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!

Against the odds

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Early registration and deposit for the Fort Valley 50 next Friday in mail: check.

Last 26 mile ride to be sure my girl is still holding up: check.

Tack cleaning and pre-packing started: check check.

At the moment I am on target to head out in less than a week for the last ride of the season and the first ride for us since early June.

The last long (26 mile) ride was postponed later than I’d planned but at least it was rescheduled for a beautiful fall day and I was able to relay the ride between two friends (each did half) for company. My trusted endurance buddy Susan rode the morning 13 with Levi who is healthy, sound and also doing great now barefoot in boots! (For the record it wasn’t THAT long ago that I passed on the sentiment I’d believed based on my experience: that horse will never be able to go barefoot…… he used to tear hoof up just living in the pasture if he wasn’t shoed… live and learn!)

Then Claudia met me for the afternoon 13 with her lovely mare Willow. Willow is gaining miles and fitness and won ‘miss suitability’ in a local multi-day high mileage ride last year. I am pleased to say I think she’ll make it out to an LD next season and I suspect Claudia might be an endurance rider at heart ❤️she may come to the dark side sooner than one might think…

Willow finished the afternoon still strong with plenty of horse left. I have no doubt she could have made the whole 26 if Claudia hadn’t been tied up with work in the morning.

Fall riding is my favorite- everything about fall is my favorite actually!


It was good to see Khaleesi finish the 26 with plenty of horse left as well. The mare is pretty fit for a minimal riding summer and I believe ready to come back finally for a slow 50.

So the mare is good to go….

…however my hoof protection plan is going to need some supernatural intervention!

I am heading into another technical rough & rocky Old Dominion ride like the one that cost me a metal shoe in mile 4 last June… this time with hoof boots. 😬 And I’m not even glueing them on.

Any number of experienced people whose opinion I trust completely would unquestionably tell me to come up with a better plan for success.

They aren’t wrong.

But this is where I am – so I’ll go with it.

We do the best we can- and either get a miracle or a lesson. Those are the kind of adventures I hope define my life.

Though my plan is against the odds, I have at least a few things going for me.

First I’ve heard Karen Chaton talk (she has an endurance blog and co-hosts the endurance day podcast at horses in the morning) and she rides many endurance rides including Tevis with her boots successfully and not glued. I’m hoping to have some of her luck.

Second, one benefit to ‘strap on’ boots is that as long as I have spares I can put a boot back on and go- no need for farrier and hopefully (no nails and no glue) still have an intact hoof!

I have a bucketful of magic boots coming along on this trip! Third and hopefully the most important: my front Scoot Boots have a solid training track record.

They have stayed on for over 100 training miles at this point and though I have occasionally lost one it’s been obvious (a mud sink, a rock slide) and I knew it immediately and they are quick to replace. Even those moments are rare and my Scoots just survived the full 26 mile ride with 100% success. I’m not expecting to get 50 rough miles without having to hop off and replace a boot- but my hope is that it will be rare and these Scoots will hold up to the terrain.

My rear boots are unfortunately still in ‘beta’ testing mode and this is because the slims took so long to release I haven’t had the time I need to play with options over miles.

The slims fit great on her bare hoof but I’m using sole padding and wrapping mostly due to the extreme nature of the mileage and terrain.

I used the thinnest sole padding and a pretty thick collar wrap on the 26 mile ride and they stayed on perfectly – however at the end of the day there was a very slight spot on the side of the coronet on the back half of the hoof that had rubbed. It wasn’t sensitive for her and I don’t think it is a true problem (completely normal by the next day) but it’s enough to make me pull the padded endurance gaiters off the slims and do a much thinner vet-wrap & tape modification for the collar.


I won’t have the ability to try it out over miles before ride day but I will put them on to see how they’re fitting.

I may be better in a regular size 2 with a more padded collar to help keep the foot snug without being too tight. I could have a thicker pad in a regular size 2 as well. I’ll have this option available in my kit as well if I begin to see rubbing at the band over the 50.

Last- before the slims came I was having decent luck with my old renegades on the hind feet. They stayed on pretty reliably but they won’t hold a pad which isn’t preferable. (I have learned through this process that using a boot without a pad keeps the hoof from being able to be supported fully on giving surfaces like grass, soft trail or mud. The 1000 pound horse sinks into these surfaces enough to distribute the weight/pressure over more of the hoof. If the boot doesn’t allow this over a ride it’s in essence like staying on a hard surface (concrete, hard pack, asphalt) the entire ride with all the pressure/impact on the outside contact surfaces only (hoof wall and laminae). It’s harder on their joints and their feet this way). It’s true that the hinds seem to tolerate this better than the front feet- but I want my horse to power from her hinds not pull heavy on her front legs so getting padding back there so she is comfortable seems like the best practice if possible.

Regardless I have 3 possible hind boot scenarios if one or two fail.

The other part of the plan is to ride alone. I may need to stop and deal with a boot and I don’t want to feel pressure of holding anyone up as I do what I need to do- conversely there may be places I can make up time that may be different from needs other horses have (this has happened to me on past rides where K was super slow on rocky places but had plenty in the tank to canter on the good footing- but the team we’d hooked up with ‘didn’t canter’ … it ended up ok but made me nervous with the clock...)

One thing I have begun to notice is that Khaleesi is moving through rocky sections easier than ever before since I’ve been riding her! It’s been so subtle a change over time I almost didn’t notice until this week when she kept moving in places she used to slow WAY down to navigate rocky sections. This is huge. It will be interesting to see how she does on a really rocky trail compared to metal shoes and pads at the No Frills ride in April.

The more I learn the more it makes sense that we saw some evidence of impact damage in X-rays last winter in the right foot (coffin bone) – foremost I’m naturally super-right sided and likely weighted to that side more heavily over time- but secondly I was either in metal shoes, then with impact pads that wouldn’t have allowed surfaces to help support the hoof- or boots without pads which also didn’t really support the whole hoof over hard riding.

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I’ve been working as constantly as I can to on getting more balanced OUT of the saddle to help me get more balanced IN the saddle to minimize one-sided damage I’m causing in my horse.

I’ve asked my fantastic gym coach to forgo some of the muscle building work for balance and feel exercises. He’s always trying to understand what I’m doing and work on new routines to help me improve what I’m lacking. Since I have somewhat odd requests, he does research each week to come up with new ways to help me improve.

Now hopefully the hoof solutions will lessen impact and make a difference as well.

Yet after the 26 miles I think I found I am the one in worse riding shape! You can jog, squat and work out but nothing duplicates spending an entire day in the saddle. My legs were tired and my body stiff from that ‘easy’ ride as I haven’t been out on the trail long distances this year.

Hopefully I’ll hold up as well as my horse!


A betting person would be smart to pick another team this ride- but I’ll take my long odds, my barefoot horse in strap on boots and a little prayer to the staring line and see what we can do!

Slims

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Well they’re here! After the original intended release in June I ordered them as soon as I saw they were not ‘backordered’ and ready to ship from Australia.

Took a pretty hairy first ride to try them out- sort of accidentally.

Drove to a nearby friend’s place for a short-ish but great climbing ride up a ridge trail and back. I think we both decided it was such a short ride maybe a little exploration off the backside of the mountain would be a good diversion and.. well once you get going sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop… and then you realize you’ve hit that point where you really don’t want to turn back so you might as well just keep on bushwacking on foot with the hopes you end up somewhere better than where you came from!

It ended up being a fun jaunt with only a few worrisome sections that were too rocky for my comfort. That is where I get off and walk because it lessens the chance of injury if at least she isn’t dealing with my weight and hers navigating rock slides.

After clearing the ravine we found some deer trails (pictured above)and truly enjoyed the early fall woods in sections that had likely been burned at some point as the brushy matter was just a year or two old – maybe three.

The new back boots were 100% and never came off through even the worst of it. However in one low area I chose the swampy path which was a mistake- we sunk in at least 8 inches every step and it was when I turned her around in that bog that I sucked off one front (the twisting did it) I knew it as it happened – pulled the boot out of the deep mud, put it back on and away we went.

When we eventually popped back into familiar trails in our local state park I was completely shocked where we were (hadn’t bothered to bring my GPS since we were planning such a short predictable ride originally). In fact my friend knew before I did and tried to explain it to me- I have ridden those trails a million times and still as she tried to tell me where I was the foreign way we dropped in – basically off the moon for all intents and purposes – I tried to tell her I’d never ridden that trail before.

So the quick little ridge climb ended up being almost 5 hours first exploring then taking the much longer way home but along the roads to make it easy on the horses (and us!!).

Having the entire day free it was nice not to hurry and to just enjoy a fantastic early fall day as it warmed up… grab an apple from a roadside tree and chat about whatever came to mind.

All in all a fantastic day- but also a win for my scoot boot slims. They’ll get a ‘fast’ ride Friday then a long test Sunday as I plan to do the 26 mile loop as the long prep for the Fort Valley 50.

Khaleesi was in great form today- mentally and physically. She handled the terrible terrain like a champ- scrambling from one spot to the next careful not to step on me as we both slipped and slid at points- she was willing and in good spirits to ride, and has been really enjoying my friend’s mare the more we ride. Considering K can be a bit of a bossy female it’s been interesting to see her mellow out and relax walking side-by-side with this nice mare without ugly ears or her occasional pushy antics for me to stay ahead of.

I’d almost say she likes her.

(Foggy fall morning at the farm today)

Discomfort.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friday brought a beautiful mild early Fall day and a long overdue ride with some friends.

Khaleesi seems to be coming back all around so this ‘fast and far’ ride seemed a good testing ground to see where she is.

My friend’s son in from NYC had only one birthday wish this year- to get out with the horses and have fun on the beautiful trails. A natural horse-guy comfortable on a horse, physically fit with no equine inhibition- he created a perfect training opportunity for me in all realms at once!

Somehow the saying:

Ride em like you stole em

Comes to mind. 😳😁

There were a few occasions where he let that horse fly and literally ended up completely out of sight for a while!

I enjoyed his carefree abandon from a distance and insisted that Khaleesi take my version of a ‘footing-safe’ speed and not just running with the ‘herd’ (if one horse plus yours constitutes a herd…) and that was great training for us both.

No darlin- I set the speed. Yes. Really. When the footing and circumstances allowed (when she was checking in with me and not assuming take off) I occasionally did encourage her to run – and as fast as she could get her legs to go! Try as she might she is just not as fast as the old gelding but we had fun. It’s good to push the limits once in a while physically.

There was also a section of the ride where the other two cut through the beautiful field. I decided to stay on the path along the edge in part because Khaleesi wanted so badly to go with the others that I decided it was yet another opportunity to train something different from the herd.

I am aware that for the most part we are on the same page on the trails- however that is not the same as leadership. I don’t like to ‘pick a fight’ just for the sake of doing so, but taking an opportunity to do something different can be helpful in establishing that long term goal of us both agreeing that I am the brains of the operation.

It develops patience, character and faith.

There are many things my horse cannot know because I cannot explain them to her. She is a being with thoughts and intellect. I give horses a lot of credit. However I cannot completely explain to her when she steps on that trailer if we are driving 10 minutes for a short ride or 6 hours to the Biltmore for her first 50 miler. I can’t tell her if we’re going to play in the manicured arena or have a rough trail cutting ride through briars and overgrown brush that will make little scratches on her sensitive legs and get caught in her tail. I cannot completely assure her she will EVER return home again. (Honestly we can never promise such things anyway in life).

The horse has to put her faith in me that I will put her well being first. She may ask not to have to go through the discomfort of a long hard ride, but she has a job and I insist she stays fit. In return I’ll do my best to meet her needs and give her the best life I can.

We all build this with our horses one example at a time and with every interaction like it or not – so eventually the relationship gets to a point where the horse says: ok! What do you need me to do today and how can I help? Now zoom out a level.

I also need to have some faith.

The decisions I made in the spring when I had that nagging feeling that things were passable… but that we could do better… went against some expert opinions. There was that voice I’m learning to hear and learning to trust and I was sure by then it was the right thing and at the right time.

Then things got uncomfortable:

  • My horse struggled to stay sound.
  • I had to pay a lot in travel costs early on to get a barefoot trimmer I trusted to come this far.
  • My horse started hanging out at the far end of the field making me go get her instead of running to the gate to greet me.
  • I held off on my summer conditioning rides because she didn’t seem 100%.
  • My riding seemed to be getting worse as I tried to improve.
  • I started to question my own leadership ability.
  • My leadership suffered as I reexamined and overthought trying to sort out what to do and how to do it and if I was doing it right.
  • I made a few interaction mistakes including a trailer loading one that was significant because fixing the mistake I created brought a surface injury when she fought against herself trying to back off during loading. (That issue is now gone- the fix worked- but I’d have never had to fix if I hadn’t made the mistake to begin with).

This week of getting back to riding has given me a glimpse that the vision of what I saw could be possible is coming closer. I still need to get some conditioning miles back on her but the boots are staying on [the scoot narrows have arrived at NY customs and should be at my door within days- but meanwhile the old renegades are doing pretty well- only lost one at a crazy canter last ride- having her feet actually trimmed properly HAS made a difference!] and her feet are getting stronger. I’m learning more about how the feet affect the entire body. I believe she’s coming through that detox period and her guts are starting to wake up getting essential nutrients through her body and hair and feet are benefitting.

I’m feeling her back lift underneath me more often on her own while riding in the new saddle. My riding balance is improving. I’m continuing to build new layers of leadership and trust and my confidence is coming back. My horses are beginning to follow me in the field again from time to time.

It is exciting to see the light. However I don’t want to lose sight of the lesson that it’s during that uncomfortable waiting period where you grow. It’s where you stay the course or bail out.

I’ve pondered recently the classic stories of the greats who waited through the discomfort I think wow:Noah was told to build a boat and wait for rain (which had never happened previously). It was 120 years in between and I’m sure everyone thought he was a looney toon. He didn’t even know what rain was. That would be uncomfortable.

  • Sarah was told her son would be the father of a great nation… only she was barren and waited until she was 90 to have her first child. THAT would be uncomfortable!!
  • David went through many years as a servant for the current king (and passing by a few opportunities to kill him and take over) and then hiding for his life toward the end of the 10+ years after he was ‘anointed’ to be king. That would be uncomfortable.
  • The people of Israel were in slavery 400 years after being promised they’d be delivered. Slavery would be the extreme example of uncomfortable.

It so happens the Bible generally has more stories of faith through discomfort than literature of our more recent history. I think one reason for that that most humans are discomfort-adverse. I certainly am.

At some point I’ve finally grown up enough to realize that discomfort is actually my friend. Sometimes it comes from bad choices and lack of personal boundaries. Then it’s a warning to pay more attention.

Sometimes it’s there to encourage growth.

I have been chewing on the concept a friend recently mentioned to me:

Sometimes God comforts the afflicted… but sometimes He afflicts the comfortable.

Living in America in the present time I found it easy to live day-to-day in the uninvestigated belief that the goal of life is to be comfortable. To make enough money to eventually not have to work (or work so much), to have friends that like me, leisure time and ways to enjoy it and above all have fun and be happy. But there is always something missing.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase: as long as she’s (he’s) happy. It never sat right with me.

Yet that is exactly what I’ve been spending 40 years in pursuit of. Basic comfort and happiness.

Yes- I volunteer in my community, I give to non-profit groups that are doing good work, and I even started a strings program that reaches young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to learn music. I care about my friends and do my best to help where I can… I do good things- but there is more. A shift in perspective that I sense changes the reason you get out of bed each day.

Challenge me today. Give me something to work out… not only do I accept that I may have a tough problem to solve- but I embrace them! Instead of ‘why me’ maybe ‘why not me?’

Maybe that’s my version of: what are we doing today and how can I help that I want from my horse?

If I hadn’t been born in the US, things might have been different – I might have been in pursuit of clean water. Or shelter from the elements. Or freedom from being trapped in the current human trafficking systems worldwide. Maybe safety in a war ravaged country.

I found it pretty fascinating one day a couple years ago listening it a Freakonomics podcast that suicide rates in America are basically double the homicide rate… and in the Amazon jungle the native cultures don’t even have a word for suicide and when asked about it laughed at the concept that someone would kill themselves.

First world problems? Is comfort literally killing us?

I digress. 😐

It seems there is a law of the universe as real as gravity that one must put in some discomfort in order to grow. Growing appears to be a necessary step in being prepared for a greater purpose… (I can help others better if I’ve gone through enough myself to be of use!) and being part of a deeper purpose seems likely to lead to more depth of satisfaction than the pursuit of comfort and happiness …

Then logically if I were able to live that comfortable life I was aimlessly seeking and never get stretched, I would never have the opportunity to mature, grow personally and have a more positive impact on the world around me.

And developing faith and growing through the discomfort of waiting means that I am able to be ok with circumstances that create difficulty and instead of wishing for the discomfort to disappear I can dig in and allow it to mold me and still have peace about the process.

Byron Katie suggests we make friends with the situations that create discomfort. They are opportunities. In her ‘Work’ after many series of questions she encourages participants to say the “are willing to experience (insert uncomfortable thing here)” and you are really getting it when you can honestly go to the next level of “I look forward to experiencing (insert uncomfortable situation here)!”

I have to admit I’ve spent some time working through some things ‘getting it’ in my head but thinking: I look forward to being ignored by my husband… annoyed by my mother… let down by a friend? Seriously. Who are those people?

Now I see those things show me weaknesses and places I can still grow. Places I can ask: how can I help someone else instead of being bothered about how it made me feel? Maybe my husband is overworked trying to support our family. Maybe my mom could use a little understanding today. Maybe my friend is going through something personally.

To the initial point- my equine example is basically trivial. My horse rebuilding from the inside out and missing some riding days as I worry if it’ll take two years for her feet to grow in right isn’t even close to significant in the world as human trafficking or war refugees. But going through the process has been a reminder.

Maybe I can change my view on life that the things that challenge my comfort could be strengthening my character that will allow me to do more good- and then start looking for the open doors, the way to use those strengths. Not just the things that seem easy but the ones that seem … maybe even impossible.

I’ll admit it- I’ve grown weary of the noise especially on social media of folks complaining about politics and about being offended or protesting or resisting or making loud public statements that lead those who agree with you to applaud and those who don’t to entrench themselves deeper into the belief they are right. Even those who are active politically seem sometimes to miss the point. We cannot legislate love and tolerances can only live it every day. Governments are notoriously bad at helping the world be a better place when compared to motivated people coming together. No current president is stopping me from opening my wallet or donating some time toward disaster relief, persecution or world hunger. And there is one positive side to

America: we are as a whole more generous with our finances than most other countries! ❤️

however still we get more divided each year. I don’t see any slowing down either. We fight hate with hate now completely unveiled. My tolerant friends are completely intolerant of those who disagree.

While we stay distracted by our arguments and being right or being offended, make snide or sometimes truly hateful remarks about those we feel justified (because they behave the same way), the true enemy wins: hunger continues; human trafficking continues; children are turned into soldiers; people are tortured for their faith; women are beaten for various reason in areas of the world they don’t have unequal rights- they truly have NO rights; people die of curable and preventable diseases…

I want to zoom out a level or two – see something bigger than comfort (having a government leader I like… being offended by someone else’s words or behavior that don’t even truly affect my life today) that is part of the comfort.

If nothing else all the fighting has embarrassed me enough to look for ways to take action and realize it could take me out of my American comfort zone.

And that honestly gets me a little excited.

Maybe the hunger for challenge- leaving the comfort zone or attempting the impossible is a little why endurance riding appeals to many of us…

Because don’t get me wrong- it’s all about the horses, but at the end of the day I think we’ll find that it really wasn’t about the horses at all.

Identity Crisis

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three weeks since a blog post!

I’ve been at the barn but not riding so much.

For a few weeks my horse program has felt on the fritz and my real work has been ramping up and needing extra attention. So I gave my mares some time to be horses and the time I had with them was directed toward to finding new ideas to learn together … like backing over pool noodles … mostly to continue communication and do something out of the ordinary.

One day a couple weeks ago I went to bring K in for a quick check and to treat a cut – something was wrong. Just walking was a struggle. I wondered if she’d gotten kicked, slipped and had pulled something in her hind… developed an internal infection…. in sending a quick video text to my vet (what did we do before video texting??) she said her first reaction was early lamanitic pain 😳😬 and her first suggestion was to get her off the grass then see how she does.

It was right in that cold spell where temps were dipping into the low 40s at night but still warm in the day. When the fall grasses begin to go into desperation mode and increase sugars again.

The electric fence went up immediately and now the mares are super restricted until the first hard frost. They can eat what grass they have access to and I’ve started throwing hay too so they are transitioning.

If they get thin (no evidence this is a concern anytime soon) they’ll get more coolstance which adds fats and protein.

Whatever the issue was it was gone by the next day and she was back to… almost normal.

Still- she hasn’t seemed quite right most of this summer. Occasionally lethargic, less interested in working. Off and on. Not off enough to do anything but pay attention. But off enough that I didn’t push the riding I would normally be doing this time of year.

In the back of my mind I remembered I’d heard the nutrition change can come with a detox period and that it can cycle over time getting better or worse in phases until their system changes over.

So there could be a detox factor potentially at play.

When it comes to her feet I’ve been really happy with the changes but it takes time to come back from being in shoes the majority of the year (for a few years) and not being trimmed to optimally support her movement and structures.

She is growing more (faster) and healthier hoof this year and the soles are really starting to look good! Her hoof tends to grow out instead of underneath her (conical) genetically which (if I over simplify) stretches the sole out instead of holding natural concavity.

The two things I’m working on the most with her front feet are constantly keeping the toe from getting long (every cm creates hundreds of pounds of additional pressure on the leg’s suspensory system) and helping remove any dead sole underneath that may create sole pressure without taking too much that she needs to develop healthy hard sole.

She hasn’t been completely sound if I ride her barefoot (like in the grass in the yard) but she’s also not lame. She’s fine… then she’s not fine… then she’s ok then she’s not quite ok… sometimes I’m certain I’ve turned into a lameness hypochondriac and am creating issues that don’t exist!

Either way she wasn’t doing well in shoes and pads earlier this year so we are still moving forward and at least building better hoof now.

The scoot boots are doing a terrific job and I’ve added easycare pads and modified the back and rear sides per a cool video I saw recently on Facebook.

I didn’t have rubbing issues but this can only help- especially as I begin to take them over longer distances when the rubbing could present even if my shorter rides haven’t created issues.

Anyone using scoots who wants to check out the modified design can see it here: Padded collar mod As time went on I took her out on some less intense rides and she seemed ok… but sometimes she’d be practically falling apart underneath me… then she’s fine.

I’d feel her landing wrong in a trot… taking bad steps and then be fine. I’d ask my friends: does she seem off to you? No… she’s fine now… then off then fine… then off then fine. A couple miles trotting on a dirt road no problem after seeming like she couldn’t get her feet underneath her 10 minutes earlier.

Ay-ya-yay.my mind I’ve reflected on the number of pretty significant changes that have come at that mare this year and try to put it into perspective.

  • Removed shoes and aggressively changed her angles and toe/heel to better support her.
  • Switched from traditional saddle to a constructive saddle with the Balance.
  • Changed her bit (I don’t always use a bit but I picked up a simple D ring French link snaffle for her especially when working on specific training as opposed to long mileage conditioning).
  • Changed her nutrition removing her from all grain based commercial feeds and added a probiotic when I found her hindgut wasn’t digesting nutrients properly.
  • Herd change: Faygo moved to Reno this summer. They’ll be fine, but it’s still a major adjustment.
  • Me. My riding, my balance – using my body more equally in day-to-day life, my internal fitness both in mind and spirit all play a part of my equine-human team. I’m paying attention to all these parts more and more.

Though all for the good, these factor in to the whole chaotic system that is my horse’s universe. I tend to overthink as most of you already know. So I watched, I wondered, I analyzed, I had a CST visit and one more follow up trim with my hoof mentor from WV to be certain all was on track. Hoof testers negative and no current laminitc evidence present it was time to move on.

I decided to get out and ride through whatever it was that seemed to be nagging at me. Stop overthinking. Throw on those boots and pads and get back on the trails.

What I learned.

What was brewing in a little corner of my mind since the clinic last month….

My horse is not lame. She is not falling apart. My Arab-TNWalker-Saddlebred-Rackinghorse is trying to gait. But she’s not sure how exactly.

She’s going through an identity crisis.

She’s half past 7, I’ve now helped sort out the tack and health/feet issues that were functional but not ideal in the past. I increased her fitness and got my riding sorted out.

I’ve opened the door and now all systems are go and she’s got this new gear to try out. And I think she’s starting to have some fun with it!

Today we took a short ride but I trailered her off to some nearby trails that are grassy, easy footing, and far enough away from the new boys that have her attention (yes she’s in heat!) and the mustang who calls for her out of temporary desperation and loneliness… so we could focus.

Right off the trailer she was ready to go- and I let her move on out to warm up. We hit some overgrown connector trails that she was raring to fly through yet I wanted a sensible speed : she fell right into a running walk compromise. I went from an up and down trot to that back and forth you only get when you ride a gaited horse.

In the video it’s hard to see (and hard to help her one-handed) but it’s when her head is more still and then starts going side-to-side.

We spent the next couple hours experimenting and had a lot of fun. She was trying out new gears and I did my best to help her. This was what she’d been doing in rides this past month when she felt a mess underneath me- she was trying to figure out how to move in this new gear.

Yes I’ve ridden gaited horses before. Faygo is a foxtrotter, I’ve ridden TN walkers, Paso finos, Rocky Mountain horses and saddlebreds… I get it. But none of the ones I rode were sorting it out. They already gaited.

This is new territory for me- but was a blast all the same. I’m glad I didn’t push for her to do it before she was physically ready. Who knew that when I left the gaited horse saddle and bit (not that they were bad) and got her toes pulled back underneath her (often the opposite of what you hear gaited horses need) she’d be able to open up that box. The Balance has allowed her back to really come up and she’s in a simple D ring French link snaffle now- no leverage or poll pressure, she’s finding it all on her own! When I help her I only fix my hands on a short rein to my saddle (I don’t purposely collect her per se) and she finds what she needs there.

I’m thrilled for her to have an extra gear to use especially heading toward a 100 mile ride at some point. I’ll take every advantage I can get and having more ways for her to use her body is just that.

For the moment we’ll play around and experiment- but at some point I will be able to decide what gear/gait we use and how to help navigate terrain and trails. I have no intention of giving up her beautiful trot or canter. And we did walk-gait-trot-canter all in the ride today.

It was a nice breakthrough from feeling things were not working right to exploration together. The ride was fun! She was forward the entire time eager to get down the trail.

I hope to start working her more physically to get her in shape for Fort Valley in October. She’s been in great shape not long ago so hopefully a couple weeks will bring her back in the game.

My only worry at the moment is passing her trot out in the vet check! Lately she does strange things trotting on lead so that will be something to work on… keeping her trot out at a TROT!!