Thursday, March 31, 2016

Back in the saddle again

When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be around horses. I doodled horse pictures throughout elementary school. I read every children's book about horses, from Misty of Chincoteague to The Black Stallion. I begged for riding lessons and latched on to school friends who were lucky enough to have a horse or even a bad-tempered Shetland pony.

I loved the smells and sounds of a horse barn: the leather, the hay, the quiet munching of a contented horse at his grain.

I never outgrew my dream of having a horse of my own. In my mid-twenties, I finally bought a horse, a chestnut "grade" mare I called Candlewick. (A grade horse is one of mixed breeding and no pedigree, like a mixed breed dog.)

I enjoyed that horse and have always been happy that I was able to have her for a time. But when my first baby came along and there was only so much time, energy, and money, I found the horse an eager new owner and moved on without regret. It was time to grow up.

But decades have now passed and my babies are all grown and gone. I still like horses and, goodness knows, here in Saratoga County, we are virtually surrounded by nearly every type of horse imaginable.

So when a work acquaintance mentioned taking riding lessons through a continuing education program at Saratoga schools, a seed was planted. I had some doubts. I am not young. Could I do this again, I wondered?
Well, the answer is yes. Yes, I can. Tonight, one week shy of my 66th birthday, I got back on a horse. Meet "Cedar Creek Olympia" (aka, "Fudge") a retired show horse from Rolling Oaks Morgans in Gansevoort, just north of Saratoga Springs. She was my lesson horse tonight and we two old broads got along like a house afire.
I tacked her up myself and before I knew it, owner Sue Friday had us trotting and cantering around the lesson ring. I didn't fall off. I did need a few reminders and corrections (it has been years) and I will no doubt have some stiff muscles tomorrow. But wow, I did it! And I had a ball.

The photo below is of Fudge in her prime, being ridden by a more skilled rider than I. We didn't quite make it to that level tonight, but we had fun.

                                                  Fudge — Cedar Creek Olympia

When I thanked Sue at the lesson's end, I confessed that I had worried about taking up riding again at my age. 
Pshaw, she said. She told me that one of her riders is 78. 
Good to know. I guess I can look forward to at least another twelve years of riding. And wouldn't that be awesome.

Happy trails, my friends. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

March garden blahs

 When we first bought this house ten years ago, I was working full time through the winter months and so I didn't give much thought to what our yard looked like at this time of year. I wasn't home enough to look at it much in the daylight hours.

 Also, we usually get a nice snow cover, which all by itself makes the little wooded patch behind our house look magical. 

 But not so this year. No snow and more time at home during the day have made me aware that our backyard needs some late winter oomph. So I pulled out my aged copy of Helen Van Pelt Wilson's "Color for Your Winter Yard & Garden" and re-read her wise words. 
 I have also been surfing the net, where all of these photos have come from. This yellow-flowered shrub is witch hazel. I have a red-blossomed variety in the front yard, but this variety might tuck in nicely at the edge of the woods in back.
 Peering at other folks' yards can be another source for inspiration. What looks good RIGHT NOW in my neighbors' yards? Yellow-ish evergreens glow nicely on a gray late-winter day. I think I will look for some of those.
 In the late winter, some shrubs, like red twig dogwood "color up" nicely before their leaves appear. Again, I have this in the front yard, but not where I can see it from inside. Helen Van Pelt Wilson advises planning a "look into" garden, choosing to place interesting plantings in places where you spend the most time looking out at them. She was a wise woman.
Conifers are not the only shrubs that stay green through the winter. I think hollies, rhododendrons, or similar shrubs will be on my shopping list this spring. Luckily, we are not bothered by deer here, as our backyard is mostly fenced in for the dogs, so I don't have that issue to deal with. Rabbits, though, are another matter. 

The features that have brought color and much pleasure to our yard this winter have been the bird feeders. Placed near our dining room window (just as Helen Van Pelt Wilson advises) we watch cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, finches, winter wrens, nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, tufted tit-mice (yes, those are birds) coming and going as we eat our breakfast. And now that the robins, bluebirds, and red-winged blackbirds are back, I know it's time to think about gardening again. 

North country gardeners, what looks good in your yard at this time of year? Please share your advice and inspiration.

Happy Easter to all.