Sometimes you’re the windshield

… sometimes you’re the bug….

Friday, September 7, 2018

This song has been wafting through from my teenage years from Mary Chapin Carpenter of late.

I am preparing for the Biltmore 50 on September 20. It’s the AERC national championship ride and I was just informed Khaleesi and I qualify for it!

I’ve been amping up my physical training: more miles, some speed, and some big workout climbs. Also mental and communication and down time together too.

I’ve sat in the field after evening feedings just being around without asking anything except companionship, I’ve brought both horses into the barn more and worked together on everything from trimming feet (especially on Wy), to tacking while getting advice from K on what’s working and what isn’t, and enlisted K’s help on some very relaxed and productive trailer loading with Wyoming.

Done some easy rides to pony Wy along… Family time.

I’ve spent some time in my little arena under video surveillance to see if I can improve my riding and our communication with some 3rd perspective help.

Through all that I’ve had moments of great triumph … and not so great as well.

It has been a reminder that no matter if I’m in the glorious heights of floating along at the perfect trot and feeling completely balanced and in sync with my 4-legs underneath me… to bailing as my trusty steed goes running up the bank in terror of a slow moving tractor…

I can always be truly joyful to realize that I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have horses, to be able to communicate with them and grow with them, to have a horse life with all its ups and downs.

I would trade any of it.

Well… maybe except…


That day last weekend clearing my main trails close to home which with a rainy year are severely overgrown only to stop for the first big briar mass– clipping away while Khaleesi behind me learns she’s standing on a ground bee nest.

🤯

Four stings for me and I’m sure more for her by the time I realized why she was acting like such a lunatic behind me. When I started getting stung the answer maniacally appeared.

Bees!!! Why didn’t you say so? Run!!

Flip side- even on the tight grown-in laurel tunnels both running for our lives she never trampled me, and when it was too hard to navigate at a full run and I let her gallop off ahead of me she waited once cleared of the bees for me to catch up and walk on home together. One more day I want glad to be riding in a halter and not a bit!


Yes, the above mentioned bail out on the embankment did happen while waiting to cross the road and letting a very slow but very large and very noisy front loader tractor pass by.

I thought I could convince her to stand firm. No. It was too much, she had to move her feet. I’m still kicking myself that I reacted so badly in that moment.

She could have run up the embankment to escape and been fine. I could have ridden her up there. But I was determined to hold her- and thus when she went, I was behind her and on that steep incline the only thing I was left with was re-balancing myself on her halter (thank god I didn’t have a bit that day).

The only thing I clearly remember was an instant where I saw her head clearly and realized I was PULLING!!!!!

[NO PULLING EVER!!! I KNOW BETTER]

I immediately let go and bailed seeing her feet cross my eyes as I landed next to her and hoping she had the balance not to fall or slip down onto me but knowing that she would do everything she could not to hurt me.

I rolled down a few feet and stood up to see her standing at the top of the hill now calm and waiting for me to get up and go to her.

The flip side– I had a real reminder of what I need to do in an emergency…. if she has to move her feet and we’re not going over a cliff or into barbed wire (which usually she’s smart enough to avoid anyway) you get ready to ride!

And even better I had only a small scratch on my hand and no injuries – I wasn’t even sore in the following days.


And there’s yesterday…. I had the whole day, alone, and a plan for 20 miles or so on some amazing trails I’d been wanting to connect! I planned to start at the other end and find a new route for a group ride soon.

What could go wrong?

The obvious trail was apparently not obvious and I went wrong right in the first half mile. I ended up doing some steep ups and downs, went through two backyards before realizing I’d circled right back around and my best bet was returning through the town for a whopping 6 miles in almost 2 hours.

The flip side: I think I made some people’s day riding up and down the sidewalks as cars slowed to take pictures out the window- we stopped where I dropped out from someone’s yard at this point obviously lost to chat (and apologize to the neighborhood for trespassing) with some local folks from the holler and they were tickled and took pictures of Khaleesi… a little girl came out to see and pet a ‘real horsey’ back in the neighborhood and in using the town back roads we went both over and under the main freeway with lots of foreign noises, lawn mowers, barking dogs behind fences, car traffic, bikes, tarps … all kinds of things.

(One is the yards we passed through trying to get un-lost… this was better than most of the no trespassing signs we passed!)

This time I was ready to ride at the moments I felt her tense to the unusual obstacles. Funny thing- when I gave her permission to move her feet, and decided to go with her- watching for a safe escape zone should we need it and I could at least help guide the flight…. she never needed to run.

🤔… could it be that slow moving tractor episode was preparing me to cut through town the following week? I’ll let you decided that one.

No matter what it was great training for Biltmore where some trails and roads are shared with bikes, joggers, strollers, seguays and even maintenance vehicles or lawn mowers and tractors.

And now I know where not to go- and upon better map inspection I think I can do it right the next time.

(I did load up and drive to another nearby trailhead for some more miles but still not the day I’d planned)


My saddle fit and shimming seems to be working well. It’s a funny combo but it leaves even sweat patterns and she has been pretty chill about the tacking process.

Her better breakover toe trim has been a winner as the slightly sore spots on her lower back that were coming and going (that the body worker was certain were not saddle related but the breakover inhibiting her free movement) – they seem to be staying gone. And her feet continue to look better each week.

However I’ve been encouraging her heels to grow and basically leaving them alone unless I had to even them a bit. This week I’ve begun to see the first signs of rubbing from the boots in the couple years I’ve used them- which tells me it may be time to pull those heels back a little now that the toes are coming into place.

It’s probably been 2-3 months since I’ve touched her heels so I did that after the ride yesterday. With a couple days rest we’ll try again and see how it helps.

Everything affects something- I love learning how the system functions and how I can help it hum along at its best given circumstances.

And my riding has been part of that too- I saw some things in the video from the arena that helped me adjust myself in a way to really opened up a freer trot and felt great for both of us and finally I could switch diagonals and felt completely the same on either instead of one being stronger or easier. That was a glorious moment.

I wish I could say it’s constant. It still comes and goes but I’m finding it more often each ride.

On and on and on we go through our lives and the unknown…

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Peace

August 13, 2018

Things in the barn have been quiet lately.

No that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped going! Very funny.

After years… at least four or five or even six… of seeking a different way of relating to horses… of struggling to connect and communicate with them more effectively. Something has clicked over.

Friday I brought in both mares. I walk out to greet them even if they are at the farthest point of the field. As I approached they walked a few feet up the fence line and turned their attention to the field past the adjoining driveway. So I did as well. I stood there next to them scanning the tall grass for a moment until I heard them.

The sheep were coming. They hang out at the big oak tree just a few feet over from the mare’s favorite shady spot.

Oh- are they your friends? The sheep? Well hello sheep…. ok, are you ready to go?

Then I rub both horses a greeting and hold up khaleesi’s halter. She drops her head into the noseband letting me know she is indeed ready. (If she’s not ready she will walk out of the halter I am holding- and I allow her to. Sometimes she needs to scratch first, or show me something, or ask if I still care if she’s ready or not….)

I walk with K on lead and Wy follows. I don’t need a halter for her. Khaleesi knows which side she’s supposed to walk on depending on what hand I carry the lead rope. I don’t choose the same side all the time. Yet today she dips behind my back and changes sides then walks ‘too close’ to me with her head right in front of my shoulder.

That’s odd. She doesn’t usually do that. She knows how to walk in with me…. why would she do that?

So I stop and turn to her and find a green headed fly sucking the blood out of her neck right in my eyeline.

Can you please kill that thing!? She asks me so politely.

And I do.

She goes back to the side we agreed upon and we walk on.

I open the gate and both mares come out and we head in to the barn. I loop khaleesi’s line through loosely (she will stay there) and get the green halter for Wy as I will tie her while we’re in the barn.

Wyoming’s feet are long in the toe again. Working on her feet takes a long time commitment for me so I don’t do it as often as I would like to. I work on them every couple weeks- but I only get so far before it’s too much for her so they more need regular attention for now.

Then there is the right hind that she still cannot allow me to work at all. That one is wicked long in the toe and I hope she breaks it off herself soon.

I grab my rasp and gloves and get started. Her front feet used to be difficult but now she lifts them easily and will give me a good amount of time with them before it’s ‘too much’. For the most part I allow her to decide what she can handle. I haven’t always taken this approach- after all it’s for her own good that I get her feet trimmed.

But she is a mustang and if she’s not comfortable nothing goes right. When she first came I tried to push her comfort zone so she would see it’s all going to be fine. And it wasn’t fine for her. Which meant it wasn’t fine for any human who had to work with her.

My farrier at the time suggested she needed more fear of humans. He tried to help that process along. It cost me dearly with her and he (I’m sure to his relief) never worked on her again. This process isn’t his job anyway. It’s mine.

So a year later I am still healing the breech and honoring her spirit above the health of her hooves.

After getting a lot of hoof filed off she asked to pause and I dropped the hoof. She set it down and off she went. Deep into her mind. Vacant. Processing. It must feel so much better to get that hoof in balance.

I stood quietly (this is why it takes so long to work on her feet right now…) I couldn’t pay a trimmer or farrier enough to allow the luxury of this wild mare to process the changes both physically and emotionally. I watch and wait for her to return knowing that every time we do this she takes a big step toward being easy to trim.

This goes on for both front feet and in one of the pauses khaleesi who had been standing quietly and often also processing along with in support of Wy starts to paw her right front hoof in the ground and lift it up.

You want me to check that out for you?

So I let the mustang rest and go to Khaleesi. She holds the foot just off the ground and I see the pillars are growing in thick even though it’s not two weeks since I trimmed them. I shave a little off with my rasp and even up the heels just a touch (the medial grows longer over time). She sets her foot down and shakes her head and licks.

She’s happy with that.

Then she raises the other front hoof and I do about the same.

Moving back the the mustang she now lifts her left hind as I approach her. She is beginning to understand that what I’m doing is helping her. Yet there emotional damage that makes it hard for her to trust and let go.

This horse doesn’t need me to force her through. She needs understanding. Time.

Lifting that hind is huge for her so I pick it up and do my best to work in a way that she’s comfortable. It’s stop and start as I find an angle to work the rasp effectively and when I get it wrong she takes the hoof back uncomfortable.

Yet we sort it out and I get more done on that hind than ever before.

The other hind is a whole other layer of internal struggle for her. She wants to give it to me but but just can’t seem to be ok yet.

In the end I take my lesson of never letting what’s good for her in my mind (not having one long toed hoof left after trimming!!) get to be more important than the whole horse and what she’s capable of… just getting her to lift that hoof a tiny bit and not step over to avoid me is the best I’ll get without losing everything.

(Wyoming relaxed in thought with Khaleesi also in process mode in the background)

So I stop with trimming for the day.

I decide to put the saddle on her and she is a good sport but I sense a very low level concern building. She is ok with the saddle- she is more likely worried about what might come next.

Don’t worry about that today. This is all you need to be ok with.

I walk her in large circles through and around the barn so she can move her feet and not stand tied up and worried about what the saddle means.

Once she’s relaxed again I tie her back up and remove the saddle.

Good girl.

It took a lot of time to get this far today so I have maybe an hour to ride. Perfect to pony Wyoming which I haven’t done in a while.

It will be good for us all…

I’m in the midst of troubleshooting some very ugly rub spots on Khaleesi. Saddle woes have been from time to time part of every horse person’s life I know- at least anyone who is paying attention.

I wrote recently about my own saddle journey in my other blog drawing board. You can find it here: Saddles: constructive, destructive, defensive

https://drawingboardlessons.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/saddles-constructive-destructive-defensive/

My saddle is great. In fact that’s the problem. Her topline is muscling in continuously and I have to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve and I’m not doing a good job of adjusting with the changes. I’m behind.

As she grows in more back muscling I need to adjust how the felt shims work and in this case I believe now that the pads I was using didn’t do what I now need which is different than what I needed a year ago.

Thankfully I have a good friend who is helping me sort it out and is a bit of a pad-hoarder and has loaned me some options to work with.

After trying some set ups that made it worse I had that 4am flash of inspiration and was ready to try that today.

I began to tack up Khaleesi and in tightening the girth she scrunched her face, bared her teeth and as I didn’t really believe her (just give it a try!!) she nipped at me.

Ugh. She says no way. So much for that idea. Now what am I going to do?

As I loosened the girth I felt underneath. The 1/2″ pad was tight under my hand. Maybe the 1/4″ would do?

So I tried the thinner ‘J’ pad and she stood quiet and relaxed as I tightened the girth without even a side glance.

She approves!

It is so much better when she helps me figure out what works for her!

With Khaleesi moving comfortably and happy underneath me the shimming solution seems to be a winner (for now). And with Wyoming healing emotionally over lots of time and patience she walked exactly at my knee like a buddy.

Everything at peace. Even the two mares with each other.

Life is never without challenges so we did have a couple trials: first being two terrible big biting flies that attacked Wyoming on the hind. I couldn’t do anything to help her except stop and give her lots of lead to get them off. She twisted bucked and reared and finally spun so her butt was smashed against my leg.

Later I thought how frightening her antics would have looked to someone with less experience with her. But I knew she wasn’t being ‘bad’ she was begging for help.

It made me wonder how many people appear to be acting badly outwardly but really have a problem they can’t seem to sort out on their own. All of us I recon.

I had to finally let go of her and trust. I couldn’t get those flies and I knew they would stalk her until I did. She bounded a few steps down the trail away from me and khaleesi and I walked the opposite direction. The flies came with us and landed on Khaleesi and I killed them both.

I didn’t know what would happen next. Would Wyoming try to head for home? Would I be able to get her lead rope without having to get off and on wrangling two horses? No matter what I knew I could sort it out.

In the end it wasn’t a big deal. We walked up to her and I was able to reach out and get the lead, turn us around and continue on in peace.

On the way home as we walked along the property fence a down tree was casting strange shadows. Something terrified Wyoming and she hard-stopped then panicked in fear dashing in front of Khaleesi, getting to the end of the lead then spinning around into a tree so their heads were together and Wyoming was facing me and the downed tree. (Again… what may have looked like a ‘bad’ horse was a horse terrified for her life. I don’t think it matters if there is anything to actually fear. It’s what she believes that matters at the moment)

We just stood there a moment and khaleesi and I were calm- after a moment observation I knew there was truly nothing there to fear but the little mustang was visibly shaking.

After a moment she regained her wits and I untangled the lead from the tree, situated us right again, and we walked on relaxed and easy.

There was a time when that mustang would have not stopped to consider if she was ok until she’d put a big distance between her and the fright. I’ve watched her leap a fence from a standstill to evade a spook. That’s wonderful progress!

Last thing I noted about her- she used to struggle going down the steeper hills. This time it was easy going both up and down. No fussing or discomfort.

I maneuvered much of the ride with little aid from my hands and feet as Khaleesi responds pretty well now from my energy.

We returned to the barn with a relaxed Khaleesi and Wyoming still at my knee on a loose lead.

Everything about the day as it had been for the past few weeks. Aligned. Connected. Peaceful. In agreement.

I haven’t arrived. I am not done learning… I still haven’t finished a successful 50 this season.

In fact, this may finally be the beginning.

Whatever it is, I like it.

Delta-one-one

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I promised Khaleesi to adjust the competition schedule this year to reflect her request for less gnarly grueling rocky trails.

As I am a woman of my word I did not enter the Beast of the East this year as a competitor. However I have grown to love my Old Dominion family so decided to volunteer my time instead as a vet scribe and drag rider.

This worked out really well for many reasons first of which being I was able to bring a friend who is beginning her first endurance riding season along to meet the vets, spend a day scribing with one (one of the best ways to learn) and she partnered with me to drag ride 15 miles of the 100 mile course to get a feel for what the sport is about.

As I’d like to try to get through the 100 mile course someday drag riding in the meanwhile is a great way to get familiar with the trails and also help the organization.

I also found it far less stressful packing for a non-competing weekend and though I have volunteered before I actually looked more forward to giving my time and helping the ride from the sidelines than I would have expected.

One thing that surprised me however once I got home and took an entire day to recuperate- is that it was at least as exhausting as if I’d ridden the 50 miles.

The 15 mile drag ride on Saturday was a great training ride for the Black Sheep 50 I’ve entered at the end of June in OH. Also I used the loop as a test run for a new boot plan that I would like to use going forward in competition only.

If there’s anything the OD can be counted on, it’s to put your shoe or boot protocol to the test on every level. Rocks, sucking mud, streams, more rocks, boulders, gravel, wet grass, and did I say rocks of every imaginable kind?

I don’t think glue on skins are the right fit for me for a handful of reasons. However my Scoot Boots are working really well on training rides often at 100% if the terrain isn’t too challenging. The other things I like is they have good breakover, easy to use, easy to clean, easy to carry on the saddle simply by clipping the heel on with a carabiner, also it turns out that as I’m hoping her feet grow out over time and underneath her instead of long in the toe as they had been before, I find she works best in a boot that seems to have a generous fit. They don’t come off, they don’t rub and she keeps them on well. But they add just a touch of surface area distribution to her footprint which I don’t think hurts her at all right now.

(you can see how easy they are to attach to the saddle with a carabiner here- I always struggled with easyboots and renegades to find a good way to carry them along)

In rugged conditions or mud there’s a chance of a boot twisting or coming loose so I’ve heard of people using sikaflex (a silicone product) on the bottom of the boot that helps adhere the shell to the foot just a little better. It dries soft so doubles as a protective layer as well. The issue is it dries S-L-O-W which makes it a little tricky to work with on a horse that cannot stand perfectly still for an hour or so…..

The technique I thought I’d try was to glue the sik right as were loading on the trailer for the ride- so at least on the trailer they are mostly in place for a couple hours.

I added a layer of vetwrap temporarily to the outside helping the boot move less as the horse walks on to load.

This worked great.

But one concern developed over the day and a half she stood around with the boots sik-ed onto her feet in camp. I was concerned that it was too much time with even soft pressure on her soles.

I slept outside both nights next to her pen as it was clear and warm. The first night she was very normal to what I’ve come to expect. She ate and drank a lot and she laid down once that I am aware of for a decent period of time.

The next day I left her about 12 hours (7am- 7pm) to volunteer with the vets at bird haven only a quick run through camp around 2pm to ensure she had water and hay. She stood around for the most part on a warm day stomping flies. I hated hearing her stomp her booted foot on the ground loosening the sik layer and also probably not great on her feet all day as I’d filled in the little concavity she had with the silicone.

True enough that night her pattern changed. She laid down many times for small intervals. I was pretty certain she was just getting off her feet. Sometimes she laid down and munched hay. She wasn’t lame or in pain- but I believe it was too long to have the boots and sikaflex for my comfort.

First thing in the morning I pulled the boots off and easily dug out the silicone layer from the valleys next to her frog and she seemed glad for me to do so (she stood very still in the pen without being tied for me and never fidgeted). The boots had loosened with all the fly stamping.

About 6 hours later as we were beginning to tack up for the drag ride I reapplied the sik to the boots, added my vetwrap to help them dry with less movement and we loaded up for Laurel Run.

The experiment was worthwhile!

My front boots took much abuse and mud and rocks. I ended up losing one back boot to the washed out mud trail but I had a spare. For some reason I decided to use less product on the back boots and next time I would be more generous on all 4. The sik will just ooze out and conform to the hoof & boot. More is better- and I think I would not have lost a hind boot had I been generous with the silicone.

Khaleesi was super motivated. As soon as I got in the saddle she wanted to GO and I had to calmly bring her back many times to where I mounted to get my feet in the stirrups and adjust my lead rope and then just make sure she remembered who has the brains of the operation (she knew who has the feet!!). I didn’t get upset with her though as I was glad she was all fired up to get on the trail- that’s what I want, it just needs to go on my timing.

All the way through the 15 miles to the end of the trail at Bucktail she was all engine. As I was riding with a horse not quite as conditioned I did a lot of asking her to hold back (which is never a bad thing to practice) and likely accounted in part for how well she came through with a full tank.

But even over parts of the trail with embedded rocks that she would normally slow significantly she began to trot on through. On worse sections that she can be unbearably slow she at least motored through at a forward walk. Definite improvement.

I will continue to play with the sikaflex on competition rides this year and see how it goes.

Delta 11 and Delta 12 (drag riders get a 🔺number) came into camp with good gut sounds, no sign of lameness, and excellent heart rate recovery. After hitching a ride back to camp I decided to pack it up in the rain and get me in my own bed and K out of her sad little mud pen into her acres of home grass. I rolled in around midnight and slept a good 9 hours.

I did the right thing this year for both of us. Though the weather was good (not as hot as some years) for the 50s on Friday – and mostly good for the 100s though I heard some storms rolled through after I left Saturday while 100 milers were still on trail, I keep hearing each year how much worse the rocky footing is getting. I’m not sure if erosion and use and this year being so particularly wet- the rocks of the Old Dominion is famous for appear to some to be getting worse.

I see more riders decide not to ride it at all and some drop a distance in respect for their horses. I have a hope that Khaleesi may continue to improve her hoof quality and size to someday be ready to take on the Beastly OD100, but I’m not sure that will happen. It’s way too soon to tell.

Personally I love the trails but they are brutal on the horse and it’s her 4-legs that have to get us through safely. I look forward to trying out Black Sheep Boogie and seeing how we fare.

I’m heartened to see how motivated she was to ride the loop we did. During our struggle with the No Frills (also an old dominion ride) in April I questioned it she hates the sport altogether. I believe she answered that question on Saturday and I think she’s ready to go.

What I really want.

Monday, January 29, 2018

I’m at an odd sort of place where I could share a million little details of every barn visit… but then at the end I almost have nothing at all specific to say.

While I’m in the moment there are a ton of things going on… little conversations… things I’m learning (like which brush Khaleesi prefers or what happens when I change the angle of my approach to pick up a hoof… why did Khaleesi just send Wild Heart over to check me out instead of approaching first herself like she did yesterday… ) and at the time they are all fascinating and then looking back it becomes one far away landscape of… well that was good.

It’s a nice zone to exist in for the moment. It’s fun and rewarding and a glimpse of what I’ve been searching for since I began to consider getting a young horse back in 2013. A horse that only had what I put into her. For better or worse.

I spent an hour this week riding in the yard. It was a nice warm winter day and I tied Wild Heart safely nearby and let her watch us work. I used what was already there to do some things like weave through landscape posts, move her hind end around a support pipe in the ground, sidepass through the wider space in the posts… we trotted and walked and made a few circles and explored.

It was wildly fun. With each new maneuver I’d ask and let the mare figure it out. I gave her time to think and respond and process. She loved it. I loved it.

When we finished she was soft and connected to me.

Friday I decided to get out of the yard and the property and I took her to a place we can ride home from (we both love one way rides!). It was dry, warmish, and the footing was decent. I wanted to start getting back to some physical fitness.

I trust her solid base of physical conditioning. This mare has been on a break since mid-November for any serious physical rides but I am not worried at all. The physical will be easy for her to regain.

What I’ve done for the past two months is really deepen our mental work learned what I needed to understand to be a better leader so my horse is more focused on me and beginning to understand what I’m asking (and care) and it’s been a million times worth it.

I’ve looked around me a while…. years… and wondered what seems off. Something just didn’t quite add up.

I mean we look at these amazing creatures–  see them in a field or in the wild or maybe on a video and they are magic. They draw us (many of us). We want the magic. We dream of being that figure riding bareback holding onto mane and galloping through a field with no groundhog holes. Then it gets more real and some imagine jumping great fences on an athlete, some picture (wait… no one actually dreams about working cattle do they!?)… some imagine the perfect dressage moves with an intimate communication only between you and the magic creature, some dream of exploring lonely new territory on their best buddy or maybe sharing the trails with a herd of human friends and equines 5 days a week, and some dream of 100 mile rides testing all their endurance, spirit and skill: human and equine… but all of us want that magic of befriending a 1000 pound majestic creature who will do anything for us… together… [music crescendos here!!]

Then just go to a show… an organized trail ride camp… even a solitary barn.. anywhere there are horses and you see reality: physical tactics (human will or tools usually both) applied to get it done because the horse along the way said to some degree: no thank-you. I’ll pass. Your idea is stupid… or confusing… or something I’m not capable of today… or maybe I don’t like the way you treat me.

If we can’t have the magic, we begin make due with boring reality. But what’s so amazing is with a horse… even just boring reality is so good we are usually still happy… sometimes we pretend things are all good and that might even work most of the time until things escalate.

Sometimes this comes in the form of a horse that gives up, becomes “respectful” and performs even to the point of long term injury to itself. Sometimes it comes in the form of little annoying things that make it just not fun anymore: hard to catch, paws, doesn’t stand well for tacking up, drags me or drags her on the lead, refuses to load on the trailer or a million other small things we work around… or shows up in refusals that end up dangerous: nipping, biting, bucking, spooking all the time, rearing, running off with us…

Sometimes people get on the horse mill looking for the magic one, sometimes they stick it out with the one that isn’t working and keep trying things to make the horse magical. Many horse people have such an iron will they are pretty good at insisting (hand raised here) and the horse has learned the consequences are usually not worth the trouble. Even more sad some people just give up on horses altogether… let down because the magic ended up so elusive, it was like believing too long in santa claus.

It’s really easy to point my fingers around… but as with every blog I post I know because I am guilty.

Yes. I have used physical force and training to fix my horse when I created the problem to begin with. I will probably do it again unfortunately and I am sorry in advance and promise to try to do better.

I have come to believe through my searching that a big part of why this magic is so elusive is because we want something completely magically “two as one” but most of us  seem to be so limited to the tools of unmagical physical attempts (at least I was).

Can we imagine for a moment wanting a relationship with someone…. but let’s say we don’t share a language. So instead of slowing down and trying to find common language- which could take years especially since I’m not a language specialist… that’s too long… instead I start to drag the other around by the arm doing all the things I want him or her to do with me with very little understanding.

The point that sticks out to ME the most in this example is what do I really want?

If I really want the other person and the magic with them- it doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ll always keep them as the center. I’ll never push them beyond what they understand. But if what I really want is to DO STUFF with someone else (you’ll do, come with me) then I’ll get bored with the process and drag them around to the activities I’d been so looking forward to.

I recently heard a quote:

Do not give up on what you really want ultimately for something you think you want right now.

So after 10 years I want a healthy horse who still wants to work with me because she wants to BE WITH ME. [magic]

If I build it focused on her, I have a better shot at that.

[It definitely helps that I have a horse I adore.. though most do, sometimes theres that horse you ended up with somehow is an animal you don’t really like… well… that’s a little harder to sort out.]

The short term view is pushing her to do my activity and find tools and use my will to get it done so that at some point I risk causing physical damage because she goes along “respectfully” even when she’s not thriving, or I turn her off to the process and she eventually says: I’d rather not.

However the question really becomes one of: does the magic really exist (after all it’s a horse) or do I need to settle for kind of… enslaving an animal to do my activity. (This isn’t the worst thing right? we treat them well, feed them, shelter them, LOVE them… it could be worse.. I mean some of these horses are incredibly spoiled right?)

Anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel…

I believe in the magic. I’ve seen it. I know it’s real. I will chase it until I die in pursuit.

I do want to complete a 100 mile ride. I don’t have a talented Arab. I have a local grown mixed up bred horse that I happen to adore. So I need more than physical fitness, I’m going to also need brain and heart.

But there also IS a physical component! Without question.

Can’t I do both at the same time?

No. Well not yet.

Some people can!! I know some of them. They inspire me!

But I’m getting closer… I’m definitely beginning to see some magic.

But magic being what it is, one still has to learn it. I have to learn it- she’s a horse for goodness sake, she may carry the magic, but I have to sort out how to access it. And she has to choose to give it to me, I can’t ever take it, just like you can’t make someone choose you no matter how much you want them to- in a relationship it only thrives when all is given freely.

She may never be as intelligent as me, but it’s going to take a lot of effort for me to become even half as sensitive and observant as she is, and no matter how much I LOVE this mare, it won’t matter if I don’t get better and understanding HER world. I’m going to have to somehow begin to train myself to be sensitive and observant on that kind of level.

No wonder Monty Roberts works with deer herds!

That’s what’s been going on in my barn these winter months. Slow, messy, human education.

My Jedi powers are finally getting stronger. I felt more than ever before that I could think it and she did it. Not perfect. She didn’t always stop on a dime without a feel on the reins but sometimes she did… she didn’t always slow back down when she wanted to canter and I was saying trot right away- but sometimes she did!

That ride was mostly trot and canter with some walking mixed in. She was a little out of breath and got a little sweaty but the mare did great and I have no doubt she’ll regain that fitness and strength without any problem.

So in the physical:

I cannot express how blown away I am by the changes that continue to occur with the Balance saddle. More and more often I can feel her lifting her back into the saddle as we go along. Especially on the downhills and also uphills. This made me wonder yesterday –

So many people say if you want to build your horse’s topline go climb hills, or back up hills… but I’ve been riding hills every ride of this mares life with me and though that might make my horses naturally more muscular in the topline than someone in the flatlands… methinks now that you can ride all the hills you want to but if the horse isn’t carrying herself like this you are never going to get the result you really want.

I noticed good changes immediately when I switched – but the effect is compounding over time and 8 months.

In other physical news her feet are getting better all the time. They are not where I envision them yet, but hooves takes years to grown so I’m working on patience and seeing the positive changes as progress.

Not having shoes for going on 8 months now her feet are a better shape (not so narrow and long), growing gradually more underneath her, and ever so slightly LARGER!! This is huge (literally 😆)

I’ve had to go up a boot size in the rear thank you Scoot boots for the slim sizes- they are still best on her hind feet. The new size 3slim boots with the supracore pads stayed on 100% in varied terrain and every gait including some full throttle canter sprints on Friday.

The front boots are still doing well though I had to reattach the front right pattern strap once toward the end of the ride.

And beside them staying on and allowing me to improve khaleesi’s hoof quality and size, something really stood out to me on this ride:

She cantered through the rock piles.

There are 3 ‘strips’ of the trail home that have about a 4 ft swath of large rocks that are now somewhat embedded into the trail but may have been leftover from years back when the road was used for logging. This horse knows where they are. I know where they are. We ALWAYS slow down and pick through them. I have no problem with that- they are some ugly rocks. It’s reasonable.

She ran. Right. Over. Them.

All 3 sections of them.

 

I hope this could be a sign that the hoof program is going in the right direction. Especially because I am the hoof program!But I’m a little afraid to hope too much too early.

I firmly believe that the time I’ve been spending learning my human part to meet her where she is and seek the magic at the risk of not meeting my physical goals or getting done my plans for the day… just as in how a human will do better physically when their spirit and mind are in order, has compounded what is going on with her physically as well.

Maybe. Though it’s still too soon to tell… I have this little hope… Just maybe.

This really is the year for this mare.

The great arena

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

The bitter cold temps are setting in with a shiver.

I am less die hard this winter to keep up a conditioning schedule and am encouraging some physical rest during the coldest days working on mental and basic retooling of some simple things.

I did a full trim recently keeping up with her barefoot program and sending off pictures to my trimming mentor for a basic thumbs up with a few small tweaks. (I also did a trim on Wild Heart)

(Video of a trot out on the pavement after trim to see how she’s moving)

I also went through the tacking up routine asking Khaleesi to be more focused and still through the process. It was a good session ending with me walking her to the stool and mounting – planning to work on her standing still.

She ‘picks me up’ beautifully wherever I ask (a stool, mounting block, rock or tree trunk) and she stands great when I climb up but after I lower into the seat as I find the other stirrup and situate myself she begins taking steps.

Prepared to spend some time mounting and dismounting that afternoon I lowered myself into the saddle and waited… no movement… then found my stirrup, rubbed her… unhooked my crop … sat there a moment.

She didn’t move a hoof.

Looks like an early afternoon. Maybe it was my Christmas gift! ✨

I got down, rubbed her like the good mare she is and walked right back in the barn to take off the saddle.

The next session I began with some transition work (asking for walk vs. trot) on the ground and added some obstacles in the yard. It was fun- it was new enough work that I really had her attention.

Then tacked up easy, mounted at the stool and she stood but not long enough for me to finish my adjusting and walked off to the gelding field.

In this case I decided to let her.

When we got to the gate I put her immediately into a circle and returned exactly back to where I mounted and tightened my girth, adjusted what I needed to (taking my time) and she stayed exactly put.

I was pleased we didn’t have to repeat that conversation – she didn’t ask to return to the geldings again. I pointed her toward the gate to the woods and she went willingly at the speed I’d asked (a nice walk).

After the ride on the dragon the week before when she argued with every single decision I made I knew it was time for working alone on the trail to sort a few things out…..

… this brought reflection about some riders who have a rule about not riding alone. Though I completely understand they feel it is a risk to ride alone in the woods- I believe just as strongly that it is one of the most important things I can do to help increase my overall safety doing anything on my horse.

Let’s face it. We all know riding horses is dangerous.

Horse riding is listed in the top 10 most dangerous sports along with BASE jumping, bull riding and running with the bulls (is that a sport?!), boxing (where people expect to get beat up), and gymnastics (anyone here got a daughter who does gymnastics and rides cross country!? You’d better have a good insurance plan!).

For me- in hope of mitigating some of danger involved (because freak accidents happen in every sport or activity including getting hit by a bus riding your bike or cutting your finger off with a knife making dinner) at least if I’m going to be riding a thousand pound animal with it’s own brain- I’m going to try to find a way to work with the animal that she might not WANT to throw me into a tree ON PURPOSE.

That’s a start.

The problem is….. From the evidence I’ve seen, many equestrians have never considered what it is that a horse actually needs from us — forget about being able figuring that out (because it is very hard for humans to see things without imagining everyone and everything thinks like we do), then if you do figure it out actually making the consistent adjustments is probably the hardest part- even for those I’ve seen who are dedicated to doing it.

Thankfully horses – I believe a gift from the creator of the universe to us– are one of the most generous creatures in spirit and allow humans to do much that physically forces them, demean them (assume they are not intelligent), and misunderstand them… misunderstand what we’re doing… yet they continue to protect us and work for us regardless.

I’ve been asking myself for a while now as most of my readers know- how can I be different from what I see around me? I’m the same as all humans when it comes down to it… so how can I basically overcome my human-ness and be successful which in the end means my horse is the winner.

One thing I notice is how humans tend to sell ourselves on the truth we hope for when honest observation may show just the opposite.

I am an expert on this because I’ve done it. And I’ve watched it around me- I see it more and more as I’m aware of what it looks like.

Horses can’t do this.

They live in the moment and only in reality. They don’t lie to themselves, each other or us.

I’ve watched people overlook the observable reality for the story they prefer. Especially if it’s one that makes us feel better about ourselves.

The hardest part is that it’s always easiest to see someone else’s story and preferred reality than our own. I often ask… God open my eyes to see when I do this myself and protect me and my horses from my ignorance and selfishness…..

One way to begin paying more attention could be to always ask the question as we all consider our horsekeeping and riding decisions… all of them….

is this the best scenario for the horse, truly?

[oh of course I have to say I’ve seen beautiful examples of humans who have overcome these tendencies and have inspiring relationships with their horses… so often it seems so effortlessly! They are some of the horse-folk who’ve inspired me to seek more in my own world!]

Back to the woods…

…..riding alone is a vital part for me to connect to my horse and communicate. It doesn’t have to be on trail in the woods- it certainly can be in an arena or ring of course. But there’s something about being alone together- not another horse in the mix, and not another human to focus on either.

Since I am at heart a trail rider I hit the woods – but alone I use those trails like my own arena and every step on this ride was intentional.

I asked her for exact speed and gait. I worked on trot/walk transitions. I worked on stopping and starting, on lateral moves both stopped and in motion. I worked on a nice back up. I wound through trees and went on and off the trail. Except 12 meter circles I’d say I did just about everything useful in a good session to connect with my horse and be sure that I was clear and she understood me.

Funny thing I used to feel I could get easily bored on the same trails, but when I focus so much on really riding I could loop that 2 miles for hours and still have interest in what I’m doing.

It was a fantastic ride and when we returned to the barn and returned to the field she was relaxed and I was content.

It’s hard to be that specific when there are other people and horses- at least for me.

It’s an interesting balance to find. Of course I don’t think it’s a bad thing to go for a ride with friends and chat. I love doing that.

However she isn’t a bike. I have a smart mare who deserves for me to really ride her and not just sit on her basically assuming she’s on autopilot while I catch up with friends. Also I don’t mean staying physically balanced and have nice hands. That isn’t hard to do while chatting with friends.

I mean the mental focus of everything else that comes with riding a horse. And staying tuned in to her even the tiny things…

I do think each animal is unique. I think in the case of this horse she expects me to stay in the game or not bother. I do think she will take over if I’m checked out.

Probably all horses will- but this mare seems to get resentful if I come back in to make a decision she doesn’t approve after I’ve been checked out.

I find some evidence to back this up when I look at our competitive riding. She is connected to me at ride camp and we often ride many miles alone and because we are not in the fast group I have to pay close attention to how I ride her all the time- every section of that 50 miles matters if we’re going to finish.

I will mention that I included the steps I’d been working on before getting in the saddle – like focused tacking up and transitions on the ground and expecting more at the mounting block- because they are key in starting to have more focused riding from the moment I drive onto the property and not just when I get off the property.

Thing is, I do want a horse who I can ride in a neck string someday. A horse who goes where I point my mind and a horse that I simply imagine my leg moving and the impulse that goes down my leg is enough for her to respond before pressure is ever applied.

I’m not going to get that horse by mindlessly grabbing her from the field and then zoning out on the ride assuming she’ll just take over.

What I’ll have of course is a horse that I’ve trained to take over.

Which…..

Is kind of what I’m dealing with

I think.

Not saying I won’t be joining my friends to ride the trails… however I have to keep improving my ability to do more than one thing at a time… and to focus on my riding as well as function somewhat socially in a group of friends.

The question in the end must always come back to: is this serving the horse or is it serving me?

I hope I will choose to honor her first in everything I do. After all I do want her to put me first. That is going to also be much safer for me.

The knife.

Monday, November 6, 2017

My journey into hoof health continues.

I went back to check my hoof history and am reminded that I’ve only had this mare just over 3 years (feels like I’ve had her forever…) and actually she was only in shoes starting as a 5 yr old:

  • 2015: August-November
  • 2016:April-November
  • 2017: March-June

So one full season and two half seasons.

I don’t think it’s my imagination that her legs look stronger, thicker and more proportional now than in this picture from September 2016 (I see an even bigger difference in the hinds here).

September 2016

October 2017

Until now I’ve been working with a rasp and a woodworking file tool only as I felt the changes were minimal enough that I couldn’t do any drastic damage too quickly that I might with nippers or a knife.

I have a lot to learn but keep trying to understand the mechanics of the foot and read as much as I can as well as working on a few actual horses with some initial direction from a mentor and seeing how my eyes steer me over weeks and months.

The good news is that K hasn’t had any true lameness issues from going barefoot and hasn’t been trim sore in months.

Photo from July 2017 a couple weeks after pulling shoes:

Photo from November 2017:

I’ve been working on her feet every couple of weeks in small maintenance trims and am now much better at watching how her feet change.

Because she’s more flat footed than any of the other horses I’m working with, I’ve come to decide she would benefit from better removal of some of the dead sole than my current tools were allowing for.

I suppose it was time to get myself a hoof knife. It wasn’t quite as big a deal as I’d worried it might be. I wear gloves because my concern was only in small part screwing up my horse- the bigger part was slicing myself!

One thing I’ve been told and read is that dead sole will come out pretty easily and live sole takes a lot of pressure to cut through. My aim was to try to remove some of the dead sole to give a little more concavity andtake the bars just slightly done to basically sole level.

Photo from July 2017 a couple weeks after pulling shoes and pads:

Photo from November 2017

My hoof trimming work is anchored currently in the ‘first do no harm’ mindset and though I’m quite pleased with how her feet came out of my mini-trim it is far from beautiful work!

The first hoof I was working left handed with a right handed knife (this took me a little while to realize) and the paring out was small rough little patches. None of them are deep and I think it will get the job done but it’s not particularly pretty.

I was pleased to find that the dead sole did take a little effort to remove but wasn’t difficult. The thin layer I started with will help ensure she doesn’t have as much dead sole causing pressure spots that are even with the hoof walls.

I didn’t see any evidence of hemorrhaging either which is also good news both in impact/pressure and diet/sugars. (She had some blood traces in her first barefoot trim in July)

Photos of hinds from early July 2017 a couple weeks after pulling shoes:

Photos from hinds November 2017:

I got a little handier with the knife as I went along.

Walking her back to pasture she was moving fine on all surfaces (pavement, hard pack and grass) at walk and trot. I’ll see how she’s doing as the days go by and if she’s at all tender (I’d be surprised as I was so conservative this time).

I can’t imagine going barefoot and taking on your own trimming is the right choice for everyone, but I’m glad to be in this position for the moment as I like being able to have more hands on control week to week instead of going on a 4-6 week trim cycle.

I’m thankful to Scoot Boots not only for a great easy to use boot that stays on for us making barefoot even possible- but also for their barefoot information and blog that gave me the courage to try!

Without question this is a whole horse picture and none of the factors are stand alone. Good nutrition, body work to be sure she can move her best, work on my riding to do the least harm when riding her (effecting her natural movement), a saddle that goes beyond a good fit to encourage building topline, and next stop will be looking into different schools of equine dentistry and how the teeth have an effect on the entire body and how the horse moves.

I suppose I’m also grateful for endurance riding that has been the catalyst for finding the best instead of what works- the journey has been eye opening for sure but also really fascinating!

Miracle.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The last post Against the odds I said I was looking forward to a miracle or a lesson. In fact I got both. The lessons can wait a day or so until I collect my thoughts but a shorter review on the big question of the hoof boots seemed like a great post to get up right away.

The boots worked 100%.

I am blown away actually. I didn’t lose one boot the entire 50 miles.

The were two separate incidents of a front twist – both times the left front. The first at mile 18 coming into the first vet check. It was a long gravel downhill then pavement. Not certain when it happened but it wasn’t twisted long. It was so close to the vet check I walked the rest of the way in once I got off to fix. The second around mile 42 on grass between some trotting and cantering. I felt something off and began to panic no no not lame now!!!! And looked down to see the boot had twisted. Hopped off to fix and back in business.

The fronts I used the Scoot Boots that have been working for us since spring.

The rear ended up a combination. I began with the Scoot Slims and they stayed on the entire first loop as well. When I vetted in there was very slight questionable gait issue. The vet held the card and suggested we come back in a few- this isn’t unusual for a something questionable in a check.

I pulled the boots and a couple of us checked her feet and legs- all looked fine. I trotted her barefoot for a ‘wandering’ vet who knows us — actually he’s the first vet I met at my very first endurance ride when I vetted in Faygo… and asked an informal opinion. He checked her over and thought she was sound.

Went back barefoot and trotted her again for a re-check and the vets decided it was a little ‘odd’ but not truly ‘off’.

I’m not afraid to bail on a ride if it’s best for my horse but my gut told me to keep going. I also thought: if something is wrong I need to see it to help fix it. Mystery potential lameness doesn’t give me much to work with. I’d either see her do fine or I’d make it worse to help me pinpoint what’s going wrong.

Also- her heart rate was stellar which told me that she wasn’t likely in pain. When I pulled at the OD her heart rate was running high and this was before she was lame (in fact she never went lame because I didn’t continue with a pulled shoe and a boot rub from an incorrect pad).

This didn’t seem like that. No heat, no elevated heart rate, she was eating and drinking like mad… to me she seemed fine.

However: as the original vet first thought it was a hind that was off I decided to try going back to the renegades on the hind just to be safe. I had three loops so could rotate between hind boots with whatever worked best

The Scoot Slims didn’t cause an issue that I’m aware of- I just haven’t had the time with them to really put them to the test. They are too new as they just released the slims weeks ago.

As the next vet check Khaleesi looked sound without question so I opted to stick with the renegades on hind for the third loop.

I never had a hind boot issue on trail in either boot style. Not with twisting and never coming off- we navigated some rough terrain and went in every speed and gait through the almost 12 hours.

So I took on some pretty long odds and I feel got the miracle I’d hoped for.

Quick disclaimer– I finished very last on Friday with only about 5 minutes to spare. This tells you the speeds I was traveling overall were very conservative comparatively. Early in the day she was ‘flying’ (for us) through the rocks like I’ve never seen- but that changed over the day as the rocky trail continued there is fatigue and also some sensitivity that can build up. Still she moved through the rocks better than she has in the past without question.

I don’t push her anymore on rough trail. I learned my lesson once when I just about destroyed her feet in my ignorance at Iron Mountain 2016. I would rather not finish than put her there again. I only ask that she keep moving and she does.

A a few things I’ve learned in my boot journey:

  1. Trim is vital, key, and necessary. Without a good barefoot trim you cannot keep boots on reliably. People used to say this to me and I did not really understand. For some reason farriers are leaving a lot of toe on horses. I’m not saying they’re wrong but I am saying I don’t really understand it now that I’ve learned what I know now. When you look at a balanced foot having a midpoint and then half the foot in front and half behind it should be somewhat clear where the toe is supposed to be. I had x-rays in the winter after spending some time filing her toes back myself over weeks – and the x ray showed still a LOT of toe left out in front. Boots are not simple with a good trim but they are about impossible in varied gaits/terrain without one. If someone with an experienced eye tells you your heels are too high and your toes are too long they are probably right if you want to use boots.
  2. Nutrition is imperative. I’m not saying go for every hoof supplement (I am in a less is more approach) but try to feed smart. Grass is great but it can also be the enemy if it’s too rich and creating sub-clinical hoof issues. In my case we also had a hind gut absorption issue that I think probiotics helped fix. It’s very individual and also takes some trial and error. Shocks to the system can screw up healthy hoof growth from vaccines to chemical wormers to periods where the gras is too rich. Just be aware.
  3. Find the boots whose design you like and start there. I’ve seen that not every horse works every boot style. Trying them out can be expensive and takes time. If one doesn’t work consider trying another. I think it’s worth it.
  4. Your horse might need some time to figure out how to move in them. If you have a ride where a canter or some hard terrain pulls them off- consider a few more rides in them to see if your horse might get better at moving better in the boots.
  5. Modifications are awesome. They can take a good thing and tweak it so it works even better for your needs. Small things like a pad, layer of vet wrap or athletic tape on the hoof, custom fitting with adhere in a too wide boot or in my case the duct tape collar on the boot can be just the touch to go from mostly good to true success. Check in with groups who are hoof boot savvy for creative ideas.
  6. If you ride on trail do SOMETHING to make the boots HIGHLY visible. Spray paint, bright duct tape, anything. This makes it very quick to see if the boots are on while riding and if one comes off you’d be shocked at how sometimes you KNOW it’s RIGHT AROUND HERE- but you sill can’t find that black boot in the leaves. The process to get started is already costly- it’s more expensive when you lose them!
  7. When you find what works get a spare or two. Always carry at least one along – laws of life say if you’re prepared you won’t need it. 😁

Making boots work takes patience and some ‘longsuffering’. I had given up on the process already once before when it just wasn’t working for me and was frustrating enough to just ask for metal shoes to make life easier.

<<<
only reason I really dedicated myself to this was from necessity. I knew my horse's feet were not doing well in metal shoes and they continued to decline. This horse has been great for letting me know what doesn't work. She does not suffer quietly. That's a good thing- it may take me some time to sort out what makes her comfortable, but I'd rather learn that than get by and have her just fill in and work through it only to have her break down later on.

Also though initially it can be costly to try and lose boots, in the end it's getting less expensive for me: I now maintain my own trimming every couple of weeks doing a little here and there instead of waiting a whole cycle then making big changes to the hoof. My knowledge will save me money on trim visits and only have my trim mentor come out at certain intervals to check how they look. Also metal shoes and pads can get expensive too. If my boots hold up and I don't lose them they are more cost effective.

This is the long range view and have a decade plus horse for me. And though some have been smart to find a horse bred or naturally suited to this sport, I've got a genetic mutant that I think can be a solid endurance horse and will eventually get through a 100 safe and sane but she needs some extra attention to detail that others may not. I love everything about her but she's not tearing up the rock mountain trails on rock crusher hooves. Yet…..

I am thrilled (and a little surprised) that my boots are becoming truly viable especially for training miles and even in competition.

I love my Scoot Boots and though I may play around with renegades on the hind at the moment as I sort out if she needs a little more heel protection on the hinds on the worst of terrain- I'm still going with the Scoots to see if they end up doing the job just as well as they are a simpler boot and I love the no Velcro and no wires.

I cannot see the future yet and it's possible I may end up using shoes on some of the hardest rides then pulling them right after.

I saw a few metal shoes out there on the trail discarded on the rocky passes. One thing I really appreciate is that I was able to make a change on this ride without a farrier. It's much easier to throw on a replacement boot than get a new shoe at a vet check or especially on trail. I don't think metal on 3 and a boot on 1 is going to end up good for the horse over long miles so I appreciate the ability to have control with a strap on boot.

If that system can get working well it's actually a big advantage.

Thanks Scoot Boots! It's really changed the options for me and my mare. The blog they put out has very interesting information about going and staying barefoot along with hoof health insights. It was a blog entry by a thoroughbred owner who’d been told her horse would never be sound barefoot that truly inspired me to try something very different and I love how great her feet are looking now!