Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Champagne Flows Again

The weeks have flown by since I returned to Wales on July 8th, and it is only a few days until I fly back to the States.
The main highlight of the summer has been the Royal Welsh show at the end of July and as usual I held a house party, with full contingent of fellow Welsh pony enthusiast friends from around the globe staying for the week, some of them with ponies...
L to R: Daniel Harvey (Oz) Ingrid Delaitre (France) Ruth Anderson (Oz) Janet Murphy (Oz) Rob Jones (Wales, Dubai and Oz) Jenni Cesnik (Oz) Marit Timmermans (Holland)
 Geert Verbaas (Holland) Me (Wales). it was just as well we all had a successful show and the champagne could come out again.  Our EU friends all achieved top three placings with their ponies (well done Ingrid, Geert and Marit) and although I am not breeding ponies at the moment due to the ride, offspring from the mares I have out on loan did not disgrace themselves.  In particular my Royal Welsh champion pony Cwrtycadno Perlen had two offspring forward who both won their classes, the two year old colt Waxwing Peru becoming reserve youngstock champion. This was exciting not only for me but more significantly for my Australian friends Chris and Janet Murphy, who are exporting him to Australia to join his half brother Pontsteffan Simwnt as a stallion at the Keyi stud.

Pat Larsen has reported to confirm that Lady is doing well, and sent this photograph of them attending Lake County Fair.
Considering this is not long after she had covered around 1250 miles from Trois Rivieres on mainly hay and grass, you have to admit she is looking in good shape - a testament to the Newfoundland pony blood she carries.

Jam and Jerusalem

Tuesday June 30th and it was only a few hours ride to my final destination at Pat Larsen's stables in Crown Point.  The photo below was taken by journalist Deborah Laverty, who interviewed me en route.

Lady was settled into a paddock while I made a trip back to Port Huron to fetch the rest of my baggage. Many many thanks to Pam Vanaman for so generously driving me all the way there and back in her car! 
 Pat takes me for a delicious frozen yoghurt before I catch the coach to Canada..

As I still had a few days before my flight home the following week, I arranged to visit Hilary Tolhurst, an old friend who emigrated over thirty years ago from Wales to Canada. Starting with a colt and a filly she imported from Wales, she has built up the well respected Cwmfelen stud of quality Welsh cobs near Kemble, Ontario.
I had a most enjoyable weekend reading, relaxing and looking round the cobs.  We went to watch a novice cattle sorting competition which was a first for me...
Each team of three riders has 60 seconds to cut out numbered cows one by one from a group.  They must be herded to the opposite end of the arena in a strict sequential order starting from a number called out by the judge.  The cows did not appear unduly upset by being chased around, and this one seemed more concerned about grabbing a mouthful of grass from under the fence..

  An interesting trip was to the Kemble Women's Institute Lookout, with its memorial dedicated to what amazingly transpires to be the oldest active women's institute in the world!!   I was astonished to find that although I have always regarded the 'jam and jerusalem' brigade as quintessentially English, the first institute was in fact founded at Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1897, followed closely by the Kemble Women's Institute in the same year - it was the third to be formed.   It was not until eighteen years later that the first WI was set up in Britain - and that was in North Wales!
The monument consists of a slab of limestone displaying a carved concrete tea service set for three - there is even a plate of cakes!  The chair is also part of the memorial, and one is invited to 'sit and ponder' -  not at all an unpleasant proposition given the sweeping views over Owen Sound bay.

I was also delighted to meet up with David Wilding-Davies, a former member of the Canadian eventing team who lost his farm in Zimbabwe to Mugabe. but then founded Ashanti Coffee , importing and selling African coffee. We met up at his cafĂ© in Collingwood, Ontario..
Our connection is that he is a g-g-grandson of John Morgan Davies who built the house where I live in Wales today and his g-grandfather was born here. see   His grandfather Theron Wilding-Davies started the annual 2-day Fayre Oaks Sale so renowned among Welsh pony enthusiasts, and accountant cousin Paul was at one time treasurer of the Welsh Pony and Cob society.  

Call of the Killdeer

For the three days after leaving the Setting Sun Stables on Saturday June 27th....
 I continued to ride towards my summer destination of Crown Point south of Chicago, sometimes along pretty gravel roads but more often along quiet but endless 'blacktops' (tarmacked roads) through flat monotonous crop land...

It rained on and off, but happily I was well supplied with waterproofs, including a pair of plastic bootees given to me by Trudy, and kept warm and dry the whole way. Not so the crop fields, which have suffered badly from the wettest June on record in Indiana..
A different sort of crop circle, and not so benign..
But I continued to be entertained by the killdeer which have been with me the whole way from Ontario.  These are little birds of the plover family which tend to lay their eggs in stony and gravel areas, thus often at the sides of gravel roads that I ride along.
Their cry is constantly to be heard as they feign injuries to lure potential predators away from their exposed but camouflaged nests. The name is apparently an onomatopoeic version of their call, though I feel this can stretch the imagination at times.  What is your opinion? This is probably the nearest it comes to it  ...
Many thanks to Tina Prout at the excellent Creekside Equicentre near Lakeville for generously giving Lady overnight run of her indoor riding school on Saturday, and letting me camp in the observation gallery - Tina was very busy tidying up after a show, and I somehow forgot to take a photo - apologies.
Sunday June 28th Stopping for an early morning coffee in tiny Tyner ...
..almost all small shops, including the humble post office above, contain a coffee machine.
Late that afternoon I was riding past a house near Hanna when I was approached by a couple of curious women. Brenda Pauley Trafny immediately offered a stall in her barn for Lady and invited me to stay in her lovely home.
Not only that, but the next morning she accompanied us a little way on horseback..
...and sorted out a place to stay that evening at the home of farrier Glenn Martin and wife Kathy in Boone Grove who proved to be most genial hosts..
They found a corner to tie Lady in their barn and looked after me superbly.  All the best in your new home in Tennessee!

At Home with the Hoosiers..

which is a term for people from Indiana - the origin of which is cloaked in mystery -
Thursday June 25th 
Leaving Shipshewana using one of the buggy lanes specially created for buggy traffic.  You can see how the speedy trotters have worn a path in the lane, and sometimes this is reinforced with extra tarmac.
The following videoclip taken a few miles further on gives an indication of fast the buggies travel in comparison with our plodding progress
The Amish/Mennonite communities find difficulty in supporting their large families with only the income from their farms, and most youngsters have alternative jobs.  Many Amish work in traditional activities such as woodworking/carpentry as in this business..
 ..but the Shipshewana/Goshen area is a centre for the RV (Recreational Vehicle or camper) industry, which employs many local Amish...... this sight is not atypical!
 After stopping en route for an Amish lunch at the house of Kenny's daughter and son-in-law, I arrived at the Sundance Stables in Goshen. I had arranged for Lady to stay at this boarding stables in advance, and was delighted to find they had organised a meet and greet buffet with the boarders! Here I am with some of those present..
 L to R: Hanna, Laura Tracey, Me, Darla Miller, Haley Johnson, Dawn Herron, Lacy Johnson, Jamie Johnson.  Maggie Swallow is taking the photo
Laura and husband Steven (a photographer and former rugby player who makes a mean rhubarb crumble) also hosted me at their lovely home, where I had a luxurious bedroom and ensuite to myself.
PS: Unfortunately I have just heard that Laura recently had a very bad accident being bucked off a horse, breaking her back, hip and shoulder.  Wishing her all the best for a speedy recovery.
The next morning Friday June 26th I negotiated round Goshen with Steven's help.  Thankfully obstacles such as the one shown below presented no problem to a horse!..
I had arranged overnight accommodation for Lady near Wakarusa at Joe and Michelle Reser's  Setting Sun Stables where they breed, train and show Arabian horses and their half breds.  It was a pity Joe and Michelle were away on the show circuit with some of their best horses, as I have a soft spot for a good Arabian, having used them for competing in endurance.  But many thanks to breeding manager Josh Biron who looked after Lady and me.
 I was given use of the clients' shower room and allowed to kip down in front of the telly in the very plush observation gallery - bliss.

Amish Country

In the early morning of Wednesday June 24th we crossed the border from Michigan into Indiana.  The countryside was noticeably flatter and this meant more large scale crop growing (mainly maize and soya beans) and the appearance of huge self-propelled irrigation sprinkler systems - you can just see one in the distance in this photo....
 They can move either laterally or on a centre pivot, and consist of a number of spans - the apparently never-ending one below has about seven spans.
Passing Indiana's oldest commercial water-powered mill ..
Greenfield Mills has been in the same family for five generations, and produces old fashioned flour and pancake mixes.
The first clue that we are entering Amish country ....
. the unusual sight of a road bridge with fenced in sides to prevent horses from going over the edge.
The advantage of being in these areas is that they are horse friendly, and when I reached Howe there was no problem finding a rail specially allocated for horses right in the middle of town.  I was able to tether Lady and go for a bite to eat though local resident Cinda (in the fabulous hat) volunteered to keep an eye on her and my saddlebags while I was absent!
 A rather hazy photo of an Amish farmer ploughing.  They commonly use Belgian horses for this purpose...
Riding past a typical neat Amish farm..
Note the standardbred horses which are first choice for harness animals to pull buggies.  If there is no car outside a house, it may mean the occupants are Amish rather than out, though as in this case they may own a tractor!  The Amish use post and wire fences rather than electric fencing.
Standardbred horses (which are bred for trotting and pacing races) are popular due to their speed, and the Amish buggies tear up and down the roads at a rate of knots, this one whizzing past us..
Note the  warning triangle - most buggies are also fitted with flashing lights for use in dark conditions.
A common sight outside Amish farmhouses - gourd birdhouses for purple martins, who help to keep the insect population down.  
 The Amish grow gourds especially for this purpose.
Bob Pogue had phoned an Amish contact Kenny Stutzman who runs Buggy Lane Tours  in Shipshewana.  He let me tether Lady by his horse corral, provided feed, and also kindly allowed me to sleep in the covered wagon he had just purchased, shown below on the right.  On the left is one of the buggies he uses for his tours - he is a mine of local information!
I spent a pleasant evening chatting to neighbour Marvin, and another neighbour offered me use of his shower.    Thank you Kenny, and also to the Chicago gentleman who paid for my meal at the cafe.
 A rather appropriate juxtaposition!..

Dodging Tornadoes

Monday June 22nd dawned bright and clear, but soon turned hot and sultry. Thunderstorms with the possibility of occasional tornadoes had been forecast for later in the day, so I decided to arrange somewhere not too far ahead where Lady and I could take shelter if the weather deteriorated.  After phoning around I was given a contact near Reading (pronounced Reeding!) about fifteen miles west of Osseo, and by mid afternoon had arrived at the home of the effervescent Patty Pogue, who runs a dog grooming and boarding business Dandi Dogs , while husband Bob Pogue is a musician.  After three tiring days travelling in heat and humidity, it was marvellous to have a shorter day and relax in good company.  Bob and Patty have worked hard to improve their smallholding with a small fishing and boating lake tucked away behind the house (their house and barn is in the far distance) ...
 ..overlooked by a log cabin.....
The photos show relatively clear skies, but later on the clouds started to roll in.  When we drove down to Reading in the evening for an ice cream...
....the tornado warning sirens were wailing ominously, but it seemed that the storms passed to either side of us, and we only had a few drops of rain.  By comparison I heard from Lydia (grand-daughter of the Alexanders with whom I had stayed three nights previously) that a tornado had damaged the roof of a neighbours house!
Lady ready to set out on Tuesday June 23rd, with Bob, Patty and interested equines..
Cooler more pleasant weather followed the storms, and Lady and I covered over 27 miles that day along quiet rural roads..
 ...sometimes lined with glorious orange daylilies ..
 I meet a little girl on a pony....
 In the late afternoon I found a place to tether Lady safely overnight with another little pony for company at the home of the Metzger family.
 They kindly invited me in for supper before I settled down in a shed with a drum kit for company!


Winging It Again

Thursday June 18th and I was setting out into unchartered territory with nowhere definite to stay again until I reached Indiana. But I was determined to reach the original detailed route I had planned from Detroit prior to my change of plan and decision to cross the border at Port Huron.
One of Lady's shoes was clinking a bit and I was concerned it was coming loose. Fortuitously I chose to ask a young man loading a truck at the side of the road if he knew a good local farrier. Mike Bossary not only contacted someone who could come almost immediately, but invited me into the house for coffee and chat while I was waiting.  Mike and Therese Bossory run Alber Orchard and Cider Mill , growing a huge range of apples - around fifty including many 'heirloom' varieties no longer available in stores.  Therese and Lady ready to go with her newly secured shoe...
A rest stop and food shopping opportunity at the only? supermarket in Manchester, which is decidedly humble in comparison to its English namesake.....
 I have started to occasionally see mules, which are far more common in the States than Europe - here are three fine examples...
After a long tiring day and help from several people, I was eventually directed to the doorstep of people with horses - in true American fashion Collette and Jim Rubley took me in without hesitation, Lady was turned straight into a paddock, while I was fixed up in the gooseneck trailer, always a comfortable option over here!
Collette and Jim (on the left) with neighbour Celeste, see Lady and me off the next morning Thursday June 20th.   I was now on the route I had meticulously planned from Detroit using back roads wherever possible....
I followed this quiet byway after crossing Highway 223 at.....
... hardly the historical and cultural centre that the name promised, but at least it contained a solitary garage where I could buy a coffee and energy bar.
The ubiquitous and decorative red barn is always on the horizon...
 It is apparently de rigeur in the States to publicise your offspring's academic achievements at the side of the road...
It was getting late as I neared Osseo.  Tired and sweaty after trudging for hours, my spirits lifted when I saw what looked like electric fencing for horses across a field.  I was proved correct, and was thankful to be taken in by Leslie Lebasteur Lepesto, who kindly invited me into the house and provided a stall in the barn for Lady - very welcome as the mosquitoes were still being somewhat troublesome.   Leslie by the lovely old farmhouse she shares with son Gary..