Thursday, 30 July 2015

Into the US of A

Monday June 8th and the day Pat drove Lady and me into the USA.   Here are Pat and Marlene with the trailer carrying Lady just before we set off.
Pat was another guardian angel in guiding me through a bureaucratic minefield and getting Lady and me safely across the border.  He refused to accept any payment for all his time and trouble apart from some petrol money. Thank you both for all your amazing hospitality and help!!!
I will miss Canada. The support I have received all the all the way from my start at St John's Newfoundland has been overwhelming, and has strengthened my faith in human nature.
We arrived at customs about an hour early, and had to wait until our fixed time to present my immigration papers.  The veterinary office is about 10 kms from the border and they do not allow the journey to take any longer than the allotted time to arrive at the vet appointment!  But we sailed through the customs office and vet office without any issues, and were soon on the road to my base for the next few days, Rick Dubay's Phoenix Farms in Fort Gratiot.
Because of the thunderstorms that had hit the area in the previous few days (thankfully they had not affected me while I was riding) most of their lovely paddocks were flooded, and the bullfrogs had moved into the resultant swamp!
Lady had a stall, and Rick's daughter Amy DeLange kindly let me camp in their basement, where there was a comfy sofa and plenty of plug points. She also drove me into town so I could sort out a cell phone for America, and buy the Michigan map book I had been unable to find in Ontario.
Amy is a child psychologist, and with husband Mike has three lovely sons, Tyler, Dakota and Luke. Unfortunately the photos I took during my stay were lost when my laptop malfunctioned on the way home.
Tuesday June 9th  and in the morning I rode down to the Port Huron side of the Bluewater bridge to officially start the US leg of my journey...
Where I had had a farewell meet and greet in Canada, Amy now held a welcoming meet and greet in the USA, and I was bombarded with pertinent questions by the boarders!
Wednesday June 10th was mainly spent planning my route, though in evening I had a treat when I was given the privilege of riding Luke's highly trained cutting quarter horse Skeeter who had won around $100,000 in cutting competitions. 
Cutting horses are trained to work cattle on their own, and in cutting competitions once the horse and rider have separated a cow from the herd, it is left entirely to the horse to keep it separated, and the team is judged on how well the horse performs.
The following clip will give you an idea of what is involved -
 Instead of a steer, for training purposes Rick uses a remote controlled 'flag' which whisks to and fro along the side of the indoor school. Having seen Luke in action, I pleaded with Rick not to whisk the flag too far or too fast!   But first I had to practice riding Western style which was a challenge in itself as it is so different from riding English style. I was terrified of pushing the wrong buttons on a highly trained and speedy horse!  Actually riding Skeeter while he worked the flag was a memorable experience, not least for poor Skeeter himself who is no doubt still shaking his head.

The Border at Last!

Thursday June 4th   A long day tiring across a flat agricultural plain, occasionally threatened by thunderstorms..
I decided to push on to Sarnia, and we eventually arrived, hot and weary after over forty kilometres on the road, at the Yellow Rose boarding stables of Pat and Marlene Haslam. 
Lady was shown into a spacious loose box, and I was given use of a luxurious goose neck trailer with double bed and shower. Marlene whisked me inside for supper and wine.  She is of Welsh descent, her grandparents speaking Welsh and originating from Aberfan, which has dubious fame as the site of the tragic 1966 disaster when a coal tip collapsed and buried the primary school, killing 144 people including 116 children.

 I was to stay here for the next few days and it was just as well I had pushed on, as most of Friday June 5th was taken up with sorting out the border crossing.  Pat proved to be an invaluable support, chauffering me around and going out of his way to help me, and there is no way I could have done it without him. Not only did he drive to the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) to deliver the veterinary paperwork for Lady (which Diane had brought down with my baggage), but he contacted the US border vet office to make an appointment, as we had to present ourselves there immediately after crossing.  She stressed that if I was late for the appointment Lady could be refused entry, and advised that we visit the USA border office to make sure there were no delays with my visa application which could make me late.  So we set off across the Bluewater bridge to USA customs. On the other side we encountered what must surely be the rudest customs official I have ever met in my life, and I have met a few. She had a problem with everything Pat said.  What was the point of coming over, it would not ensure I would be allowed entry to the US, it wasn't the border vet's place to tell us what to do.  When Pat tried to explain he got  "Are you telling me to do my job?" (Pat wasn't) "Don't interrupt me" (he wasn't). Eventually we managed to see an official who was aggressive but in fact after grilling me sorted out my visa, and it certainly was worth the visit as the whole process took over two hours.
There was then a lot of toing and froing from the CFIA with extra forms which the US vet suddenly seemed to require and which we could not find on the internet - unsurprisingly as she had given us the wrong link.  But the helpful Canadian border vet Meidrym Hebda supplied one and eventually all the paperwork was sorted and signed and we were ready to attempt the border crossing on Monday.  Meidrym Hebda actually looked into the possibility of my riding across the Bluewater bridge but we both realised it would be out of the question.  Although a few years back it would have been possible and I understand someone did, since 9/11 not even pedestrians are allowed on the bridge, which is horrendously busy with heavy traffic these days.
 My next job was to try and start planning my new route in the US from Port Huron on the other side of the border south to pick up the route from Detroit I has planned at home.  But amazingly it was impossible to buy good maps of Michigan in Sarnia, so I was limited to researching on Google Earth.
Sunday May 7th The last job to be done was to actually ride down to the Bluewater bridge on the Sarnia side of the river Detroit which forms the border between Canada and the US.  So here I am by the bridge on Sunday morning.
The End of the Canada leg of my journey
A journalist from the local Observia newspaper also came down to record the event and here is a link to the resultant article..

Pat off to a sorting competition with his quarter horse...
Cutting, sorting, reining and penning competitions are all popular in North America and have developed from work with cattle.  In sorting competitions teams of three attempt to separate three specific head of cattle from a small herd against the clock. The cattle are numbered and the relevant numbers are announced just before the run. The cattle must be cut out in the specified order and the fastest time wins.  Pat often competes with Tara Foy, the vet who introduced us, though in many competitions the team members are mixed and changed with every run.  Riders are also graded according to ability, and teams may have to include a range of grades.
Marlene was the perfect hostess, looking after my every need and organising a couple of  jolly 'meet and greet' sessions with the boarders.  We also went out for a meal at a lovely restaurant overlooking Lake Huron, and thanks to Marlene I watched Egyptian Pharoah's historic win of the Triple Crown!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dear Old Crathie

Wednesday May 3rd  and  and the country was becoming increasingly flat and boring.
 Lady attracts a curious bovine audience at a lunch stop..
The dear old community hall at Crathie, where many a jolly time has been spent.......

Musician Guy Lombardo played here as a student, and a popular activity was the 'box social' where each girl would pack a lunch for two. The boxes were auctioned and the young man who bought a chosen box would eat lunch with the girl who prepared it.  Girls with sweethearts would mark their boxes to make sure the young men in question knew which ones to bid for. Apparently the box socials were great fundraisers as the young men were prepared to pay a 'handsome sum' for the privilege of eating with their amours.
Ironically it seems that children sang the following quaint little song at the beginning of meetings of the well attended Literary Society ...
 The song may lack literary merit but more importantly Crathie lacks the hill.

 A real good shady road from hilly Crathie.....
After a long trudge I eventually found a farm with a paddock for Lady, and Dan and Debbie Macpherson also kindly let me use an unfurnished letting apartment which was between tenants, so I was able to shower and sleep on a sofa which had been left behind. Debbie brought me some fruit, and young daughters Jean, Emma and Sam came to chat.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Black Donellys

Tuesday May 2nd    In the morning Mary-Lou and Wesley accompanied me on horseback for a few miles.  Crossing the river Thames ......
 Wesley on Bailey, his black 8 year old quarter horse gelding, and Mary-Lou on Sharia, her 25 year old chestnut Arabian mare.
I had managed to plan my route along quiet back roads for the most part.....
 The Elginfield observatory, which is run by the University of Western Ontario...
After a long hot day I arrived at Elginfield, my chosen destination. But I received a decidedly luke warm reception from the posh standardbred stud I approached, and in spite of announcing that they had lots of empty stables they then directed me down the road to another property with horses!  But I landed on my dancing feet when I was welcomed by a genial elderly gentleman who turned out to be Gene Kelley.  Daughter and former nurse Diane runs a therapy with animals centre there, was delighted to help out, and even treated me to a tasty spinach and feta omelette at a Greek run restaurant down the road.
 Gene Kelley with daughter Diane and grand-daughter Emma who is apparently developing into an accomplished writer.

Diane took me to the neighbouring St Patrick's cemetery to see the gravestone of five of the notorious Donnelly family who were massacred in an infamous feud which took place in 1880.

James and Johannah Donelly emigrated from Tipperary to Upper Canada in 1842 where they raised a family of eight, initially as squatters before settling on contested land near Elginfield.  Among other activities they ran a stage coach line and there appeared to be constant friction with rival companies. These were lawless times: the Donnellys seem to have been a contentious bunch, and were certainly regarded with disfavour by a large section of the local community. But whether through jealousy or genuine disregard is unsure, as their guilt in many of crimes they were accused of remained unproven.  However it is true that James Sr served seven years in prison for killing another settler in a brawl.
In January 1880 the barns belonging to a Patrick Ryder were burned down and James Sr and Johannah accused of arson.  Following this a posse consisting of members of the newly formed 'Vigilance Society' turned up at the house of the senior Donnellys and using a pitchfork, axe, shovel and guns, massacred the occupants. The victims consisted of James Sr and Johannah, their youngest son Tom, and a visiting niece Bridget. A young visiting farm lad Jonny O'Connor escaped by hiding under a bed, and later acted as a key witness for the prosecution.  After setting fire to the house the posse continued to the house of second son William Donnelly, shooting third son John Donnelly when he came to the door.
The leader of the vigilante group James Carroll was brought to trial, but the lack of hard evidence and the influence of local feeling meant the jury were unwilling to convict him and he was acquitted.

The case attracted a lot of attention and visitors came for miles to see the original tombstone erected by William Donnelly in 1889 which included the word 'Murderd' under each name.  It was removed in 1969 as sightseers had chipped pieces from it as souvenirs.

The present gravestone was erected by family members omitting the dread word, but visitors still come and leave small tokens such as coins, pebbles and buckles on top.  The coins are apparently left in the belief that the Donnellys will grant wishes in return.
Interest in the case remains unabated and has spawned a small industry. There is a Donnelly museum  Donnelly website  and tours of the Donnelly property where the massacre took place.  You can even buy T shirts, teddies and mugs, not to mention pyjamas and baby bibs with 'I love the Donnellys' rather incongruously emblazoned on them.

An Angel in Disguise

Friday May 29th to Sunday 31st
Ellen turned out to be an angel in disguise, and I ended up staying at the Thistledown Equestrian Centre for three days. It was a huge relief to have a temporary base from which to sort out arrangements as well rest and wash my clothes etc. Ellen's neighbour was vet Bill, and he came over to give Lady her Coggins test on Friday - the results always take a couple of days and would be sent on to Sarnia to await my arrival. I was able to use the computer to plan out a new route to Sarnia, and sorted out somewhere to stay on the other side of the border in Port Huron.
After riding lessons on Saturday Ellen and husband Barry took me on a drive around nearby Stratford, which like the original version has swans swimming on the Avon river and presents Shakespeare plays in the theatre.  And we bought a scrumptious ice-cream cake for Sarah's birthday.   Here are the family demolishing it in the evening...
From left to right: Ellen, Sarah's husband Mario, birthday girl Sarah, son Aidan, Barry.
On Sunday Barry and Ellen very generously drove me back to Newmarket to fetch my spare baggage.
Interestingly Ellen knew Barbara Kingscote who rode across Canada in 1949 (I have mentioned her before). She became and married a vet, and as a young couple Barry and Ellen worked for her for a few months, helping on the farm and looking after her two young daughters.
Unusually for an older woman, Ellen was previously an engineer. She has considerable riding experience both in Canada and abroad, and is a qualified BHSAI (British Horse Society Advanced Instructor). At the centre she focuses on centred riding programmes and has a calm, encouraging approach to teaching.  Contrary to recent rumour, the centre has not closed down, and is much recommended.
The family were great company and I was sorry to leave. But leave I must, and I set off again on Monday June 1st, not the only one to be dragging my feet.

 Just down the road I came across a tragic reminder of the dangers of motorbikes - a young local lad had been killed in a collision with a car at these crossroads only days before.
 Coming down to the Thames to the north of St Mary's I was directed to a farmhouse with several horses in the field outside. Mary-Lou Birtwhistle-Bennett welcomed me into her lovely old house before taking daughter Alta to dance class, while son Wesley prepared a stall for Lady.  Husband Dwight Bennett was due back from delivering a horse, but phoned to say he had broken down, and Wesley went off to rescue him, so it was not until some time later that everyone was home safe...
Right to left - Wesley, Alta, Mary-Lou, Dwight.
Fortuitously for me son Evan was away on a camp, so I was invited to use his bedroom!  I slept through my alarm in the morning and was only woken by the cat scratching at the window.

Through Mennonite country

An early morning start on Wednesday May 27th.  I had now left the Trans Canada Trail for good and for the rest of my time in Canada would be using roads.

A morning's ride brought me through Fergus and into the town of Elora.  Here the advantages of entering Mennonite country began to be apparent when I was directed to a horse and buggy tethering point - I didn't have the buggy, but presumed it was not obligatory ..... 
 Lady rested with a small pile of left over hay while I sauntered off to a café in town for a coffee and internet access.  This resulted in the pleasing news that I was able to stay with Welsh pony breeder Yvonne Rijk Pankow whose family had recently emigrated from Holland to a farm near London, Ontario.  I needed base for a day to sort out the required veterinary tests to take Lady over the border into the USA. 
We soon started to see the occasional Mennonite horse-drawn buggy and I managed to sneak the odd photograph while trying to respect the Mennonite aversion to being snapped...
Ironically, considering she spent eight years of her life as a working harness horse, Lady's eyes were out on stalks the first time she saw one, as she had never actually seen a horse in harness.  But she soon became more blasé, though it took a while before she stopped neighing pathetically after them.
The Mennonites and Amish almost exclusively use speedy standardbred horses (used in trotting races) to pull their buggies, and fly past at tremendous speeds.
 As evening drew in, I flagged down a buggy and pair transporting a friendly Mennonite family to ask if there was somewhere we could stay overnight. They lived in the opposite direction, but the husband suggested another farm a bit further on, which is how I ended up hosted by Mennonites.  Paul and Naomi run a largely self sufficient farm with about twenty dairy cows, the usual crops, fruit trees and a neat vegetable garden, as well as a stable of six standardbred horses at the ready to pull their four buggies. A calf was moved from its pen in the barn to accommodate Lady, while the amiable Naomi welcomed me into the house.
She was joined in the large cool kitchen by the youngest of their three daughters, both wearing long flowery dresses, short boots and white mob caps, and an ample supper was laid on the table - the home grown bottled plums were particularly delicious.  Also present was the third and youngest son who had bicycled home from his work in a furniture company.  Carpentry businesses are quite common among Amish and Mennonites.  Paul contacted local journalist Sharon Grosch who came round to interview me - coincidentally she turned out to be the mother of Rebecca Grosch who I had met at the Wesley Clover Equestrian centre where she is a coach!  No photographs of course. A most pleasant evening chatting with a delightful and unassuming family, and after a relaxing bath I was shown to a tidy bedroom furnished with sturdy home-made furniture and slept like a log.
Thursday May 28th and another early start after breakfast provided by Naomi - the farm is in the background below....
I soon reached Wallenstein, where the shops were once again conveniently provided with hitching posts....
One of my main destinations here was Brubacker's Harness Store, which was an Aladdin's Cave of horsey equipment - just about everything you would ever hope to find in the equestrian line from full sets of harness and carts to English or Western or even Australian tack.  I had not been able to find suitable saddle bags to fit in front of my saddle, and I had been making do with a second set of the type I use behind.  But to my delight I found Brubacker's stocked the kind I had been looking for with separate pockets to hold my water bottles.

Unfortunately warnings such as these do not seem to encourage heavy traffic on the main roads to reduce speed....
A typical scene in Mennonite country....
Buggies in a Mennonite barn where Lady and I stopped for a lunch break out of the sun...
While in Wallenstein I had received the dispiriting news that Yvonne was unable to host me after all as her dogs had been diagnosed with a contagious disease, and her vet had advised that no other animals should access her property.  A real blow as I now had nowhere arranged where I could get a breathing space to start organising the border crossing. Naturally I was feeling somewhat despondent.

But things soon started to look up again. Another Welsh pony breeder Diane Jackson, had put me in touch with her vet Tara Foy, and she gave me the details of a contact in Sarnia (where I intended to cross the border) who would not only be able to put me up for a few days, but would be willing to trailer me across the bridge into the US.
And then I bumped into Chris and Beverley....
who mentioned the Thistledown Equestrian Centre as a possible place to stay.  Having thought it was out of range, I discovered from them this was not so, and following a quick phone call to get the go-ahead, I determined to try and reach it that day.
 So as the sun lowered in the sky, two weary travellers trudged into the yard to be greeted by the bubbly Sarah, whose mother Ellen Redden owns and runs the centre but was on an evening out. But she had incidentally seen something about the ride on the internet and was happy to accommodate us.   Lady was turned out in a grassy paddock and I was shown to a luxurious camper trailer with a double bed and television! 

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Invasion of the Round Gobies

 Tuesday May 26th and I seriously could not believe it when I came across the sign below at the start of the Elora-Cataract Trailway, as it was a little late to discover this when I was already en route!....
..There had been nothing on the TCT website about this unexplained ruling, and with only five days to go I am afraid to say that in the circumstances I ignored it and continued on my way.
I later found out it was to do with surface conditions, but after a period of dry weather the trail was in fact perfectly rideable.
Riding through the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and conservation area which includes parts of the Niagara escarpment which has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.  
The escarpment has created the Cataract Falls here, but the fact that I was unable to see them as I crossed the deep Forks river valley gives a clue to the fact that they are no way on the impressive scale of the Niagara Falls. In the past the falls gave rise to a water powered industrial complex, long since in ruins.
A pretty path on the hillside above the falls... 
Apparently America is under imminent threat from The Invasion of the Round Gobies and the French ones even more ominously have the Black Spot which I suppose they present to unwary victims. 
But perhaps the turtles will come to the rescue if they are of the Teenage Ninja Mutant variety..
At home with some of the extensive and friendly Kirk family, who took us in after I turned off the trail at Orton...
Left to right (hope I have got it right) Kevin Kirk, daughters Deirdre, Teresa, Bronwen, Rhianna and boyfriend Paul, Avery.   I was glad to have use of their trailer as it poured with rain that night.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Back on the Trail

 Sunday May 24th and Lady and I set off round the outskirts of Newmarket...
Riding across Holland Marsh to the west of Newmarket....
 This is a reclaimed wetland area along the Holland river that was drained between 1925-1930.  Settled in part by Dutch families skilled in farming, the fertile organic soil now supports a flourishing market gardening industry producing a variety of vegetable crops such as onions, carrots, leafy greens, celery and potatoes.
Lady checks out a fisherman on a drainage canal from the top of a dyke protecting the polderland...

As evening set in, I was directed up a long drive lined with trees to a house where I was reliably informed they kept horses. This turned out to be the spacious cedarwood home of Honey Craig and husband Bruce, respectively a retired teacher and financier, who took Lady in without question and gave me a warm welcome.  Once again I was invited in for supper and my sleeping bag remained packed up when I was shown into a luxurious bedroom where I had a sound night's sleep.  Thank you both.
Monday May 25th  and we join the Trans Canada Trail again near Tottenham.  It seems like an old friend now...
 A quick check to see if we are in the right circle...

At the entrance to the OLC Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park, which is bang on the trail.  An existing facility was completely renovated at a cost of around $6.8million in time to host the equestrian events at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am games. New facilities include a 4000 seat arena.
An amusingly chatty notice, but I hope it doesn't apply to us!.....
In fact on well kept sections of the trail such as this, I always kick Lady's unsolicited additions to the side of the path.
 Hopefully Lady is taking note of this rather more serious warning......
Home made aubergine lasagne and coffee at the Trailside Café in Caledon, which as the name suggests, is right on the trail..
Recommended if you are travelling this way, and there is even somewhere to park your horse within sight!

Riding up to a neat barn in Inglewood to find a place for the night, I was welcomed with open arms by Sue Graham, who runs an organic farm enterprise Riverdale Farm and Forest with husband Owen Goltz.  Among other animals, they keep two working Haflinger ponies - one shown below. 

 Both Lady and I received five star treatment, and after another hot sweaty day a shower, snooze and moose steak and asparagus supper washed down with a glass of home-made wine was bliss.