Monday, February 28, 2011

At Least We're not the Only Ones.

Wednesday February 16th
I worked for CBC in Halifax today, so Dave and I carpooled into the city. It was dusk when we got home, and as we crested the hill and our driveway came into sight, we noticed the oil truck.

The cab of the truck was halfway out of our driveway, so at first we assumed he was leaving. Dave slowed the car and pulled over to the side of the road to give him room. But the truck didn't move.

Me (tentatively): "Do you think he's stuck?"

Dave: "No. He can't be stuck. (pause) Can he?"

Something certainly didn't seem right. The truck was definitely lilting to the left, and it still wasn't moving. We looked more closely and saw snow, lots of it, pressed into the undercarriage of the truck. Yes. The Irving Oil truck was definitely stuck.

Dave got out of the car and approached the driver, who, despite his predicament, was cheerful and friendly. He said he was backing into our driveway about 20 minutes earlier when it happened. He hit the icy hump at the foot of our driveway (a hump created by the plow's middle of the night passes, and our too-busy/lazy-to-shovel lifestyle). When he hit the hump, his liquid load shifted with a lurch, forcing the tires to jump the edge of our narrow driveway and into the ditch.

A tow-truck was on its way. We offered the driver a chance to come inside and warm up, but he said he preferred to wait in the truck... besides, the hose on the truck was long enough that he figured he could fill our oil tank from where he was, which he did.

The driver's one big concern was for the two other clients whose tanks he was supposed to fill. One was a private home up the road in Kennetcook. They'd been without oil all day, and the temperature was hovering at something like fifteen below zero. The homeowners called the driver several times to see where he was, and he had to deliver the bad news-- he was delayed.

His other client was a business which repairs large trucks. They too had been without oil all day, and weren't very happy about the situation. Dave and I felt a little sheepish. We had plenty of oil, about a quarter of a tank. We'd just called for a delivery because we figured better safe than sorry. We likely could have gone several more weeks without oil though.

Dusk turned to dark before the tow truck finally arrived. It was a huge truck (about the same size as the oil truck) with a heavy duty winch on the back. At some point, the oil truck driver whispered to Dave that they're supposed to drain the oil from the truck before having it towed. This wasn't done, and I had visions of the truck tipping on its side, spilling thick black diesel onto the bright, white snow. Thankfully, the truck was tugged free from the rutted ditch without incident--well, almost without incident.

With the oil truck out of the ditch and now blocking the entire width of the road, the driver jumped out suddenly and ran to the left side of the truck. I followed. I noticed a four foot long metal box dangling from the bottom of the truck onto the snowy road. It turns out it was a tool box normally attached to a metal frame on the lower left hand side of the truck. But with so much snow shoved up against the bottom of the truck as it was dragged out of the ditch, the frame twisted and the box fell off. Now, the oil truck driver, and the tow truck driver were both sizing it up, trying to figure out how to re-attach it so they could finish work and go home.

Eventually, they decided to use a few bungee cords to wrangle the box into place. The driver shrugged and hoped the box would stay put while he finished his deliveries. Having it bounce off while driving 100 kms/hour on the highway was not an experience he was looking forward to.

At least he can breathe easily knowing that we shouldn't need oil again until next fall.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

7pm on a wintry Thursday evening
Ice pellets land on my windshield like thousands of tiny tap-dancers. The noise reminds me of small dogs with long toenails running on hardwood floors. The highway is an unplowed, slushy mess. One lane shows two narrow black strips of bare asphalt. The passing lane, however, shows no pavement at all. Yellow and white painted lines are impossible to see from either lane.

I'm only a few kilometres into the drive home, but already I know it's going to take longer than the usual 45 minutes. I turn down the radio, grip the steering wheel tightly, and lean into the windshield-- creeping along at 60-70km/ hour.

Just about the only other vehicles on the highway are transport trucks. They have no patience for my caution; however, they're reluctant to venture into the snow-covered passing lane. So, they try to hurry this station-wagon-driving lady along. One truck gets so close to my rear bumper that I can't see its headlights. Only its grill is reflected in my rear view mirror. When I can't be goaded into picking up the pace, the driver steers his 18 wheeler into the passing lane with reckless abandon.

Finding the passing lane to be an icy mess, the driver inches his monstrous vehicle sideways toward me and my two strips of black pavement. I yield as much as I dare, but I refuse to be run off the road, into a ditch. Finally, the truck edges past, tossing a slushy mess onto my windshield in its wake--leaving me temporarily blind. Luckily, I know the highway well. This cycle of intimidation repeats itself at least a half dozen times before I finally ease my car up the off ramp and onto Nova Scotia's country side roads.

There are no black strips of asphalt to guide my path on these back roads, but there are no transport trucks to rush me along either. After well over an hour on the road, I'm thrilled to finally see the flashing yellow light that marks the turn onto Indian Road. Just two turns and two more kilometres, then I'm home. I roll my head from side to side and shake the tension out of my shoulders as I climb the gentle slope of Indian Road. It's been plowed at some point today, so it's passable-- barely. A streetlight illuminates the yard of the Bonderosa dairy farm which marks the left turn onto our dirt road.

I'm partway through the turn when I realize that our road has not been plowed at all. On top of that, there's a large pile of snow where our road meets Indian road. I give the car some gas, but I know it's too late. The front tires meet the pile of snow with a dull thud, and the car slides to a halt. I can't go forward, but thankfully I'm not stuck. I back out of the mess, and prepare to try again, but given that I'm on a slight hill, with all momentum gone, the car will only move backwards.

I reverse nearly the entire length of Indian Road. until it flattens out, then I give the car some gas and race up the hill as fast as I can. This time, when I hit our road, the car fishtails, but continues forward over the hump. However, the entire road is covered with about four inches of icy-snow the consistency of a thick slush-puppy.

I press my foot even harder on the gas peddle. I may have gotten through the pile of snow at the intersection, but I still have to make it up our very steep hill. I pass the neighbour's house, and begin the steepest section. I'm sliding all over the place, but at least I'm moving forward. . I'm going to make it. I'm going to make it.

I don't make it. My wheels start spinning just 50 metres from the crest of the hill. I back down the hill, into our neighbour's driveway and call Dave from my cell phone. A few minutes later, our Dodge truck is parked on the road in front of me, and Dave's searching for a spot to attach the tow ropes.

He tries to pull the car up the hill, but the road is so icy and the hill so steep that the truck can't get any more traction, and after about 20 feet or so, we're at a standstill. We detach the vehicles and I back all the way down our road and into the well plowed driveway of the dairy farm. Our kind neighbours tell me I can park there until 10am tomorrow-- when the milk truck is scheduled to arrive.

As it turns out, I don't need to keep the car there overnight. Moments after pulling into our driveway (in the truck), we see the flashing lights of the plow at the bottom of the hill. After about 15 minutes, its blade passes by our driveway-- then the plow stops.

Dave goes to see if the driver needs any help. It turns out the tire-chains on the plow snapped while negotiating our hill. The friendly driver tells Dave that he, and all other plow drivers hate our hill. He says his plow got stuck partway up last year, and he had to call someone to come tow his massive rig. He tells Dave to wait another twenty minutes or so, and that once his tire chains are back on, he'll do another pass on the road so we can bring up the car.

After his second run (and another stop at the top of our hill to fix his chains), we go get the car. Ice pellets are still pelting the windshield, but with the road plowed, I'm able to make it safely into our driveway. It's 9:30pm, and I'm finally able to sit down to supper.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stuck Again...and Again...and Again

Our vehicles have expressed their collective dislike for winter by staging various forms of work stoppages over the past two months. First, my car wouldn't start, then my car couldn't make it up our hill. Then, as winter progressed, the other vehicles ...both the tractor and the truck, joined in the protests as well.

Tuesday February 8-- evening

It's been snowing all day.
It's late when Dave finally pulls into the driveway after a long drive on snow-covered roads. He's exhausted, so I feel bad suggesting (more accurately insisting) that he plow the driveway tonight. After all, we both have to work in the morning...and we both know he's not going to want to fire up the tractor at 5am.

Reluctantly, he concedes defeat. I watch his progress from the kitchen window while I wash dishes. The tractor has no lights, and before long it disappears into dakness at the end of the drivevway. I wait for it to reappear. The clean dishes pile up on the counter, and still, there's no sign of the tractor. I suddenly have visions of the tractor lurching sideways and landing upsidedown in the ditch, pinning Dave. I dry my shrivelled hands and rush to the mudroom to haul on my coat. Just then the chime rings and the front door swings open. It's Dave, covered in snow and wearing a scowl. The tractor is stuck-- but at least it's upright and he's ok.

In the dark, Dave has driven off the edge of our too narrow driveway and down into a deep drift on our front lawn. The four-foot high rear tires are half-way submerged in snow.

He backs the truck as close to the rear of the tractor as he can and attaches the tow-ropes. I hoist myself into the driver's seat as he makes his way back to the tractor, flashlight in hand. I shift the truck into gear and ease my foot onto the gas pedal. The truck strains forward, then the tires spin, searching for solid ground, finding only snow. An instant later, the truck lurches forward as the tow-rope breaks.

We give up on that idea. We consider leaving the tractor there until spring. But there's a whole lot more snow to be moved and neither of us is keen on doing that much shovelling. Dave shrugs and decides to attempt to drive the tractor forward across the lawn. What's the worst that could happen? It's already stuck.

He rocks it forward then back, forward then back. Finally, it's freed from the cradle-like ruts, and inches forward slightly. I clap and cheer them on. "Come on Dave, come on MF" (my nickname for our Massey Ferguson tractor which shares my initials). Thankfully there are no neighbours to offer furtive glances from their windows. He chugs ahead slowly through a winter's worth of deep snow, turning the tractor toward a gap in the line of stately evergreen trees which stand at attention the length of our driveway. Branches bend as the tractor emerges from between the trees and rises onto the driveway. Disaster averted-- for now.

The next morning-- Wednesday February 9

I wake to the sound of CBC radio announcers warning of treacherous road conditions. I look out our back window and see snow piled up above the doorknob on the feedroom door. The path to the paddocks is impassible with waist high drifts. I open the front door and a mini avalache of snow rolls inside. I look at the driveway and groan. Dave will make it out with the truck. But I'm taking the car today, and despite Dave's valiant efforts last night, the driveway is once again blocked.

It's not that it snowed much overnight. It's simply that Mother Nature has chosen to redecorate. Using winds gusting between 50 and 60 kilometers an hour, she lifted tens of thousands of snowflakes, swirled them around in the air and redeposited them in spaces made vacaant by earlier efforts with shovels and plows. I don't like to criticize Her work, but She and I certainly have different visions of how the landscape should look.

With no time to waste, I brave the ongoing winds and start shovelling. After an hour, I've carved a new path on Mother Nature's canvas. I lower a steaming mug of tea into my car's cup holder, toss my bagged lunch onto the passenger seat, and prepare myself for a long drive punctuated by icy roads and white-out conditions.

But as I shift the car into reverse, it refuses to move. Well, it moves a couple of inches, then stops, tires spinning. I get out, shovel around all the tires, and try again. Nothing. There's ice underneath, and I'm in a low point on the driveway. I curse my low-slung station wagon. I think of the four-tonne pile of traction sand back by the manure pile-- beyond a 30 meter stretch of waist deep snow. I'm not that desperate yet. I call my boss to tell her I'll be late. She's stuck in her driveway too. Upon hearing this, I feel better about myself.

I have a sudden epiphany-- cardboard. There are some old boxes in the house. I can slip the cardboard from the boxes under the tires, and I'll be good to go. I try. The tires simply spit the cardboard back across the driveway.

Then, another, better epiphany-- cat litter. I can pour cat litter under the tires instead of sand. It should provide traction, and I don't have to wade out to the frozen sand pile to get it. I try that. The car's tires dig deeper, icier trenches, and big wads of clumping litter stick to everything in sight. But the car remains firmly stuck.

Finally, reluctantly, I haul on my snowpants, grab the empty kitty litter bucket and wade through the waist high drifts to the sand pile. Once there, I heave three bales of frozen, rotting hay off the tarp which covers the pile. Then I use my gloved-hands to dig throught he snow until I find an edge of the blue tarp. I peel it back then chizel frozen sand from the pile with a metal shovel until my bucket is full. I wade back to the car. I'm freezing, and my mug of tea is no longer steaming, but at least I'm sure this will work. This is what traction sand is for-- right?

Wrong. It's no use, despite a bucket full of sand, the car's not moving. I can't even rock it forward and back anymore. I wave the white flag and dial the 1-800 number for CAA.

I retreat inside the warm house and wait. The tow truck driver who "rescues" me is the same one who towed our car when my license had expired.

Sat. Feb. 12
The path to the manure pile has been blocked with snow for three days now. For three days I've been dumping wheelbarrows full of manure on top of frozen, snow-covered flower beds in the backyard. I ease my conscience by telling myself it will make good fertilizer in the spring.

Today though, Dave has the day off and he's reluctantly agreed to spend much of it clearing snow. He manages to clear a narrow path down the lane before he clips the edge of our sand pile and the tractor sinks deep into the soft ground beneath. It's stuck. Again. We both sigh and agree to deal with it tomorrow.

Sunday February 13
I grab a shovel. Dave grabs some boards. Amidst firece winds, we begin our mission to liberate the tractor. As he jacks up the tires, I dig and dig and dig. Dave slides the boards into the spaces I've created. He lowers the tractor and tries to drive away. The tires spin and the chains rattle, but the tractor refuses to move. Choking on diesel fumes, I dig some more. There's hardly any snow left around the tires. The ruts are now simply flat ground. I'm sure Dave can easily drive it out. But no, the obstinate old girl holds her ground. "Come on MF, there's no reason for you not to move now", I shout-- discouraged.

Reluctantly, we agree to try plan B. I've been hoping it wouldn't come to this, but I can't see any other alternative. Dave gets his tow ropes and begins to back the truck down the lane. I'm nervous. Dave only managed to clear a narrow path before mother nature gripped our tractor's tires and sucked them down through the snow with her unrelenting grasp. The path's not wide enough for the truck and I know it. I halfheartedly offer to widen it with a shovel before we bring the truck in. But neither of us really want to make the effort. So, Dave cautiously manoeuvers the truck backwards. At first, it goes well. Then, I hear it... the sound of tires spinning.

It takes a lot to get Dave mad, but he's mad now. He gets out of the truck and slams the door-- swearing. I'm surprised he managed to get the door open at all since snow is now jammed up above the top of the tires. Exhasperated, Dave's convinced the truck is stuck until spring...which means the tractor is stuck...which means our only vehicle is the station wagon. Looking at the ice and snow shoved up underneath the chasis, I'm inclined to agree, but I don't tell him that. Instead I reassure him that we'll get the truck out. It will just take a little-- er maybe a lot of digging. So, I wade into the snow and start shovelling. My arms are sore from my earlier efforts with the tractor. But there's a job to be done.

We dig for a solid half hour. Finally, we've moved as much snow away from the truck as we can. Dave climbs into the cab, and I stand behind the truck with my fingers crossed. Snow crunches as the truck rolls ahead. It's free....but there's still the issue of the tractor.

We do a bit more shovelling in the lane, and with a path now cleared, Dave inches the truck backwards again. This time, the snow stays firmly packed underneath the tires. We attach the tow ropes, and on Dave's signal, I inch the truck forward. With barely discernable effort, the tractor is pulled free of Mother Nature's icy grip.

What a week-- I hope the groundhog is right and that spring is just around the corner.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Finding Maggie

About a year ago....

February 4, 2010
I usually enjoy my work at Greenhawk in Moncton, but today, I'm anxious to get out of the store. At 3pm, I'm drumming my fingers on the desk behind the cash, anxiously waiting for my co-worker to arrive to relieve me. When she does, I dash out the door-- giddy with excitement.

The twenty minute drive to the barn is unbearable. When I finally arrive, I shout a brief hello to Murray in his paddock, then continue straight down the path into the barn. Murray's stall and my locker are directly ahead inside the main door, but I turn left down the isle. I walk to the last stall on the left. Inside, a fat, black mare glances up at me from what's left of a pile of hay. Maggie was dropped off just a few hours earlier. She seems reasonably content in her new, albeit temporary, surroundings.

I started seriously looking for a second horse in early January 2010, when it looked like we really might be buying the farm. After all, I couldn't let Murray move here without a friend.

I knew exactly what I wanted:
-A horse big and strong enough to comfortably carry Dave
-A horse kind and quiet enough for Dave to work around
-A horse that is fairly young, not an old ready-to-drop-dead retiree
-A horse that's an easy keeper (no thoroughbreds this time around)
-And above all, most importantly, the horse has to be cheap

I spent hours and hours scrolling through classified ads on Atlanic Rider and scanning the "livestock for sale" column on Kijiji. Most of the horses within my price range (about $1500) were retired or unsuccessful standardbred racehorses, oddly bred draft horses, or quarter horse crosses of questionable backgrounds and training. But there were a few which stood out:

Mid-January 2010

The horses in most of the ads are easy to cross of the list, but there are two big draft crosses whose ads I click on several times a day. They're nice looking horses, who seem to meet all of our criteria-- except for the price. They're both priced above $3000. At first, I tell myself there's no way I'm willing to spend that kind of money on a "companion horse" for Murray (and Dave). But both of these horses are well-schooled, and would probably make good mounts for me (as well as Dave)-- I could compete at jumper shows and in events with either one of them. Looking at their ads in that light, I convince myself that either horse would be a worthwhile investment.

I hemm and haw for a few more days though before finally contacting the owners. Both horses have just been sold. Strike one. I'm disappointed, but part of me knows that neither horse was really what I was looking for, and that paying that kind of price would have put a serious strain on my ever-shrinking savings.

A few days later, another "horse for sale" ad catches my eye. It's for a Canadian mare. She's smaller than I would ideally like, and priced a bit above my limit at about $2000. In my experience, Canadian horses are generally strong, kind and friendly, so I don't rule her out, but I don't make any effort to contact the owners either. I troll the ads for a few more days, and I don't see any other horses which meet my criteria.

I casually mention the ad for the Canadian at the barn where Murray is stabled. Roxanne, a very talented young rider, immediately speaks up. "That's Nelly", she says. Nelly is owned by a friend of the family, and Roxanne had spent quite a few hours on her back. Both she and her mother are very fond of the horse. They say she's energetic, but safe, and think she'd make a great companion for both Murray and Dave.

That night, January 14th, Roxanne e-mails me pictures of Nelly. Dave instantly likes her. I decide to call the owners the next day.

The next morning, I fire up the computer and scroll through the ads. I can't find the ad for Nelly. I e-mail Roxanne for the family's contact info. She gets back to me with the bad news. Nelly was sold yesterday. Strike two.
It's back to the drawing board, so Dave and I decide to take a field trip.

It's a cold, but sunny morning and Dave and I are on our way to Amherst to see "Roger". Everyone in the horse world knows Roger. He makes a living buying and selling horses of all sizes, colours, and quality. Many end up in good homes. Many are eventually loaded onto a trailer and "shipped to Quebec" (which is a Maritime euphemism for being sent to slaughter).

We pull into a long driveway tucked down a lane behind the Walmart in Amherst. It's our first time here. In the minutes before Roger arrives to greet us, we glance around at a series of barns-- some very old, others quite new. Soon, a stocky, heavy-set man with a round, weather-worn face appears and we introduce ourselves to Roger. He tells us he has about 100 horses on the property. A few of the nicer looking ones belong to his daughter. The rest are for sale.

Roger is friendly enough, but he wastes little energy on words. He walks with us past a manure-covered paddock housing 15 or so particularly thin and unhealthy-looking animals. These unfortunate individuals, many of whom are unwanted retired standardbred racehorses, are due to travel to Quebec the next day.

We march morosely past them through the snow to a large field filled with several dozen much healthier-looking horses, many of whom are gathered around a large round-bale. A few are big draft horses, or draft crosses. One Clydesdale in particular catches Dave's eye. He's a massive animal, well over 17 hands high. We're told he has very little, if any training. Dave likes him, but there's something about this horse's expression that makes me wary, and he's just too big and too green for my liking. We're there for an hour or more. All of the horses we see are in need of good homes, but they're either too big, too small, or too green for our needs. We finally leave, telling Roger that if we don't find anything within the next few weeks, we'll be back to check out any new stock that trots in.

It's now mid to late January. I'm getting desperate. We haven't settled on a closing date for the house yet, but we know it will be sometime in mid-February. I will stay in Moncton for another few weeks to clear out and clean up our old house. But by the first of March, I'll have to leave. The problem is, I don't want to move Murray to our new home without a companion. I also don't want to move there without him. I need to find a horse...soon.

January 19, 2010

A few days after our trip to Roger's, I come across an ad for the perfect horse-- probably even better suited to us than Nelly would have been. "Trigger" is a plain-looking chestnut quarter horse crossed with something or rather-- likely a "Heinz 57". Attached to the ad is a link to a video of a seemingly inexperienced, adult, male rider trotting and loping around on him. The horse responds well and seems unfazed by the rider's slightly bouncy hands and unbalanced seat.

"Trigger" is for sale on Prince Edward Island, so I ask my good friend KK whether she knows anything about him. She does indeed know the horse. She says he's had experience as both a trail horse and a lesson horse. He's big enough for Dave, yet small enough that children won't be intimidated. She tells me he's perfect. And the price is right too.

It's Wednesday January 20th. I e-mail Trigger's owners. I'm working all week, but I set up an appointment to see him on Saturday. I spend Friday night dreaming about our perfect new horse. Saturday morning dawns bright and cold. I bundle up and drive off toward the Island. About a half hour outside of Moncton, my cell phone rings. It's Trigger's owners-- well, former owners. They sold him last night. Strike three.

Monday January 25

For what seems like (and probably is) the millionth time, I scroll absentmindedly through the latest "horse for sale" ads on Kijiji. One ad, just posted, shows a cute-looking Percheron x Quarter horse mare. I click for more information. There's not much more info at all, just a phone number, but I've got a good feeling...a really good feeling. I call right away. A woman answers. I tell her I'm calling about the horse for sale.

"Which one?" she asks.
"Um, the Percheron cross--a mare?"
"Oh," she says kindly "you must mean Maggie."

My heart skips a beat. My brother-in-law's dog had been named Maggie. She was one of the most kind, and beloved animals I'd ever known. We fell in love with our dog because she could have been Maggie's twin. The fact that this horse shares a name with what had been such a wonderful animal has to be a sign. This is our horse. Unfortunately, "our horse" is in Oxford, Nova Scotia. I'm working at Greenhawk all week, and teaching riding lessons most evenings.

"If she hasn't sold by the weekend, I'd like to come see her".
"Ok," says the kind voice on the phone. "I'll tell my husband, Ron, he's the one who deals with all this."

I'm on pins and needles all week. I check the ad on Kijiji everyday to make sure it's still there, and that the word "SOLD" hasn't appeared. On Friday I call Ron to confirm our appointment. "She's still there?" I say, with every finger and toe crossed. He tells me she is, and gives me directions to their modest farm.

Dave is home for the weekend, so we drive together to Oxford to meet Maggie on Saturday. When we arrive, we're greeted by an excitable, though friendly, young german shepard type dog. Soon, the dog is joined by Ron, a smiling, grey-bearded man in coveralls. He leads us to the barn where Maggie is tied in a straight stall. She has company in the form of a miniature horse, two massive Belgians, and two even more massive percherons. Maggie's a Percheron quarter horse cross herself, but she looks like a pony beside these gentle giants.

I walk into the narrow straight stall beside her. Her ears are forward, and despite the close quarters, there's no sign of aggression or anxiety. We bring her into the isle for a better look. She stands quietly while I run my hands through her thick, but shiny black coat, and down her legs. There's some swelling down the inside of her right hind. Her hooves clearly haven't been well cared for. Two of them are cracked from toe to coronary band, and large chunks are missing from all four.

Ron tells us Maggie was a PMU baby shipped from Alberta as a filly. At the time, she was sold to an older gentleman. Just two weeks ago, that man traded the now 7 year old mare back to Ron-- who has considerable experience with draft horses, but not saddle horses.

He tells us Maggie is broke to harness, but has never been ridden. He says she is gentle, though can be a bit "sharp" sometimes (meaning she occasionally has a stubborn streak). He's got too many horses right now, so she's been spending nights on his horse trailer, alongside his mini-horse (who looks like a dog beside all these drafts).

He leads Maggie outside into the bright sun. Despite her crumbling hooves, she walks just fine. He tries to trot her down the icy driveway for us, but she only manages to waddle a few steps before it becomes too slippery for both of them. It's almost impossible to tell for sure, but I convince myself that she seems sound.

I like Ron, he doesn't give us a sales pitch. He just answers our questions, seemingly honestly, and he sits back and waits for us to come to our own decision.

I look at Dave. He likes black horses, and he's been insistent that he wants a horse with big bone, something with substance so he can feel secure in the saddle. Maggie, with her elephant-eyes and docile temperament has won him over...and me too.

I'm a horrible negotiator. I don't even know where to start. I tell Ron we're interested, but that I'm a bit worried about her hooves. He drops the price from 12 hundred to 11 hundred dollars. I think some more. I tell him we don't have a trailer, and I wonder whether he could bring her to Moncton for us (it will cost at least $100 for me to hire someone else). He agrees, and says he can bring her sometime during the next week. I write a cheque for about half the cost.

Dave and I drive away both pleased and relieved with our decision. We've never, ever regretted our choice, and Maggie has become a much beloved part of our family.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dave's Joy-Ride

A few days ago, Dave and I were talking about the horses. I mentioned that it had been quite awhile since he'd been for a ride. This wasn't meant as an accusation, or a challenge, or a call to action. It was merely a statement of fact. I think though, that my loving husband may have misinterpreted my statement. His response was "It's supposed to be nice on Sunday, why don't we go for a ride then?". I wonder now whether he regrets his suggestion.

Sunday January 29th
It's a beautiful winter's day-- warm, sunny, and not a breath of wind. By 11:30am we're ready for a ride.

I'll be honest. I'm a little nervous about this mid-winter escapade. The horses haven't been ridden much. They're pretty fresh, and Maggie has managed to muster a considerable amount of energy during the few recent rides I have had on her. I don't mention my concerns to Dave, and I manage to convince myself that we'll just go for a short, leisurely, and safe walk in the snow.

Before we ride, I scope out the state of the road. It's been sanded, but is very icy underneath. I worry that the hill is too slippery for Maggie's unshod hooves. I'm also worried about the riding ring. There's a fresh layer of snow, but it's not thick, and lurking underneath is perfect skating-rink-smooth ice. I decide our best option is to ride the horses in the large, snow-filled, fenced-in field. The footing is safe, and we'll be in an enclosed area-- a large enclosed area, but enclosed nonetheless.

Dave is ready before me. As usual, he uses the round, two-foot-high concrete crock above our well on the front-lawn, as a step-stool to hoist himself onto Maggie's western saddle.

Me: "Forgetting something?"

Dave: "What? No."

Me: "Are you sure?"

Dave: "Oh, my helmet...I guess I forgot to tack myself up".

We giggle, and I lead Murray back to the barn to retrieve Dave's helmet. I'm a stickler about helmets. I've had two concussions from falls WITH helmets, so I can't imagine what would have happened if I hadn't been wearing the mushroom-like caps.

With his helmet securely strapped to his head, Dave urges Maggie down the path toward the pastures while I go back to the barn once again to smear Vaseline in Murray's hooves. It helps keep the snow from balling up beneath his soles.

From inside the barn, I suddenly hear a squeaky clip-clip in the packed snow, along with a series of ever intensifying shouts of "whoa" intermingled with: "whoa Maggie whoa". I grab Murray's reins and lead him abruptly from the barn as Maggie rounds the corner toward us-- eyes wide and nostrils flared. Dave yells at her and tugs on the reins, but she doesn't stop until she's right in front of us.

Me: "What happened?"

Dave (somewhat breathless): "I tried to ride her through the gate and she wouldn't go through. She spun around, took off, then reared, then took off again."

Me (dismissively): "Well, I think she's stressed about leaving Murray behind. Just wait for me and we'll go in together."

In the back of my mind, my apprehension over this ride is growing. I still don't mention it to Dave though. If I make him nervous, he'll make Maggie nervous, and things will go quickly downhill from there.

Dave has limited riding experience, but the experience he has had has so far has been positive. He's never fallen off, and until Maggie's uncontrolled rear/trot-back-toward-the-barn, he's never had a horse do anything more threatening than a mild spook (though he's watched enough of Murray's antics that he's well aware of how powerful and unpredictable these 12 hundred pound animals can be when they so choose). To this point, Dave's confidence on horseback is fully intact, and I'd like it to stay that way.

I brush my worries aside, and lead Murray to the well, so I can get on. Dave and Maggie are behind me, wandering in the snow on the front lawn. Murray and I make it about 20 feet down the path before I hear Maggie's gait quicken, first to a trot, then a canter. Again, I hear the chorus of "WHOA's", each one becoming more desperate. I stop and turn in time to see Maggie cantering through the knee deep snow in the lawn, with Dave tugging unsuccessfully at her reins (Dave has only ever cantered a handful of times). She leaps a small snowbank and hits the icy driveway at a fast clip. She slips, yanking the reins through Dave's gloved-hands. She manages to stay on her feet, but Dave's reins are now too long to offer any control.

"Sit up and shorten your reins!" I yell. Then I ad my own "whoa's" to Dave's efforts. Maggie slows slightly, to a half-trot-half-canter gait, but she's heading straight for the tractor. At the last possible second, she ducks to the left, nearly unseating Dave, who's still trying to shorten his reins to a reasonable length. Then, Maggie veers sharply to the left again and heads straight for our truck. Instead of crashing into it, she climbs the four-foot high pile of snow behind it, then runs up along the passenger side.

By now, I've jumped off Murray, thankfully Dave has readjusted his reins, and Maggie has exhausted the supply of vehicles with which she can play chicken. With a final "WHOA", and a sharp tug on the reins, Maggie comes to a halt a few feet in front of Murray and me. I reach forward and grab the reins, giving them a few unproductive tugs. I force myself to check my anger, and I look up to Dave to ask whether he's ok.

He's flushed, out of breath, and a little shaken.

Dave: "What a little B*^#&."

I concur.

Me: "Why don't you hop off, and I'll lunge Maggie in the field for a bit before you get back on?"

Dave: "Ok, I'll get the lunge line".

I hand Murray's reins to Dave, and I lead Maggie into the field, all the while whispering to her about manners, and taking care of Dave and how it's ok to behave stupidly with me, but not with him.

I let her out on the lunge line and she bursts into a bigger extended trot than I would have thought possible for her short legs. Then she canters, then she bucks. I dig my heels into the snow and hold tightly to the end of the lunge line until she tires. I figure that should happen soon; after all, she's careening around in knee-deep snow.

Maggie's more worked up than I'd hoped and I'm reluctant to let Dave climb back into the saddle. In the meantime, Murray stands calmly beside Dave, half dozing. I know Dave still wants to ride (he's never ridden outside in the snow before), so I consider the options for a few minutes, then suggest to him that he get on Murray.

Dave: "Really?"

Me: "Yeah, just stay fairly close, and just WALK".

Dave's ridden Murray around on several occasions. He even went over a very small jump on him on the lunge line before. It's certainly unusual for Murray to be the "safer" choice, but today, he seems just that. So Dave scales the fence and gently lowers himself onto Murray's English saddle. The two of them walk calmly back and forth through the snow-drifts while I try to keep Maggie from ripping my arms out of their sockets on the lunge line.

After a few minutes, I bring Maggie to a walk, and I decide to get on to test her obedience level.

I bring her alongside Dave and Murray and for a few minutes, we all walk contentedly through the snow to the bottom of the field. The snow is deeper here, and I notice Murray has added a bit more bounce to his walk.

Me, calmly: "Make sure you sit up, and keep your heels down".

Dave: "Whoa Murray".

Me: "Whoa Murray".

We round the corner so the horses' muzzles are now pointing up the hill toward home.
Murray simply can't hold back his enthusiasm. He bounds into a springy trot, which then becomes a rocking-horse-like canter up the hill. It's really just a lope, but with his 14 foot stride, Murray's lope can out-pace the canter of many-a-horse. He's bouncy at the best of times, but now he's also wading through a foot and a half of snow. Each stride must feel to Dave as though he's just been launched from the heart of a tightly wound jack-in-the-box.

In stereo, Dave and I yell "whoa". But Murray's enjoying himself. He doesn't stop until he reaches the fence at the top of the hill. Seemingly proud of himself for offering Dave such an amusing ride, he slows down. Then, Murray senses that Dave has lost a stirrup and is off balance. Unused to inexperienced riders, and very sensitive to any shift in his rider's weight, Murray becomes worried and confused. He glances down the Hill toward Maggie and I with a worried look on his face, then continues toward the paddock gait in a moose-like trot-- anxious to be rid of the bouncing burden on his back. I'm sure Dave's about to take a dive into the snow.

Miraculously though, Dave hangs on as Murray abruptly changes course and decides to come to "mom" for help. He finally stops when he's back alongside Maggie and me. The look of anxiety on his face matches the look on Dave's. Their eyes are wide, they're both breathing hard, and they both look confused. I hop off of Maggie and gently grab hold of Murray's bridle. With Dave still in the saddle, he relaxes, an within a minute or so, the old boy's eyes are closed and he's dozing in the sun.

Dave (still out of breath): "I thought for sure I was going to fall off".

"Me too. Shall we call it a day?"

Dave: "Yeah, I think that's probably enough of a ride for today."