Monday, July 30, 2012

Groomed for Success

Roxy’s coat gets far more attention from me than my own “coat” does. That’s not just because she’s got more hair and I have no sense of decorum.

Roxy cleans up so well.
Grooming is one of the rituals of horsemanship that may at first seem arbitrary but in fact has an important purpose. Grooming a horse’s coat removes dirt and loose hair. It also stimulates the skin and encourages blood flow to maintain a healthy coat.

If I rode Roxy without grooming her, she could easily develop nasty sores where her saddle and bridle rub against her. Horses, despite their size and power, are fairly delicate creatures in some respects.

At Touchstone Farm, riding students groom horses before and after every ride. As a beginner, I was little stunned to realize that I had to go over Dusty’s coat – head to tail, legs and feet too – THREE times with THREE different brushes.

Then there’s the other crucial task of grooming: picking the horse’s hooves to remove packed dirt, manure, and stones. I wince just thinking about how painful it would be for Roxy to have a stone digging into her hoof while she carried me.

(A little horse trivia here, courtesy of Denise Hopkins, Equine Manager at the farm: wild horses don’t have much trouble with impacted material in their hooves. Unshod, the bottoms of their feet are relatively flat. They don’t have the pronounced frog that can trap debris.)

Not as easy as you might think
Horses are trained to let us pick up their feet and dig away at them with a hoof pick. This was a little daunting when I first learned to do it. Damn, those feet are heavy. And it’s hard not to feel vulnerable and awkward bending down and hefting a hoof with one hand and picking at it with the other. I’ve had manure up my sleeve more times than I care to admit.

At some stables, you don’t groom or even tack up your lesson horse. Since riders aren’t born knowing how to do these things correctly – and more important, safely – this seems like a mistake to me. Learning to groom also helps a beginner like me get comfortable in such close contact with horses. And it helps my horse get comfortable with ME.

I’ve come to love grooming Roxy. I think of riding as something Roxy does for me. Grooming is one modest way I can repay her for that.

Relaxing after another job well done.
(Please note Roxy's gleaming coat.)
Some of my favorite “riding” moments have been grooming Roxy, especially after we ride. Roxy is relaxed because she knows she’s done and will soon re-join her BFFs, Annie and Velvet. Our ride finished, I’m happy to do a slow and careful grooming. I end by scratching Roxy’s ears and stroking her face as her eyelids flutter closed.

“Thank you,” I say. “You’re the best.”

“I know,” I imagine Roxy replying. “Got any treats?”

See you around the farm.

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm

Saturday, July 28, 2012

                                                                                                Saturday July 28th, 2012
Dear Parents, Grandparents and “Pony Farm” Extended Families,
            I write this to you as the day dawns bright and beautiful.  I also write to apologize that I have fallen down on my job for you as Blogger! We have been having so much fun with your kiddos that we just have not had a spare minute to sit and write.  I also got a stomach bug for two solid days, so I felt I had to do some catching up with the kids.  Please accept my apologies…
            Let me first announce from the tops of the mountains what FANTASTIC children you have bequeathed us!  They have been truly superlative since the moment they arrived.  They are sweet, gentle, hardworking, devoted to their horses, kind to each other, attentive to the staff…and just plain a pleasure from the instant they arrived. I cannot remember a session that has clicked so easily. Roommates are right, horse matches were easy, riding groups came together smoothly, learning the ropes of taking care of their own ponies was a breeze…in short, it has been a delight for Becky and I to watch all this fun and loveliness unfolding so nicely. Thank you for being such great parents and having such fabulous kids.  It makes our job easy!
            So, let me catch you up on the festivities of each day.  Monday was partly cloudy with some sprinkles, but we rode anyway.  Matches were tried, riding groups determined and the general lay of the land of PF was spelled out. By lunchtime, all but 2 kids had found the right horse match, and by dinner time, we were 100% there with right groups and matches.  The girls had also done their ‘waterproof test’ at the pool.  The highlight of the afternoon was learning how to ‘partner up’ with your horse. Each girl got some “Cowgirl Magic”, aka Natural Horsemanship tips, as to how to handle each horse on the ground, paving the way for what the riders should do once they were aboard.  How a horse is treated on the ground definitely affects attitudes once mounted.  We have added this piece this summer and it has proven to be effective!
            Once barn chores, turnout and evening feeding routines were explained, the girls all trooped to the barn to be a part of their Barn Team. I love this time of day as it is so beautiful to watch all these healthy, strong and capable girls work together to take care of the 60 horses we have on site.  With good supervision, the work gets done with ease and everyone learns how much there is to having a ‘horse of your own’.  I wish you could be a fly on the barn wall as these girls dig in to get each horse turned out, every stall clean, buckets scrubbed and aisle raked.  It is a miracle of happy horsemanship.
            Bag skits were the next activity after dinner. We already explained this in our Opening Day letter so I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that they had a blast. This game really does serve to bring roommates together and showcase creativity.  It was a blast.
            Tuesday dawned kind of dreary and definitely rainy.  Each riding group rotated between stations about horse care.  One station was learning how to braid for a horse show.  Another was bandaging, while still another was about taking Temperature, Pulse and Respiration.  Yet another was learning how to lunge a horse in a big circle, while the last was a “Love Your Pony Spa Day”.  With a good solid morning of dry fun in the barn, the girls were then able to ride in their riding groups that afternoon. Thanks to the great new footing in all rings, there was nary a mud puddle despite heavy rain both in the morning and the night before.  Everyone was able to try out her riding group and make certain that she was on the right equine partner. 
            That night Kris Young, former Co-Director of countless years, came to do one of the big favorites…Pony Farm Fashion Show. For a bunch of horse crazy girls, they sure have a talent for doing the Runway and finding fun ways to strut their stuff.  Kris is such a huge addition to our camp and helps keep the old time favorites alive at Pony Farm.
            Sadly for the girls, but happily for the pastures and flowers, on Wednesday, it was still raining. We decided to have them ride anyway as we needed them to get ready for the “Jumper Palooza”, a new addition to our weekend favorites.  Good lessons were taught by all staff. We have a terrific team of teaching staff, as well as a huge group of Counselors in Training.  Anyone who says that kids don’t want to work these days should come watch these young women!  Our mandatory Staff Training weekends, Becky’s brainchild, are really paying off.  With between 3 and 6 days of training during the school year, these staff member are teaching much more effectively. They are also much more able to be room counselors and take care of the non-riding things that come up. As a result, the kids are learning a huge amount more, while having a far better time in their rooms and during at evening activities at camp.
            On Wednesday afternoon, the girls were able to pick from a variety of activities.  Sign up happens during Rest Hour.  Activities included a trip to see the Budweiser Clydesdales, Vaulting (Gymnastics on Horseback) on Gruffy, our 18 hand Clydesdale, Catch Riding, more Stable management and a mounted lesson on the greener horses.  With plenty to do, each girl had someone fun to be with and something fun to do!
            That night we were treated to a most exciting “First Ever” at camp.  For the first time in 41 years, we had a Hawk and Falconry Live Demonstration.  All the girls and staff went to the Indoor Arena right after dinner. They were met with actual hawks and falcons from the nearby Connolly Brothers’ Farm, home of the best ice cream in the world! With four young girls, the camp kids’ ages, presenting and demonstrating, the evening flew by.  What was supposed to be a 45 minute show turned into 2 hours of delight.  I am not sure who loved it more, the owner of the raptors, the girls who presented, or the camp community, but it was a huge hit.  Everyone had such a great time that they are coming back before camp ends so the campers can pet more raptors and even ride while holding one. What a rare and special treat this was for everyone.
            Thursday was supposed to feature the Camping Trip up the mountain with the ponies. Sadly it was too likely to thunderstorm to dare to take the kids and horses that far from the farm.  We have rescheduled this for Monday and Tuesday night of this coming week.  We are offering camping over two nights because so many kids signed up!  We were able to have lessons and really dig in to get ready for the jumping event this weekend.  Trail classes and courses were planned and practiced.  Everyone stayed safe, and the lightening and torrential rains only came during the night when everyone was happily slumbering in their warm, dry beds in the lodge!
            Friday morning dawned a little rainy but not so much so that we couldn’t have a last lesson before the weekend.  Again, thanks to the super footing, everyone was able to stay safe and secure despite the significant amount of rain fall.  We did decide to not offer the Hunter Derby and Outside Course jumping for the Jumperlooza as the footing would have been slippery and muddy.  All the jumps that had been moved down by staff on Thursday sadly had to be moved back yesterday to make the courses in the rings.
            During the afternoon, I took the two littlest groups of riders and some staff for a carriage driving trip down to Connolly’s Bros. Farm for ice cream.  I drove the beautiful new pair of Haflingers ,which we lovingly call Magic Mike and Beautiful Ben! These treasures were just donated to the farm and are proving to be a total success both with riding and driving.  They are so quiet and well trained that it is simple to drive a whole group of kids and be safe doing it.  We also drove four other turnouts of single ponies…allowing the kids to get a feel for actually taking the reins.  They did a beautiful job and all loved the ice cream. They so enjoyed driving up to get the treat.  They kept saying, “Where else can a kid do this on a summer day?” I had to agree!
            Meanwhile, ‘back at the ranch’, the older kids joined with the staff to create five different courses of varying levels of difficulty for today’s event.  They decorated and organized their hearts out as Andi, our Head Trainer, took each group of riders on a ‘course walk’.  She explained how to ride the corners, how to establish pace, where to look and how to negotiate the difficult bending lines and roll backs.  Andi has added so much expertise to our team that it was cool to see the kids figuring out their different lines on their courses for today.  I can’t wait to see the results of their new revelations.
            Last night, the kids did Personal Scavenger Hunt, which is a game like Jeopardy but with questions about Pony Farm and their favorite singers, movies, TV, etc.  We started the Pony Farm Olympics with this event. It is one of 8 events they will do over the next week, simulating the actual Olympics.  Each team is made up of one rider from each riding group.  They will ride for their team at their appropriate level and then garner points. Some of the events will be mounted, some with stable management, and some fun non-horsey things.  It will culminate on their last night.  Other events are things like Hunter Pace, today’s Jumperlooza, tack cleaning, Horse Know Down, and Gymkhana games.  It is a great way to get in lots of riding and team building!
            Next week will feature the camping trips, Cheshire Fair, and swimming with the ponies.  We will also practice specialties which will include Carriage Driving, Vaulting, Hunter Derby, the Puissance, Courses and mounted games.  We will not be bored!
            I hope I have given you a flavor of what a terrific time we are having together.  We can do all of this and more because your children are so organized and attentive! It is a pleasure to plan complicated things like camping trips with horses.  I am sorry that you got the whole load today instead of little bites during the week.  I really did fall down on the job of Blogging.  We will write about the Jumperlooza today in the next blog, I promise.
            As I approach my 60th birthday, I have to say that I cannot believe that I am so blessed.  I feel like I am the luckiest person on earth.  With such wonderful campers, loving staff, dear horses and a farm that sparkles, what could be a more rewarding or exciting way to spend my life!!!???  Thank you for sharing your daughters with me.  Thank you for choosing Pony Farm.  Thank you for making my life so bright and beautiful.
                                                                        Most warmly and with a big smile,

Monday, July 23, 2012

Packing a Little Punch

This week I’m giving you a break from my chatter about Roxy, my lesson horse at Touchstone Farm. Instead, I’m introducing you to another of my favorites at the farm, Punch, the smallest of the farm’s mini-horses.

Dare ya not to smile.
Punch’s height tops out around 30 inches (I’m being generous here). That makes him approximately the size of a modestly built sheep. I know this because he was standing next to one of the farm’s sheep in their paddock when I visited them on Sunday afternoon.

Boo guesses that Punch is about 21 years old, and he definitely has some years of seniority at the farm. Like most Touchstone Farm horses, he fills multiple roles.

Punch is your go-to guy if you are a quite small person who wants to ride. He’s also the horse to meet if you are small – or large – and are drawn to the magic of horses but are a little fearful of them, too. No one could be afraid of Punch.

I mean, just look at him. Are you not smiling at his round shaggy self?

I’ve seen a lot of Punch this summer because he is on the equine staff of Barnyard Buddies summer day camp. His camp responsibilities strike me as the job he was born for. He pulls Barnyard Buddies campers in a light carriage. He's available for meet-and-greets. He also makes an excellent live model for learning equine anatomy.

He's small but he's got all the essential parts.

Punch parties like it's 1999.
My point in talking about Punch is more than showing you cute pictures of a cute horse. I'm coming to understand the Touchstone Farm herd and realize it is much more than a collection of nice horses. These are working animals, and they have very specific abilities. The farm staff carefully selects and trains the right horses for roles only they can fill. That takes time and a lot of experience with horses.

Punch is aged and chubby and very small, but he is very valuable to the farm. He also has a fan club to rival Roxy's. After all, Roxy may be a wonderful lesson and therapeutic riding horse, but I can tell you right now that she wouldn't be caught dead in that tie.

See you around the farm.

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm

Monday, July 16, 2012

Trail Ride, Take 2

Last week I told you about my, uh, frustrating first trail ride with Roxy, my lesson horse at Touchstone Farm. The experience was a dud as a trail ride, but it was an outstanding lesson. I learned many things that afternoon that educated me about my horse and improved my riding. I’d like to pass them along to you.

1. That girl has a mind of her own.

Roxy, or any horse, brings her own perceptions and preferences to every situation. (So I do, of course.) Trying to understand circumstances from Roxy’s perspective helps me make more sensible choices and communicate them to her more clearly.

2. Trail rides are not Roxy’s thing.

I get that now.

When I think of trail riding, I’m thinking this:
Roxy is apparently thinking this:
Roxy prefers her routine in the ring. She likes to be among the horses and humans she knows. In the ring, Roxy knows the drill much better than I do. Even when my aids aren’t clear, she makes very good guesses about what I want.

What does this mean for trail riding together? For one thing, I need my A game every minute on the trail. I need to know what I want, and ask Roxy for it clearly and consistently. I also need to let her know that I appreciate it when she complies.

3. Roxy is a good horse for the trail. No, really.

Roxy might be naughty, but she isn’t going to shy at chipmunks or noisy farm equipment. Even when she’s trying to convince me to turn around, she will pause to stand quietly as a car passes us on the road. She won’t bolt, buck, or do other scary things. This is why she’s usually riding with the Pony Farm campers on their overnight camp-outs on the trail.

(But Roxy might get loose during the night and eat the grain and hay for all the horses, as she did on a camp-out a few weeks ago. No campers were harmed in the incident, although some horses were really ticked off at having their breakfasts stolen.)

4. Roxy has a generous heart.

Despite having her own ideas about trail rides and a great deal more, Roxy nearly always does as I ask her to. When our wishes conflict, I am reminded that with her size and strength, she has the power to get her way any time she chooses.

And yet, she doesn't choose. She gives in and does it my way, and she doesn’t hold it against me. For that, she can have MY breakfast.

See you around the farm.

Kathy McDonald
Volunteer and Rider at Touchstone Farm

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friday July 13th, 2012
Dear Camp Parents, Families and maybe even some Grandparents out there,
            Greetings from happy, but hot, Pony Farm…Wow, for Friday the 13th, it sure is a hot one.  We are all in a swelter.  Everyone is being such a great sport to keep going to get ready for the horse show tomorrow.  What a wonderful group of girls. They surely do love their ponies and each other. I continue to be impressed by their spunk and zest for life.
            Today started out hot and continued to be hot.  We are always careful with the girls as those riding helmets really catch and keep the heat.  We did the final group hacks and then everyone practiced over their trail class or jumping course. We even did a ‘course walk’ to help the girls be ready! The kids and staff were in high spirits as they headed out to ride despite the humidity and heat.
            This afternoon the girls cleaned their tack and bathed their horses.  The staff raked the rings after they had been watered, trying to keep down the dust without running out of water!  The courses got set and decorated.  All the ribbons got organized, as did the trophies. Manes got pulled and kids were coached.  It was fun to see.  It was even more fun to see that the staff was so organized today that I hardly had to do anything.  Each time I would go to do something, I would find it already in place. Each time I suggested something about the tack or an idea for a kiddo, they had already done it!  What a thrill to have staff members who are so organized and invested…I like the word “invested”…They are really invested in “their group”, “their riders”, “their camp”.  Aren’t I a lucky camp director to have a staff who truly feels it is “their girls”!!!
            Tonight, we will do dinner and then I will do a “pep talk” and let the girls know what to do tomorrow morning as we all wake up bright and early.  I will talk about sportsmanship…and hard work…and trying hard…and winning…and losing…and trying again.  I hope you will celebrate all of that tomorrow if you come to the show. If you are not coming, worry not!  We will be there in spades for your children and will cheer them on, no matter whether they win or get 6th , or no ribbon at all.  Together, we are teaching them resiliency…and appropriate competition and sportsmanship and just plain old good ‘showing up’.  I love it.
            While this week was more focused on the show with the lessons, we did also leave room for fun!  We had crazy, silly and creative afternoon and evening activities.  The highlight of it all was the fun Circus Camp which came yesterday to give us a real show…I loved it all. Our day camp, Barn Yard Buddies, for children with special needs came…two other local day camps arrived in busses and several local families with children came…In short, about 100 people picnicked together while we watched a most thrilling show with about 25 performers. Between skits, juggling, acrobatics, human pyramids, unicycles, more skits, great music, more juggling and great spirit, the afternoon was simply wonderful. I adored seeing all the kids invested (there is that word again) in what was happening and kids strutting their stuff and not minding when they dropped the ball!  It was a wonderful lesson in life.  I was proud to be a part of it all.  I wish you could have been a ‘fly on our wall’ and seen it for yourself.  The power and immensity of kids is truly inspiring.
            Next week we will delve into more of the fun and creative parts of camp.  We will have a peaceful “non riding” day on Sunday. We will let the kids sleep late and leisurely relax in the morning with a good book and time to write letters or do crafts. We will then have a nice brunch and hit the pool and the small animal barn.  All the while, the kids will work together to do skits or dances or songs or gymnastics or silly charades or great piano or who knows what for their Talent Show. Typically, we will have 12 to 15 acts and it will fill a summer evening with delight.  It reminds me of Tasha Tudor who drew such great pictures and spun such wonderful stories about a simpler, more peaceful time.  This Talent Show reminds me of this!
            We will then plan our week.  We will do a camping trip with the ponies…or actually two camping nights as so many kids want to go. We will also swim with the horses in a lovely safe and secluded pond.  We will prepare for your Parent’s Exhibition and have a wonderful time together.  While I love the horse shows, I truly appreciate the less scheduled and more free form time at camp.  Kids are so over scheduled during the rest of the year that I think it is so good to just let them ‘be’ … I love the times when we can do things that they can’t do at their local barns and schools.  While we keep it safe and organized, we also want them to experience some of the joys of life on a farm.  I feel certain you would agree!!!  Life as a grown up is stressful enough… Let’s let kids be kids and enjoy their early days of carefree bliss.
            So, I end as I began, by saying what great kids you have.  We are having a blast and everyone is doing such good work in preparing for tomorrow.  I am off to dinner and to get the final touches on the horse show…right before we prepare for all the more informal fun coming next week.  If you come to the show tomorrow, make sure you check in with me. I always love to chat!  If you can’t come, know that we are loving your daughter(s) and look forward to seeing you next Saturday with a wonderful Parents’ Exhibition.  We think and hope you will be excited by all that your children have learned.
            Stay well. We will hug your kiddos tonight and watch then sweetly slumbering.
                                                                                    Warmly, Boo

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What We Have Been Up To...

Dear Camp Parents,

As of yesterday we had everyone on the right ponies or horses!   As of today the campers are trying to decide on show names for their ponies.  They have a three word limit for their horse or pony’s show name.  Some of the campers are finding this challenging.   We are getting ready for the show, I will be sending out estimated start times tomorrow so be looking in your emails for it.

Here is what we have been up to!

On Monday night we played bags skits which are a camp favorite!  Last night we played Capture the Flag, it was bottom bunks verse top bunks.  It was a tie, I guess those bunks were evenly matched.  Tonight we are doing show prep by signing up for classes, gathering and organizing show clothing.  We will also be having a shipwreck dinner, and be playing the chocolate game.

Today for our afternoon activities we are doing a trail ride to Connolly’s, riding Western, a treasure hunt, pony spa, slip and slide, and going to Budweiser to see the Clydesdales.  It is a busy afternoon for sure.

This is a great group of girls!  We love having them here!  And we are having a lot of fun!  Now you know why I haven’t written before, we are just having too much fun together!

Monday, July 9, 2012

On the Trail with Roxy's Evil Twin

Touchstone Farm is in a perfect location for trail rides. Its 28 acres are bordered by woods, streams, fields, and old orchards, with a network of quiet country roads between the farm and Pack Monadnock mountain.

She LOOKS like Roxy but ...
So you may imagine how much I looked forward to my first trail ride on Roxy, my agreeable, easy-going lesson horse. One warm afternoon in May 2011, my instructor, Jessy Savage, and I put fancy fly bonnets and plenty of bug spray on our horses and set out.

Almost immediately, I ran into problems with Roxy. As soon as she understood that we were going right past her paddock, where her friends Velvet and Annie were already eating their evening hay, things got ugly.

Suddenly, it wasn’t Roxy I was riding. I was on a horse who looked just like Roxy and who behaved like a little devil.

Yes, I was riding Roxy’s Evil Twin.

Here are some things her Evil Twin did not want to do:
  • Leave the farm property
  • Walk on dirt roads
  • Walk on pavement
  • Walk from pavement onto dirt
  • Stay on the dirt and out of the fields and ditches
  • Respond appropriately to any of the following aids from me: Walk, Trot, Whoa
Here are some things her Evil Twin did want to do:
  • Go home
  • Eat
Are we having fun yet?!
After about 100 yards of struggle, I was sweating and exhausted and ready to walk home on my own cooperative two feet. Jessy calmly coached me through insisting to the Evil Twin that she pay attention to my aids and do as I requested.

As Jessy explained, giving into my horse’s bad behavior would encourage the horse to take control of the ride. And that can be very dangerous. Indeed, this trail ride from Hell reminded me that (duh) a horse is a very strong animal who can get us both into serious trouble.

I summoned my deepest determination, and between my stubbornness and Jessy’s guidance, we went out and back safely. Back on farm property, the Evil Twin disappeared. I dismounted from my sweet lesson horse, who was hoping for a carrot. (As if, Roxy.)

What made Roxy behave so poorly? In retrospect, I can see several factors that set us up for a difficult ride:
  • The weather was muggy, and the black flies were relentless. Despite her bonnet and fly spray, Roxy was under continuous assault.
  • Roxy was hungry, and she knew it was mealtime. Walking past Annie and Velvet munching happily just added to her distress.
  • Roxy hadn’t been ridden outside a ring since camp the previous summer. Roxy is a big fan of routine, and a trail ride was not routine.
  • I was riding her. Jessy’s horse, Bacardi, did fine that day, in no small part because he carried a confident, skilled rider. Roxy had no such luck.
Though Roxy is trained to listen to her rider, I think a good lesson horse is entitled to a bad day now and then. I know now I could have made Roxy's day better, and not just by staying home and feeding her.

What could I have done differently to make our ride less fractious? Oh, lots. And lots. Next week, I’ll talk about simple things that might have written Roxy’s Evil Twin right out of the story.

See you around the farm,

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pick Up Information
On the Saturday of your camper's departure, arrDSC_7898.JPGive between 9:30 am and 10:00 am.    There will be a sign in the lodge telling you what riding group your camper is in, who she is riding, and where the lesson is happening.  You will be able to watch your camper in her  lesson. 

Then follow your camper to her Specialty.  After the Specialty, you are more than welcome to bring a picnic lunch and sit on the back lawn and picnic.  Camp will provide drinks and desserts. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Camping we will go...

            Monday July 2nd, 2012
Dear Moms and Dads, and Grandparents, Too!
            What a great couple of days we have just had.  I loved seeing some of you at the show. Thanks for coming.  For those of you who were not there, we surely took care of your kids and loved them in your stead.  We can’t wait to show you all that they have learned at the upcoming Parents’ Exhibition…or “Expedition”, as some of the kids have called it!  As a reminder, the arrival time is at 10AM. You can check in with Becky and me to chat and then we can all go to the riding rings to see the kids ‘strut their stuff’ for you. It is better not to come much sooner than that as I always worry that someone will get stepped on or bumped if everyone is hugging in the barn aisles with horses moving by! As you know, we like to keep everyone safe and sound, parents included.  We look forward to having you arrive and giving you a great time.  Please  remember to bring a picnic for all the troops you bring with you. We will serve dessert and will have plenty of drinks for everyone.  It is a great way to wrap up a session.
            Now for the low down on what has been happening.  We had a wonderful show on Saturday. It dawned bright and beautiful without being too hot. The breeze kept the bugs and sweat away.  The blue sky was amazing.  The kids who rode were just wonderful. It is no mean feat in five days to get the girls on the right ponies or horses and prepared to compete against kids who ride their own horse all year around and are competing most every weekend.  I was so proud of the campers and our staff because, to my eye, they were all so correctly mounted and in the right divisions.  A couple of kids were up against super stiff competition as they were our better riders and were showing against kids who compete “down south” for the winter and who were not on ‘camp horses’ to say the least.  I adore our horses but with us having to mount 36 kids, we clearly cannot offer the quality of mount that an individual family can do for one child. 
            The entire day really went smoothly and happily.  For the kids who chose not to ride (sparing you some entry fees!!!), they happily helped their friends and cheered on the whole team. We opened the pool area for their enjoyment mid-day and the sparkling waters were well used to cool off.  We all just enjoyed being on a farm and with each other.  Because your girls are so delightful, the whole thing came together beautifully and happily.  It was a treat to be a part of it all.
            This day ended with the Hunter Derby Classes out on the far field which we now call the Derby Field. We are building a clientele of people who are drawn to enjoying riding outside of a ring and over some fun jumps at a nice clip.  This was a great gathering of all the kids to showcase really good riding and horsemanship.  It was one of the highlights of my day!
            At the end of it all, I think all the girls had a great experience…some stretching themselves…some winning….some not placing…some trying again…some helping others…some cheering on and making decisions against competition…and some getting all blues…a microcosm of life as we know it.  I ended the day with a smile and went to bed on a Saturday night by dark!!!
            Sunday morning was a peaceful, sweet and relaxing morning.  With a movie to entertain the small ones and the leisure to sleep in, the camp fully awoke mid-day to a rolling breakfast, good books to read, friends with whom to chat, muffins to munch and generally a campers ‘day off’!  With a delicious mid-day meal under their bellies, off they went to the pool with our life guard and lots of arts & crafts to do. Several tanned while others read and still others played with the small farm animals who live right next to the pool. I drove the miniature horses and Peaches with pony carts for those who were dying to try carriage driving. We had a nice leisurely stroll with CITS helping the parade.
            Meanwhile, everyone was gearing up for the Talent Show…and Talent indeed was shown. In all my 41 years of Talent Shows, this was the all-time show stopper! What talents were displayed for all the camp to see.  Woweeeeeeeeeeeeeee…All those lessons and carpools and time spent away from ‘home and hearth’ were worth it. The gymnastics, singing, piano playing, dancing, skits, and cavorting were truly magical.  In a day and age of obesity, physical un-fitness and sloth, your girls are beating the odds in spades. They are poised, positive, funny, capable, smart, witty, able and smarts all over again. Wow and wow. I was dazzled as I sat there happily with the bugs munching on my ankles! I would not have traded it for anything.
            We then went in to Vespers where such wonderful songs were sung and words were said. I always wish that parents could be a ‘fly on the wall’ with us at Vespers every night. It is so beautiful to see all the girls bathed in candlelight as they read wonderful poems or stories that they have written.  They are all learning the camp songs that have been our tradition for now 41 years. It is the perfect and peaceful ending to a day of activity.
            Today dawned beautiful and clear as Becky and I heaved a sigh of relief as it was the day of the Pony Camping trip up the mountain.  To our delight and surprise, 22 kids signed up to come with us. We worked with the kitchen crew to organize the breakfast and dinner meals, as well as a yummy snack after riding there, setting up the tents and before swimming in the mountain stream, complete with a natural waterslide. We had the packing lists ready and everyone was excited as they dreamed of sleeping under the stars.
            Everyone was also excited to do the Hunter Pace and Treasure Hunt.  This is a great way to start the riding week after a series of serious lessons to prep for the horse show. The girls are divided up in teams with two team captains.  They then ride a five mile dirt road out through the countryside with staff stationed all the way along the ride as safety check points. The girls are scored on their teamwork and good judgment.  It is a great experience to have and the captains all take ‘their team’ to heart.  All went well on the ride despite one team getting lost momentarily and walking home in the rain on foot leading their horses…but that is foreshadowing!
            The littler kids did a fun mounted Treasure Hunt with clues which lead them all around the farm. They were great at guessing and ended up with a happy first trail ride with staff on foot.  They guessed things quickly and a fun time was had by all.
            As the kids came in to eat lunch and begin packing, the heavens opened.  Arghhh!  Becky had already loaded all the tents and equipment in preparation and the kitchen staff had our meals ready.  We had to call it at the moment because we simply can’t be out there in the pouring rain.  As luck would have it, about an hour after we decided not to go and rearranged the schedule, the blue sky returned.  We decided to keep to our decision as the ground would have been sopping wet and the firewood too wet to build a cooking fire.  The kids were good sports and we promised to take them on Thursday afternoon.  With the help of the internet we were able to see that there is 0% chance of rain!  So, camping we will go.
            The kids all chose activities…We offered Slip and Slide on the front lawn, training some of the new horses to jump better, an actual lesson for both the more beginner and more advanced riders, a Bareback lesson, and Catch Riding.  All of the other things are pretty self-explanatory, but Catch Riding is where they tack up their own horse and then spend the time switching to ride the other horses. The girls love this as they like to feel how different horses go.
            It was a fun and lively afternoon with a nice cool breeze. I am sad we didn’t go camping but the thought of everyone’s sleeping bag being wet was less than appealing. As I left for the evening to come write this and do some other farm business, they were happily eating tacos and madly planning their Pony Farm Fashion Show…a real hit with all ages. After a silly and fun evening, they will again do Vespers and sing before tucking in for a peaceful sleep dreaming of ponies and more fun the next day.
            So, all ends well that began well. The kids are getting along nicely.  The couple of kids who were homesick are thriving and all is well in the land of Pony Farm.  Thank you again for entrusting your beautiful young women to us.  We are all having a blast and enjoying every minute of the magic of summer on a working horse farm.  What could be better!
            See you at 10AM on Saturday.  I look forward to welcoming you with open arms!
                                                                                    Warmly, Boo

Monday, July 2, 2012

Riding in Roxy's Posse

Me and my girl, Roxy
I told you last week about Dusty, my first lesson horse at Touchstone Farm. He was a quiet, genial soul, just right for a complete beginner. These days, I ride a sturdy little American Quarter Horse named Roxy.

At 19 years old, Roxy is a beloved mainstay of Touchstone Farm:
Touchstone Farm is full of well-loved horses, but Roxy’s fan club is particularly large and active. I can’t put Roxy’s star quality into words, but she surely has it. 

Roxy and Winter Keeler
team up for a Horse Power
lesson during black fly season
For example: Last summer, I shared Roxy with whichever Pony Farm camper was riding her each week. Each time I arrived for my lesson, before I could take Roxy, an entire receiving line of campers had to give her a pat, a hug, and a kiss on the nose. Seriously, this happened every week.

This summer, Roxy isn’t on the roster for camp horses. However, she pinch hits when camp needs a rock-solid horse for swimming or overnight camp-outs on the trail. I am sure that by August, a whole crop of 2012 campers will be life members of the Roxy fan club.

I SO want to swim with Roxy!
I’m just as smitten. Some days, I drop by the farm simply to scratch Roxy’s ears for a few minutes. She is very fond of ear scratches, and being in her company is guaranteed to improve my day.

So, to sum up: Roxy = trusted + talented + beloved

If this were a soap opera, Roxy would be just the sort of good character who turns out to have a mysterious Evil Twin. This twin would look just like Roxy but she sure wouldn’t act like Roxy. 

Well, as it happens … but that’s another story. Tune in next week for the tale of Roxy’s Evil Twin.

See you around the farm,

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm