Saturday, May 20, 2017

Less than a month to go till June 10 when I tack up for a 5:30am start at the OD100. My brain is ticking along and lists are getting made and checked off. 

Thankfully riding and conditioning assignments are light in this time window because the amount of mental energy going into logistics is taking up more space than I’d have imagined.

As for riding I took a trail marking and clearing ride with some friends and rediscovered a great trail I haven’t used in years with beautiful views and decent climbing. 

We ended the ride with a deep river hole where my capall uisce got some water time. She really isn’t so into swimming (yet) but she loves to roll in or stand deep in the river – she laid down (with me and saddle) but I stayed on and convinced her not to roll and instead we wandered around the depths that came up past her belly and had my shoes and pants soaked to the knee. It was worth it- we were too far from the trailer to really untack and commit to water play- but just the deep wading was magical in its own right. 

No photos- I left my phone safely on the bank!

Scoot Boots are still at 100% success. And still no rubs or issues with use and still the easiest boot I’ve ever used. 

Now for the checklists…

Send in registration form & coggins:

  • Check… with appropriate Wonder Woman stamp!

Order necessary tack type stuff:

  • Salomon Speedcross… great eBay deal! saw Karen ride the OD cavalry in them last year and she says they’re great so I’m hoping they show up asap so I can get them broken in and tried out! My Ariats are fine but showing a little extra wear and they aren’t so great for hiking the mountain- considering I plan to do a fair amount of getting off her during the toughest climbs, descents or any place we both need a break I need a shoe that will feel good on trail as well as in stirrups. 

  • New helmet (Ovation light & breathable)

  • New chaps (Dublin neoprene webbing) also cooler and lightweight thanks Lynne for the recommendation. 

  • New summer tights- might need a dry clean extra pair to freshen up mid ride!

  • Official sponge leash (to replace the too long jerry rigged old reins I was using)
  • Biothane stirrup leathers to use my heavier duty real leathers as a back up… remembering a story that Kristen had a stirrup leather fail without a handy replacement. She struggled through riding I think with bailing twine? I just remember it wasn’t fun and she didn’t feel great afterword. 
  • Hydration hay! (We learned Khaleesi loves it last year after she ate all of the Stone’s horses’ stash. Thankfully they didn’t love it and now I finally remembered to buy her own!)

  • E-lyte dosing syringes with caps! (My current ones don’t have caps means I have to waste time pulling up individual doses when I need them!)
  • Extra sweat scrapers & sponges
  • Check… check check check…mostly thanks to Ed’s Riding Warehouse Christmas gift card!

Handy suggestions tips and tricks:

  • Glow sticks (after dark)
  • Mini flashlight (emergency use only)
  • Life proof phone case – another amazing eBay deal 
  • Mini extra charge for phone will I have time for photos??
  • Date syrup & CMPK (adds to elytes for extra calcium and potassium) also sometimes the syrup can help encourage the gut and eating after a tough loop. 
  • Vetwrap!!! For a million things
  • Hoofboots and a spare set of shaped shoes from our last set- I have my Scoot Boots for a lost shoe  but I’m also borrowing a one size up spare from a team member who isn’t riding the OD for the potential sprung or loose shoe. Great mentor advice- a sprung shoe can be worse if you aren’t able to pull it on the trail. On a 100 the chance of a nail getting work down, or a tired mid-step pulls or bends a shoe- take the vetwrap and wrap the shoe as tight as possible- cover with one size larger boot until fixable in the next hold. 
  • Zip ties (to affix the Scoot boots directly to saddle as well as a million other things)
  • Dramamine & Aleve … I’ve heard other riders lighting after dark can make one nauseasus… and the Aleve… for everything else! 

Wish list that looks will have to wait:

  • Smaller size narrow (new!!) Scoot boots for hind feet (for now the front size with vetwrap will get us to a hold and I’ll have renegades that fit or a new old shoe put on… should be fine for a temporary spare tire)
  • Extra Phoenix Rising saddle pad. Seems this pad gives the best support to the saddle. I’d love a second one in case of rain or extreme sweating but one PR with a toklat coolback for the hottest parts of the day will be ok. 
  • Reflective neck collar from Taylored Tack (love the idea of not having a halter on all the time but not necessary)

Aside from this I have a yard in full on spring mode which is lovely except the weeds grow even better than the flowers most of the time so I try to get some time keeping the jungle at bay… and it’s end of school seasons both for my college and K-12 students so I’m teaching a lot and planning final concerts as well. 

Tonight I fed the girls and spent a few minutes scratching summer bug bites and itchy spots. All three mares seemed to be grateful for the non-agenda time and especially the itchy scratches.

Khaleesi looks good. Shiny coat and good weight – nice muscling on rich grass but not too heavy either. 

She’s doing a good job resting and fueling up while I stock up on supplies!

Finally Frills…

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

K and I met Amy Stone and Frills at a nearby trailhead Sunday to see how the mares get along and if they can pace together. For all the time we’ve spent together in camp, and K and I rode almost the entire Blackwater ride with Ricky (Amy’s husband) and Ziggy… and the talk of  riding a slow OD100 together- we had never actually ridden together at all- and thought it would be smart to check that box the sooner the better. 

The misty morning… when I went to find Khaleesi this is what she was doing running the herd around in full Gallop with acrobatics. Always love that spirit.

After the sun broke through the mist it was a gorgeous May day with sunshine and a light breeze. 

I was unfamiliar with the trails though I’d followed a group on them a couple months back. We were armed with some verbal options (there are many trail choices) and I had my GPS so no matter what we should be able to get back to the trailers!

After a warm up walk/trot on the fire road we hit the mountain with a good climb. At the top we choose our own adventure by heading down into the campground and river valley. 

Me Out loud: How is Frills with river crossings?

Me In head: the river will be up but wasn’t familiar enough with these trails to know how bad that would be… probably not what she’s expecting but we’ll just have to see…

AmyShe’s fine… no trouble with river crossings. 

Ok great! 

We could do as many miles as we wanted down in the valley depending on terrain and how bad the river crossings were (lots of recent rain has the rivers up and flowing fast), then we could return and head the other direction along the ridge as long as we needed to add miles. If it’s impassible we’ll just come back to the ridge sooner. 

One of the deep crossings

Turns out the river was high but gave the girls no trouble, though the first one or two Amy watched us cross and had some doubts, but Frills followed like a champ.  By about the third deep crossing with fast rapids flowing by she actually was able to smile!

The trails down the valley were mostly soft grass-dirt which was perfect for my needs to save Ks feet. Especially considering we’re riding in a boot on the right front. 

By the way we are still on 100% success on the Scoot boots… mud, massive river crossings, rocks at all gaits with lots of cantering and we’ve still never had to look for a Scoot Boot! 

We enjoyed trotting and cantering along the river and it was beyond my expectations a gorgeous and fun ride!

After we’d gotten enough miles and hit yet another crossing (I believe there were 5 or 6 each direction) we opted to turn back. 

On the return was the famous 2 mile service road climb that is great for the Dr. Jeanne prescription of cantering uphill till our heart rate reaches 200bpm then trotting to recover to 150bpm then up again. As fatigue sets in they will reach 200 faster but it’s a way to build cardiac fitness.  I use it once in a while though certainly not every ride. The last time I took it seriously might have been with Suz on this very stretch before the Blackwater Ride. That time we had to recover 3 times in the 2 mile run. 

Fast Frills led the way and this time I couldn’t get Khaleesi to 200bpm to save my life. 

At one point she got to 194bpm and I was certain we’d pull back but as she continued to canter her rate went down into the 170 range… then down to 150 range. 

Roughly half way we came upon a nice clear puddle from the recent rain and both mares begged to stop for a drink. We obliged them (as we always do if they want water!) and after topping off they took off right into a canter again the rest of the hill still not reaching max before the top. 

Once at the top of the road we stopped momentarily in the shade and in about a minute K dropped down around 100bpm then we took a relaxed walk heading the final 2 miles back to the trailer. 

Frills never seemed to breathe even as hard as K as she is bred to ‘drink the wind’ by some famous endurance family…

We may not be quite as naturally equipped or equal in beauty… but my little Apple Horse Farm Bred mutt is doing pretty well. Don’t try telling her she wasn’t as ‘highly bred’ because she doesn’t appear to have any self-esteem issues and gave a pretty good warning kick to Frills back at the trailers when Frills butted up to her most likely by accident. 

Seems K knew it was unintentional because it was truly a warning as I’ve seen her go after a horse that challenges her space and there is most certainly a difference!

I suppose we are all as royal as we feel…

Where was I?

Oh right. Last 2 miles. 

We took the steep climb down among the rocks as a cool-down walk after the canter work and Amy hopped off (her saddle began to slip forward). I took the cue and also dismounted. I realized how narrow the trail was- that we were headed straight back to the trailer and decided to leave my lead rope (aka. reins) clipped to my saddle and walked on to let K pick her own speed and munch some grass along the way. 

True to my assumption she never let us get out of sight around a curve without hurrying to keep up, and she never strayed from the path but kept a bit behind me. It was nice for a moment to trust her to come along as she would and not drag her by the head down the mountain. 

A lovely 15.5 miles in just over 3 hours. We allowed more dilly-dallying than we would during an event, more stopping to grab a bite, and a few moments of checking trails, GPS mileage, river crossing pictures and meandering. But I’ve grown to accept that on my training rides and trust that event day the girl knows the difference and gets to work. Every time. 

It’s not worth the argument when she reminds me “yeah but it’s just us today. There’s no reason to hurry… why can’t we enjoy it a little more today?”

Truly… the horse is right. 

So will the mares work out together for 100?

My guess is that Frills has a slightly faster working trot than K does. I am also super sensitive to not pushing K through rocks. And OD is full of rocks. I learned the hard way at Iron Mountain last August, and then saw the flip side at No Frills last month when she came through sound, happy and healthy on a tough ride- albeit almost last. 

I think it is possible that Frills may need to move along and we may get left to a slower pace and later finish. But if so- Amy is likely to fall in with a more moderately paced buddy and we can go it alone. It will entirely depend on how things go on the day of. 

K may pick up her trot to ‘race day’ speed and that may work for Frills – but one thing is sure, I know better than to push her faster through the rocks than she can manage without hurting herself and I am well aware that could just be slower than others with more adept footed horses without hoof rebuilding, concussion damage and past lameness issues are willing to move. 

The OD is no joke and the only way through that course is to focus on riding your strengths the do the best you can to accommodate the weaknesses. And the horses with fewest weaknesses end up top 10!

All joking of breeding and royalty aside, Frills is a horse engineered to do well at the sport and with a good base of fitness behind her and a smart rider to navigate her through. 

Khaleesi is slightly younger (still developing into her movements) and carries the thicker skin and muscling of a more substantial breed crossing plus some hoof/foot issues I believe are now sorted out though I hope to see more long term changes in years to come that will make her a stronger competitor as she builds over seasons. 

So Amy & plan to try to ride together and pace the mares as we are able… however I never begrudge a horse needing to move on and let us keep a pace that works for us. We will have to see how it goes and I won’t hold Amy to sticking with us if it’s not working for them. 

And K is not one to hurt herself to keep up with any pack. She is her own boss and we make up a herd of 2 with me (most generally) the mutually agreed upon leader. 

Ride your own ride is the only advice second to never hurry never tarry. 

And they all lead to the greatest hope….

To finish is to win. 

Dragonfly in the sun… you know what I mean..

Butterfly out having fun… you know what I mean…

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Back to song lyrics again. Sometimes I just can’t get them out of my head and this one has stuck since my last ride a couple days ago. 

Feeling Good…

One month till our first 100 and the assignment from my endurance vet is basically do no harm

People have begun to ask if we’ve amped up our training and conditioning routine to prepare. Much like the anticlimactic announcement last post, the answer is no. Actually we’re amping down. 

Ride twice a week, you cannot gain fitness and Khaleesi has a good base which is why you’re ready for this. Try to get at least a ride or two in starting before 6am to get used to an early start time but don’t ride long – just a warm up then put her away. Also get in a ride on the hottest humid day you can in the next month. Don’t do high miles- definitely stay under 20… under 15 is good too) and save her feet by searching out good footing. Don’t push for super fast rides either. Just keep her juices flowing and keep her limber. 

Seems easy enough. 

This is also riding Faygo can handle! So Susan and I are enjoying some data-free fun riding with good footing and no goals. All that work of long rides, speed work, hill climbing and technical rock navigation is now paying off with some relaxed fun time.

When we went to the field on Wednesday with our human chit chat about nothing all that important susan and I had to stop and take notice. Khaleesi was running that herd all over the place. 

This is unusual. 

She was saying something. 

She wasn’t exactly running them ‘off’ but she was running them around. Doing some of her acrobatics and dancing for us as well. 

We stopped and watched from outside the gate:

What do you think she’s saying?

Who knows?


Yep. Definitely something. 

Eventually things calmed down and I walked in to get my horse. She didn’t come immediately but it wasn’t long before she walked up and put her head in the halter. We headed for the barn. 

That’s when I noticed:

I think she was telling me she lost a shoe. 

Sure enough. Right front. That foot.  The troubled one. 

We’ll have to go look for it later. Don’t want anyone getting hurt stepping on the nails. 

Thankfully I have my scoot boots! The only boot I feel confident now that I won’t lose on trail. 

Now I wonder if she was trying to tell me where it was…… 

I don’t put much past these animals anymore with what’s possible. The level of communication is pretty amazing if we would only let them know we are paying attention. 

We booted up, loaded up and drove barely a mile to an easy spot to hit the grassy soft roads that are the most fun to ride and it’s always more fun to only be heading home the entire ride. 

I rode the short 2 hours in my bareback pad and new (knotty girlz) custom measured stiff red halter with my (also new) treeline lead just tied at the bottom loops. I have really come to love the feeling of her movement in the pad and how much fun it is to ride her halter only (I think she likes it too) though I do not believe a bareback pad is great to overuse or use on long distances because it doesn’t distribute my weight like my saddle does and there isn’t anything to protect it from pressing on her withers and upper spine. Shorter rides here and there though I think are ok.

Dream ride. Lovely cool sunny day, the trails were perfect, soft but not slippery, the horses were engaged and forward, we walked, trotted, and did some wonderful cantering along the way as it suited us.

Khaleesi was happy and seemed to be feeling fantastic. She was strong and I often felt her lifting her back underneath me which I love- that she’s using her body properly and engaging her motor underneath. She was in good spirits as was Faygo. 

We came into the barn, hardly a sweat and turned them out then walked the field for the lost shoe- Susan found it… was it right where Khaleesi had been running the horses around earlier? Hmmmm. 

With a call into my farrier we decided to boot the foot until the end of the month when he will shoe for the OD. No sense adding nail holes two weeks out, and we aren’t going to shoe for the 100 a month early either. 

Apparently this foot needs some breathing space. I still believe everything has its purpose. Even if I never truly understand what it is. And if she turns up lame and we have to pull out- then it wasn’t our year. 

But for now she seems fine and the boot is staying put. Have I mentioned how much I ❤️ Scoot Boots?? And they are coming out with a narrow fit boot too! They may just be a good answer to this winter’s hoof puzzle. 

Meanwhile I’m working on my ace-crew, picking up anything I need for the long ride… I have shoes (for me) en route… extra leathers (just in case Kristen G!!)… capped e-lyte syringes… a new sponge leash… extra sweat scrapers… a new (lighterweight) helmet (mine is 5 years old and I’ve been meaning to replace it… we’ve hit enough tree limbs that it’s time)… mesh half chaps… and an extra pair of cooling tights as well… just things I’ve needed and been dragging my feet on. 

Tomorrow we have a ride planned with Amy and Frills to be sure the mares can pace together alright. 

Birds flying high… you know what I mean…

Warm sun in the sky…. you know what I mean……

And we’re feeling good….

For the moment…. I’ll take it. 

Though note to my 100 crew: you may need to remind me how much I love this around mile 70 when I’m tired, it’s dark… and hopefully not a cold night rain soaking me and making muddy trails. Just a thought 😘 

green to….

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Just over two years ago as an avid trail rider I decided to take on the ambitious goal of a single-day 100 mile ride. I can’t tell you exactly what possessed me to decide this, but something inspired me and I think I said it out loud at a dinner party before I’d even really thought it through as if it were just a random conversation topic. 

I suppose the ambitious part comes from the fact that at the time I had a basically feral unbroke 4 year old I planned to do this with. And I’ve never trained a horse before. 

With over two years of preparation and many blogs of various topics, the 100 seems an elusive ‘loch ness’ or ‘Sasquatch’… my Everest … it’s not something one stumbles upon randomly. It would be planned for months at least… a year maybe once I think we’re ready?

As in… my imagined announcement would be (cue adventure music):

Hello! I plan to get through this 3rd season with Khaleesi doing multiple 50 mile rides … maybe try a multi-day (2 days of 50 miles) toward the fall and in 2018 we will climb Everest… we will dive for Nessie… we will enter our first 100!!! Stay tuned this entire year as I work toward the climactic event my entire blog is based on. 

But instead today is May 7 and here is the real life version:

Ah-hem… um. I just printed out the paperwork for the OD100 on June 10- about a month from now. So… I guess we’re doing it. 

Up till now there have been months and more of the type A for anal careful planning, the tweaking of equipment and saddle fit and shoe program and nutrition and electrolytes, the best rating of speed at events, gear, tack, shaving, rump rugs and raincoats… not to mention working on my own fitness, balance and riding… figuring out food I’ll eat and staying hydrated- big and little mistakes along the way… finally it’s coming all in place and in March this little bird says:

Want to start the 100 with me at OD this year? I want to take it slow to finish and would love the company. 


(That sums up my initial reaction) then to look around and say um… who? Me? And Khaleesi? 100? This year?

At Blackwater: March 2017

Then there’s the odd cosmic coincidence that I camped at both our 50s for the season next to Dale (who I call Mr. just do it) and he happened to have an OD100 map handy in March: here’s the OD100 map, do you want one… Don’t think so hard about it- just go for it. It’s very do-able.

In March I told Amy- ok ok, if she gets clean through No Frills 55 then we’ll talk. 

Considering she had lameness and hoof issues in late winter a good part of me figured we may not make it through No Frills sound. I truly half expected a lameness pull. It is about the hardest technical rocky ride I’ve ever been on. 

Then we had about the best ride ever at No Frills and Khaleesi looked the best I’d seen her after any ride. I felt good too. The vets said she looked great (one of them being our vet Kelly who also vets and rides endurance). The mare didn’t even look tired. 

Hm. Now I have to actually think about this. 

I sometimes have a tendency to take on more than other reasonable sane people. I often don’t see obstacles and limits but the cool big goal. My husband calls it overconfidence on a good day… occasionally if he’s not so generous it turns into reckless and thoughtless of those around me who are left to pick up the pieces…. (really… I hope that doesn’t happen too often!!)

I try hard to curb that part of my general personality so here is when I look for some outside rational input. 

I sent a note to my mentor Lynne. She has lots of successful 100s under her saddle and is taking her horse to Tevis this year. She will have good advice.  If she laughs at me I’ll know it’s a crazy hair brained idea. 

Inside my head: We can’t be ready for this…. can we?

Lynne: Well….. my first reaction was it might be a little soon… However Kelly (my vet and a friend of Lynne) made a point to tell me how good Khaleesi looked at No Frills and what a good job you did taking care of her that day. I think she called your horse a rock star. Honestly… I think you should talk to her, she’ll be perfectly honest with you and has seen your horse more this spring than I have… but I can’t think of why you wouldn’t go for it. Even if you made it 70 or 80 miles that’s an accomplishment. I’ve certainly started that ride and been pulled in years past. You guys have a good shot- and you are very in tune with your horse. You aren’t going to hurt her. You will pull out of you feel it’s not going well for her. That’s the most important thing. 

Ok. I’ll check with Kelly. She also has solid 100 mile experience and she knows my horse. Maybe she’ll laugh at us! If so we’ll just do the 50 and keep working on a good base for next season. 

Kelly: oh yeah! She is totally ready! Go for it- I think it’s a great idea. 

Then one more last ditch reach out to another endurance vet that knows us: am I completely nuts to do this?

Answer: it’s about time!

Ok. So. Yes! Yes- we’ll do it!

So… the K and I are officially signing up to the Beast of the East… the Old Dominion 100.  The goal. Green to 100 and all.

I do think we have a shot, however the completion rates are from 45-60% depending on factors (the biggest being heat and humidity) so even the best odds are tough. But make it or not I will learn a lot, and looking forward to the challenge!

I guess I should tell K….

Heart: Disrespect 

Monday, May 1, 2017

I haven’t updated Heart’s journey in a while. I have been writing more about Khaleesi as she so far is having a good 3rd season as an endurance horse.

The other side is that I haven’t been sure what exactly to write about. I’d been watching her progress nicely then gradually begin to sort of unravel on the trail and first I needed to understand it myself. 

I chose a mustang mare for varied reasons from talking to others I know who own them: good feet, hearty, ability to take care of herself, big heart, and the belief that I would learn a lot from the process. 

Well I was right on with all of it. And I’m getting quite an education. 

(Big yawn as we work though some early groundwork over the winter)

The big picture that I was trying to make sense of included a horse that always chose the humans over the herd in the field – Wild Heart is not hard to catch (in fact she catches us as Buck would put it) and is willing to leave her herdmates to fly solo with either Susan or I in the barn. 

She has become safe to tie, calm to saddle and tack up, good with picking up her feet for you to work with, Susan had gotten her quiet and still at the stool to mount, she was already started under saddle and no trouble to ride in the arena, been ponied along the trails and she had been willing to lead or follow being ridden on the trail. 

Then one ride she laid down while Susan was riding her. This isn’t the end of the world – Khaleesi has done this in a muddy pool because it feels good. I discourage it but it gives my friends a big laugh as it only happens when I’m not ready for it!

Susan would get back on her and we continued to ride just longer enough that she’d soften again and be willing to continue then we’d turn around. She did this in various ways sometimes trying more often than others and sometimes she would lay down when we got back to the barn yard… but we took it in stride and let her sort it out. 

The approach was not to get overly upset with her for it, but to firmly let her know riding was her job and laying down to roll did not get her out of it. 

The saddle fit is good, her back is fine, and we were only walking and the rides were less than 5 miles. She had been ponied on the same trails without rider to build mental and physical fitness first. None of this seemed unreasonable to getting a horse started. 

Then maybe a month ago or so she stopped at the top of a hill and refused to go.  Susan is a good rider and insisted firmly without fear.  I rode on with Khaleesi to encourage her not to be left behind. Nothing worked. She planted her feet and wouldn’t go on and when asked to move forward she would crow hop, kick, back and circle. 

Always on the lookout for when a nice horse might be asking for help- and not interested that anyone get hurt I suggested seeing if Susan could hand walk her down the hill. She has seemed uncomfortable on hills before- but nothing I could put my finger on. Just building the muscle? Was it that she wasn’t comfortable yet and the dogs were too close with her crowding her space? Was something pinching in her tack?

It took some effort even then but Susan was able to walk her ahead of me down the hill. Her hind seemed slightly stiff maybe? Then not... at the bottom susan got back on and the mare again refused to go. We experimented- I took the lead rope and ponied her… this time she went willingly. Eventually Susan took up the reins again and heading back toward home was just fine. 

The next ride she began refusing right in the front yard. I picked up the lead and she came along without fuss. 

Odd. If she’s in pain, why would she be ok with being led?

Susan took back control and was ok for a short time then still less than a mile from home the mare dug her heels. Spun, kicked at her, hopped, mini bucks, backing- anything but forward. 

Does this have to do with susan? I didn’t think so. Susan had been doing great with the mare. Still I felt that it would be a factor to rule out. 

We traded horses and I got on Heart and asked her to move along. 


She did the same to me. I had a little more tolerance for pushing her past the behavior and riding out some of her antics without fear. I held on, melted into the saddle and stayed calm willing to unemotionally insist that she do her job. Can I push her through this?

I wasn’t angry, afraid or frustrated. Mostly curious and trying to figure out what she was saying. 

I got nowhere

This is the point I was certain I needed help. Not that I couldn’t continue to work with the mare but I wasn’t sure what she was saying exactly. If I didn’t understand what she needed I risked destroying her connection to us with the wrong human response. 

I needed the right direction not to ruin this horse. Not to mention keep us from getting hurt. 

In my opinion the thing that makes a good horsewoman is taking the actions of the horse which could mean at least 4 different things (likely more) and accurately assessing if the horse is saying. 

  1. I’m hurting and I can’t go on like this.
  2. I don’t understand what you want and  am going to shut down out of confusion. 
  3. I am afraid and am certain I will die if you force me to do this. 
  4. I am not in the mood to haul a human around the trails and if I can find a way to get out of working I’ll do it. I think I can take you. 

We needed to get this right and she was speaking so loudly at this point I knew it was time; to respond wrong would devastate our future success with her. 

I had an idea. 

I hand walked her forward just ahead on the trail to a clearing and gave Susan my phone. I needed somewhere safe to try one more time and if we ended up in rodeo I didn’t want ditches, trees and obstacles on all sides. 

I mounted and asked her to go then insisted firmly. Same crow hopping, mini bucks, spinning in circles and backing. 

Note: I’m a decent rider but if that horse meant me harm she could have tossed me. She was communicating. She didn’t at that point want to hurt me or Susan. I am certain of that. 

We got the rodeo show on video and I sent it to Dee from Simple Equine Teaching for a consult. Thankfully this was a couple weeks before she’d be here in person. We could begin with whatever she suggested and when she came we would see how it was going and what next. 

Video is limited and wasn’t very close up but Dee gave me some feedback and Susan and I went back into the arena with Heart to back up in the process and simplify. We rode her but without any hands/steering and just asked her to be ok with carrying a rider in a walk- any direction for now is ok!

First step to rule out confusion or mixed signals from her rider. 

She started with some argument but got more comfortable with the task and she did improve in there over time. 

We still weren’t certain we’d gotten to the bottom of it….

The week before Dee came I ponied Heart on a very short walk (no saddle) and all went ok until she tossed her head and communicated major discomfort on the last two significant hills descending home to the barn. My mom and I both felt something was physically off with her we took our time (listened to her) as she navigated down the hill. 

I suggested Susan hand walk her across the street the next day to see if she noticed anything off.  Heart picked a major fight with her to even go up the hills where the two used to hand walk with no trouble at all a couple months back.

Bingo. Something was off. 

But what was still unclear. It wasn’t so obvious to see what exactly wasn’t right… no heat or swelling, her canter was choppy in the pasture but she didn’t seem injured exactly. could it be ulcers? Alignment out (chiropractic work?)

When Dee arrived the following day Susan went to get the mare and as we watched through the barn window the mare’s hind was very stiff just walking in. 

It was fascinating watching Susan and Dee work with Heart. She had some pretty serious energy conflicts in her body. Meridians and axis and poll things awry (a whole language I’m not familiar with) She had issues in her stifle and neck- these things she communicated to them as we watched her move her body as Dee and Susan worked with her.

This whole process I can’t explain, but I can say as Dee showed Susan where to touch the horse with very little pressure we all watched the mare change in front of us- relaxing, moving off then inviting her back to ‘do that again‘, sometimes a tiny jerk and the way she would hold her body then shift was mind blowing. 

That very day she already moved better, and after day two I watched her canter through the pasture with fluid motion where in the weeks leading up she was stiffer and choppy. Night and day. 

No vet. No medication. 

Energy work. Then her following up that work by adjusting herself further. 

But that’s only half of the story. Wild Heart had begun gradually to respond disrespectfully to things she was uncomfortable with. 

I want to be clear here. I have heard most horse-people I know talk about respect and disrespect and now in my personal experience I am going on a limb to say disrespect is pretty rare and the term is grossly overused. 

I’ve seen horses worried, unsure, fearful, confused, questioning- all things some people often lump into ‘disrespectful’ but it is not at all the same. 

When you ask something from a horse, and she doesn’t want to do it, then looks at you and decides she is going to fight instead of flee and she will hurt you if she is able… that is disrespect and it looks very different than confusion, fear or worry. 

Also it isn’t generally the case that a horse ‘is’ disrespectful on the whole. You can have a horse go through all kinds of responses to a request and a few moments of disrespect that turn into either respect or curiosity or vice versa doesn’t make a bad horse. 

The mustang mare can flip pretty rapidly between questions, respect and disrespect and I am getting a quick education on how to get my human responses in line fast to act appropriately.

The other part of what the clinic provided was tools to communicate quickly and effectively when Heart chose to be disrespectful- things that would hopefully keep me safe and change the conversation bringing our relationship back where she was willing and saw us as good leaders paired with some physical healing she needed to do in order to feel better, relax and start to work again. 

One of the common mistakes I’ve seen is  (especially women) when needing to respond with big communication from a horse is to get emotional. I don’t mean they cry or become a hormonal mess- mostly they use anger and frustration. Anger seems to help generate big energy, however it is still an emotion and a horse will never accept an emotional leader. 

Horse leaders respond appropriately to the situation and go back to their cool, relaxed selves eating or drinking or whatever it is they were doing just seconds ago before the offense. It’s that quick. And when they get the situation handled (which is with exactly the volume necessary no more no less) it’s over. They don’t continue to punish or chase or ‘impose more control’. They don’t continue to work the disrespectful horse. They get what they asked for (out of my space, don’t touch my food, etc) and then move on. 

It’s in the moment. The past… 2 seconds ago… is over. 

One thing I’ve noticed is that the situation is defused quickly- not amped up into an emotional frenzy which is the usual response that humans have when they are afraid, angry, or frustrated.

My job when Heart decides to take me on and question if I’m leadership material is to not be fearful (control breathing, be aware of heart rate), calmly (like I have no doubt I can successfully take on a 1200 pound wild animal) but firmly stand my ground and use my tools to communicate that I’m smarter and stronger than she is. 

After all if I can’t keep her from eating grass when she suppose to be working for me, how can I be trusted to keep the mountain lions at bay, or to provide the food she needs, or make the right decisions when we’re out in the woods together. 

More domesticated horses just don’t have the high level survival drive a wild one does so she goes from zero to life or death quicker than the other horses I work with. 

Still I have faith in the mare. She is a good horse full of spirit and heart. She is going to make an excellent partner when she realizes she has a cush life now and doesn’t have to fight anymore- she can get along with her new family and be treated very well. 

But she does have a job. 

It’s a slower process but completely worthwhile and both Susan and I are committed to success and giving the process the time it takes. 

After over a week of regular but short sessions I am seeing improvement. At first her language was loud and aggressive at times, now her disrespectful moments are less intense and more half-hearted. She is healing and I am learning and growing. 

One thing is for certain, learning to work with a horse who chooses disrespect at times does make you better if you get through it effectively. It will make me better with all the horses I work with- and it has shown me what disrespect isn’t. Which has been one of the most valuable parts of this experience for me. 

I still believe that slow IS fast and that once we sort some of these things out she will come right along and be a truly fine horse. 

Refined through the fire. 

April 26, 2017

Where to begin?

There’s been a lag in my blogging because I’ve been too busy doing to catch up with writing.
Let me try to sum it up.

Since my last blog post:

  • my mother came to visit.
  • We hosted a two-day private horsemanship type clinic together with friends (horsemanship seems the closest tag… it was about everything from riding to energy work to nutrition to training to equine communication to life lessons… all jam packed into two intense days).
  • My mom spent some time with fabulous Faygo as the plan is to send her to Reno this summer.
  • Then after dropping the clinician and my mom at the airport I came home and packed and left for the No Frills 55 which we rode on Saturday.
  • With a day to unpack and recover I’ve spent two days digging out of that hole from work duties and teaching my violin students.

Now to update my blog as best I can considering how much material I have and how little time and space I have to write this week.

First mom’s visit.

I am so grateful for the time we had together to share horsey-life. We got some beautiful riding in my favorite spots including Hidden Valley and The Big Lonely. 

She and Faygo had fantastic connection right from the start- and there must be horses somewhere in our blood because for starting later in life even than I have- she has great intuition and a great connection to them. I felt they were well matched right away and as the week went on even more strongly so. By the time she left I wished she could put Faygo on the plane with her and take her sooner. When people ask “are you sad for her to go” I can only say:

No! not even a little. Of course I’ll miss her- she’s an amazing horse and my first love… but when you see something so right and the situation so great for her, that is the only thing that really matters. It makes my heart happy to know she’ll be with my mom and Shine.

Second the clinic.

I can’t even begin. Life changing is an understatement so I’ll start by saying that it was a special time with women who are very important in my life and horses that connect us all. 

Dee from Simple Equine Teaching guides the humans to be able to think like a horse does because horses cannot think like a human. Seems easy enough- but my experience is that most people who try to see the world from the horse’s perspective mostly end up thinking “as if the horse thought like a human” and that’s where things go wrong. In order to see from the horse’s perspective first you have to notice how they communicate and enter that space. No matter what it sounds like from the outside- I’ve seen it. I’ve seen things change. Seeing is believing for me.
It’s the kind of clinic that even though looking back the least amount of time was probably spent with me and Khaleesi within the total group, I learned a ton from being part of everyone else’s process.
I don’t just want to know how to connect with my horse- I want to learn how horses think and communicate period- so watching very basic things between my mom and Faygo… and standing at the top of a very large field while Carrington learned to connect to her lead horse in a herd was invaluable for me. I learned much about working with Wild Heart and what that process will continue to look like and how Susan and I compliment each other with her… and had a blast with the time I did spend with Khaleesi.

Spending some time with the girls at the Big Lonely before the clinic.

The funniest must be when I went to collect my horse from the home field on day one- she would be transported to The Big Lonely (site of the clinic) after working with Wild Heart. My fantastic horse that comes to me and puts her head in the rope halter 95% of the time knew Dee was there and put on quite a spectacular show! 

As I stood inside the barn with the thought to collect her while they were wrapping up with Heart I got this welling up in my heart: I’m going to get my horse now… my friend… my sidekick… my second in command…

I kid you not: as I stood up in the barn hardly able to contain my excitement and anticipation to work with my partner I looked out the barn window and watched as she went from standing in the closest corner watching the barn to a full gallop down the fenceline to the farthest point of the field. Doubt if you want to but it was as obvious to me as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow: she felt my energy and ran with it.

I went out to the field and she came barreling back toward the gate. It had been raining on and off and the field was soggy. She showed off her full acrobatic repertoire. Bucking, rearing, jumping and running with sliding muddy stops. At one point before I stepped inside the field she did just the right amount of twist to send a shower of mud particles cartoon-like in their perfection showering right on top of me.

Brava! Yes… you are fantastic… I’m coming in to get you now…

Yes. She dared me. Come in to get me! WHEEEEEEEEEE!

If she truly wanted to evade she had acres of field to leave me for but instead she played with me and danced showing off her skills and then standing still enough for me to get close, offer a hand then twist and buck and run off again.
K: You need to up your game today! Dee is here… I know it!
Me: Show off. Come in and work with me. I promise it will be fun!
K: I will… but you have to say the secret code first!
Me: Come on… you know I don’t know the secret code.
K: I know… but Dee does! You might figure it out here… I’ll give you clues. 

True enough Dee finally came outside as the game went on and laughed: I love this mare… she is having so much fun with you!

After a couple suggestions revealing her equine code of the day, true to her word K stood still and dipped her head into the halter and we left the field together and into the trailer heading for the Big Lonely as if nothing was different than usual. She wasn’t worked up or hot or distracted- she had her fun and was mine again. 

 As the rain kept coming on and off we rode in the indoor arena there and talked about diagonals and signals of riding that are just a little different than the things I’ve heard around me for years.

I brought up my experimentation with riding in the halter and she thought a moment before suggesting that it’s ok with the right equipment but not ideal… what we need to set our sights on is to ride in a neck rope. After all when doing 50 – 100 miles on the trail, getting everything off her face would be best. 

Not today…. But we’ll get there.

Of course we will. I have no doubt.

The No Frills 55.

Becky Pearman Photography

After dropping my mom and Dee at the airport Friday morning and not being sure my truck was ready at the shop I was completely unsure if I’d be attending my favorite ride this year. I have been learning that all of life is beyond my control and that it is OK. I am learning the strength in flexibility and how to pay more attention to the doors that open around me. If my truck wasn’t running it didn’t matter how ready my horse was- the No Frills wouldn’t happen for us this year.

But my truck did get finished thanks Jay Ford and Casey and team and then I truly did have to make the call: do I go or not go?

I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and hadn’t had much time at home. I had plenty to catch up on. This 55 on the other hand was a true test of green to 100’s current conditioning program and her feet. It was my last chance until June to see if we were on the right track. After a brief discussion with Ed (who was working over the weekend anyway) I decided to go.

I packed in an hour, loaded my horse and hit the road. I didn’t put my usual ton of thought or preparation. I threw some things into a cooler, a bag and a few plastic bins. As long as I had horse and saddle I should be fine. The biggest things I forgot were: sleeping bag, GPS and heart rate monitor. I was able to borrow a blanket from great friends Amy and Ricky and Amy even leant me a HRM but I couldn’t make it work. Didn’t matter. This ride there was no data- and that was for the best.

I woke up at 4:30am in my trailer hammock to pouring rain and figured I’d made the wrong call. I should have stayed home. Too late. I’m here, I drove. I paid. I’m riding.
Thankfully the Muddy Creek Rain Coat Ed got me a couple birthdays ago created a climate bubble. I was never cold and never wet. In fact it ended up being quite a pleasant ride despite the high of 48 and cold rain. 

Misty cold rain held all day- yep. Rocks here too

The weather was ever in Khaleesi’s favor. It kept her cool through a very tough ride, and it softened up some of the hard pack easing some of the concussion of 55 miles.

I went out of camp last knowing the only way we would make it through sound was to let her pick her way through the rocky trail at her pace. I had no way of knowing our average speed thank God because it seemed too slow to finish, but I didn’t care. My horse came first and I would not make the same mistake I made at 2016 Iron Mountain. I would listen to her and allow her to navigate as she was able. If we went overtime so be it. This time I would listen. I would make it up to her. I would be better.

We met up with Roger in the first loop and the two of us never left the last positions for the entire 11 hours we were out on trail. Khaleesi crept through the rocks and trotted whenever she could. We didn’t hurry and we didn’t tarry. By the last vet check we were alone after about 10 minutes into our hold while the volunteers began cleaning up- no one was even close to our last places in line. Didn’t matter- my horse looked amazing.

Final vet check before the finish at mile 43

The final 10 miles to camp we rode alone and the footing was normally hard pack but the relentless 10 hours of rain had softened it up just enough and she trotted and cantered that stretch like we’d just left the barn. 

The road follows a stream; she dragged me in a few times to drink her fill and she would pick at the lush early grasses from time to time but overall she ran home with energy to spare.

We all but cantered excitedly down into the final vetting in camp and once I pulled her tack she pulsed at 60 then had a cardiac recovery of 48 bpm. Fantastic! I’ve never seen her look so good after a ride and her feet held without a sign of lameness.

What a good lesson for me. The No Frills is hands down one of the toughest rides for both the 30 and the 55- thankfully in April we never had the heat & humidity the June OD ride does, and the June ride has more elevation gain to worry about, but this ride has the worst rocks of all three and intense relentless trails.

Looking good back at camp

As Roger reminded me: You close your eyes at night and see rocks after this ride. Grass & rocks, mud & rocks, big rocks and small rocks; embedded trail rocks and loose gullies of rocks. Rocks everywhere you turn.

Rock trail

Something else Roger said that gave me a smile. He said Khaleesi moves so beautifully- like she floats down the trail but you can see her put that hind end motor underneath herself with great power. That’s what I want. Power and ease.

I have a long way to go as a rider to help make her job as easy as possible, but I have come such a long way from my first LD on her with my legs flying around and being tossed into the air feeling like I’d gone through a washing machine for 30 miles. 

Overall this past year has been a challenging one on many levels. Often uncomfortable, but it’s the challenges that up your game and make you better if you let them. It’s the fire that refines. 

With many lessons sloshing around the think tank I will enjoy a moment of positive growth. Here after this 55 I think we both looked and felt the best after a big ride yet! I am refreshed from some time with my amazing mom, and my horse and I  are on the right track and have many more years and miles to tweak and improve. 

Becky Pearman Photography

Time. Truth. Heart.

Hills & Halters

Monday, April 10, 2017

Gladly I don’t have much new to report!

I’m still riding Khaleesi in the halter and loving it. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll grab my bit again and under what circumstances that would be. 

What I’ve found from riding in the halter is that (first) I’m better all around because without the fallback of perceived ‘head control’ I somehow sense I need to be. I’m letting go of a tool most people believe is pretty basic to riding. 

Shout out to some endurance riders I respect and am inspired by for good horsemanship as well as great riding: Elise, Dale & Kelly at the top of riders who are riding in a halter and made an impression on me. 

I find myself a little more focused. I think about clean and clear communication for everything in advance. I use my legs to communicate a million times more and think more carefully about how I’m using them… when, where, and how much (pressure). 

The second thing I’ve realized is my comfort bit really doesn’t give me *that* much more control than riding in a halter. Not like I thought it did. 

In general Khaleesi and I work well together and are on the same page. Granted, I started her from a feral animal I couldn’t get my hands on or even halter as a 4 yr old. I slowly gained her trust, got her under saddle and then on the endurance horse trail. It may have been messy at times but we did this together… not quite 3 years later we have built a partnership and that fundamental base is a major factor. Mutual trust is huge and worth building. 

Most of the time we are on the same page so riding in a bit or a halter wouldn’t make a difference anyway. Of the few times I needed to insist on something that was not on her agenda I found I was able to do it without much more struggle than if she’d been in a bit. 

One instance she was terrified of a working crew at a house near the river crossing. I’m not sure what they were doing but it involves large trucks, tractors and very loud unpredictable noises. I had to get off her momentarily to open the gate we normally have no trouble doing from the saddle and I had to firmly insist it was fine and let’s go forward. I wondered if a random bam or crash would have us rodeo spinning but we got through it fine. 

The other was during a longer ride where I kept adding detours to bring up our mileage. At one point she dug in her heels so to speak and refused to take the ‘long’ way when she *knew* I was confused or crazy: that is not the most direct route home! What is with you today!?  

I was able to redirect her onto my detour but I had to make a couple circles as she tried to turn me back the way she knew was better. 

Yep.. it’s really this way… yep… it’s another climb!

Still not much worse than if I’d had the bit. And the few times she wanted to canter close to home and pick up more speed than I was comfortable with she came right down under control just fine with the halter. 

Why? Why would I ride in just a halter? Is it better?

I have a feeling the trainer/clinician that’s coming next week will ask me this when I talk to her about riding bit-bridle vs. halter only. So I’ve tried to think about it in advance. 

1- For 50+ miles on the trail it seems like not carrying a metal mouthpiece would be preferable by the horse right? (Trying to view from the equine perspective). I love the less is more approach of it. 

2- She seems to like it… from what I can tell. 

Would I ride the next ‘race’ in a halter?


I plan to start the No Frills after the first round of riders are gone because with past lameness and hoof sensitivity I don’t want her going faster through rough footing right now due to race brain. I think she’ll do ok in the halter if she’s not in the first wave. If I find the start of the ride is too much right now I’m certain after the initial adrenaline is over I’ll have no issues. 

So…. I’ll let you know if I go that route and how it works out. 

Speaking of mutual trust, we had a dicey moment in our last ride that made me infinitely grateful for that bond. 

Going around a large downed tree I chose to go down into the mostly open woods and when Khaleesi stepped over the bank (somewhat steep and about 4 feet of incline) her back leg sunk down into the soft ground and caught a large grapevine just buried under the leaf litter. We run into parts of old fencing and lots of grapevine in our woods so I am always aware if she stops short to see if we are caught and sure enough we were, but on a hillside and she had to work hard to back up just a small amount to take some pressure off the hung leg. I calmly asked her to stand quietly for me to get off and she did though she was concerned- her back leg completely hung in the thick vine. 

I got off quickly as I could and started by seeing if I could pull the vine enough to get it off her leg- she’d have to back up a little more. Still it seemed a better choice than trying to cut through the thick vine with my pocket knife which I’d also have to dig out of my vest tied to the saddle. She may not wait that long before beginning to try to thrash herself free. 

I got her to back up just enough and pulled the vine as forward as I could and got it off her leg. When I convinced her it was safe she took a couple steps to check and we were able to continue on without incident. 

I marveled at how she trusted me to get her leg free and worked with me while her rear leg was being held by a thick vine on a soft hill that was hard not to slip down. I am always thankful when crisis is averted as I know any riding can be dangerous and they are called ‘accidents’ for a reason. 

Having built that trust between my horse and myself is a huge safety ‘net’ that has kept me out of trouble more than a few times. She’s truly a great mare.

It’s hard to capture incline with a photo. This is a section of the many miles of hill climbingweve done over the past weeks.

That’s the halter part. The hill part has to do with a tweak in my current conditioning program. 

Due to some concussion damage in her coffin bone that I’d like to have a chance to heal, under the advice of my amazing mentor… I’ve taken a different approach to our conditioning window before No Frills. In the past I’ve worked on adding more trot intervals as she’s not yet a ‘fast’ horse and the more we add trot and canter intervals she develops more efficient speeds at them both. This time I’m avoiding trotting except on nice footing and we are climbing the mountains here. 

Thankfully every direction from the barn includes a mountain to climb. In times past I’ve gladly left the barn to find some pretty river valley or ridge riding to trot and canter along and minimized the intense climbing… climbing just isn’t that fun for either of us and often Faygo was my conditioning buddy and it’s hard on her. 

Up on the ridge trail. I love ridge trails!

This time we made it our main conditioning plan. Sunday was the last conditioning ride before tapering down. I added all those annoying climbing detours she protested then once finally turning toward home ‘for real’ I set us on lovely grassy paths and let her trot and canter as much as she wanted. After almost 10 miles of up and down the mountainside she still had plenty of gas to run home at a nice clip. 

Great canter spot!

I’m pleased to report no lameness issues have cropped up since our vet visit last month. She came through the Blackwater 50 in better shape than I did and has stayed sound since then as well. 

One curiosity has been her left front shoe has begun to twist and is worn unevenly. I sent pictures to my vet and farrier and though it’s slightly unusual it’s not unheard of. The wear especially is somewhat common but the twisting of the placement of the shoe is odd to me. Because we weren’t going to be doing a lot of fast hard training and K doesn’t tend to grow a lot of hoof we opted not to change the shoe till closer to the event. It doesn’t make sense to keep adding nail holes more than we need to. 

I think it’s connected to the fact that we are both not comfortable on the left diagonal. I say we because I know it’s not just me. Though it likely began with imbalance of mine I have been working on that over more than a year and have definitely improved- but she doesn’t seem to be as comfortable when I’m on that side. 

I’ll be talking to the clinician about that for sure!

Otherwise a few trail cleaning and easy ‘leg stretching’ rides with my mom- who I’m very excited to say is visiting this week!! I believe K is as ready as she can be for the No Frills 55. It will me my first time through that distance course- in years past I’ve done the 30. 

It’s a tough ride but still one of my favorites! 

This will definitely test her soundness as true to the OD style it’s full of rocky rough riding and we’ll have to ride smart. My hope is to finish and keep our completion record intact for now even if we win the turtle (last place). 

View down to the river valley from one of our mountain climbs