Celebrating the Summer Solstice

Sun on the wall
Riding on a summer evening when the light is magical.

Today is the longest day of the year. In some ways it’s shocking; summer is only just beginning and yet starting tomorrow our days will get (marginally) shorter every day. But this is a special summer solstice because it’s also a full moon. And not just any moon; it’s a strawberry moon, so named by the Algonquin tribes because it occurs right at the height of the season when strawberries are harvested.

Loop ride
This ride kept us cool in the woods and took us down one of the historic colonial-era roads.

What better way to celebrate than by an evening ride? Zelda and I had a lovely, long ride this evening. We took a six mile loop that took us down historic the historic Estabrook Road trail (with a distance marker to the Old North Bridge), through the woods to come out at Hutchins Pond.

It was a warm evening, and yet cool in the woods. Surprisingly, because these trails are usually well used, it was empty tonight. The only people I saw were three mountain bikers, who surprised us deep in the woods but were kind enough to pull over to the side of the trail while Zelda snorted her disapproval.

I made one wrong turn out in the woods. It’s funny how well Zelda knows her way around and she pointed like a dog in the right direction. Honestly, at dusk, most of those wooded trails look the same and if it wasn’t for the touches of history — the old foundations, the lime kilns, and the stone walls — it would be easy to lose your way without the uncanny directional sense of my partner in crime.

Hutchins Pond
A glimpse of Hutchins Pond, which appears at the end of a the East Hubbard Tral

When I arrived back at the barn around 8:15, the sunset still painted the sky orange and it was pleasantly light.

Friends

I understand why some people want their horses in individual turnouts — they are afraid they will get hurt. Freedom is always covered with scrapes, cuts and bite marks. It’s not from meanness. He plays hard. And often. Luckily, Willow seems to enjoy the game as much as he does. And even if he does look scruffy, I’m glad he has so much fun. When I first got him, he didn’t have a lot of experience playing well with others. I think he’s figured it out.

Thanks, Lindsay for catching the two in action!

 

I think Zelda is part Border Collie

Zelda has upped her game of tag. When I went to hunt her on Saturday, she started by running laps in the pasture. Then she decided that Curly needed to join in her game. I think that Zelda is part Border Collie because she’s very good at herding.

Of course, Curly is a good sport. She plays along until Zelda tires of the game and then goes back to eating hay. It’s interesting to watch the herd dynamics.

Zelda didn’t get tired so easily. She ran for nearly half an hour before she deigned to be caught and I had to hose her off before the hunt.

Hmm, I wonder what kind of music Zelda would play?

Sapphire the horse has shown a remarkable talent on the electric keyboard, enjoying both the sounds and the feeling of the keys. He’s got quite a riff going! But he’s not the only horse that likes music.

Researchers at Hartpury College in England tested the effects of different types of music on eight stabled horses. They played classical (Beethoven), country (Hank Williams Jr.), rock (Green Day), and jazz (New Stories) – for 30 minutes each.

The horses showed a marked preference for classical, country music and silence;  jazz and rock music caused horses to display behaviors associated with stress — head tossing, stamping, snorting and vocalizing.

In addition, horses ate more calmly when listening to classical or country music, while when listening to jazz or rock they snatched at food in short bursts.

So next time you have the radio on at the barn, make sure you’ve got it tuned to soothing music. Or, set up a keyboard and see what happens. Sapphire’s playing is surprisingly musical — it makes me wonder what Zelda would produce!

Riding bitless doesn’t mean lack of control

Riding Bitless
You can read this article on the Chronicle of the Horse by clicking on the photo.

No, Kelly McKnight did not forget his bridle. He also didn’t forget that horses get some “say” in how they are ridden. When you read the horse bulletin boards you’d think there was a “magic bit” du jour. That if your dressage horse doesn’t like a loose ring snaffle, if your show hunter isn’t perfectly mellow in a D-ring, or your eventer can’t go cross country in his dressage bit that you are somehow doing something wrong.

For many years I hunted a Trakehner who loved to be ridden bitless. In fact, he told me very clearly, and for a long time, that he didn’t like bits, that they were

Once I discovered this bitless set up I had a much happier horse.
Once I discovered this bitless set up I had a much happier horse.

uncomfortable in his mouth, where his big tongue and low palate didn’t leave a lot of room.

Eventually, I tried riding him bitless. First I tried the Dr. Cook’s bridle, but he didn’t much care for the poll pressure. Then I discovered the LG bridle, which is basically a side pull bridle with the reins attached to a wheel. You can achieve a bit more leverage when you attach the reins to a spoke that turns the wheel very slightly.

This discovery was a real turning point for us because suddenly I had a happy, willing partner. He was soft and light in my hands, he jumped beautifully and he was never out of control. I hunted him bitless for many seasons. Sometimes it surprised people, who wondered if I had enough control in it.

Certainly, this isn’t for every horse. I’ve tried riding Freedom and Zelda both bitless and I don’t have a lot of control. It’s fine for a hack, but out hunting? I don’t think it would be much fun. But I think that everyone should try, on occasion, to give their horses a break and see what kind of ride they have without a bit. Who knows? You might never go back!

Remember Sheldon? The CANTER horse I had before Zelda? He also was a much happier horse without a bit. The important thing is to listen to your horse and see what works for him.

How about you? Do you ever ride bitless?