Tuesday, November 16, 1999

Money Enough and Time - A Report From Rural Vermont - John B. Ayers

Our competitive equestrian season is over and the Power Company shut off our electric for the day to upgrade the lines. We have no water, no furnace, no light and no TV. 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 to 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 most recent snow has melted but we can still see it on the mountains to the west. We live on 100 acres and are in the last house on the paved road with miles of gravel roads and trails on which to ride and drive. This part of Vermont is called "The Northeast Kingdom".

In May of 1997, at age 66, I knew nothing about horses or riding or driving. I started taking riding lessons and a few months later bought Meshack, a six year-old 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, also a Blue Ribbon for Advanced Trail Class. This summer we started driving, entered several driving competitions and took two second-place ribbons. I can`t begin to tell you what an incredible feeling of accomplishment it is to have this animal develop into such a versatile athlete! It did a lot for my physical and mental health as well. I joined a health club to get in better physical shape. After I bought Meshack, 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. The Internet is an incredible resource for help on riding, driving, equestrian health, and to make some wonderful friends.
2. 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 appreciation!
3. 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!

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 that 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 molasses and possibly the higher fat content.

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 "Test" is being able to stand up in the stirrups.

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 squared off.

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!! (One Ridecamp member suggested that you could at least comment on how I "sit tall in the saddle with an aura of confidence and control"). Anyhow, it is almost worthwhile since we found a picture of Meshack and me driving with five year-old 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 Ayers.

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 okay 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 intended).

In exasperation, while trying to learn the "Two Point", I told my instructor that if I ever mastered it my next big challenge would be to try sex standing up in a hammock. I am happy to report that I can now do four jumps in succession, at the canter, in Two Point! Unfortunately my wife does not ride, and only an equestrian would have the combined skills for such an event. A bigger challenge might be convincing her that we could recover the money I`ve spent because Meshack will generate $10,000 in fertilizer for her flower gardens. She thinks THAT concept is a lot of horse manure!

During a challenging business career, I dreaded retirement, wondering how I could occupy my time. I read recently that to be happy you need something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. I would add financial security and good physical and mental health. This equestrian activity has provided the missing ingredients for my happiness. In addition, I`ve met many really great human beings. For the "look forward to" all we need do is enter the next competition.

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 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) and took Third Place. 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 on October 23rd, 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 and a hunter-pace, 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 physical and 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, but will tell you it`s been a real lesson in humility!

Happy Trails,

John and Meshack (See my photo in the birch trees)
http://www.bypass.com/~ayers (Vermont Equestrian Activities)

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