One of the strange ironies of the past two years – as I’ve embraced the life of a Saddle Tramp, technically “homeless and indigent”, often sleeping in barns, abandoned houses or under the stars, cooking one pot meals on my wee camp stove and drinking my morning mocha out of a tin cup, relying on the grace of God and the kindness of strangers for everything the ponies and I need to survive, frequently a bit aromatic, with dirt under my nails and one pair of jeans to my name – in the midst of all this, somehow, people are assuming (out loud) that I’m highly educated – meaning university, implying degrees. It’s hard to know how to reply to that sometimes. I’ve got 68 credits from 3 colleges and CLEP exams. That doesn’t even add up to an associate’s degree, much less anything that would have me proudly adding letters after my name. But in truth, I’ve been blessed with a marvelous, deeply satisfying and very useful education. Partly because I’m an enthusiastic and wide ranging reader, but mostly because I ask a lot of questions and I’ve been blessed with diverse and brilliant mentors who are passionate about what they do.
One of those mentors was a professor at NW Connecticut Community College – he taught recreation (and made half a million a year in real estate on the side). I landed in his class quite by accident and he totally changed my approach to learning. He reminded us that an education is quite a commitment in terms of time and brain power (as well as money for many types of education) and it’s silly to be there at all if you’re not going to get the very most you can out of the experience. He then proceeded to suggest such simple techniques as sitting in the front row, actively thinking about the topic and engaging the instructor with intelligent questions. He reminded us that teachers have egos (as do we all) and they don’t want to feel like they’re wasting their time – they’ll be more likely to take an interest in a student who is taking an active interest in the class. This all seems pretty basic, but from then on I pursued the best teachers, no matter what they taught, and I sat in the front row and asked a lot of questions.
Last week the ponies and I had the opportunity to visit with the senior citizens at Kenwood Manor. Some of these people predate cars! I also had the chance to spend some time with the Caps and Chaps 4H group in Delmar, NY, elementary school through high school kids. Both groups asked really great questions and made me feel like my time with them was well spent. When I stand in front of a group that can’t think of a single thing to ask me I worry about their intellects a little (and I certainly don’t respect them in the morning!) So – I’m a fan of questions. They make my life easier and more interesting, both when I’m asking them and when they’re asked of me. How else am I to know what interests others?
My most recent blog post elicited the following questions, for which I am grateful, as they let me know the sorts of topics I’m not addressing: Are you not concerned about your animals colicing from wanton consumptiom of apples? Are you still using Renagade boots and why Renagade and not the better known EZ Boot? And r u habitually riding w/o protective headgear and if so if something happened to you in a road accident where would that leave the horses?
New York is having a bumper crop of apples this year! When the ponies first discovered the apple trees along the trail they’d stop for a snack and not want to leave the tree. They soon discovered that there was a seemingly endless supply of such trees strung along our route and were soon quite content to grab and go. The first night we were in a situation where there was to way to let them graze without access to unlimited amounts of apples I was quite concerned and kept a close eye on them. Clever ponies, they ate a reasonable amount of apples, then proceeded to graze on the grass and clover, occasionally returning to grab a few apples, then back to the grass. They were fine in the morning and I stopped worrying about them quite so much. At my parents’ house there are three apple trees, many flowers, grass and hay – and there were sunflowers. The ponies started eating the apples from the ground up and by Wednesday afternoon my nephews went up the trees to throw a bunch of unreachable apples down since the ponies had eaten as high as they could. They’re ignoring the hay for the most part and only get into the flower beds when they’re bored and wanting attention. The sunflowers didn’t stand a chance.
The conventional wisdom regarding the digestive tracts of horses is that they need to eat the same amount of the same thing at the same time every day. This is not a reasonable expectation on a Journey of this sort and before I started I had the opportunity to ask a vet about how to handle feeding my herd. He said that any day we were covering 15 miles the ponies could eat pretty much anything they want and be fine. This has turned out to be largely true – with two random exceptions. First, Finehorn is allergic to alfalfa. If she’s on mostly alfalfa for a week she starts to break out in hives. Our one colic scare this entire trip happened down in the Los Padres wilderness where somebody had left a bag of compressed alfalfa cubes in a storage area and the rats were starting to eat them. I figured better my herd than random rats and as graze was scarce I fed the alfalfa cubes, somehow not twigging to the fact that a pony sensitive to alfalfa probably shouldn’t have the compressed version. Stupid! Finehorn started to colic, we were 30 miles from the nearest access to humans and twice that to anywhere that a cell ‘phone might be expected to function. No Banamine in the first aid kit – what to do? Walk the pony! Somebody had left behind half a bottle of Wild Turkey in the old cabin where Gryph and I were camping and we had half a bottle of olive oil for cooking – old school! Finehorn finally passed a big, dark, smelly glump of nastiness and felt much better.
The other exception is even stranger. Jesse James doesn’t metabolize sugars well, it makes his muscles start to deteriorate. He has a condition that’s akin to diabetes in humans. Low starch feeds are ok, but they’re expensive and can be hard to find and grain isn’t in the weight allowance in terms of Finehorn’s carrying capacity. He generally does really well foraging on graze and hay. One night somebody, with the best of intentions (but without asking me first), gave each pony a big scoop of sweet feed. I didn’t catch it in time and the next day Jesse was literally shaky (and kind of weirded out) as we went down the road. He was fine within a few hours, but I’m a lot more careful to let people know up front not to feed him horse food, please!
The ponies do get a pelleted vitamin supplement to make sure they’re getting the nutrition that they need. Many of the areas we have ridden through have been low in selenium, or in the calcium needed for proper selenium uptake. We’ve been getting Equerry’s Choice vitamins from www.animalhealthsolutionsinc.com which has Selenium, Biotin for their hooves, a range of probiotics for digestion along with a whole slew of vitamins and minerals. Within a few days of starting them on the supplement I started noticing a positive change in energy levels, eye, coat and attitude. The bag weighs 5# full and since Finehorn carries 80-100# total you can see what a high priority I place on this supplement. I also carry and feed (free choice) loose mineral salts. Other than that, the ponies eat like mustangs eat and they do fine! Not every horse is suited to this lifestyle; I’m blessed that mr.James (hybrid pinto vigor) and Finehorn (tough and sturdy Fjord) are thriving as Long Ride ponies.
Yes, I’m still using the Renegade Hoof Boots. I tried the EZ boot gloves pre-trip and they didn’t work for Jesse and I at all! I had them fitted by a professional barefoot trimmer and EZ boot rep, so that wasn’t the problem. They were difficult to put on, then they didn’t stay on well (even with the optional power strap added), Jesse didn’t want to go faster than a walk in them and they ate holes in the front of his coronet bands. On top of all this, the neoprene part wore out within a week of daily use and when I learned that they cost $25 (each!) to replace I returned the boots. The Renegades are quick and easy to put on, they’ve proved pretty much indestructible, the ponies really like them and have learned how to help me get them seated correctly. They come with a spare set of Velcro straps (free) and the first set had gotten me all the way through New Mexico before I had to replace the Velcro! The first set of Renegades were lost during an accident in Texas and the ponies went happily barefoot until the chip’n’seal roads and high temperatures in Tennessee prompted a return to boots. Renegade sent out new boots for both ponies and let me try out the new Vipers! The Vipers are a solid improvement on the already great Renegades. They fit more snugly, due to a “V” in the front center (rather than the overlapping center panel of the originals) and the heel cup is closed rather than ventilated which keeps debris from getting caught in the padding and makes them easier to clean. The only way to get the Vipers at this point is to call Renegade and ask – which is totally worth doing in my opinion. Renegade is also incredibly helpful in terms of getting the best fit for your horse and trouble shooting. www.renegadehoofboots.com
As to “protective headgear” – if we’re talking about riding helmets, I’m guilty as charged. In the summer months I ride with a big, wide brimmed straw hat to protect myself from skin cancer and heat stroke. In cold weather I wear a wool hat that covers my ears and keeps my head warm. In January I took a fall, and yes, I did get a bit of a concussion. I also fractured two vertebrae and tore some muscles – needing to use a walker just to visit the loo for over a week. For 3 1/2 weeks I was blessed by other people being willing to care for me and for the herd while I healed. Accidents happen. That’s life! In late July I was walking across a field after dark, tripped on a brush hog, got another concussion and needed 4 stitches in my left eyebrow. I’m not about to start wearing protective head gear every time I walk across a pasture. A year ago October I spent the night in a grain silo that had (unbeknownst to me) been used to store gopher bait. I woke up very sick in the morning, thought it was the flu and thus didn’t leave the grain silo (except to go throw up!) If somebody hadn’t noticed that he hadn’t seen me out on the road with my ponies as planned and come looking for me I probably wouldn’t be alive and writing this today.
So – what would happen to the horses if something happened to me? I carry a basic survival kit on my person, Not in a saddle bag where it could disappear with the ponies. My cell ‘phone, ID, money, camera, signal mirror, knife, compass, maps, etc are in the bag I wear around my waist. If I were found dead or unconscious, whoever found me would be able to figure out who I am and know who to notify to figure things out from there. Saint Finehorn actually belongs to my boon companion, Gryph Wulfkil, who is in circus school up in Brattleboro, Vermont these days and she’d take responsibility for the herd if it came to that. Frankly, the average American diet is more dangerous that what I’m doing and we’re all taking a huge risk every time we get into an automobile – but we take those things largely for granted. Sometimes bad things happen – but most of the time they don’t! Personally, I think the belief that everything and everybody is supposed to be safe and secure all the time is a major and limiting handicap in the living of a fulfilling and passionate life. We’re all going to die of something, sometime – we don’t have any control over that. In the meantime, let’s focus on all the wonders and blessings of today!