Sunday, September 1, 2013

Baby's First...

This week has been full of firsts for me. On Sunday (August 25th) I went to the Grange Fair with my sisters Amelia and Jean, where I had my first corn-dog. I know, I live under a rock or something. Needless to say, it was a delicious addition to fair-food in my eyes. 

Anyways, that little adventure pales in comparison to this weekend (Labor day). I never really knew what to expect when dealing with horses. I never put much thought into it besides the saddle goes on the back and the rider goes on the saddle. Easy Peasy. Wrong. I now completely understand how riding can be a competitive sport and I also understand the extreme love I have seen for horses by their owners. 

I had the pleasure of learning to ride on a mare named Scamp, who I'm told is a pony but she was huge! At least compared to my meager 5 feet 3 inches.
I was told she was a Bay, which means a brown horse with a red/blonde mane.  She was patient with me as I was taught to put on her halter and lead her around to the barn. She waited calmly for me to figure out how to put her bridle on (there are so many loops and buckles!). I learned how to attach a girth to the saddle, mine was an English saddle. I was also given half chaps that went around my calves to stop the stirrups from pinching through my jeans. I got to lead Scamp out to an arena where I was taught how to mount using the stirrups and how to tell her to move the way I wanted. 

Using the reins seemed pretty simple -- if you pull left, they go left. Pull right, they go right. Pull back towards your hips and they slow down. Do that while saying Whoa and they'll stop. 

All this is completely in THEORY. 

While doing all this, you also have to teach your body to move in a way that is completely different than habitual. For instance, I learned the hard way that if your horse starts to trot and you want it to slow down, you do NOT squeeze the crap out of it with your legs (which was a gut reaction). This tells the horse "I want you to go faster." I learned you have to lean back when going downhill and forward when going up hill. 

I also found out pretty damn quick that a horse given a new rider will test them. A lot. Scamp would randomly stop walking to graze in the fields or play this game of catch up with the other horses (this involved a lot of random trotting). I found out pretty quick that riding a horse isn't anything like riding a motorcycle or a car. You need to figure out how to merge two different personalities into one being, to anticipate your horses thoughts and movements a heartbeat before they happen. There needs to be a happy medium between what you want the horse to do and what they are willing to do or capable of doing. 

Scamp and I learned each other over the two days we rode. I learned she would never pass up a decent looking flower/grass patch and she learned that we would ride on a gravel road when I got sick of it. I learned she wasn't as fast as the others and learned to anticipate a short trot once we fell behind about ten feet or so. I coached her down difficult hills and she slowed down when I got a little nervous. It became more than riding a horse. It became a back and forth dance between two beings, a certain give and take. 

And I fell in love with it. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hunting Taverns and Chimney Swifts.

My internship at Centre Wildlife Care has involved caring for a lot of rescued wildlife but today I got to experience something completely new. I was able to see the releasing process with some of our Red-tail Hawks and our Chimney Swifts. 

In order to release the swifts, we needed to find an existing flock that they could join so that they could learn to act like wild birds. This involved driving around Port Matilda scanning the skies for a telltale black streak resembling that of a bat. This little adventure landed us in the back parking lot of a lodge that doubled as a Tavern.

Any questions about the atmosphere of the lodge were immediately answered by the giant sign boasting a deer head and HUNTERS WELCOME in bold font. It was a pretty nice rack if I do say so myself. The parking lot held nothing but camouflage pants and jacked up trucks. The finishing touch was the picture of a beer mug plastered dead center in the Patrons Only parking sign. My boss was quick to mention the establishments fantastic food (it was clear she though we wouldn't like the place and wanted to give it a push in the other direction). She did make quite the face when she told us about the "heads all over the walls." I didn't really expect anything less and am pretty used to people displaying their prizes on the walls. I grew up around a hunting family, so deer heads hung lovingly on a wall was something I wasn't really bothered by. Anyway, back to the birds. 

We needed to see if the birds were capable of being released by doing as a mother bird would (minus the pushing them out of a nest part). We opened up their portable flight cage and let them loose. Four of them flew straight up in the air and began to explore their new world. One little guy hovered a few inches above the ground in a valiant effort to join his brothers but quickly grew tired and landed on the gravel of the parking lot. It became clear that this little guy wasn't quite ready to leave the nest, so to speak. The challenge then became to catch him again. He wasn't too keen on leaving the safety of the ground for the unknown. He did this weird little hover/hop/baby flight around the lot until he landed....underneath a giant truck. My fellow intern and I began searching under the base of said truck, probably looking extremely suspicious to any passerby. We couldn't seem to find him, until I saw a tiny glitter against the front tire. He was flush against the rubber, pretty much hanging sideways, on the inside of the tire. So here's me, halfway under a truck, talking to a bird, trying to convince him not to fly away as I reached out to grab him. Thank goodness no one was in the parking lot or that would have been quite a sight. He was placed safely back into the flight cage and taken back to the center to grow up a little more. 

It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my internship thus far. I got to watch healthy birds be let back into their natural habitat. It kind of put everything I've been doing this summer into perspective. It was pretty cool to watch everything come full circle like that.