By composting the manure, I can turn the manure plus all those darn leaves into wonderful soil. Delicious soil that can be spread on the pasture to enrich it – weed seeds and parasites are killed in the composting since it gets to about 115F when made correctly – and can put it on my flower beds as well. The enclosed system locks away odors and keep the bugs to a minimum.
It is a win-win for my little pasture OCD heart.
I only had to get the hubby to build me what I wanted and add the goodies in. I’ll post a how to shortly to show the steps of making it, but it is everything my little heart could desire.