Maine Reader’s Critique and Review

One of the most rewarding elements of publishing NickerNews and BestHorsePractices is getting to know our readers.

I’m extremely fortunate to know reader Debbie Hight, a Mainer who has developed into a dear friend. Hight often emails her comments on articles, letting us know what works and doesn’t work for her and her horses.

This year, Hight became a member of the BestHorsePractices Summit steering committee. On the non-horse level, she is a busy board member of the Maine Grain Alliance, a Skowhegan nonprofit that runs the popular Kneading Conference each summer.

Amber Lambke, President of Maine Grains, Inc., described Hight:

“She is a graceful swan above water, while she paddles like mad underwater. She can routinely pack 36 hours of work and play into a 24-hour day.”

Said Tristan Noyes, the executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, “Debbie is passionate and pours herself into goals with dogged determination, positivity, and a terrific sense of humor… You want Debbie on your team, but more importantly, you want her in your life because just being around her makes you happy and inspired. “

Around the farm, Hight is equally energetic, despite her trim, petite frame. According to friend, Rob Rowbottom (who with Hight has been featured in several NickerNews guest columns.):

“Debbie studies hard and her energy is off the chart…We share duties for taking care of six or seven horses. With friendships, you don’t think alike all the time. But we get along well.”

Here, Hight provides feedback for several recent articles:

On Warwick Schiller’s comments of so-called “Freak Accidents:”

I really enjoyed the Schiller rant.  When I walk into the barn or out to the pasture, my mantra is always “what stupid thing will they do today?” I guess that it might be better stated as “what stupid thing will I do today,” after all, they are just being horses.  I have avoided a couple of mishaps lately just by keeping tuned to this mantra.

Rob has been busy lately and that has given me time to be more mindful of my riding and to find solutions to questions, other than yelling and swearing at my horse.  I’ve made good progress at very small things, happily.

On our recent Stabil gear promotion and baling twine recycling:

This year’s weather has meant colder than cold and then a thaw and rain, which really means ICE.  The area around my barn has poor runoff, so I get a lot of ice.  When it is really awful, I generally scoot down and slide into the barn.  Of course, one recent morning, I decided to carry two buckets of water out to the heated buckets.

Yup, I slipped and wore the two buckets.  At 40 degrees, I was ok, not to mention the personal steam.   That was when I decided to look for my shoe grippers, but of course, they fit only with certain boots.  I had to modify them.  So, that is what I do with my baling twine!

I had actually saved balls of it for years, thinking that I would crochet them (and I have NO idea how to crochet) into some kind of bag. In the end, I tossed out the big balls that littered my floor with twine and hay.

Of course, the ice extends into my paddock and the bully, Postcard Jack, likes to chase around Mr. Arthritic Sweetheart, Elliot.  I had someone come out and move snow onto the paddock once last week, but it was warm and sunny and the paddock turned to ice again.

So, yesterday, I shoveled snow by hand onto the ice and packed it down for 5 hours, impressed that I could get a glass of wine to my lips last night. (Guess I need to break down and learn how to use the tractor.)  Then I let them out one at a time.  If Elliot goes down, that might be ballgame. So I do like to take care.

On Confessions of a Sugar-holic:

Hope your healthy eating is going along well.  I thought that it would be a good idea to eat better as well, though I like to think that my habits are pretty good, other than the must-have dessert at night.  But the holidays call for more butter, sugar, alcohol, etc.  Big deal.  Guess I’ll go back to my normal eating pattern and not think so much about it.  As for veganism, I cannot understand what the problem is with eggs, pretty much the perfect food. Thank heavens for eggs! Even the cholesterol people are coming back to it.

Thanks for your email, Debbie!

Stay in touch, dear readers! Contact us here.

Welcome Ramblers Way and Introducing Trails to Town contest

ramblers way  Trail to TownWe’re thrilled to announce our new partnership with Ramblers Way Farm, the clothing company founded by Maine’s Tom Chappell and featuring wonderful, American-made, wool garments.

Beginning next month, NickerNews & BestHorsePractices will be giving away one lightweight, luxuriously soft top each month. It’s the Trails to Town contest! Read a review of Ramblers Way tops.

Can your daily outfit take you from horseback to the grocery store, or do you need a Cinderella-like transformation before you can be seen in public?

The right clothes for us horsemen and women move seamlessly from one daily activity to the other. Even dinner afterwards!

That’s what Rambler’s Way wear does for us. It feels great, looks great, and you can feel great, knowing it’s American-made by a company with strong sustainability mission.

In August, we will begin giving away your choice of women’s long-sleeve, scoop or jewel neck top. Or, for men, a long-sleeve Henley. All retail for $90. Visit Ramblers Way website.

Jewel neck

Jewel neck

Ramblers Way garments are made with the moisture-wicking, high-quality wool that doesn’t hold odors and keeps its shape. That means you can tackle barn chores, hit the trail, then head straight to town. Read a review of Ramblers Way tops.

Want to win? Show us how badly you need a versatile piece to take you from one walk of life to the next. Send us a photo or write a few words to illustrate your point. Contact us here. Or, to attach a photo, send email to Or, send us a message on the NickerNews and BestHorsePractices facebook pages.

Entries accepted until August 13. All entries will be posted on NickerNews where readers can vote for their favorites until August 21. Winner announced August 28.


Scoop neck, available in multiple colors

A Feel Good, Feel Better Workshop

When you around Nina Fuller, you can’t help but smile, laugh, think, and share. The renowned photographer from Hollis, Maine, is warm, welcoming, and just a bit wacky. Her home, Lily Brook Farm, in Hollis, Maine, is an extension of Fuller, full of flowers, ninanimals, and good will.

That’s where Fuller and two fellow therapists will host “Horses & Healing,” August 1-2. It’s a retreat-style workshop that will incorporate photography, horses, and therapeutic work. Read more about it here.

Fuller has traveled the world, photographed four U.S. presidents, and written and taken photos for numerous publications, including NickerNews. But she says some of her most rewarding work is working with people and horses.

The workshop would be perfect for any number of participants, she told me.

“It’d be great for therapists interested in working with experiential work and interested in horses. Or, for someone feeling stuck in their life. Or, for someone who’s been in therapy before without ninnfinding success. Or, for someone interested in how therapy works with horses,” said Fuller.

Since receiving her Masters in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Equine-Assisted Mental Health and Photography Therapy from Prescott College, Fuller has witnessed positive shifts in her clients while working with horses as well as photography. Sometimes, what they discover wasn’t at all what they expected. There are breakthroughs and changes of heart. It’s been incredible, she noted, to facilitate these sessions.

“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t need something,” Fuller said.

Check out details for the event and register soon!

Incorrigibles beware: We Care

During 2010 and 2011, many of us worked long hours to help serve up some justice to the many animals killed and mistreated by Brett and Alexis Ingraham. Read more about the Ingrahams here.

Brett Ingraham was convicted of animal cruelty, 2011

Brett Ingraham was convicted of animal cruelty, 2011

The Ingrahams were found guilty of animal cruelty. But did they learn? Some say not.

“Incorrigible” means unable to be corrected or reformed. That’s what Dr. Janell Tirrell, of Third Coast Equine, called folks like the Ingrahams when she met with fellow advocates to help develop what would eventually be known as the Maine Equine Welfare Alliance.

Janet Tuttle, owner of Rockin’ T Equine Rescue, used her usual blue-collar bluntness to say the same thing of horse owners who fail to embrace the real meaning of ownership: Of folks like these, “you cannot learn stupid,” she told me.

Meanwhile, a group in Houlton nowadays has been trying to effect change at Jessica York’s farm. Check out this report by WGME.

Since I moved to Utah from Maine, I’ve bore sad witness to a few horse neglect incidents, big and small. The most recent concerned a neighbor who took off for four days of vacation without bothering to have anyone tend to his equines. Sure, he piled hay in their racks and filled the tub with water. But after 36 hours, they had eaten all the hay. What water they had was slimy and warm (since it sat in an uncleaned, algae-filled tub).

Maine Equine Welfare Alliance

Maine Equine Welfare Allianchours, they had eaten all the hay and the water had grown slimy (since he had not been cleaning the tub, apparently).

Did I mention temperatures were consistently in the 90s?

By Day Three, a group of concerned neighbors called animal welfare.

By Day Four, the horses finally had hay and fresh water. Did the owner learn anything when he had to chat with the animal welfare officer? I wonder.

That same week, I parked next to a big, red Cadillac with two dogs in it. The windows were rolled down about an inch and a half. The temperature was 95 degrees.

I called the sheriff. He called an animal control officer who measured the temperature in the car at 115 degrees. They broke into the car, saved the dogs, and gave a citation to the owner. Did that owner learn anything? I wonder, sometimes, if the world is not full of incorrigibles.

So, this week and every week, my hat is off to all those working to educate folks about this great privilege and responsibility we have: Ownership. My Thank You list includes vets like Tirrell, Dr. Rachel Flaherty and South Mountain Equine, groups like the MSSPA. And all those quiet workers, neighbors, friends, and family who help nurture good horsemanship and husbandry with those who might not know better.

And for all those out there fearlessly advocating for animals: keep up the good work!

Carlisle clients from next door and around the world

“If you want to make a million bucks working with horses, start with five million.” That’s what cynics say to neophytes maxresdefaulthoping to make a living with horses.

But it is possible if you work hard, stay relevant, and find a niche.

That’s what Sarah Armentrout is doing at Carlisle Academy, a business she runs with her husband, Nick Armentrout, in Lyman, Maine.

Sarah, daughter of Kate and Tom Chappell of Tom’s of Maine, has built Carlisle (formerly

Pittman09 051

Sarah Armentrout

called Equest Therapeutic Riding Center) into a facility visited by over a hundred students each week. It’s a three-tiered venture including sports and education, therapy and adaptive programs, as well as training and leadership elements.

Check out this recent feature on MPBN.

Sarah grew up riding and continued at Trinity College, where she competed in hunter/jumper events on the Intercollege Horse Show Association circuit. She captained the team during her junior and senior years. Read about an IHSA competitor from West Bath.

After graduating, Armentrout headed west. She volunteered at the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy, in Woodside, California, and worked with equestrian Peggy Cummings in Sun Valley, Idaho.four

How to blend her love of horses with making a living? That’s what she contemplated.

“I did want to do human services, but I wanted to put it together with my passion for horses,” said the 44-year old, who majored in religion at Trinity.

The couple landed back in Maine and founded Equest, a non-profit facility, in 1998. A decade later, however, “my life had become writing grants,” said Armentrout. “I didn’t want to be a slave to fund raising.”

With help from outside consultation, Equest was reshaped as Carlisle Academy, LLC (limited liability company), where true costs and full tuition are in place. Sixty-five percent of the therapy students qualify for financial support, she said.

It’s a busy place.

Last month, they hosted a para-dressage and training camp for seven riders, seven drivers, and four coaches from as far away as Guatemala.

threeIn coming months, there are horsemanship camps, clinics, and another para-training event in August.

Click here for more information.

Para dressage is a relatively new event for international competition. It’s the only equestrian sport in the Paralympics, where riders are classified by physical disability.

Serving an incredibly broad spectrum of clients, from a 2-year old girls with cerebral palsy, to women inmates on prerelease programs, to jumping and driving competitors, the Armentrouts manage by dividing their duties, “like the separation of church and state,” laughed Sarah, who is responsible for programs and staff. Nick acts as barn manager, taking care of the facilities (which include two indoor arenas and two outdoor arenas) and horses.

By all accounts, they’re working hard, staying relevant, and, as more and more people recognize the benefits of horse time, they’ve certainly found a niche.


Ramblers Way suits this rambler’s way

The parcel from Ramblers Way arrived with perfect timing. I was packing for a 20-day, 6,000 mile, truck-camping trip to Ramblers-Way-Farm-logoMaine and back. I might see a washer and dryer at the midway point, but nice-looking, packable, stink-resistant tops would be key. They’d have to be versatile: for city and country, for hiking and reporting stints. They’d have to be warm or cool, depending on weather conditions over three weeks and 20 states.

Read more about Ramblers Way and its founder, Tom Chappell.

Like the perfectly chosen audio book or the most comfortable pair of hiking shoes, these tops were the tops. They helped make the trip easy and enjoyable.

I tried the women’s Henley tank, crew neck and quarter zip polo – all sized medium, in a warm charcoal grey of superfine Rambouillet wool.

“Itchy wool?” you ask.

On the Ramblers Way road

On the Ramblers Way road

No, yummy-next-to-the-skin, lightweight, delectable wool. Not your grandfather’s, scratchy beard wool, I reply.

The three items can be worn together or on their own. I mixed and matched. On a balmy Colorado walk and for a sultry college commencement in New York, the Henley tank served marvelously on its own and under a blazer.

The long-sleeved crew has the perfect neckline for showing off a necklace, but isn’t so scooped to make it inappropriate for active use. I wore it hiking and tucked it into my jeans for a slightly neater look and a dinner engagement.

To be honest, I also wore both as pajama tops, that’s how inseparable I was to these separates.

The quarter zip feels a bit like your favorite flannel shirt, but it’s warmer, classier and exponentially more versatile.

When I buy fabrics like wool or silk, a red flag immediately goes up: What about the dry cleaning or handwashing?

rwwRamblers Way items can be tossed in the washer and dryer. The care instructions say you can also hand wash and line dry them, but they held up well to my regular, no-fuss wash and dry treatment.

The last requirement for an active traveler, of course, is pack-ability. All of the tops were crammed into my pack (they’re made of fine, four and five ounce knit and compact exceedingly well). I even balled up the crew neck and used it to help with my sciatic pain while driving. They retained their shape perfectly and always looked wrinkle-free.

They might cost a bit more, but there’s something to be said for feel, the literal and more thoughtful varieties.

It’s nice on the skin. And, with Ramblers Way’s mission of sustainability and Made in America values, it’s nice on the brain, too.

A real model wears Ramblers Way top

A real model wears Ramblers Way top

Read more about Ramblers Way and its founder, Tom Chappell.

Ramblers Way, talking with Tom

We met Tom Chappell and his new company, Ramblers Way, at the Outdoor Retailer earlier this year.

Most of us know Chappell (pronounced “chapel”) from Tom’s of Maine, the hugely successful, natural toothpaste and personal

Tom Chappell

Tom Chappell

care product company bought by Colgate-Palmolive in 2006.

So, what’s this new gig for the tall, white-haired man who grew up on a farm and spent many a day riding his horse in the fields of Uxbridge, Massachusetts?

Chappell, 72, first brainstormed the Maine clothing company after a trek with his son in Wales, to celebrate the Tom’s of Maine $100 million sale.

They hiked for two weeks in cool, rainy weather. He tried all variety of garb – polypropylene, capilene, silk, wool, cotton – yet, he found nothing would keep him warm, dry, and body-odor free during those 12-mile, rambling days.

He admired the local sheep, seemingly comfortable and content in their own coats.

Ramblers-Way-Farm-logo“My first concept was to have something soft and comfortable, not scratchy, but that would insulate,” said Chappell by phone last month. “I wanted it for active, outdoor use.”

Read review of Ramblers Way products.

He did some research. (His wife, Kate, says he stayed retired for just a few weeks.)

He learned that by using the superfine fibers of the Rambouillet sheep, one could create soft, fine yarn that didn’t itch. From that, you can make light, insulating, breathable clothing.

With help from family members (son Chris Chappell helps on the technological side and daughter Eliza Chappell is a designer.), the company was born in 2009. With their help, the senior Chappell has learned about bounce rates, click-through-rates, and the world of Internet sales.

“If customers see an image of a white-haired guy in a Volvo, they’re just going to move off,” he recalled.

Ramblers Way is not another clothing company, selling high-end products sourced and made in China. Chappell, who earned a Masters from the Harvard Divinity School in 1991, wanted to create something more meaningful and valuable.

Tom Chappell with Rambouillet sheep

Tom Chappell with Rambouillet sheep

Heard of “ethical fashion?” It’s an umbrella term describing a range of issues including working conditions, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare in the production and sale of clothing.

Ramblers Way is ethical fashion. The wool comes sheep in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Maine. It’s sent to mills in the North and South Carolina, then sewn by garment makers in Fall River, Massachusetts. Natural enzymes are used to clean the wool. Plant extracts are used to dye it. And the company has a thorough plan for sustainability which includes geothermal and solar energy for their offices in Kennebunk, Maine.

It started out exclusively on line and as appealing most directly to Baby Boomers. But Chappell learned that reaching younger buyers was crucial. The clothes are now geared for “value-centric” shoppers who are “stylish, fit, and trim,” he said.

He also found he disliked the “lack of relationships” inherent in the online-only entity, said Chappell. So, they connected with retailers. Its clothing is now in 400 independent clothing stores.

Read review of Ramblers Way products.

United in Love and Equine Dedication

kelQuestion: How many horse owners does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Name any number. The light bulb won’t get changed because they’re too busy talking about horses, minis, donkeys, and mules.

Say this about our crazy community: we are passionate, enthusiastic, devoted, engaged and opinionated. We help each other in the best and worst of times. Especially during this winter season, we bear burdens with tough commitment, smiles of commiseration, and shakes of the head that say, “What next!?”

Community is one of the most gratifying elements of work here at NickerNews and BestHorsePractices. We love hearing from you. Recently, with our Winter Weigh In’s and Winter Warrior Muck Boot Contest, we’ve been hearing a lot. Here’s some more news from horse gals:

nelKelly from Durham, Maine, cares for eight horses and sent this photo of her Nelson waterer.

“Three inches of ice from drool, but the Nelson is amazing,” she said, adding that with snow banks so high, her minis have finally stopped breaking out of the pasture.

We talked with Tom Dowd, head of customer service at Nelson Manufacturing. The Iowa company has been making the automatic waterers since 1949. They’re in zoos, they supply the Budweiser Clydesdales, and even serve a sheik’s racing thoroughbreds in the United Arab Emirates, he said.

This week, though, Dowd was mostly chatting with customers in cold weather states. He sent a new heating unit to a long-time customer in Palmer, Alaska, who needed to replace it after 12 years of service.
nelsonThe heater might wear out after over a decade of steady use, but it’s much more efficient that livestock tank heaters. It costs about 18 cents a day to maintain the Nelson when the weather is zero degrees, according to Dowd. That’s a stark contrast to many horse owners we’re heard from who say their electricity bill has tripled this winter.

“We like to joke that when you plug in a tank heater, you can see the smoke coming off the electric meter,” said Dowd.
We’ve heard from scores of horse owners from New England, southeast U.S., the Midwest and Western States, Canada, and beyond.

Carole, of Maine and Florida, poses with her pony, during a warmer moment

Carole, of Birds n Bees Farm in Hope, Maine, wrote to us:
“I am in Florida this winter, something I never thought I’d do because I’m not “old,” hate golf and RV parks. But I have discovered it’s a great place for walking and riding…I’m determined to get my ponies down here next winter.

Can you believe what they are going through in Maine? I’ve lived there nearly half a century and I have never seen a winter like this one. I don’t think my poor ponies can even walk around, it’s so deep.

We have testaments to that, Carole!

Check out our Winter Weigh In Series.
Check out our Winter Warrior Muck Boot Contest.

Not on facebook? You can submit your entry by emailing to
We love hearing from you.

Welcome Lucerne Farms!

HeaderwithBlueSky copyWe’re excited to welcome Lucerne Farms to our growing family of advertisers. The Maine company, based in Easton and Fort Fairfield, fits our values and mindset to a T: a small company with a high quality product that’s great for owners and their equines.

It’s the perfect time of year to know more about Lucerne Farms. Many of us like to supplement our horses’ diets to ensure weight maintenance through the cold months. Grain’s not always a good choice; forage is safe, affordable and horses love it!

Horses stomachs are small, about the size of a football. As grazing animals, they are designed to eat slowly and almost constantly. That makes forage a great option in any number of situations including when:

  • hay may have iffy nutritive value
  • pasture doesn’t give them what they need
  • turnout isn’t an optionAlfa-supreme-photos-003

Horseman Chris Cox worked with Lucerne to develop a special blend. This video explains how much he favors forage over grain or other alternatives. The popular clinician uses it year round.

Lucerne makes many varieties, most with a blend of timothy and alfalfa grasses. I love “Hi Fi” as we call it at the feed store. Hi Fiber has timothy hay, alfalfa hay, and oat hay with a touch of molasses to tamp down any dust and add a smidge of flavor. It’s nine percent protein and 30 percent fiber.

For those wanting more protein, there’s Alfalfa Supreme with 15 percent.

If you haven’t tried forage, give Lucerne products a try. We’re betting you’ll see positive changes.

Want more ideas for keeping the weight on in winter? Read more.


A Darn Tough Convert

26802_601_zoomWe hear from Barbara, a Remuda Reader from Maine, on her impressions of a free pair of Darn Tough socks:

I thought I was very lucky when notified that I’d won a Remuda Reader drawing for free products. However, I felt like I had really won the lottery, when  told to go directly to the Darn Tough website and choose a pair of their life-time guaranteed socks! This is an impressive website with fabulous options, great colors, styles and loads of product information which made shopping easy.

After much deliberation, I selected the whimsically designed and colorful Yeti over the calf performance sock, which is listed for ski and riding. Its lightly cushioned bottom and seamless Merino wool has met all of my expectations and its non-bulky profile is perfect for all my riding boots. I am so pleased with this product. They are by far the most comfortable and functional pair of socks I have worn riding.They stay put, do not chafe or irritate and wash and dry beautifully.

While my first pair was free (but normally at around $25) purchasing Darn Tough socks makes them affordable and a lifetime investment. I think they are a functional, comfortable and a high performance treat for yourself and they would make fabulous gifts, guaranteed to please the recipient forever. I truly can’t imagine how anyone could find a more satisfying sock for their outdoor adventures.

I will love my Darn Tough socks for the rest of my life! The people at Darn Tough have made a serious commitment to quality and value and it is a pleasure to purchase from a Vermont company that clearly has confidence in their product supported by their amazing guarantee.

Read UtahOutsider’s Review of Darn Toughs!

An autumn view of Barbara's Maine farm

An autumn view of Barbara’s Maine farm


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