March 11, 2022
I haven’t had much to write since the end of January when I mused about the predatory nature of humans and how it can affect our horse herds.
We have had winter, and it’s busy season for me in the music world. The November-January rabbit hole of liberty experimentation fell away to the essential survival needs and February also included an unexpected trip to Uganda where I had the chance to gallop at top speeds around the lands and villages on the Nile River near Lake Victoria. Khaleesi doesn’t have a super fast gear, but the powerful gray gelding Southern Comfort took my breath away as my young exuberant guide gave me a trail ride I’ll never forget… thundering hooves and the red clay ground racing away beneath me… it was about the closest I’ll ever get to feeling the excitement of a racetrack.
Even excluding a trip to Africa, this year is coming together completely different than last year.
I am the type of person who prefers to get into a pattern and build. Last year I took a weekend each month and headed south to train and ride with my closest friend Brandea and Molly-mare who used to be part of the Hope Herd before they moved away. This difficult expansion (them moving) did have some upside as when the Virginia Mountains were covered in ice, the trails at Dupont State Forest and other South/North Carolina parks were prime. They had less dramatic climbs, great footing, and presented a playground of fun conditioning for my horse and warmth for my winterized heart.
These trips helped us prepare for the planned return to Endurance Events for Khaleesi in 2021, and though some of our early spring events (Leatherwood & Biltmore) were cancelled, the local ride at Black Horse Gap in Fincastle VA was a great reintroduction and K outperformed my hopes with a solid 50 finish on a hard course to usher in a year of challenge and victory.
This year ended quietly with a sense the mare needed some down time from the intensity of rides and clinics of 2021. I had hoped to begin the cycle of trips south to see my closest friend and do some riding together through the winter but the door closed each time we attempted to make plans. And so a quiet winter was spent focused on other things now melting into a 2022 that is hazy for me at best — though I sense it will be good- maybe with surprise treasure waiting to be uncovered.
And so we arrive at March. This is the time to begin the process to uncover what the four solid months of rest, recovery, and release of expectations (#nohalters!) has sprouted under the surface.
The first ride in early March was bareback in the halter and working some simple foundations around the field. I wanted to see if we held some of the straightness we found together in the Joe Wolter Clinic Checking on our connection. It was good. As I brought the halter back and asked for a partner I found K willing and a new spring in her step. Just walking with her out of the pasture felt good.
Riding bareback and remembering simple things like starting out straight and in balance, connecting the lead rope (reins) to each foot, asking for small precise maneuvers and doing more mental than physical was a really beautiful start.
A week later we hit the road up to our friend’s private equestrian facility (The Big Lonely) and Iva and I played in the arena- still more mental and balancing work than hard physical training. This time in saddle and bit. Although we have a fair amount of conversation over the halter, the trailer, loading up… she is an interesting horse that really likes to connect over these conversations and I’m beginning to understand that and not see it as a fault in either her or myself, but an opportunity to chat… when I presented the bit for the first time in months she dipped her head right down and scooped it up.
We had a beautiful easy ride discussing balance, speed, direction, haunches vs shoulders, energy, and straightness. She felt strong and confident in the trot, and overall I am very pleased with the start, although I have no idea what our plans will look like for events this year. I suppose with the insanity of gas prices it isn’t bad to hold off the early spring rides for now. Things should stabilize, yes? We will hope so.
This is a slightly different approach to an endurance season. Even for me.
I like forward momentum on a predictable trajectory, and I think it’s common for endurance people to be goal setting and achievement oriented. I like to set a foundation and build the layers to get results. This isn’t wrong. And yet I find that horses are not straight line creatures. They often meander over to things grazing harmlessly along the way in slight arcs in their natural habitat (that is unless you’re on the lead mare’s hay pile… that is one time she IS a straight line creature- ears pinned and ready to enforce!) Horses don’t like timelines, and they don’t thrive under constant pressure. No wonder most domestic equines have ulcers and weakened immune systems, yet I’m amazed at their resiliency and ability to perform in our kingdoms so different from the peace they can offer us if we will learn their ways.
So this year maybe I will take a page from my horse’s playbook. This year I will begin with rest. And we will graze in arcs toward a new place that may bring surprise and treasure along the way- things my predator, straight line, human thinking would miss in such a hurry to accomplish a 50 before summer so we can finally start working our way toward that 75 because that’s the way to 100.
I believe we will compete this year. I also believe this mare is building a deep strength that will serve us as we begin to stretch toward more miles in the future. This year? Next? She’s still young (She turns 12 next week) and I’ve heard people finally beginning to realize that horses come into their prime if developed well in their teen years, not as an adolescent. So she is just coming into her greatest strength yet. And if last year was an indication of what is to come, it is worth the wait.