Monday, January 28, 2013

My Christmas Vacation

Some folks have been after me to write about something other than horses.  So, I've revived one of the other pages in my blog.

This post is a "what I did on my vacation" type of essay.  Hope you enjoy it.

Hint:  It was Christmas in the Philippines, and there was a LOT of food involved.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Into The Woods (Cocoa pt 3)

Here's part 3 of my series on Cocoa the Mustang.  The other two articles are titled "Cocoa the Mustang" and "Living History with Cocoa".

Another activity I enjoyed with Cocoa was historical trekking.
This involves studying the people, events, and material culture of a specific place and time in history.  That knowledge and equipment are then taken into the field.  A small group of us had camped and hunted with our 18th century gear in the Powhatan Wildlife Management Area of Virginia on foot on several occasions.  I wanted to add another element, the packhorse.  Our group usually gathers for an 18th century squirrel hunt in January of each year.  The Virginia weather in January can be almost anything.  We've experienced warm, pleasant days with moderate evening temperatures, as well as snow, freezing rain, and single digit temperatures.  Being prepared for any weather while on foot often means carrying heavy loads of bedding and shelter in on our own backs.  With the horse along, we can bring in plenty of extra blankets and such.  The canvas used to protect the load doubles as shelter in camp. 

To prepare, I corresponded with some folks who had much more experience than me, W.D. Bennet and Lane Linenkohl.    Both posses a wealth of hands on knowledge.  Mr. Bennet suggested the book "Horses, Hitches, and Rocky Trails", by Joe Beck.  With my confidence bolstered, I worked up a practice load of camp gear.  I didn't yet have a pack saddle, so I made a pack bag to drape over my riding saddle.  I hitched Cocoa to a fence post and experimented with it until I had a, more or less, balanced load.  Then I practiced lashing it down and leading her around the field with it.  She took it all in good humor, so I figured we were ready.

Practice load of camp gear
 Our traditional date for our little trek is the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in January.  I arranged for a fellow with a horse trailer to drop Cocoa off at the trail head on Saturday, and pick her up Monday morning.  Our group of woodsmen gathered there on Saturday morning, and we prepared to disappear into the woods.  Going into the back country overnight is a bit different from a day jaunt into the same area.  Of course you take the food, shelter and emergency kit for the people involved.  The horses also need the same consideration.  In our case, we had only one horse.  The bulk of her load was horse fodder and equipment.  The rest consisted of my own personal gear, extra blankets, and the bedrolls of a couple of the other guys.  It took a while to get all this organized, balanced, and bundled.  Some of our party forged ahead to do some hunting.  A couple others stayed with Cocoa and me.  We agreed to meet at a pond about a mile or so in. 

Cocoa's load, once it was assembled was an ungainly looking affair.  The pack bag worked as before.  The added bedrolls and such looked a bit lumpy, but were balanced.  The big difference was the half bale of hay I had wrapped in canvas and lashed to the top of the riding saddle.  The english style saddle had no "cradle" for the bundle to rest in.  It was simply held in place with rope, gravity, and luck.  We managed to get it in to the rendezvous point without much trouble.

gathering at the rendezvous point
The campsites we have used in previous years are secluded, and well off the main trail.  Most have no clear pathway into them.  All are too thickly overgrown for a loaded packhorse to get into.  However, we did not want to stay in the open.  The weather was cold and windy, with a hard freeze predicted overnight.  We expected freezing rain to move in on Sunday.  The advance hunters had located a sheltered area clear enough for the horse to get into.  The site was more than adequate.  It was mixed hardwoods and pine with a thick canopy overhead.  There was a clear area to picket the horse, and a few yards away was room for our own needs. 

Our camp, just inside the treeline
 We spent the better part of the morning setting up a good tight camp.  Then, most fanned out to hunt.  I stayed in camp and tended to Cocoa.  She had done well, despite her ungainly load.  Here, on the trail, is where Cocoa excelled.  Her instincts, molded as a young, wild horse, came to the fore and served us both well.  She was calm and dutiful, yet alert and observant.  I knew that I should pay attention if she stopped on the trail and stared intently into the woods.  We have no large predators to worry about in our part of Virginia.  But we were on public land and there were possibly other hunters about.  Her instincts also showed on the picket line in camp.  Unlike many domestic horses, she didn't bury her head in her pile of hay.  Instead, she munched contentedly as she kept a watchful eye on our surroundings.  I took her to water at the creek morning and evening.  She never drank immediately.  Instead, she chose a spot, then gave the area a good 360 degree visual sweep.  She didn't move her feet, only her head and ears.  When she drank, she took a few good swallows, then raised her head for another look around.  She continued this way until she had drunk her fill.  There was nothing at all nervous in her demeanor.  Only the calm routine of being constantly aware of her surroundings.  That is a rather desirable trait for a horse carrying hunters gear into the back country. 

Cocoa on the picket line
 The campsite itself worked well.  The predicted freezing rain arrived Saturday evening.  Our canvas shelter became encrusted with ice.  We stayed warm and dry underneath it.  Sheltered by the trees and terrain, Cocoa had stayed warm and dry as well. 

Packing out was a simple matter.  We no longer had the hay to worry about.  But, we were already making plans for the next outing.  I had an Appalachian style pack saddle being made.  And Mark Jeffries, my companion on many of these excursions, and Cocoa's previous owner, had acquired another mount.....

Next time:  More horses and better equipment!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back to Work From the Holidays


I've been traveling overseas for close to a month, and haven't put in any updates here.  My wife and I were in the Philippines for the holidays.  We also spent a good deal of time tending to some business on the ranch that will become our retirement home in a few years.
We had a well dug, and plotted out the locations for our house, barn, stock pens, garden, and pasture divisions.  Our plans are for a mixed use farm.  We'll have a kitchen garden, cattle, goats, and of course, horses.  I'll be writing about that adventure on another blog.  I'll keep folks posted when that site is up and running.

Now that we're back, I'll have another installment on my series about Cocoa the mustang posted shortly!