Beyond me

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I wouldn’t trade her for any other horse in the world.

There’s something incredibly sweet about having that horse you click with- through the good times and the hard times and in the in-between times.

I was recently on a trail ride with some folks visiting for a local competition they did very well in. They had some very nice horses and it was a pleasure to show them around some local trails before they headed home.

My unremarkably bred local farm horse and I (not a horse trainer yet the only trainer this mare has ever known) tour-guided the group along some old Virginia logging roads with a few rocky washes, cows, a stream to cross, and a wide wooden car bridge- all standard things we regularly encounter out riding in this area.

The horses all did fine with expert riders but I found it interesting how new much of this ride was for some of them. Of courseI’ve ridden these exact trails and many like it and Khaleesi and I were able to wait as long as needed for another horse to sort out a rocky wash, or go ahead first through a stream crossing to get a gate.. or be ready to chase off some curious cows if any horses were bothered by them. She moved along when needed, rode in the back when other horses needed to find their own confidence, and waited very patiently when I asked her to.

This ride was particularly chosen as a relaxing and easy ride with nothing I’d consider challenging to a horse whose been on a trail but as I observed the riders with me two things came to mind:

  1. Not everyone and their horse does what we do (we as in the ladies I ride with regularly) Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted that what trail riding means to me is what it means to everyone else.
  2. Khaleesi and I have a pretty darn solid trust relationship that is special. And I shouldn’t take that for granted.

The experience drew me to reflect on how we’ve gotten here.

A few years ago I decided I’m not getting any younger and if I want to have a horse that only has what I’ve put into it- then now is the time to try. I did not know how to start a horse. I had zero experience training a horse.

But I wanted to try. How on earth else can one learn? So I found a young horse (a 4-yr old) that was basically untouched living on a large farm in a herd. I could try her for 6 months and if it was working out then pay for her – if not just bring her back. Plus she wasin the budget.

Cheap!

Perfect.

So I began my search- reading, doing online classes, bought DVDs and books… I was seeking something unique. I knew I wanted something different with this horse.

In the first days I couldn’t even reliably approach her. She was feral. I just sat in her small enclosure, read my book and drank my coffee in the mornings and let her get used to me and her new surroundings.

Eventually I had a big grass fenced in area to work with her on and off lead and I’d pony her from my super solid older mare to get her on the trails.

Looking back it was a messy process but I loved it. I kept going- determined to learn. I dug up any information I could find and sifted it through the filter of what I wanted my horse relationship to look like. I sought out help when I saw others that had what I wanted for my horse and me.

Over time I got on her, rode her in the grass area, then on the trails with a friend riding my older mare… eventually riding alone!

Many people said I was foolish. Didn’t know what I didn’t know. Dangerous even.

Probably.

Thing is I didn’t really hear that noise.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

There was something deep in me that began this process. It wasn’t a whim – similar to the deep drive to work toward a one day 100 mile ride. The way these came up and happened upon reflection were almost not ‘of’ me.

Why on earth I decided to start a horse having no experience… and without understanding anything about endurance and only having heard of the 100 mile ride… I distinctly remember the evening I told people at a dinner party that’s what I’d like to do with this mare. 😳

The mare I hadn’t even sat on yet.

Even as I said it there was a part of me that asked myself: what are you talking about?

Something I’ve come to observe in the past year more directly than ever is there is one who directs the universe.

I hear many people talk about the ‘U’niverse like it’s in charge, providing us humans with something somehow. But my lifetime of observations thus far show me that the universe alone is at best either random (this is how we get probability and statistics… a random universe is foundational to that) or more often a force of decomposition or decay.

We all know this. Everything that lives eventually and -unless interrupted by instant tragedy- gradually dies. Trucks rust away, man made cities become ruins if abandoned, nature left alone often tends toward destruction – just ask the beavers after a flood. It’s not only man that’s destroying the planet- it’s on a ticking clock even without us to eventually decay as well. (We humans often make this process worse but that’s a whole other story)

So when things come together you can assume that in the randomness of the universe you’ve gotten a lucky coincidence (that is of course part of statistics)… but for me– when the stirring in the depths of my soul whisper things to me as if from someone else entirely…. and then begins to orchestrate the universe to open doors and create a path- it’s way more rational to realize there is someone behind it with a larger plan at work.

I have friends that talk about The subconscious and about energy vibrations manifesting things into your life. Without question the one who made the universe also made it work rationally and created the laws that govern it. Personally I would find it a shame to get stuck on that without acknowledging the artist behind the work itself.

Like admiring a wonderful painting as if it came to being without an artists hand.

Especially when you could get to know the painter. And even commission a work for yourself….

This little mare is not perfect. Well she’s close I take responsibility for any gaps because I’m far from perfect myself. She’s not highly trained. But we have done it together.

It has become obvious as I’m not a horse trainer and didn’t even grow up around horses; this came from a small whisper in my soul those years back and developed into something that’s actually working- I’m going to take a moment and say THANK YOU because regardless of the work I have put in- I didn’t orchestrate it alone.

There was a hand guiding this process and bringing the exact right animal, wonderful places to keep her close to home, the information to work with her and the people, the friendships and the help along the way in so many places I couldn’t possible mention all of them here.

And this horse and relationships built because of her provided vital support I needed when going through a very hard time in my life- that was also not random or accidental.

In some ways she helped save my life.

You gave me the stars put them out of my reach… call me to waters a little too deep. I’ve never been so aware of my need when you draw me to see that it’s way beyond me.

How wonderful to take a moment this Sunday morning and reflect that there is one who took the time to create us both uniquely and pair us up- then roll the circumstances into place and help us (especially me) along. Because this whole thing… it’s beyond me.

What a gift.

We’ve been through a lot in these 4 years together.

From the ride early in our solo journey on trail that on a 12 mile loop only 4 miles from home (so was not turning around!) a massive oak had fallen onto the mountain road and each side was quite steep. After some investigating I chose the best possible of the bad options around and we crashed down into the woods with rocks, brush and trees and muddy footing that threatened to slip. The mare expertly and without fear navigated the detour and climbed herself back up with me on board to the trail once we routed the huge oak – it was so steep I felt her stifles push my feet and legs out of the way on the climb out.

I’ll never forget that day. It was our first significant trial and she carried me like a champ. Without question or hesitation once I confidently pointed her nose to the detour.

We’ve gotten caught in wire and grapevines and briars sometimes at the same time – she stands still for me to dismount and help her through one hoof at a time trusting me to tell her when it’s safe to take a step.

We’ve crossed so many rivers many with high waters up to her chest- including Big South Fork in Tennessee.

I’ve cleared seemingly endless trail from her back including dragging logs, cutting branches and clipping briar bushes.

We’ve been attacked by a dog where she stood to fight and kept me in the saddle as long as possible while fighting off a very aggressive attack, and more recently chose to run at full speed where we eventually lost the pursuing mutt. Yet she has no standing fear of dogs.

We’ve passed tents and campsites (she’s not a fan of campfires but we get along ok) ridden along with bikes, seguays, joggers, camping wagons and carts, fisherman (often curious about the equipment!), many friendly dogs, and every animal the VA woods can host (bears, deer, bobcats, turkeys, grouse, various snakes and many a squirrel).

Pouring rain… relentless sun… freezing temps and deep snow. Day rides and night rides under the moon. Not only has she managed all kinds of terrain including rocky ledges, ridges and the valley of the 7th ring of hell (the No Frills 30!), she’s completed a handful of 50 & 55 miles endurance rides with good vet scores in the time allowed.

[my favorite picture credit Becky Pearman at our first 55 completion at the Biltmore]

I am reflecting and remembering these things as I write not to brag- some of the situations I’ve gotten into were not good- however if you want to ride the mountains, often things are out of your control and you and your horse do your best together. And quite honestly it’s nice to know I can always ask for help navigating anything because I’m convinced we have developed our own team of angels at this point. Apparently we require much assistance!

It is striking to me as I contemplate all this maybe for the first time in one sitting… that maybe I have taken for granted what I and friends like me do and have done while riding the mountains that other very highly trained and impressively bred horses would not find so easy to navigate.

Of course….. if they did navigate these situations they would do it on the correct lead!

And that’s a conversation still above my pay grade… for now. We aren’t finished yet- still have a lot of work to do together. A lifetime I suppose.

I plan to take my first practice dressage test this week as a matter of fact!

For today I spent a few moments in appreciation of my wonderful mare, and of the connection I have built with her beginning 4 years ago when I sat with her in an enclosure just getting her to trust me enough to allow me to rub her on the neck.

And the help I’ve gotten in the journey- that is uniquely ours and only just begun.

Maybe it’s good that I had no idea…

because somewhere along the way…. between the mountain miles and rugged detours… in the rivers and the rocks and even the white fenced arena… it has come to be… just as I believe was planned before time began:

I am hers and she is mine.

Falling apart or into place?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I recently heard a song that suggested though I may feel like my world is falling apart, really it’s falling into place.

I love that thought.

I’ve had some nagging questions that have been beginning to feed doubt into my world.

The main concern in my horse world at least – circle around hooves and soundness. Khaleesi has been barefoot for almost a year now and I see great improvement in her feet.

Since switching to Scoot Boots I finally have a boot that is staying on around 90% and win the award for me as easy to use and durable. ScootBoots also offers fantastic barefoot information online including good Q&A forums that have helped me along the way.

So why does it seem I’m hitting roadblocks?

Subtly I’ve been getting this nagging feeling something isn’t quite right. It’s shown up in the shadows – one ride in late winter around the property where she’d feel a little off but would clear up if I rode her through.

The lameness pull – granted I lost a boot on a seriously bad part of trail… But then why did the treatment vet say her hooves were not only not sensitive- but also looked in great shape and healthy….. at the time I accepted the minor tendon sensitivity… but… something is fishy.

Then there was a recent ride where when I tried to get her trotting the ‘lameness’ feeling would show up and then disappear. Once we hooked up with friends it seemed to go away and she felt sound and even the rest of the day.

What do I do?

It’s the nagging doubt that makes it tricky in deciding which approach to take:

If she has a very minor injury then I need to back off, give her rest and get her to 100% health…

but there’s also the possibility I need to be clear about moving down the trail and my expectation isn’t to relax and bop along at a wandering pace. If this is going on then I need to demand clearly that she get going and move at the pace I set regardless if it’s faster or slower than what she has in mind (without being unsafe).

What if I’ve now trained in this odd broken gait by worrying about it and allowing her to go back to a comfortable walk when I feel it. It’s certainly possible that I can create a cycle where I ask to go… she ‘stumbles’ and pops off in her front… I say ‘never mind it’s ok- you can walk. Maybe she’s learned if she answers my request to move out with a misstep I’ll just stop asking.

Plus I’m more likely to err on the side of caution and not cause long term damage.

The nagging continued to plague me. Finally I had one entire day available with no other commitments. So I graciously bowed out of friends offers to ride and celebrated a day to ride solo. Just me and my favorite mare.

I even told my husband I just didn’t know when I’d be back but assumed it would be by dark.

It was incredibly freeing and I realized how much I needed that time when the burden of a time constraint was absent.

I now had at least 6 hours with my horse and chose a trail with lots of ‘boring’ miles on a dirt road where I was able to focus on she and me more closely – asking her for transitions in and out of gaites, change speeds within the gaites, and to switch sides of the road laterally.

That funny broken up feeling came back from time to time and alone in the woods I continued to chew on it and turn it around for examination.

First- as much as it wasn’t ‘right’ still it didn’t feel like she was lame- that feels like falling down. This feels like popping up higher in the front. It is most often on the left front but she did the same thing on the right as well. It was always going from a walk into a trot.

I could push her through it and eventually she’d trot even. She didn’t appear to hold onto any lameness.

If it isn’t lameness then what?

Was it my riding? Was she telling me I’m falling forward? And I stiff somewhere?

I experimented for a while with my riding and position and then it came to me like a bolt of lightening and I felt like an idiot that it took so long!

She was asking about gaiting again!

Considering she’s 3/4 gaited breeds and 1/4 Arab, she has the genetics in there to smooth gait physically. It’s likely I could focus on getting her to gait and pushed her more in that direction, but I’d decided that her trot was just fine and I wouldn’t do things that would feel like force to her in order to create a smooth gait if she wasn’t naturally offering it.

However if she has that gear I’d love to help her develop it. But at the moment I wait until she brings it up.

Once I figured it out I began to help her when she popped her front up. That was my cue – when she started feeling ‘off’ she was really trying to break out of a hard trot and into something ambling or racking – not exactly sure what it will be.

I would sit slightly back and hold steady with my reins and she’d get a few steps of something smooth and then pop back out and trot.

Eventually she seemed to have her curiosity filled and she stopped bringing it up for the day. We trotted and cantered happily the last few miles back to the trailer.

My understanding is that gaiting (especially without force or unnatural aids) can be tiring as the horse begins to use their muscles differently.

She did bring this conversation up late last summer. There were times when she broke into a lovely ambling gait of some sort and then she just stopped asking through the winter.

Now I think her muscling and topline is stronger that she’s starting to ask about it again and that’s the popping up movement.

She’s not lame.

I’m not completely certain she wasn’t lame at No Frills but I have a suspicion she may not have been. When a horse tries to start learning to gait I’ve heard it feels a lot like the horse is ‘falling apart’ underneath you.

She’s learning a little more about who she is.

I would love it if she decides to continue to develop this new gear.

Maybe this is a good reminder that sometimes when things seem like they are falling apart… they just might be falling into place!

Equine Charades

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Life goes on without much to write about. A great trail ride with girlfriends, days in the field… nothing particularly interesting.

Until yesterday.

I decided to take a short ride in the afternoon and upon arriving at the pasture Khaleesi came over to greet me. I gave her a rub and she walked off across the field.

So I followed.

Sometimes she’s easy to ‘catch’ and wiling to come out and do whatever I have planned. Sometimes she walks off and it takes some time.

What is she saying today?

What I sorted out with some trial and error was she would allow me to approach her and rub her and scratch her but if I went to halter she would leave.

I always allow her to leave.

I want her to come with me willingly so I continue to converse and connect in the field until she puts her head in the halter. Not a trap- her choice. This always happens eventually.

The pattern that developed was interesting to me. She would walk off sometimes toward the electric fence and stand at it gazing intently.

It seemed that she was saying she would like me to open up the fence to allow them to eat the gorgeous grass in the 2/3 of the field I currently have them cut off of (with the electric fence).

It’s too much grass for them. Last year K began to get symptoms of low grade laminitis from too much spring grass. I want to keep her hooves in good shape and her system healthy so she’s on limited grass and I supplant with hay.

She stares out over the electric fence and I say: I know girl, but I won’t do it- it’s not good for you.

I approach her and she takes off. Sometimes at a walk sometimes a little buck and a trot. She circles wide around me then squares up and looks right at me.

She isn’t getting as far away from me as possible. I’ve seen that in times past. She isn’t going far. And she’s engaged with me- focused on me. Squared up with me. Communicating something.

But what?

She isn’t leaving completely but also doesn’t want me to approach and catch her. At one point as she was looking right at me she began to stomp her back leg up and down.

What is it? I know your are trying to tell me something but I’m struggling hearing you.

I approach and she either allows me to rub her or walks off again.

Pattern continues. Sometimes she’d itch her leg or side with her teeth- often even lifting her leg and reaching her head under her flank (she is the most flexible horse I’ve yet met. I’m sure she runs a yoga class on the side sometimes)

One time she stomped her opposite back leg.

All of this went on probably 15-20 minutes.

She walked back to the fence. Stood right there staring. As I approach her I can hear it rhythmically making the zapping electric sound. I think that it is kind of odd… that I can hear the fence. I’m close to it, but it’s not usually that audible.

Hm. What is it?

Khaleesi is again standing at the fence. And near where she’s standing is one of the metal T posts — the sound is louder there.

I investigate more closely.

There is a spot where the electric tape has slipped slightly and is touching the metal post. It is zapping right there and I think the zapping is irritating to her (certainly she has a more sensitive neuro-electrical system), or with the extreme wet weather lately the current is going through the metal post and into the wet ground causing them irritation that way….

Whatever the issue- there was one or maybe multiple ones.

I looked at her and acknowledged that something was wrong and walked over to unhook the fence electrode.

I then adjusted the tape correctly and she never moved. I hooked the electrode back up and she continued to stay exactly in place.

Now the fence wasn’t making any audible zapping sound.

I returned and rubbed her neck; she was now very relaxed. Licking and chewing softly.

I thanked her for showing me and for being patient while I tried to understand. After a few minutes of standing there calmly I put the halter up and she put her nose in and came with me.

I decided not to ride.

I’d spent an extra half hour trying to understand her and then fix the fence and then relax in the field. The connection we made together was more important than a ride.

I cleaned up more of the glue residue from her hooves and then took her to a spot on the grass by the pond where she could graze some tender green stuff and enjoyed a sparkling water. A little time to hang out and relax for a few thinking of my friend Karin who talked often about her favorite times hand grazing her favorite Arabian.

I walked her around the pavement (good for her legs and feet) then returned her to the field with fresh hay.

It was a nice day but often I feel like I’m playing charades with someone who doesn’t speak my language. How on earth am I going to get better at understanding her? It was terribly time consuming for me to figure out something so simple as to fix the fenceline.

When I looked back at the video I took when I was trying to understand and thought I might need to get another set of eyes to help me- the hindsight made it so painfully obvious! She was doing everything except become a Narnia talking horse to show me the fence was not right- you can even hear the clicking in the videos.

<sigh>

I suppose time and patience.

And to keep trying to improve my language skills each time we interact.

And thankfully she seems to be patient with me too.


This follow up video is from the next day- with halter and lead I came in to see how the process to bring her in would go.

She walked across the entire field. Checked her dish (no food) then walked toward me and stopped. I approached the last feet and she put her nose in the halter.

A million times.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sunday evening I went to feed hay. My girls are on restricted pasture now so there is grass but it’s limited so I throw a few flakes of hay a couple times a day.

Normal behavior when I toss the hay is for the mares to wait until I get a flake tossed and then dive in and eat. They aren’t starving and often they don’t finish it all but there’s something about the fresh flake they seem to like.

Last evening was abnormal behavior: I share this not because it’s unusual for a horse- you may read and say this is a regular occurrence for your horse… But it’s unusual for THIS horse.

I tossed the flakes of hay up on the hill and turned to walk to the gate giving each horse a rub on the wither as I left. They were eating as expected.

Then as I was almost to the gate I turned to see Khaleesi (Wyoming trailing behind as usual) jogging toward me at a pretty fast trot.

I opened the gate and went out as she caught up and she put her head over the gate.

What is it girl?

She stood there while I rubbed her neck a bit.

Saying goodbye? (She’ll go back and eat in a sec)

She stood there. Quietly.

After a few minutes I went back inside the fence and rubbed her more. She stood quietly.

I rubbed her legs and they felt fine and sensed nothing sensitive or warm. I gave her a scratch where she likes on her hind.

Then I walked out the gate again. She put her head over. I stayed longer.

I have to go home – I fed you guys but I also have a human at home who needs dinner.

So I walked and she followed inside the fenceline to the corner and put her head over the fence.

I couldn’t help it. I lingered more there and just stood quietly. Sometimes giving her a gentle rub.

Finally I did have to go. She stood in the corner as I left. Not moving from that place even as I drove away.

That was magic.

She chose me and for a long time (almost 30 minutes). It was a special gift. It wasn’t random.

I had honored her and listened to her and also had begun to make changes to my plans to help her succeed.

I don’t know exactly what they understand- but I do know they understand more than many give them credit for.

As I told someone recently- and this I believe with my whole heart: I’ve never met a stupid horse. I have met plenty of… maybe not stupid people but often ones acting out of ignorance and lack of understanding who create issues they then blame the horse for.

I can only say that because I’ve been there.

And I’m only in the journey and there’s always more to learn and understand.

I know she knows something. She knows I’m getting better, someone she’s more able to communicate with- and she knows I want to hear too.

And she also knows I will make decisions that are less human oriented and more horse minded. And though for a while it may mean giving up on human success…. I believe with certainty that it will mean more success (horse and human) over time with a strong and balanced horse who trusts me to lead her more each time.

And knows I’m listening.

For real. Even when it costs me.

This magic- a new level in our relationship- was worth all the trouble of the weekend… the packing, the cost, the driving, the cold toes and wind, the detour onto the wrong trail, the long walk into the vet check, the questions I wrestled with, the feelings of failure, the exhaustion…… I never go back and look at my ride mileage record, but I won’t forget this for a long long time.

I would do it a million times again for this moment.

First make a winner out of your horse……

Success.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Friday morning was cold and windy and I had to put a fair amount of effort into keeping Khaleesi’s attention. I was not completely successful even as we walked my speed onto the open for competition trail past the starting line following 10 minutes of asking for a walk and getting a rough trot with some head tossing – she tried to make sure I understood all the action was heading toward the start and it was so wrong for us to be walking around ride camp in the wrong direction.

She kept asking to trot up the first road and for some of it I allowed as long as it was a controlled easy trot.

The first miles of the ride were mostly great footing or dirt roads and she settled into a nice trot and eagerly lead the small group we settled into as much as I’d allow.

April: if you are reading this I so enjoyed a few miles of trail with you and Brave ❤️ Khaleesi sends her greetings and I have some pictures for you. I need an email though…

Once we hit the first climb with embedded rocks she slowed down but at least kept walking and trotted when she was able. We fell back here but that was ok with me. At the top of the ridge is where things began to go wrong.

I couldn’t tell which way to go. I saw the pie plate that said “NO” but the way it was positioned on the tree I wasn’t completely certain which way it was prohibiting. I also saw a sign that was for the 30 mile ride.

I didn’t see any red/white ribbons. Then in looking around I did. And I headed that way. Khaleesi was slower than usual- it was rocky. But after about 10 minutes where I was mostly focused on navigating the footing it bothered me that the ribbons seemed to be on the left. I know the ride meeting said they attempted to keep the ribbons on the right.

😚

I stopped pulled up the map from my phone. Khaleesi was attempting to turn me around and I wasn’t certain if that was good or bad…. once I had a good look at the map I realized indeed I had gone the wrong way on the ridge and was heading on the 30 mile trail back to ride camp. 😬

I allowed Khaleesi to turn around and we immediately picked up some forward motion.

Back at the intersection I looked more closely for the right trail and found it though I can see how I’d missed it the first time and Khaleesi picked up more momentum.

This I write in such detail because later it gave me a clue to a question I wrested with.

Onward we went. I knew I’d lost at least 20 valuable minutes and in these rough terrain rides I also know that was a big price to pay for me and this particular horse.

She seemed to have some good momentum again and the footing was not so bad. I had been watching her boots and was pleased to say they were all working so far.

It wasn’t very long before she started slowing down maneuvering the embedded rocks. And then progress became even slower. She began to eat the grass on the pretty ridge trail and it was hard to keep her moving.

I couldn’t sort out exactly why this was happening. Because I couldn’t see a physical reason for the reluctance I began to question it she was communicating to me as plainly as she could:

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ride all these miles. I’d rather just eat grass. We can stay up here all day as far as I’m concerned.

A question that had crossed my mind but hadn’t surfaced seriously came nagging to mind.

Is this the wrong sport?

I did not ask is the the wrong horse. Of that I have no question. This horse is my partner- the sport or activity may have to change but as much as I like to ride endurance and all the challenges with it- this horse comes first

Does she hate this and I keep pushing it on her? Am I ruining the relationship I’ve built by doing this sport? How much say do I give a horse in choosing what work she does? What if she just wants to eat grass all day (?) that’s not a job.

It seems unlikely with the time lost on the detour combined with this lollygagging on the ridge that I will make the time I need to finish the day. And quite honestly I do not want to ride the grueling middle 25 mile loop at a snail pace wondering if I’d be faster walking it myself and left the horse in camp! No matter what, I believed we were done at the first loop.

I heard the inner voices start.

Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…

Then the drag riders showed up behind me.

They were friends of mine (Roberta and Jennifer) and I was grateful for the company. I explained why I was here poking along and we rode a little together.

Jennifer noticed the bottom of my boot seemed wrong though all of us thought the top part looked fine- I got off immediately and checked. The entire front right boot was gone but it was hard to tell because the glue pattern left and the black boot same as black hoof looked like it was still there from a distance.

(You can see it’s a little hard to tell what you’re looking at on trail- especially in motion)

This explained a lot – and I have absolutely no idea how long she’d gone barefoot on that hoof. I had been certain even until she asked that the boot was there.

I strapped on the replacement boot and we were on our way. However this was the worst of the rocky trail and it was still slow going. I wasn’t sure if any damage had been done in the time with no boot so I allowed her to pick her way through. I never pushed her to go a speed beyond what she offered. Which was a moderate walk.

[photo credit Becky Pearman]

She did better but not moving as fast as I’d need in order to continue. As we got onto the gravel road into the vet check she would volunteer to pick up a trot and I’d feel she wasn’t quite even and she’d drop back to walk. Because it was only a mile or less I hopped off and walked in with her.

We had taken over 4 hours to go the 20 miles (detour included) which truly wasn’t devastating but I knew already she was compromised.

The vets checked her over. Heart rate 40 (good), great hydration and good gut sounds. All healthy- except the trot out. I knew it from the first steps – she was off.

Sometimes vets will give you a chance to sort out a problem if it’s minor. She could have been uneven due to different boots on the front feet for instance- but it didn’t matter I wasn’t planning to go on and they knew it so we made it simple and they went ahead and pulled her as lame.

We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.

All in all the rough 20 miles wasn’t a bad training ride- also the camp excitement was good testing for our continuing connection. It was good to catch up with friends… and I let her know with complete certainty that SHE was a winner! She’d carried me through the loop, done her best, and I was only pleased.

[heading in good spirits to the ambulance trailer: photo credit Becky Pearman]

But deep down the questions still linger: will her feet always be a problem? Is this not working? What else can I do? Does it need a better answer or do I let it go and not push her to do something she’ll never genetically be able to do well?

This is when the detour came back to mind.

I don’t believe anything is wasted in this life if you’re paying attention. I believe things have reasons even if we don’t always understand them at the time. Sometimes we do get answers in the here and now.

It is in part because of the way she chose to move out onto the trail instead of back to ridecamp (she’s ridden the 30 trail twice and would know that trail – plus the general direction – I will give that to her as an intelligent equine. At that spot where the trails join, ride camp would have been significantly closer than vet check) brought me to believe at least for now, she does not hate endurance riding, I do however believe she hates the rough rocky trails that some of the OD rides are famous for.

So why are her feet such a problem?

The X-rays last year didn’t show a thin sole issue. I’ve put a year into rebuilding them without shoes and nails- so better blood flow. She’s doing well nutritionally and looks fantastic otherwise better than before with skin and coat and mane health.

Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.

As is customary the treatment vet takes a look over all pulled horses – I am grateful to the endurance community for this detail among other strengths endurance has as a sport… and he brought out the hoof testers to see if we could find a sore spot or bruise.

He cranked on the hoof best he could yet no reaction from her. Then he said to me-

your mare has really nice feet. They are hard and look great. The feet seem fine. Let’s try the legs.

Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?

In palpating the legs he found a slight reaction around a tendon higher up around the middle of the leg. He could feel no heat and no swelling, and a very small reaction but enough to think there was something bothering her.

Likely how she was moving on trail to protect her feet angled her hoof and pulled something just enough to make it uncomfortable.

We put an ice boot on and gave butte for anti inflammatory preventative to keep any swelling at bay and he said he thought she would be just fine in a few days at the most.

One more thing I’m grateful for is this mare is not stoic- she communicates especially if she knows you’re listening. It does make it harder sometimes because you can’t get by with much- but in times like this I’m glad she communicated instead of stoically allowing me to continue and cause worse damage. Some horse do this… they’ll do what you ask of them regardless until they are too hurt to go on and often long term sometimes irreversible damage is done. Not this mare. She will let me know if anything is not at full capacity. Occasionally I think maybe too much communication!

So… I thought some more. Maybe I’m mis-hearing her communication about the rocks.

Maybe it’s not as much hoof sensitivity as I’d assumed. Maybe it’s combined with how much she hates the unbalance and stumbling over those jagged rocks and maybe it’s also her tendons and muscles in her legs.

One of my goals this year has been to walk her barefoot on paved surfaces. I’ve begun to but not done the miles and miles I’d like to work up to. Maybe the hard surface work will continue to harden her tendons and ligaments. Maybe her feet are improving- but not ready for the OD trails… maybe she’ll never want to ride those courses just because … well … for a horse that many miles of brutal rocky trails frankly sucks.

A look at the left boot skin I removed in camp. It was on pretty good and I had to loosen it with a screwdriver. I may try them again. I like the concept and like the closer hoof fit, but I’d considered trying to paint them red so they were more visible and I’d take that more seriously the next time. I had a plan B but hadn’t anticipated seriously that I would know when it was time to put it into effect. 😫

Maybe if I stick with this sport (which at the moment I am inclined to do) I will need to adjust the rides I choose – which is a little sad because I love my OD family – but maybe not best for her. And the horse has to come first. I decided that years ago.

I may try to aim for rides like Biltmore, Big South Fork and Foxcatcher and see how she does on those. They are all farther away from home, but fewer more carefully selected rides at least may help me see if she does better and seems to thrive there or not at all.

Admittedly the ride home and the late night dark voices at least until a desperately needed shower spoke to me of my failings… failing my horse, failing myself, not being good enough- me or my horse… something is wrong with me… look at all the other people who sail through these rides… but at least after the shower I was able to decide that… No. I don’t give up that easily. My journey is unique and it’s my own. If it’s not right for her I am ok with leaving endurance but it’s not time to decide that now. I will remember that I’m a work in progress – so is my horse, and things will look different in the morning.

They do indeed.

Today in reflection I remember the lesson of what success means and it is not a ride completion.

My horse cares not about mileage records or placings. And I remember it’s how my horse sees me that matters more than looking like a failure with a lameness pull to human eyes (myself included).

True Success means:

  • I honored my horse and put her needs first.
  • I saw what good strides we have made in connection – how well she went through vetting in, how she works with me so much better than she ever has before.
  • The rear Scoot Boots (strap on not glued) for through the 20 miles perfectly and no rubbing! The spare I strapped on finished the loop with no issues as well.
  • She got good vet scores and is strong and healthy.
  • I made it through the trip without injury to her or me.
  • I learned things (about glue on boots, about my horse, that I may need to reconsider which rides she’ll enjoy more)
  • I got to work on my personal “Love Is” project: Patience when waiting for a ride back and volunteering to wait longer so another horse/rider could go first… in kindness I spent a few minutes early in the ride helping a stranger on the trail knowing that I don’t have much time to spare. And this week has been love does not envy which I don’t normally struggle so much with. I got to see some of that emerge as honestly I did envy some of the riders and horses who had an easier day.

Coming home with a happy horse and sitting in the grass writing this blog with her munching lazily around me, it’s nice to remember what success really looks like.

Sometimes it looks like coming home with more miles on our record, someday it may even be with a top ten finish, maybe someday it might mean changing our activity to something that suits our team better but building us into a team with a solid relationship that can only be truly tested when things are at stake is what matters most to me and that success I can be proud of no matter what the outcomes look like to humans.

Odds are

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Well today is load up to my favorite ride of the season and anniversary of sorts as it was my endurance event as well.

The Old Dominion No Frills 55.

Last weekend I spent two hot days (high of 80 on Friday) riding with my endurance friend Sally and a friend of hers. With the exception of losing a boot strap in some branches K and I bulldozed through – everything was great.

The boot- at a walk- stayed on with no strap and that’s how I navigated the worst of the rocky terrain we had to manage. When the footing got better and we moved into a trot it finally came off so I pulled a hind onto the front and left one back hoof bare for the last couple miles of wooded footing.

Scoot Boots are still in the success category.

And for boot advance to level 2 so to speak I’ve gone ahead and tried the Scoot Skins on the front with equilox glue. I did the glue yesterday prepared with a million how-to videos and some personal coaching from Karen N whose been doing a fair amount of boot gluing and had lots of good advice.

In the end due to my inexperience and the damp humid weather I give the boots about a 40% chance of making it through one loop tomorrow. In fact I half expect to find at least one missing when I go to load her up this morning!

Things I’m suspect of after giving it a go:

  • Not sure I used enough glue. But was trying to be careful no glue would get underneath the hoof which could be devastating over 55 Miles (imagine a hard pebble in your shoe for an entire marathon)
  • Not sure I really kept the hoof still enough for long enough to fully cure (this is 6-8 minutes and I wanted her to be weight bearing on the boot so she was standing still however even slight shifts in weight I cringed).
  • Not sure our humid warm temps allowed the glue to dry properly. Two hours after gluing I’d kept her up around the barn in the sun eating grass – the exposed glue still felt a bit tacky to the touch.
  • Not happy about the wet low places in the field and not being able to keep her feet as dry as possible- she doesn’t take well to being stalled and I refuse to restrict her movement and grazing the night before we leave for a big ride. Her overall needs outweigh boot security here.

All that being said it’s not something I can get regular practice on because I don’t want to have glue on her hooves more often than setting a boot for rides. The glue is probably better than nail holes and I prefer a boot to a metal shoe for many reasons, but it would be like having fake nails on constantly. The glue chemicals will eventually deteriorate the quality of the hoof wall which also needs to breathe.

Thus I decided to give it a try and my plan B is pretty good. I will improve over time- or I may decide the strap on Boots are really the best option and work well.


09:00 at the barn.

I arrived to collect K and load the truck though I’d stalled at home longer than planned due to sleet and snow flurries that had me uninspired to hurry off.

The boots were magically both still on even in the spongy wet mud field I found her in.

She came to the fence and I rubbed her and she relaxed but when I went to halter she stepped backward then away from me. She proceeded to gallop laps around the field bucking at the mustang and zinging past me (not close enough for me to be concerned). She would stop and square up with me, pause and then spin, buck and take off again.

This lasted about 10 minutes as I admired her athleticism and tried not to be horrified at the image of her Boots flying into the air or a pulled tendon in the mud. There wasn’t anything I could do to stop it except stand quietly and watch her go.

Often she’d run toward and stop right at the electric fence and stare intently over to the 2/3 of ‘her field’ with more lush grass now unavailable to her. I knew what she was asking.

I can’t. It’s not good for you. It’s not like anyone can see your ribs… you can’t eat cake all day. It’s spring. You’ll get sick.

Take down the fence.

We are going on a ride this weekend. Come in with me.

Cantering, trotting, spinning and some haul ass full out head down running commence.

She looks good at least. I can see she’s not lame. The boots seem to be good…

Finally she squared up again and took a couple steps in. And waited. And I walked up to her without her running off and leaving me again. Calm. She was ready.

Sheesh. So much for a calm morning. Or being careful about the hoof boots. However… they made it through that whole show and that says something.

I wondered what she was communicating to me besides take the fence down. (Not happening) does she not want to go. She’s not stupid- I think they know more than we give credit for.

Was it a sort of test: how will you react if I run the field around you like a whirling dervish? Will you get mad or frustrated? (I did not. I just waited).

When she did come with me it was as my partner. Right at my shoulder.

And it surprised me how easily and quickly she got on the trailer after all that.

Well who knows.


15:00 in Base camp (Star Tannery VA)

Camp set up easy, trailer converted to my apartment with hammock hung. Khaleesi cleaned her area of all grass quickly 😁

It’s windy and cold.

Boots are still hanging in there and we went through vet in with all A’s. Body condition of 5 (we often get a 6 as she’s not a skinny Arab) and her heart rate was 40 which is good.

It’s windy and cold.


21:50 hunkered down in hammock

It’s windy and cold out there.

Start time tomorrow is 7am and should be about 30 degrees. And windy.

But.

No sleet or rain forecasted so that is the silver lining (it always sleet or freezing rains on this ride).

So tomorrow we ride!

Love is patient.

Friday, April 5, 2018

I have been very interested in love for at least a year… what does love require… what does walking in love cost (it always costs something)… how do we take and give love to others and how do we love like the other (horse, human, dog etc) needs and not just how we want to love.

So I decided personally to spend some time on each of the famous facets of love. You know- the ones read at every wedding ceremony. I thought a week seemed like a good idea.

Starting with:

Love is patient.

I am not the picture of patience. I like to get things done and move on! I’m a mover. So much so that on the first day of love is patient I wondered if it really had to be an entire week on each one! This one is not that interesting to me… what’s the next one?

To which the small quiet voice reminded me this is exactly why you need a week on it.

Ok. A week. Of focusing on patience.

Actually relaxing into the concept of patience in my world, at home, at work, with students and family began to seem good although I had no intention of writing about it. Then around midweek it showed up at the barn.

Working and riding with Khaleesi has been more connected than ever. She is standing so quietly to be saddled and so light and responsive on the trail- I love just thinking about going into a trot and feeling her hind end engage like a little turbo drive before even considering adding any physical push!

Yet occasionally she is not ready to come in from the field. And though once in a while she comes right to me, just as often she walks away and even sends the mustang to block me from bringing her in.

What I have learned is just to be patient and pursue her gently until a connection is made. I don’t insist, I don’t make her run the field until she chooses to be with me and let her rest, and I don’t get upset about it. I know she will come with me. I am the leader- it’s a question of when. Time.

Patience.

I love her and am willing to be patient with whatever keeps her in that field until she is ready to chose me first. I do whatever makes sense at the time to start a conversation- not tell her what to do- converse. I step in and ask and when she gives me attention I even step back and allow her to respond.

It works every time. But it takes time.

Then yesterday as I walked her toward the trailer she stopped somewhat far off.

There was a time I could hear myself:

You know how to get on the trailer.

I am a sensitive trailer driver… and it’s never even a a far ride lately.

You always come home too so you have no reason to worry about this!

Stop stalling and let’s get going already!

Impatience.

This would only get her upset.

But I watched her- she was lined up with and focused on the trailer. She was with me. Just not ready to be rushed.

the very boring video shows what I mean- she isn’t asleep, she isn’t stalling. You can see by how she’s standing that she is processing the process.

Love is patient?

So I stood with her. I asked her for just a step or two and waited and watched her. She was with me the entire way, thinking about the process, heading straight for the trailer. She wasn’t trying to get to the grass and she wasn’t distracted.

She seemed to be asking if I’d be patient with her.

It took 8 minutes. Which is kind of an eternity if you’re used a 15 second loading process (which she is capable of) but it was an act of love for her to stay with her in her process. It really wasn’t about the trailer.

It was like being patient meant it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing – what matters is we’re doing it together.

I also noticed that part of me felt like a failure if my horse takes 8 minutes to load on the trailer. I mean- if this were a trailer loading contest I lost big time. Not only have I gone back to walking on instead of sending her (which I used to do successfully) but it takes way too long.

But somehow I felt deep down that maybe it’s not the way the world sees, but how my horse sees me that makes me a winner. How much I love instead of how fast I can load my horse?

In fact the only way you can really follow this simple equine teaching method I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the past couple of years is if you’re willing to look foolish to the rest of the equine community in order to maybe gain the trust and connection of your horse.

She stayed straight in line with loading the entire 8 minutes and in the end walked so calmly and gracefully into the trailer stall it felt good and not at all stressful.

Just maybe… a week of looking for opportunities to be patient will help me in more ways than I’d imagined. ❤️

Now for the ride itself…

In front of the hidden valley bed and breakfast also known as the mansion from the movie Somersby (which was filmed here years before I came)

Finally some half decent miles- about 16 and much of it walking because….. we did the forested half barefoot!!!

That may not sound like much to most horse owners with even half decent hooves but even the forested part here has embedded rocks in much of the trail so I allowed her to walk lest we slam down on a protruding rock and cause a stone bruise and abscess a couple weeks before the first 55.

Also she wasn’t thrilled about picking her way across the river 3 times which is all rocks.

When we got to the half way point I put her boots on for the hard packed dirt road back and she trotted and cantered easily with no sign of lameness so I think her feet continue improving.

I have decided to try the Scoot skins for the 55 glue on the fronts. It’ll be the first glue ons for us but it seems a good option for where we are. The back boots are almost no-fail and the fronts are really good but depending on some other factors sometimes have a minor rub particularly on the right front. (This doesn’t say as much about the boot in my case as it does about the rider imbalance and what it’s done to her developing new hoof. I am improving but new hoof growth and patterns take time … and patience)

It’s not enough to worry about for even 20 miles but 55 has has me questioning. The glue ons will take that out of the equation if they work.

If they work for even half the ride and I switch to my strap on boots I’ll be thrilled. And who knows. Maybe they’ll really work and stay on the whole ride.

That will depend on the weather (it’s a wet season which is tough on glue) and the gluer which will most likely be inexperienced me.

Also yeah us! Her topline muscles have developed further and I’m removing a shim from the mattes pad- you can see the saddle is a little high in front now! This is great news regarding how she’s moving and how I’m riding.

So great ride on a cool breezy spring day. And she was trotting and cantering without tire up till the last feet I asked her to walk in. Not excessively sweaty and she still has plenty of energy. So far so good for trusting in her base and pulling back some fitness from a place of rest.