Riding Lessons and More in Central Virginia

Monday, December 24, 2012

Let It Snow

Yes, today's Christmas Eve meet with the Farmington Hunt Club was quite SNOWY . . . this photograph, as we moved off near Free Union, Virginia, catches a few flakes in the air, but by the time Zender and Henry got back on the trailer, they had balls of packed snow and ice in their hooves!  We were cold by the time we were done, but the snow against the woods and mountains was beautiful and put us all in the holiday spirit!

I am doing a sun-dance now, though, hoping that the weather improves for our vacation mini-camp dates.  A few days already have four kids signed up, so there are a few more openings 12/28, 12/31, 1/2 and 1/4.  I made a special trip to the crafts store to prepare for some fun indoor warm-up activities . . . and we are definitely going to try to get that campfire going for smores this week!  Also, I'm looking up recipes online to put together some yummy holiday treats for all the horses.  So camp will be busy, no matter the weather.

Once again my wonderful neighbors dropped off a basket of fruit (purchased to support the Louisa High School FFA), and I cannot tell a lie . . . a few of the apples may end up in the horses' bellies tomorrow morning!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Out here in rural Virginia, fall means the start of hunting season...but for Team EKF, that doesn't mean trying to bag a buck.  Instead, we clean ourselves up and head out to chase Monsieur Reynard, the fox.  Last week near Free Union, Dr. Martha and Kelly enjoyed the meet on Henry and Chubbs.  The weather was beautiful, and we had a perfect mixture of hair-raising up- and downhill gallops and creek crossings, combined with checks in lovely spots with gorgeous views of Buck Mountain.
Apres hunt, the horses were snugged up to stay comfortable, while the two-leggeds enjoyed a bountiful buffet breakfast.  Kelly noticed that her picture accurately captures each horse's personality:  Henry smiles for the camera, while Chubbs keeps his muzzle buried in the alfalfa!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's Get Thankful


...I'm thankful for all the amazing opportunities here in central Virginia to enjoy friendly horses and horsey friends.  Fall is such a great time of year for riding because the bugs have died down, it's not yet too cold, but it's not sweaty hot either.  Pictured above, Henry and Chubbs enjoyed the Farmington Hunter Pace near Earlysville the weekend before last.  Zender and I drove "over the mountain" last Sunday to participate with some buddies in the Rockbridge Hunter Pace in the Shenandoah Valley, and this weekend, our veterinarian Dr. Martha and another student will represent EKF in the hunt field.

The Election Day Mini-Camp was a total blast.  We admired the gigantic beaver dam on Duckinghole Creek (including the heron who was snacking in the beaver pond), rode bareback and tried but ultimately failed to start a campfire and make smores (so we just ate cold marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers, which wasn't too bad!).  The highlight of the day was the campaign between Ginger and Pungo for President of the Horses (these candidates were selected by the campers).  Ginger made a strong appeal to the geldings' vote by offering Chubbs any position he'd like in the Cabinet, but Pungo's promise of more grain and oat bars for all proved the winning platform.  Please check out the campaign posters in the top barn, they are very cute and surprisingly realistic (complete with negative comments about the opposing candidate and the statements "I am Ginger, and I approve this message").

Many asked about the next Mini-Camp dates.  Let me know your plans for the day after Thanksgiving; and December 26, 28, and January 31, 2 and 4.  Each of these is a one-day session, so you may sign up for as many or as few days as you like (though I need at least three participants to run a session).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Today isn't just Halloween -- it's the third anniversary of our arrival at Easy Keeper Farm!  Selecting these photos from the past thirty-six months makes me proud of how far the farm and our programs have come since the early days during the Snowpocalypse....I'm also thankful for wonderful customers, neighbors, friends and family who make all these happy images possible.....It's a little bittersweet, too, remembering some old companions who have left us; though it's fun to include the new ones, furry and feathered, who come along to cheer us back up...
















Most of all, I am thrilled to be living in this most beautiful part of the world, and can't wait to see what we'll do together during the next three years!
THANK YOU!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mini-Camps are Coming!

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, November 6:  all you grownups, be sure to vote; all young riders, be sure to come to the farm for camp.  Just like during the summer, we'll have a lesson, hike around the farm to check out the autumn colors, work on a creative project, and take a bareback ride on the horses' and ponies'  THICK winter coats (you won't recognize Misty if you haven't seen her since August!).  Just like summer, bring a lunch, plan to stay from 9am to 3pm, and the cost is $45.  More mini-camps are planned for the day after Thanksgiving and the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of holiday school vacation.

Speaking of Misty, I need to thank her -- and Wizard -- and Chubbs -- AND my wonderful, terrific, cheerful, lifesaving helpers of all ages -- for their fantastic work at the EKF Pony Rides during the Fall Festival at Walton Park.  Two grownup helpers lugged the metal fence panels to Mineral and back, three more assisted at the sign-in table, and seven lesson students led ponies for four hours as we set a new record, providing rides to 155 children!  And somehow even with all those volunteers, I was still tired at the end of the day.  I hope someone took pictures of the ponies with their Halloween headbands fastened to their bridle crownpieces:  Misty the (good) witch, Chubbs the tiger, and Wizard the devil (hmm, sometimes). 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happy Hatching Day

As you may recall, Mrs. Snapping Turtle chose the little bank in the barnyard, near the ring, as the best spot to lay her eggs back in late May.  I made a note of the spot, and watched the calendar as the average 60-90 days of incubation passed (see my post from 5/19/2011 for a photo of Mom Turtle).
Well, this past Sunday, I was cleaning tack and noticed a chicken running around with what I thought was a chunk of trimmed horse hoof in her beak . . . but wait!
The little black chunk turned out to be a (not injured) newly hatched snapping turtle!  After shooing the chickens away, I counted 18 total hatchlings.  They are perfect miniature versions of the adult turtles.
Turtles need to stay within their home habitat, which is small (never pick up a turtle in one place, drive home with it, and release it there -- it will not survive in a strange location).  BUT, since these were brand new turtles facing a tough commute past hungry chickens and horses' hooves in the pasture, I gave them a lift down the hill and released them near the edge of the wetlands.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It's hard to believe the Louisa County kids are already back in school.  But what a terrific summer we had at the farm: over five weeks, I enjoyed hosting THREE TIMES as many campers as last season, including a brother and sister returning for their second year, and a couple of girls who enjoyed the first week so much, they signed up for another week!  Despite some crazy hot weather and the occasional hair-raising thunderstorm, we had all kinds of adventures riding, bumping around in the trailer, helping the equine and sheep vets, exploring the creek, preparing pressed flowers, collecting eggs, checking out snakes, salamanders, herons, hawks.....all kinds of fun farm fare.  

I am already planning several one-day mini-camps during days off from school, so stay posted for that schedule (though an early heads-up will include Election Day, and Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of holiday vacation in December/January).

EKF also hosted excellent clinics for the Louisa County Agricultural Extension Office Horse Mini-Camp and the Louisa County Young Riders 4H Club; our usual weekly class through the Louisa County Parks & Recreation Department; and a few high-energy birthday parties this summer.  All the while, regular lesson students have been keeping the afternoon schedule busy.  One adult student and I will attend the Farmington Hunt Club Introduction to Foxhunting Clinic this Sunday, another is acquiring the proper clothing to come out with the hounds, and our equine veterinarian, Dr. Martha, and her husband, Virginia Wildlife Center Dr. Dave, are joining me to represent EKF at the end-of-summer trail ride in Keswick next weekend.   

I need to catch you up on the excellent egg-laying skills of the younger hens, Barbara Mandrell Chicken, Anne Murray Chicken, Tammy Wynette Chicken #2 and Loretta Lynn Chicken #2, but for now I'll just leave you with this beautiful picture (from Barbara Mandrell).

Monday, August 6, 2012

More Than Just Riding!

Everybody knows that EKF summer camp means lots of riding.  We start each morning with a lesson, to beat the heat, and add a bonus bareback ride or Big Horse Day in the afternoon.  But our campers do so much more . . . these girls encountered Mr. Box Turtle on a nature walk down the Deer Stand Trail (carefully follow the campers' eyes to find the orange markings on his shell):
One of our indoor craft activities is to mold clay into different shapes, then press nature items from our walk into the clay.  Acorn caps and pinecones, and sometimes a small horseshoe, make terrific impressions.  Along with some letters and creativity, we end up with unique pieces to take home and remember camp all year long.  Usually this is rainy-day fun, but this summer it's been a Super-Hot-Day-Let's-Get-Into-the-Air-Conditioning favorite!
Last week's campers headed down to the Louisa County Agricultural Fair on Friday, after our morning ride.  We had a great time checking out the 4Hers showing their animals, meeting the alpacas at the petting zoo, eyeing the prize-winning vegetables and admiring the homemade quilts and baskets:
The fifth and final session of camp is underway now, so I'll be back next week (when the Louisa County kids go back to school -- already?!) to update you on their adventures.  Stay cool!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Even Hotter, Still Fun

Poor lazy Wizard in the photo above -- you can't blame him for dragging his hooves a bit when the temperature climbs to 100 degrees!!  Misty's rider is taking a peek back as if to say, "Hey, hurry up!"
The latest campers, from Louisa County Parks & Recreation, were terrific sports during a tough week.  All 8 campers, and my fantastic assistant, were patient and good-natured despite really challenging heat and humidity.  Penning up the sheep, to hold them in the shade, is a good strategy -- and makes it easy to feed those tasty oat bars (which lets us hang out in the shade for a while, too). On the hottest day, we moved our riding to the driveway in front of the house, which kept us away from the withering sun in the regular ring.

We cooled off with a visit to the creek, where we had an up-close encounter with a giant heron who nearly landed on top of us!  Perhaps that was better than the first week's wildlife encounter -- a black snake that Martha had to remove from the gate with a pitchfork.  Black snakes help us out by killing rats, so we carefully released him a ways down the hill:
On Independence Day, the farm was closed, and Martha took a field trip to Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.  They were holding the 50th annual naturalization ceremony for 84 brand new American citizens. Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci was the featured speaker, and there was music from a full band as well as these fellows with fife and drum.
It was tremendously moving to hear these newest members of "Team USA," as Ms. Comaneci put it, relate stories of the countries and conditions they'd fled -- civil war in Somalia, never having heard of the right to vote, wanting to join their families, thanking US military for protecting them....for more pictures and information, click here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hot Fun in the Summertime

What an amazing group of campers this week!  They have been the best team to start off the summer season at EKF.  Considering they have dealt with a cold, rainy first day -- then had to survive near record heat the last two days -- I am impressed with their excellent positive attitudes!

Of course, we still rode on Monday, despite the rain.  The girls bundled into a few extra fleece tops of mine, which made it look like an army of small Marthas was riding around the ring! We also met Dr. Martha, and observed her giving Pungo and Henry their shots of Legend, a medication that helps treat arthritis in these two 20+ year old horses.  Seeing a bit of blood come back into the syringe during this intravenous injection was either gross or interesting or both, depending on which camper you asked!

Then Tuesday, Mr. David Bourke, the farrier, appeared and we all appreciated his hard labor on a warm day.  You can see from the body language in the photograph, below, that the campers were not entirely convinced he could trim Chubbs' hoof without hurting him -- but of course, he did.

The rest of the week has included setting up a pen and moving the sheep to keep them cool, collecting eggs from the chickens, riding every day (just a little slower on the hottest day), bareback riding, creating clay keepsakes with our favorite horses' names, and getting excited for Big Horse Day.  And Ginger and Clio especially loved getting their baths when the temperature hit over 90 degrees!
THIS JUST IN . . . Martha and Belle, along with two other teammates, won first place in their division at the Farmington Hunter Pace last weekend!  Go Belle!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Here Comes Summer Camp

The first week of EKF summer camp gets underway Monday!  I am in busy busy mode, swinging by the crafts store to pick up materials, ordering special items from Hodges Badge Company for each camper, taking note of where the wildlife is most active (TONS of baby frogs out by the far pasture waterer), and planning some rainy day programs too.  So far, four solid weeks are enrolled, with just a couple of spots left for next week, only one spot July 2, two left for July 16, and still five open places the week of August 6.  I can also run a session the week of July 30, a very special date, but I'll need at least three campers to pre-register.  Please let me know soon if you are interested.

The action doesn't stop with camp.  Two birthday parties are already on the calendar for July, a very special month, and the More Than a Pony Riders have come out of the woodwork -- I think lots of grandparents around Lake Anna are treating their grandchildren to a visit to the farm.  The regular lessons are continuing too, including the Parks & Rec sessions (now on Tuesday afternoons), and for the most advanced students, there's a few chances to participate in the scenic trail rides offered by area hunt clubs.

Looking back at my last post . . . oh, dear!  It was disappointing that I'll Have Another strained his tendon and couldn't run in the Belmont Stakes.  Good for his connections for doing the right thing and not letting him race-- he could have badly hurt himself.  And the winner, Union Rags, is a Virginia-bred horse, so we're happy to cheer for his terrific down-to-the-wire victory.  His trainer, Michael Matz, was also the trainer for the beloved Barbaro, and before that, he was an Olympic medalist showjumper who rode one of my favorite celebrity horses, Jet Run.  There was even a Breyer model horse made of Jet Run, a beautiful American Thoroughbred.  Michael Matz even once helped save four children from a crashed airplane, so he has had some interesting experiences -- you can look it up!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'll Have Another

Wow!  I hope everyone had a chance to watch last Saturday's Preakness Stakes, when I'll Have Another just stretched out his stride in the final eighth of a mile to win by a neck at the last possible instant!  It looked like it took him a moment or two to switch leads at the top of the stretch, but once he swapped, he found a new gear and made for a thrilling finish.  I was only 8 years old when Affirmed won the Triple Crown, but I remember how exciting it was -- and I'll keep my fingers crossed that I'll Have Another will go on to win the Belmont Stakes in three weeks and become our twelfth Triple Crown winner.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, several of our good lesson horses were thinking, "I'll have another...rider, that is," as we hosted a couple of large groups last week.  The birthday party, in honor of a special 4 year old girl who arrived in pink tutu skirt and stylish white cowboy boots, was a great hit.  We even had some riders under age 2, for sure!  Fortunately, your humble correspondent planned ahead and purchased an additional child's helmet, size XS, in advance of this pre-school group.

Then last Friday, at least 20 homeschooled students and families visited the farm for their end-of-year field trip.  They contrasted giant Pungo and little Misty to learn about different breeds, helped groom a quartet of gentle schoolies, and a few of them witnessed Patsy Cline Chicken lay an egg, right in the middle of all the excitement!  After picnicking on the lawn, the kids hiked down to the vernal pool, where the last tadpoles were still working on growing those legs, while newly emerged, tiny frogs hopped around the field nearby.

Many, many thanks to all my wonderful helpers at the party and the homeschool field day!  I could NOT have done it with out you, and I saw lots of smiles on happy faces -- THANK YOU!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Louisa County 4-H Young Riders

On Sunday, EKF hosted a terrific group of 4-Hers for a Horsemanship 101 clinic. The young riders first learned how horses behave, what their basic needs are, and how to tell if your horse is healthy.
  Each girl used a stethoscope to listen for signs of life in Pungo's barrel and chest! Then we visited the hay barn to compare alfalfa and grass hay, followed by a stop in the feed room to look at oats, corn, and pellets - stored in a metal bin to keep the rodents out.
After the horsekeeping details, the 4-Hers enjoyed the best part - riding!  Despite different experience levels, everyone participated in a few games to challenge their steering and control. Then Henry, Pungo, Wizard and Misty let each rider work on her trotting skills, too!
Many thanks to my lovely assistants for helping me
share the farm with this awesome group!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Springing Out

Everyone visiting the farm can't help but notice all the new life bursting out.  The photo above is my first-ever successful effort to capture tadpoles at the four-legs-but-not-quite-frogs-yet stage!  The warm March weather gave the vernal pool activity a boost, meaning the tadpoles were already swimming around the crawdad holes back when I went looking for egg sacs.  And by last weekend, incredibly tiny toads were hopping out of the water.  So I quickly herded the horses out of that field, to give the little amphibians a chance to make it to their next homes without dodging giant hooves.

The bluebird house has already been occupied by a handsome couple, and a couple of weeks ago a little rider and I spotted Mrs. Reynard (the fox) carrying a dead squirrel back to her den.  Sorry for the squirrel, but that must mean a number of hungry mouths waiting at home.

On the domestic side, the five chicks are now 10 weeks old and beginning to explore the barnyard.  I am sorry to say that Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton Chicken seem to enjoy chasing them around.  In a couple of months, though, the younger chicks will be full-size and ready to compete for their places in the literal pecking order.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Picking Up Speed

Springtime brings lots of activity to the farm! I returned to the 4H group last week to judge more oral presentations - and one girl's topic was Mustangs! As my regular riders know, both Arrow and Red are Mustangs, born wild in Nevada and rounded up for sale by the Bureau of Land Management. By good fortune, the 4Hers are coming to EKF next weekend for a Horsemanship Clinic, so I told her I'd be sure to have the Mustangs in where she could meet them.

Then next month, a group of homeschoolers will spend a day at the farm for their end-of-the-year outing. It sounds like a big group, so I'll have to fill up all the stalls with horses for everyone to ride.

Meanwhile, the weekly programs are charging along. A new first-grader will begin lessons this weekend, a couple of folks are taking extra lessons or spending extended days at the farm during school break, and there are already registrants for the Parks & Rec session beginning April 28th.

Also on the calendar for May is another birthday party. I'm told to expect about fifteen 3- to 5-year-olds -- whew! Time to start rounding up my older students to work as helpers for sure!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting Started

New students first learn to lead and groom their mount.
It takes a little persuasion to tackle Pungo's giant hooves!
Misty's pony-size feet are much less intimidating.
Friends help one another with the saddle.
Up and on!
Proper stirrup length is important.
"How do I make this thing go?"
Now some rules: First, do not run over Ms. Martha!
Two happy riders!
And confident smiles!