Camping · Horses · Life · Mel · Trail riding

A horse trip from long ago

Way back in 2007 (early in my horse camping life) I made a trip to Midwest Trail Rides in southern Indiana.

The trip down was pretty easy.  I loaded most things Thursday evening, so Friday I just had to hook up the trailer, load my personal items and Mel.  Mel went right in to the trailer for a change and it only took an hour and a half to get there.  When we arrived, I was able to pull straight into my camp-site – no backing up – yay.

It was so dang hot!!  And so dry!!  The trails were like powder, so the dust was unbelievable.  And since Mel has been known to kick when a horse gets too close to his hind quarters, we had to be in the rear.

We all know the saying “things happen for a reason”.  Well, a couple of weeks before the ride, I had a flat tire on my trailer from a slow leak.  Because of that I purchased a Trailer-Aid Tandem Tire Changing Ramp.  Paul I went out to replace the flat, only to discover that my spare was flat too.  So we took them both to Big-O Tires to be fixed. One they could fix, the other had to be replaced.

When leaving the campground on Sunday afternoon, I rounded a corner and a fence post jumped right in front of my trailer fender.  It was impossible to avoid so I wound up hitting it.  The fender curled down and sliced my newly-fixed tire.  A couple of good-ole boys were nearby and offered to help.  They were able to change my flat using the Trailer-Aid Ramp that I had just purchased.  We rolled up onto the ramp with the good tire and they changed the bad tire while Mel was still in the trailer.  It was funny to see him poking his head out the window to see what was going on.  Either this was all according to some master plan or my guardian angel was looking out for me. If I hadn’t had the slow leak, I wouldn’t have bought the ramp nor would I have known that my spare was flat too.

By the way, I say “good-ole boys” with affection.  Horse people are always so friendly and helpful.

So, add to the cost of the trip, the cost of 2 new trailer tires and replacing the fender on the trailer.  Owning a horse is like owning a boat – the horse is the least expensive thing to buy.  Then there’s the tack, the board, the fly spray, the camping gear, the truck, the trailer, the tires, damage caused by vicious fence posts, etc. etc.  But the fun and companionship is priceless!

Andre · Camping · Horses · Life · Mel · Trail riding

Tippecanoe and Andre too

Original item written on 10/4/2011

The past couple of years I haven’t ridden my horse Mel much because life got in the way.  So, in March I took Mel to a trainer for conditioning and de-sensitizing.  Andre is my new-to-me Miniature Poodle.  I adopted him from a shelter – which can be a good or bad experience depending on how the dog was raised and treated.  I had no idea if Andre had ever been camping, this was our first test outing and he was a real trooper.

The weekend before the scheduled Indiana Foxtrotters Association (IFTA) outing to Tippecanoe River State Park, I checked Mel’s feet and called the farrier to schedule a trim.  We arranged to meet at the stables at 8 am Friday morning.  I rose at 5:45 so I could feed and walk Andre before heading out.  It takes me about 40 minutes to get to the stables.  On the way, I noticed that gas was $3.33 per gallon at both the BP and Shell stations and decided I better stop on the way home.  Andre and I pulled into the stables parking lot about 7:15 and I headed out to the pasture to bring Mel in.  I gave him a quick brushing and cleaned his hooves.  Then he, Andre and I waited for the farrier (Ann) to arrive.  There’s nothing more pleasant than standing in the light of dawn listening to the barn come alive with nickers and neighs.

Ann arrived at eight and made short work of Mel’s hooves, even though he was a little antsy.  He knew it was breakfast time and the other horses were chowing down.  After the trim, I took him back to his pasture and Andre and I headed home (since I have about a 3-hour drive to Tippy, I wanted to take a quick nap before leaving).  I noticed that the gas price had dropped to $3.19 at both stations – great!  I stopped and filled up my tank.  At home, Andre and I had breakfast and then settled in for an hour-long nap.

The alarm went off and we were on the move.  Packed up the truck, took one last potty break and left for the stables again.  Those of you who have your horses and trailers at home sure are lucky.  Obviously, the electronic signs at the gas stations now make it way too easy to change the price of gas.  Both stations had gas listed at $3.25 this time through.  So in about four hours’ time, gas went from 3.33 to 3.19 and then to 3.25.  At the stable, I retrieved Mel and he loaded without too much trouble, but lifting the hay bale into the truck about killed me.  Andre settled in his crate in the front passenger seat and the journey began.

Tippecanoe River State Park is near Winamac, Indiana.  Winamac is as far north as Fort Wayne, but west, north of Logansport.  The drive all the way to Logansport was dry, but after Logansport we went in and out of sprinkles, and when we pulled into the park, it was raining steadily.  I found my site, but was facing the wrong direction to back in easily, so I circled around to come at it from the other direction.  One the of the IFTA members, Gayle, was just getting out of her truck at the site next to mine, so she guided me in.  Gayle was taught to back up trailers by men and men use the “point the bottom of the steering wheel the direction you want the trailer to go” method.  Women, usually steer from the top of the steering wheel, so they use the “turn the wheel the opposite direction you want the trailer to go” method.  It’s that whole Mars/Venus thing – very confusing.  I unloaded Mel and fed and watered him, then unloaded the truck, let Andre have a potty break and finally hopped in the trailer to get dry.

I just purchased this trailer in March – traded in my 3-horse for a 2-horse.  My old trailer didn’t have air conditioning and after the last three summers, I made sure this one did.  But, when the salesman asked about a furnace, I said I didn’t need one.  “I always go to electric sites and I have a small heater that I use.”  I regretted those words this weekend because Tippecanoe’s horse camp is primitive.  I have been to Tippecanoe twice before but always camped at a nearby campground that has electric hookup and, although Tippy’s campground is nice, if it’s late in the season, I’ll be staying at the other place next time.  I bought a sleeping bag last year that is supposed to be warm down to zero.  I unzipped it to make a comforter and Andre and I were toasty beneath it.

Gayle has a portable generator and was able to make coffee on Saturday morning and fortunately for me, she invited me to partake of some.  After taking care of the horses, we had breakfast and sat and talked for a while.  The nice thing about camping when it is cold is that you get to have a leisurely morning waiting for it to warm up before riding.  Unlike riding in the middle of summer, where you get up early and try to get a ride in before the temperature becomes unbearable.  Then after the ride you spend your time trying to cool off.

One of Gayle’s many hats is dog trainer and she gave me lots of advice on training Andre.  I told her my main problem was his barking and lunging at other dogs.  I had no sooner said that than a couple of riders went by and Andre ran after them barking (yes, he was on a leash).  Gayle said that most trainers use the words “Leave it” to get the dog to stop.  So I yelled “Leave it” to Andre and to my surprise, he stopped and came running back and jumped in my arms.  Obviously he had been taught “Leave it” and his being held and loved-on was his reward.  Like I said before, I’ve been very lucky.

Two more club members arrived for a day ride and Gayle and I saddled up.  I put Andre in his crate and the four of us hit the trails.  It was a little chilly in the woods, but beautiful riding weather and Tippy has some really nice trails.  I was so pleased with Mel’s performance.  Since I hadn’t ridden since June I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely didn’t expect that he would be so good.  It was as though no time had passed at all.  Maybe he was just as anxious to get back into the swing of things as I was.  All four horses got along very well and we had no mishaps.  The paths were dry for the most part and what mud there was wasn’t bad.

Later we started a campfire and had a little something to eat.  I noticed that Mel kept looking over at me.  Poor thing.  He has always had all my attention, attention that was now going to Andre.  I went over to love on him and he kept pulling his head away – no doubt pouting about the new man in my life.  But, geez, Andre fits on my lap so much better.  After dinner, we sat around the campfire as long as we could before the cold got the best of us.  Back under the comforter we went, me and a dog that smelled like campfire smoke.

Sunday morning was a bit warmer, I actually took off my winter coat while mucking Mel’s area.  Then Andre and I once again wandered over to Gayle’s site for breakfast.  Todd and Lori (more IFTA members) were already there.  Todd likes to cook out in a large cast-iron skillet over the campfire.  I thought Andre was going to jump in the fire after the bacon and sausage.  Gayle, Lori and I went for a ride after breakfast.  The weather was perfect and the woods beautiful.  Periodically we would come across some other trail riders and even a few cyclists.  This was all good experience for Mel.  He learned to pass other horses on the trail without trying to kick or join them.  We rode three and a half hours – long enough that my knees started to protest.  Lori complained of her feet hurting too, so when we got close enough, we all dismounted and walked the rest of the way to camp.

We had lunch and then it was time to pack up to go home.  Mel didn’t give me much trouble loading for a change and the ride home went smoothly, except that I was getting low on gas and most of the small towns we passed had small gas stations.  There was no way I was going to pull my trailer into one of them.  I kept watching the distance to 465 on my GPS and my gas gauge and hoping that my gas would hold out, surely there had to be a large gas station before getting onto 465.  I found a gas station just before the entrance ramp and just before my gas gauge hit the red area of the dial.  A quick potty break for Andre and me, some gas and then the last part of the journey.

It was dark when I pulled into the parking lot at the stables.  I unloaded Mel and took him back out to his pasture.  He had been a trooper the whole weekend.  I seriously thought about leaving my trailer where it was and coming back out Monday morning to park it; then I remembered the spotlights on the back of the trailer.  I flipped those babies on and backed her in.  I was able to park it quickly for a change.  Andre patiently waited in his crate.  Since I had unloaded everything from the trailer to the truck at the campground, all I had to do was unhook the trailer and head for home.  We pulled into the garage between 8:30 and 9:00 pm.  I knew if I sat down that would be the end of that, so I unloaded the truck and hit the shower.

Back home, clean and in my jammies, I snuggled into bed with a fluffy little dog that still smelled faintly of campfire.  Life is good.

Camping · Horses · Mel · Trail riding

You want to buy a horse?! – Part 3

Part 3 Let’s go trail riding

My dad loved to camp and fish.  I remember going camping when I was little.  I’m talking 50 years ago.  Camping meant you slept in a tent in a sleeping bag on the ground, you cooked over an open fire, didn’t worry a lot about personal hygiene, and usually used an out-house consisting of a bench with a hole in it.  As I grew older, I hated it more and more.  Luckily Mom tired of it too and she, my sister and I would stay home and let Dad and my brothers go without us.

I remember one camping trip when Dad’s brother, Uncle Charlie, arrived in a new camper-trailer with all the luxuries available at the time.  The following morning while Dad was starting a fire to brew his coffee, Uncle Charlie emerged from his trailer fresh and clean and proceeded to shave with a rechargeable shaver.  He made some unremembered remark to my dad and Dad replied, “That’s not camping!! You might as well have stayed home.”

Fast forward to when I purchased my horse.  After a year or so of riding at the stable, I decided I wanted to go trail riding so I could ride in different surroundings.  Mel wasn’t too fond of going around and around the arena and I’d ridden all around the property.  So I purchased a used 3-horse gooseneck with a dressing area.  And since I had to pull the trailer, I had to have a truck.  Then after a couple of years, my husband decided I  would be more likely to use the trailer if the dressing area was converted to living quarters.  While my trailer was off being turned into the little play-house I never had, I showed my son what my trailer was going to look like.  Now, my son was 5 when my Dad passed away – long after Dad’s camping days were over.  So, imagine my surprise when my son said “That’s not camping.”  To which I replied, “I’m not going camping – I’m going trail riding.”

I joined the Indiana Fox Trotters Association to meet and ride with other Fox Trotter owners.  The club was holding a Clinic/Fun Show and I was helping and participating.  The weekend of the show,  I rose fairly early on Friday morning and after breakfast and a little time on the computer, it was time to get going.  I packed my clothes and toiletries and grabbed a cooler and some frozen bottles of water to use instead of ice (no water to contend with when ice melts and you wind up with ice cold water to drink later).  After stopping for gas and to check the air in my tires, I stopped at the grocery store.  Then it was off to the stable.  Packed up my tack and horse supplies, grabbed a bale of hay, asked another boarder to help me heft it into the truck and took a break.  A bale of hay makes a great bench while you’re catching your breath and wiping the sweat from your forehead and neck.  Thank God it wasn’t too hot that day.

Now to hook up the trailer.  Crank up the gooseneck, lower the tailgate and back up the truck.  I’ve seen various inventions to help line up the gooseneck with the ball, but why spend the money when I could make one of my own.  After backing up and pulling forward 4 or 5 times, I made a note to myself to spend the money!!  Crank down the gooseneck, climb into the truck bed to hook up the ball and safety straps, climb out of the truck, load my supplies from the truck into the trailer.  Now there was no getting around it, it was time to raise the drop-leg on the jack.  This is the hardest part of hooking up the trailer because I have to pull the pin and raise the foot at the same time and it takes all my strength just to pull the pin.  (And yes, I have tried WD 40 and other oil.)  I tried sitting on the ground and pushing the pin out with my foot.  I tried prying the pin out with the turn crank while raising the foot.  I tried pulling the pin and raising the foot with my foot.  Then I started over until I finally managed to get the job done and took another break.  (Note to self: check into power jacks.)

The first time I loaded Mel into my trailer it took 5 hours.  I tried the Parelli suggestion of making it more unpleasant to be outside the trailer than in by making Mel run in circles every time he refused to load.  I tried tapping his rump with a whip until he became annoyed enough to go in.  I tried walking him around the trailer and right into the trailer without stopping.  I tried luring him in with an apple.  I tried yelling and screaming!!  I tried crying!!  I guess 5 hours was enough for him too, because he finally decided to go in and eat.  But this time, thanks to a great tip from Charla (a club member), I can now get Mel into the trailer in a matter of minutes.  So…we were off!!

After an hour’s drive I arrived at the campground and found a level-looking site.  I have discovered a thing about backing a trailer into a site.  Men and women approach this task totally differently – men use the side mirrors and women turn around and look out the back window.  I have tried using the side mirrors as I was taught by a man, but I just can’t seem to get the hang of it.  You turn the steering wheel the same direction either way, so it must have something to do with the left/right sides of the brain or Venus/Mars or something. After a few failed attempts, the campground owner parked the trailer for me.  I unloaded Mel and got him settled, then looked for the “out-house”.  (Note to self:  find the out-house first and then find a level-spot close to out-house.)  Now I needed to get Mel some water.  (Better note to self:  find the out-house AND the water first and then find a level-spot near the two.)  Then, since the campsite was primitive, I turned on the propane and started the refrigerator and moved my items from the cooler to refrigerator – then I grabbed a cold drink, flopped down on the bench and took a break.  I’m getting too old for this.

The rest of the group arrived, we chatted, exercised the horses and ate.  Apparently I was the oldest one of the group (or the most out of shape), because I was the first to go to bed.  And thus, the first to rise the next morning.  I pulled on some shoes to head to the out-house.  As I stepped out of the trailer, I noticed that all of the horses were staring at their respective owner’s trailers looking for some sign of life.  I grabbed some hay and gave it to Mel so he wouldn’t start neighing and wake everyone up and headed out.  The other horses watched me go past, only making quiet nickers, apparently aware that I wasn’t their feeder, but hoping I’d take pity and throw them something.  (Note to self:  wear leather shoes instead of cloth or you wind up with wet toes from the dew.)

I had purchased coffee in bags, just like tea.  Easy to carry and all you have to do is heat a cup of water.  Unfortunately, I forgot that this campground was primitive and so I couldn’t use my microwave to do that.  And, I had purchased 7-Up instead of Coke.  Fortunately, since I have been known to nod-off when driving, I carry “stay-awake” pills.  They have the caffeine equivalent of 2 cups of coffee.  So I took one of those with my 7-Up and sat looking out the trailer window.  My site was near a pond and the bugs landing on the water made it look like it was sprinkling rain.  As the sun came up over the horizon, it made the “sprinkles” on the water sparkle.   It was very pretty and peaceful – one of the benefits of rising early.  Shortly, I heard the others emerging from their trailers, feeding their horses and getting ready for the day.

Mel was a very good boy.  Actually, he has always been good on my camping er…trail riding trips.  Both standing tied quietly and going out on the trails.  I guess horses like to have a change of scenery too.  Maybe being ridden at the stable is too much like work.  But, like me, he was happy to head home.  He went right into the trailer and didn’t even “mess” the trailer.  That was a great surprise and made unloading and cleaning up easier on me.  The very worst part of trail riding trips is the unpacking and stowing gear afterward.  It might be different if I didn’t board my horse, but I have to do all that before I can take the 30 minute drive home.  I called my husband from the stable to let him know I was heading home and luckily he took the hint and had dinner started.  I was able to shower and then sit down to dinner.  Life can be good.

Here are some tips I’ve discovered when camping and/or trail riding.

  1. Take soap, toilet paper and paper towels with you to the out-house.
  2. If the out-house floor is painted cement, take a bath mat to step out of the shower on, or you might slip.
  3. Most facilities aren’t air-conditioned.  Talcum powder will help keep you dry after you shower.  Nothing worse than showering and drying off and then getting wet from sweat.
  4. Take a plastic bag with you for your dirty clothes and wet towel.
  5. Before using the toilet, look for spiders.  I didn’t and saw a big black one go down with the flush.  Ugh!
  6. Don’t worry too much about looking pretty – it’s wasted time and effort.  The sweat and dust from the arena or trails makes everyone’s hair droop and face dirty.  One of the benefits of camping is not having to impress anyone.
  7. Don’t worry about the small stuff.
  8. Take the time to appreciate nature.
  9. Give your horse a break from work too.
  10. Don’t set your soda cup or can on the post with all the bird droppings on it.
Camping · Horses · Mel · Trail riding

You want to buy a horse?! – Part 1

Part 1 How I came to buy a horse

Micky Mouse Club

My first introduction to horses (that I can remember) was watching the Spin & Marty segments on the Mickey Mouse Club. That’s the original Mickey Mouse club.  In addition to the daily variety show, there were also segments like Spin & Marty with other actors who weren’t technically Mouseketeers.  Spin & Marty was about a Summer Camp and the adventures of the youngsters who spent summers there.  Tim Considine (on the right) played Spin. Being a young gal, I actually wanted to see Tim, the horses were an added treat.

Spin and Marty

When I was a teenager, one of my older brothers had a horse for a while.  He used to take us to the farm where he kept her and we would get to ride the various ponies and horses there.  Riding consisted of getting on, kicking to go and pulling back on the reins yelling “whoa” to stop.  Otherwise, the horses went pretty much where they wanted to go.

In 1995 I talked my husband, son and sister into going to a dude ranch for vacation.  We went to Colorado and had a wonderful time.  I was on a horse every day while the other three preferred to do other activities, like canoeing, hiking, etc.  I highly recommend a dude ranch as a family vacation.  No television, no phones, just family activities.  You are with a small group of individuals so you get to know about each and make some friends.

That was the extent of my contact with horses.  Then in 1997 a series of family tragedies struck, the most devastating was losing two of my brothers to lung cancer exactly one year apart.  They were only 55 and 58 years old.  A few years later I had to deal with my mother’s dementia.  It really drove home how short life can be and started me thinking about what I had or hadn’t done in my life.  I gave up on playing the piano and tap dancing, but I told my husband I wasn’t going to give up the dream of horses.  So I signed up for riding lessons.

The lessons were wonderful.  Not just the riding, but being around the horses, grooming them, etc.  I took lessons for about six months when I announced to my husband that I was going to buy a horse.  After he picked his jaw up off the floor, we discussed it in length.  He totally understood my position on life, but not my wanting to own a horse.  You see, he is one of those unlucky people who just doesn’t “get it.”  He thinks horses are nice to pet and look at, but why would you want to climb up on one?  But, he supported my decision, and after researching the various breeds, I decided on a Missouri Fox Trotter.  It is a gaited breed.  I went that route because I have a bad back and I just couldn’t learn to post.  Gaited breeds have a smooth trot and various other gaits that don’t jar you around like a Quarter Horse.

I purchased Heaven Bound’s Carmel Clown “Mel” in 2002.  Owning him helped bring me through one of the toughest times in my life and a deep depression.  He gave me a reason to get off the couch and go outside into the sunshine.  And since I board him, he gave me the opportunity to meet new friends who share my interest and understand what having a horse means.