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REPORT FROM RURAL VERMONT (LONG)
Our competitive equestrian season is over and the power company has
shut off our electric for the day to upgrade the lines. We have no water,
no furnace, no light and no TV, but the battery in my laptop is fully
charged and the phones are working so it seems like a good time to
thank all of you for your inspiration and assistance and report on our
progress over the past two years.
To give you the setting, I started a fire in the old-fashioned cookstove
and it's warm and comfortable in the country kitchen of this 200 year old
farmhouse. The temperature outside is near freezing. Our last snow has
melted but we can still see it on the mountains to the west. We live on
100 acres and are the last house on the paved road with miles of dirt
roads and trails on which to ride and drive. This part of Vermont is
called "The Northeast Kingdom".
In May of 1997 I knew nothing about horses or riding or driving. I started
taking riding lesson and a few months later bought Meshack, a 6YO green-
broke Arab pasture potato. We finished this season with two ribbons for
Reserve Champion....one for CTR and one a Horse Show with riding and
jumping and a Blue Ribbon for Advanced Trail Class. This summer we
started driving and entered several driving competitions. I can't begin to
tell you what an incredible feeling of accomplishment it is to see this
animal develop into such a versatile athlete! Starting at age 66, it did
a lot for my physical and mental health as well. I did join a health club
to get in physical shape and several friends and family members
suggested psychiatric counseling, but after meeting several other
equestrians, I felt that some mental instability was an asset in this sport.
Over the past two years I learned three things of significance:
1. Riding a horse is a lot more challenging than riding a bicycle, and it's
very important to keep the horse between the ground and me!
2. The Internet is an incredible resource for help on riding, driving,
equestrian health, and to make some wonderful friends.
3. Having a horse that's willing and intelligent makes it easy to afford
professional help. I have been fortunate to have worked with some of
the best here in the northeast and can never adequately express my
This summer we started "fine tuning" which included a switch to Nutrena
“Compete”, a mullen mouthpiece, running martingale, equine dentistry,
new saddle, new farrier and developing his rear. For those of you
interested in the details I'll elaborate below. The rest can hit "delete"
with my sincere thanks and appreciation for any help you provided!
The switch to Nutrena was an accident. We won five bags and began to
notice that he was much less hyper. We think this was due to eliminating
We asked one of the trainers to try different bits after she questioned the
full cheek snaffle we used for riding and the half cheek snaffle we used
for driving. He really seems to like the eggbutt mullen mouthpiece for
riding and the Liverpool mullen for driving.
The running martingale encourages him to keep his head lower and seems
to give me that slight increase in control when he starts to get into the
"Competitive" part of Competitive Trail Riding.
It took two vets, an equine dentist and his apprentice to get the teeth
right. The second vet tranquilized him and clamped his mouth open to
finish the bit groove and eliminate sharp edges toward the back of
his mouth that were causing some bleeding.
His conformation changed dramatically over time particularly after we
started driving. My search for the fourth saddle in two years is another
story, but we now have a used Smith Worthington all purpose model
that Meshack and I both like. I thought that the last one was a good
fit but now realize that the stirrups were too far forward making posting
a real effort. If you haven't done the arithmetic, in a 25 mile CTR you
post 8000 times!
The new farrier is doing the “Four-point” or “Natural” method with clips
and trailers. It has almost eliminated his stumbling and lost shoes.
The shoes are set back almost to the white line and the toes are
Several competitors recommended driving, in that the cross training
would strengthen and teach him to use his rear. It made an incredible
improvement in his ride. In addition we discovered that we both enjoy
driving and driving competitions.
It has not been easy being an elderly male in a sport dominated by
attractive young and middle aged females. It really hurts when so many
see us and say "what a beautiful horse". They NEVER say anything about
a beautiful rider!! However it is almost worthwhile since we found a picture
of Meshack and me driving with 5YO GREAT granddaughter, Kaelyn, on
the cover of the Carriage Driving Rogues Gallery
( http://www.trot-on.com/cd-l/cdmember.html ). Also look under "A" for
My report would not be complete without mention of the quest for
"Male Comfort". I was a bit concerned initially when a woman in
San Diego suggested gelding (THE RIDER!). Another suggested
Viagra which sounds ok but is expensive. I have a theory that those
parts get numb after a few hundred miles and the problem is greatly
diminished (pun intended). If ordered on penalty of death, to father
a child at the end of a 50 mile ride I would be doomed. I settled on
good fitting jockey undershorts and like to wear tights at least in
competition. At the risk of being misunderstood, I would dearly love
to have a little more of the padding with which female competitors
seem to be blessed (you never thought of it as an asset??...no pun
Our next competitive season starts in January (the start of my 70th year)
with the Vermont Riding and Driving Association's "January Thaw".
We can expect weather as about as extreme as can be found in
continental U.S. This year we rode in freezing drizzle and 3" of slush
(like sand for you desert folks). I have heard that in past years riders
took turns blowing on the thermometer to get it up to the start minimum.
I considered driving the next one, but when one of the members told
me how cold he got driving the CTR in the rain last Saturday, I
decided to ride. We were comfortable riding in the rain and cold.
We hope to do many more CTRs, maybe a 50 mile endurance ride, at
least two horse shows and two driving competitions next year.
The happiest day of my equestrian career was the day Meshack
trailer loaded! He now walks on past me and stands quietly while
I close the butt chain. How we got to this point is a story in itself.
Two years ago I would have told you it was impossible!
The second happiest day of my equestrian career will be the day
we finish a 50 mile endurance ride and Meshack behaves for
49 miles of it (give him the first mile to settle down). Angie McGhee
will tell you that's impossible as Meshack and Kaboot are mental
twins. If it happens, I hope you're there to see it!!
If all the above sounds like self-promotion, I won't deny it.
John and Meshack (See my photo in the birch trees)
http://www.bypass.com/~ayers (Vermont Equestrian Activities)
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