Hoof school

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Last Blog was the cliffhanger that I'd be taking a day-long workshop on hooves in order to better educate myself.

Ok cliffhanger is a little over dramatized 🙂


For any new readers jumping in here I'll do a hoof synopsis:

my weak link at the moment is Khaleesi's feet. They've always seemed sensitive on rocky surfaces (yes- most horses will be sensitive on rocky surfaces, but she is more sensitive than any horse I've had experience with or ridden with). Boots didn't stay on reliably so I moved into shoes. That seemed to improve things then she became sensitive with shoes. We moved to shoes and pads… this seemed to help a while- then this spring the two of us 'turtled' through a rocky ride coming in second to last and picking a snail's pace through everything rocky. I had this feeling it wasn't right. The next ride she actually lost a shoe just a few miles in and I decided to go with my gut.

Start over.

I needed a whole new approach to her feet.

I pulled the shoes first fronts then hinds later in June.

Cranial Sacral Therapist suggested her nutrition was off because her hind gut wasn't functioning- add probiotics so her body can use the nutrition she's getting.

Now at 6 weeks of probiotics her mane and coat are looking healthier and I believe her feet are starting to improve as well.

Meanwhile she's been barefoot and my Scoot Boots seem to be reliable- last weekend they did well through a pretty grueling 26 mile ride.


Keeping her barefoot meant I could constantly work on the toes and not have to grow out a shoeing cycle then cut back all at once. What I needed to see (as my vet had mentioned late winter) was better quality hoof and more directed growth – not long in the toe but more underneath to support her. Like sculpting a bush or tree: it works better if you can do it over time and help train the growth gradually- trimming the hoof can help encourage more new growth as well. There is also more blood getting through to the hoof without shoes and that can't hurt the entire process of rebuilding.

I filed on her feet regularly- small changes- to get a more supportive angle over time.

I also began asking around to see if there were any good barefoot trimmers who could help me.

I got a suggestion from Sherry in WV (endurance rider vet friend) for someone she trusts who does mentoring. She would come and do an education day so I could learn do more myself in between.

Perfect.

It took a little time to work out a date and details but this week I finally held a mini hoof school at the barn!

A member of the AHA (American Hoof Association) education committee and a mentor through the Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners group- she spent 8 hours at the barn the first part classroom style complete with freeze dried bisected hoofs (more than one) and bones to show how the structures and suspensory apparatuses operate.

After a break we went to work and she did a trim on Khaleesi while we talked over what I had been doing, what worked and what still needed to be done. Kelly had mentioned on Sunday- her toes were looking pretty good but her heels needed to be brought back underneath her more.

This was exactly the case. I learned some fixed points to look for to understand the heels better and to know if they are even without just trying to eyeball. Her toes also came back a little more after measuring the hoof looking for 50/50 balance on either side of the line marking the widest part of the hoof with a tool- we marked her hoof up with red sharpie to be able to understand from the outside what was going on the inside.

She thought the shape of her hoof was pretty good especially when trimmed to balance where the widest part of the hoof falls- and her soles were not too flat either. Khaleesi has decent concavity as well. She cleaned out only what was dead taking no live sole, and did some minor sculpting that would distribute the pressure on the parts that are best suited to share the weight load.

Overall she thought her hooves were going to be fine and we went over what I needed to look for and do to maintain them myself.

Then we worked on a barn horse that had some other issues that had evolved over time and learned a lot from her talking through how she helped him with the trim become more comfortable in his whole body.

What I loved seeing the most was when she would make a change and set the hoof down- she'd watch the horse to see how they rebalanced, how they reacted (often sighing or licking and chewing) and then sometimes she'd move to a different hoof to come back and see how something in the soft tissue was able to drop back to level with the other side or even allow the bone structure to adjust a small amount before continuing to work in small degrees on the hoof.

She seemed to be listening to the horse as she went.


Khaleesi looking super relaxed as her feet were worked on.

After those two learning examples I brought in Wild Heart for me to trim with her guidance.

It wasn't exactly a walk in the park, but it was a success and I learned a lot more having to do it myself.

Heart for the most part was willing and patient but I was slow and clumsy with tools. Sometimes she'd jump in and finish something up so it would go quicker and was always patient, kind and supportive while saying: this isn't exactly the best horse to learn these skills on… she won't be so patient with you!

Yep. That I know. But Wild Heart is the horse I have to be able to work on… so I did my best- and the mare did well with the process.

Heart didn't seem to mind this stranger helping out. And the one time she got antsy and began to refuse to cooperate we seemed to simultaneously realize she may need a break and walked her outside.

Yes. She peed.

And returned to the barn calm and relaxed to finish up like a whole new horse.

So is this barefoot direction going to 'work'?

Time will tell.

Neither the trimmer nor I am anti-shoe. Please don't take this post the wrong way. Every horse, handler, rider has a path for many reasons and I have no idea today if I'll ever put shoes on Khaleesi again. I know better than to rule anything out completely!

Right now this is what my horse needs.

I love seeing her feet doing so well right now. So I'll follow it along as the road twists and turns and hopefully learn as much as possible in each step.

Knowledge is never a waste of time and I will do my best to sort out what works from what doesn't.

Physical.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mental building is important but to get to 100 so is physical building… which includes hoof care, nutrition and riding. My miles have been unimpressive this summer.

Most weeks I've gotten in a 12-15 mi ride and true, any ride around here isn't a walk in the park, but I am hoping to get through the Big South Fork 50 in September and the mare needs to be stretched a little more to truly be ready for that.

The rides I have done were more social than training (though our social rides still move along pretty good) and also I'd actively looked for decent footing trails as her hooves are still in rebuild transition mode and I really didn't need to tear them down while I'm trying to build them up.

Now I needed to put it all to the test. See where we stood.

I asked around to see if anyone was due for a good ride and Kelly (who is also my vet) was planning a mileage ride Sunday- so I dropped her a line to see if she wanted company.

Turns out she welcomed us to join however the location is about a 90 minute drive for me (minimum) and they had a start time of 7am to be done early enough for another rider who had later in the day plans.

The ride was 20+ miles.

That means leaving the barn by 5:30… which means if I am ready to pull out the night before at best arriving at barn at 5am to pull a horse out of the field in the still dark morning… meaning out of bed at 4:30….

No problem. I'm in.

The ride is exactly what I'd needed for K. And I was so grateful not to have to ride 26 miles up here alone that I was willing to go it in the dark to have the company!

I showed up for a tough 26 mile ride with hoof boots in tow. I was practically holding my breath as I said.

I'm crossing my fingers — SO for these have been staying on but they haven't had a test quite like this…

The last thing I wanted to do was ruin a training ride for Kelly with constant boot drama. As it was we were tagging along with Hope- a tested 100 mile horse heading to another 100 in Maine in the next couple of weeks. We were with the big kids now.

Even more present in my mind was the fact that though my front boots were going A+ strong the hind boots didn't fit so great. (As of now I'm still waiting on the narrow boots to release.) She has narrow feet to begin with- and right in the middle of growing out nail holes so even more so.

The last ride was about 13 miles of varied terrain and with the exception of a hind boot twisting completely in a dry creek rock pile early on they stayed put the whole ride through walk-trot-canter.

The other hoof question is potential sensitivity. Will she move through the rocks? Up till now I've avoided rocky rides to allow her to build some callous- I prayed she wouldn't hold Hope up too badly.

Worst case scenario. I'd brought my gps. We could separate if we had to- she could go on and me home if it got too unbearable.

This was also the longest ride for my Balance saddle (if you're curious about constructive saddling do check out their webpage… tons of fascinating information!!)

I have my best go at the pad and shims. The sweat patterns are perfect, the saddle isn't falling onto her withers or spine, she's moving great- I'm actually super comfortable now that I'm used to it. However there is an occasional slight tweak around the loins that I can't decide is just a funny-bone type spot of if there's a little pressure.

She is not at all sensitive to pressing on it- but in running something down her back she'll twitch just a little… then sometimes if I do it over a couple times she won't… like it was more unexpected than painful.

The saddle is much more stable than I'd thought it would be and through the serious climbs (I believe at least 2,000 feet of elevation change- much more if you go by the GPS cumulative ups and downs – closer to 4,000 feet!!) I didn't have any shifting either forward or backward. That being said I'm still LOVING my Two Horse Tack breast collar (I just can't say breastplate… that sounds like a piece of war armor!) it's easy to attach, stays in place nicely, is great weight and thickness (not too thick). It still looks new and just needs a wipe down to stay that way (love love love biothane!). I thought I wouldn't like the English style with the extra strap on top of the neck- but I found I do like it.

We had a fabulous ride and the two mares even seemed to get along (for my horse that's saying something- she has a lot of confidence and can be intolerant of any horse not respecting her space bubble).

Hope is a move down the trail horse and most of the ride she set the pace. Occasionally we'd fall a little behind on some of the tough rocky climbs and I allowed her to do what she needed to manage the footing without hurting herself and we'd catch up on a trot when the trail allowed. Much of the ride they paced nicely- especially the flatter river sections.

One of my favorite things about this mare is she will take care of herself and doesn't care too much about the other horses. She picked her way through rocky sections never getting worried even as Hope and Kelly got out of sight. There were a few times K wanted more time at a river crossing to cool her legs and feet, a few times she stopped longer at a drinking hole, and a few times she wanted a couple extra bites of grass.

Hope was impatient and ready to move so we just went with it- like in my blog The Work on Rider Etiquette I practiced what I believe as I told Kelly to let Hope go ahead- Khaleesi will do what she needs and we'll catch up. It is great training for K to focus on herself regardless of what the other horse was doing. That is important someday- riders will ride off while your horse is drinking… and other riders may be going to fast for my horse's best ride. And in 6+ hours – a little time 'alone' on the trail is really ok!

The front boots were once again A+ not one problem. Yeah Scoot!!

The hind boots hung in there pretty well. I had to stop once in the 26 miles for each hind boot (so twice altogether). This included the 2 mile canter up the fire road at the tail end of the ride with no issues!

And I was impressed at how well she took on that canter around mile 22 of a tough ride!!

She was forward till the end and looked great at the trailer. She munched on grass and hydrated hay pellets with a little coolstance in water while I rubbed and poulticed her legs.

Next day her legs were tight and cool and I did a trot out video for myself barefoot on the pavement. Certainly would pass a vet check!

Maybe upon close inspection a slight mis-step here and there but from where we've been it's a great success! Her feet are not tender right now and I think finally getting to the shape they can better support her body and movement and I've taken the advice I read in various ScootBoot Blogs to hand walk her on a 'tarred surface' for a few minutes a day. Thankfully the driveway is paved and I make an effort to hand walk her every day I can out there barefoot. This is supposed to help develop sole calluses and toughen the hoof. I've also been told it's good for her ligaments and tendons.

I've also taken the advice of a couple farriers I've talked to to try pine tar. It is supposed to condition and help harden the sole. I only use it on the sole. I've used it about 4 times in two weeks with 2 of those being before and after the 26 mile ride.

The biggest factor I believe for her has been the probiotic regime the CST recommended. If her guts aren't working properly the nutrition just is not getting to the hoof (or hair or teeth etc). She's been on regular probiotics for about a month and I believe it's making a difference. Sandy (CST) said in her opinion within 45 days I should see changes for the better in those hooves and I believe her mane – which has always been a little dried and brittle is feeling softer and healthier already as well.

I also think her muscling and body looks great right now and her coat is shinier even though I'm not a grooming fanatic.

So this is the physical building and her feet for those asking!

I'm taking a class on 'reading the hoof' and will finally get an expert barefoot trimmer to look at what I've been doing the past 2 months and help me learn how to better care for and shape her feet!!

THAT will another blog entirely… soon!

PS: if you're looking for tack- two horse tack has a discount if you sign up for their newsletter!! Here's the link:

Two horse tack newsletter coupon

Building.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I've been asked a few times lately if I'm getting ready for another endurance event.

The answer has been the same since mid-June: Yes! Hopefully in September!

It's a long in-season hiatus especially since I didn't complete the OD so my last 50 was in April.

I don't usually ride in July and then had the trip to settle in Faygo making Ride Between the Rivers impossible. Then the clinic with Dee had to be the same weekend as the Iron Mountain ride… but doesn't everything happen as it should?

Absolutely.

Meanwhile what is going on? Am I riding a lot?

What exactly does one mean by a lot…..

I am at the barn a lot…

I'm building.

Building myself. Building K. Building relationships along with the physical structures. And Wild Heart the mustang mare seems to be at the center of all of it lately.

She has been teaching me how to build.

You know that saying:

We don't always get the horse we want… but we always get the horse we need.

Well I have to believe it with this one.

The horse I wanted and thought I was getting was a mustang mare who would have fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles. Just needing some more experience and confidence. Ready to hit the trails!

What I ended up with was a mustang mare with fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles that had a lot of questions and some residual physical issues from past injuries (likely in the wild or in captivity) and wasn't ready to carry any one of us around on her back until she got some answers!

Maybe I could have cowboy'd (is that a word? No offense to the great cowboy horsemen who didn't use violence and force) her into submission. But in my opinion that is how people get hurt.

I am well aware that anyone working with horses will get hurt at some point… I'd like to at least cut back on the likelihood of it being on purpose because my horse is sick of not being understood and decides I'm of no use to her anymore and she'd rather pick a fight than cooperate. Especially at the point when she realizes she's bigger and stronger (and probably in that instance smarter) than me.

I'd prefer to work together so we agree life is better when my brain is the one making decisions when we are together.

So I'm listening. And finally I've begun to actually hear (my equine translations beginning to improve) and they know it now.

And the horses have a lot to say.

It's like being immersed in another language knowing only a handful of words and someone you really need to work with is talking to you in that strange language and your brain hurts trying to figure it out without a translator.

At least that's how my barn time feels sometimes.

Yes. I'm the crazy horse lady now who thinks my horses talk to me.

How do I know it's not my imagination?

Because sometimes I get it right. And it's so obvious then.

Let's talk pee.

Wild Heart is basically good to be tied in the barn. For long periods of time too. For the most part she'll stand quietly and relax. Until she doesn't.

What I've often heard in training advice is basically ignore her – if she paws, gets antsy, impatient. Horses need to learn to stand tied!

She'll learn to stand there all day if I need her to. That's her job. Stand tied quietly as long as I ask.

Then one day my friend Pam is here and she sees the horse go from calm to antsy and asks: do you think she needs to pee?

Are you kidding me? No. I've never considered that. If she has to pee… she'll pee. She's peed in the barn before. We just rinse it away.

While we are talking about it she pees.
I rinse it away and think…. hm.

She is still a little antsy. Seems like maybe that wasn't it?

She pees again. (Within a minute).

Rinse it away…. boy am I feeling like an idiot. She peed a little to try to help me understand and I assumed that was it.

SHE PEES A THIRD TIME.

Ok. I heard you.

Now I have a horse who asks to go out and will poop and pee outside the barn and will ask to go. Not every single time we work inside- but more often than not.

She has not pooped or peed in the barn since that day. And she stands quietly tied for hours if I ask her to.

It's much easier to work on her feet when she's calm and not begging me to go out and pee.

In the past if she was antsy while I was trying to work on her feet I'd have assumed I have a training issue and need to train her to stand quietly.

Go figure. Come to find out I had a language issue and the horse was simply asking if she could go to the bathroom before working on her feet.

This is bigger than urination- because the problem that seems like that problem isn't always actually the problem!

I am not at all saying if your horse doesn't stand quietly when tied it has to pee. I'm actually saying the opposite…. that it could be a million things and the only answer to every training issue with horses is: it depends.

There is no answer or method that will work except understanding of their equine world and their communication. If you get the answer wrong because you didn't understand the question it ends up lose-lose.

So maybe your answer IS the horse needs to learn some patience and to stand quietly tied. Or maybe it's something entirely different. But it's the tiny things we get right or not that will determine the success with that horse.

In Heart's case I know she was saying she needed to pee because that answer worked.

I think back to how nicely this mustang had her feet trimmed by my farrier in months past- he'd worked with her twice.
Then the last time a blow up.

Why?

First answer is always the same: because I failed her. I put her in a situation she should never had been in.

That doesn't mean beat myself up and live there in failure but I need to sort it out because failure is only useful if it's about learning.

It also means I have to now dig myself out of her being resistant in her right front and leaning to care for her feet myself for the time being because I can't allow anyone to work with her who might jeopardize the relationship I've worked so hard to build.

Yes. It's that important.

And my farrier is good. I like him, I appreciate and respect him. I don't blame him. I blame myself for not following my gut that day in better controlling the environment – and very likely for not understanding she may have had to pee and just began with a question that could have been answered with respect to her…

The two things that ruin horses the fastest are ignorance and ego. That day both of those things came into play. It can happen in an instant.

One thing I've learned about having a mustang: there is little room for error. They are sensitive to everything and a change can happen very fast.

Hopefully I can use all that to my advantage. First in learning how to be better myself, and because she can have fast positive change as well… if I get it right.

It's Wild Heart that has insisted I get better. Fast. She has a lot to say and is much less patient.

Khaleesi talks to me and I understand like 10% and she seems to say: for a dumb human you're not so bad and I'll take the 10% and the fact that you're trying and I like you.

Heart talks to me and I understand like 10% and she says: DO YOU NEED ME TO S-P-E-A-K S-L-O-W-E-R? HOW ABOUT LOUDER? HELLLLOOOOO HUMAN…. ARE YOU RETARDED? Maybe if I nip or kick at her she'll wake up?

When you don't have a choice you learn or get hurt. Don't misunderstand me: she is an excellent horse!! This is not bad behavior! And also by listening to her communication and trying to help her I am not putting her in charge or abdicating my leadership role.

My job is to understand as much as I can and then use the information. And they know so much we are wise to ask for their report. I can say 'no' or 'not right now' or 'thank you but I have a better idea'.

Being a good leader does not mean saying: shut up I don't care what you have to say if you don't get in line I'll have to force you to and get frustrated or angry in the process. Then when I have an emotional melt down (anger, frustration, fear…) and yell at you-you'll know to just shut down and obey!!

How is this getting me to 100?

First I am riding my horse. Just not as often.

But second, I have this gut feeling that understanding my horse and leaning her language could be a vital component of a long successful career. If I work together with her and she's willing to carry me that far because we are a true team I will be more successful for longer.

If I learn her language enough for her to tell me when something isn't right early enough for me to adjust and fix it we will be more successful.

You know how so many people say….

If only they could just tell us…..

Imagine they are. Then it becomes…

If only we could understand.

The only way to understand I've found so far is through regular conversations practicing the language and listening and hearing. Assume EVERYTHING horses do is communication. NOTHING IS RANDOM.

But once the box is open. You can't put it back in. You can't unhear what you've heard. You can't unknow what you've learned.

Sometimes I think about how much easier life was when I just went out put on a saddle and rode my horse. I had a nice one. She knew I meant well, loved and cared for her and she put up with me.
She was well trained.

Hopefully now I'm better trained. The horses are my teachers. I have many years to go before I'm fluent. But I have a few words here and there and at least am trying!

Tack and Tweaks

Thursday, July 13, 2017

First I was excited to get my first mileage patch in the mail:


This is a summer of trying some new things – and some old things again. 

The tweaks in my riding tack have been going well.

The more I ride in the Balance saddle the more I like it. The mattes shim pad is also nice but I’m still working out my combination- it has lots of options. 

One way she tells me she likes the saddle- I tacked her up yesterday with no halter on at all (so not tied). She stood calm, relaxed and still for me to tack up. (Did not get a picture of that so this pic is her normally tied in the barn)


Along with the saddle I needed a new breastplate. My other is western style and isn’t long enough. Two-Horse Tack sent me a really nice red on black biothane one to review and I really like it. 

The breastplate is 3/4″ with a shiny 1/2″ overlay and looks great. It’s a nice size (width) and weight. Also the English style has a whither strap which I always thought I wouldn’t like but it keeps the shoulder straps from hanging too low without having to overtighten them. 


It’s easy on and off with snaps and I like that with the whither strap (which also snap releases) I can actually have the breastcollar on her ready but unhooked from my saddle as I’m tacking up or untacking depending on when I’m ready to grab it – without having to find something to set it or hang it on. 

I haven’t had the need to clean it aside from a quick wipe but I love biothane for super easy cleaning and except my saddle I do everything I can in biothane. It doesn’t break (at least I’ve never yet for me) and if I get behind on wiping or rinsing I toss it in the dishwasher. It comes out shiny and new. 
And finally: as I was looking at breastplates they are expensive. This one I was slightly skeptical of because it was half the price of the other one I was considering. I ended up with both and I liked this one better and sent the other back. It was heavier and a little wider and thicker. 

Personally I prefer the lighterweight – and though I do climb the mountains here and prefer to ride with a breastplate- my saddle fit and hopefully my riding is such that I don’t slip around much. It’s a precaution and safety measure so I don’t need a thicker heavier duty one to offset it pulling into her chest often. 

If you’re interested in perusing two-horse tack you can click HERE for their site and this month they have a 10% off deal for anyone who signs up for their newsletter. 

NEWSLETTER SIGN UP DEAL 

But wait there’s more… 😁

At least for me and K.

She finally has all four feet bare again and I feel a big sense of relief somehow. I’m working on slowly bringing back her toes now that she doesn’t have shoes on and I’m able to. It’s too much for a trimmer to come take 6 weeks of growth off at a time so a gradual filing is better for her. 

I was fascinated with the difference between the hoof with pad and shoe just removed vs. the front hoof that has been bare about a month. 

Front hoof- I can see how she carriers herself more on the inside of the hoof and that was also apparent with her used shoes. 

My farrier says it’s not uncommon but it’s something I’m curious about and keeping an eye on. It’s the same on both of the fronts.  

Here the hoof though not ‘pretty’ is doing ‘its thing’. It is developing callouses and getting tougher. I’ll have my farrier back soon but for the moment I’d like the hoof to have a chance to develop on its own then work with what it needs help with. 

The rear hoof just after the pad and shoe removed. The quality of the underside of the hoof is not at all like the fronts. 


The only way I’d consider trying this barefoot route again is if I had boots I believed in and thankfully the Scoot Boots are still going strong. I now have tried them on her back feet and so far so good. It was a short ride but included all of walk-trot-canter and didn’t lose one yet. They also have glue on shells that I may try in the future depending on my ride needs. 


I am convinced that the horse’s movement and hoof shape all play into how well boots work. I’ve heard at least someone who absolutely loves every different kind of boot on the market.

I am grateful that these boots are the ones that have worked for K because I love them. If you are looking for a boot I highly recommend them- that being said they won’t work for everyone. I’ve heard of some who have had them come off during a ride. C’est la vie! Every horse is unique- that is the fun part right?

This brings me back to

I’ve tried that- it doesn’t work. 

I’ve heard it from other riders and I’ve said it myself. But one thing I’ve learned about horses is the dumb small detail I missed that seems so unimportant is the difference between total failure and success. Sometimes trying again in a slightly different way can bring different results. 

Ok- sometimes it’s a big detail. 

On the OD100 I added a pad not intended to be used in a boot to my Scoot boot. It caused a rub that when I found it later in the day was pretty ugly. It was the only time I’ve lost a Scoot boot. 

I wonder now how likely it could be that Khaleesi dumped that boot as best she could on purpose. It was already not fitting quite right. It may not have been hard to do. How often did a boot not feel right, rub at the heel or twist a little and she torqued just right to get it off?

I have no idea. 

But that mare has opinions.  And the longer I try to find out what they are the more she tells me.

This is a pandora’s box! Sometimes it would be easier not to know…

Getting shoes on- I work to keep her compliant and still. She behaves but she doesn’t like it. 

Getting those two back shoes pulled I could have left her ground tied and walked away. She didn’t twitch for a fly landing on her. She was perfect. 

Coincidence?

Maybe. 

When do the coincidences add up enough to being intent?

Fly mask is another example. 

Why don’t you use a fly mask? Look at all the flies on her?

She hates them. The last time I put a fly mask on her she came to the metal gate I’d just gone through and BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG with her hoof. 

I have never seen her do that before or since.

I took the fly mask off and she walked off calmly to eat. 

I’ve tried it – doesn’t work. 

How about this new fly mask that doesn’t poke their eyes and sit on their face?


Ok… sure I’ll give it a try. She hung out quietly and didn’t seem to mind it. 

Now if she stands and helps me put it on next time I’ll know she has a different opinion of this fly mask and if she walks off she probably still hates it. Or maybe just doesn’t want it at that time. 

But the spaceman like hoop that keeps it off her face just might be the detail that changes the story. (You can easily see from the picture it’s a Rambo product 🙂 )

It’s a much more interesting journey when I’m able to include her in the decisions of her own care and tack. To stop looking at her behaviors as training issues and first ask what she is saying. 

I’m astounded by the layers she’ll communicate if I am willing to listen. Then if I need her to help me out (training issue) I can ask, and show her what I need, and she is more willing to help.  

It’s such a better process for us both. 

The land of unicorns

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I’m just back from Scotland which I learned adopted the unicorn as its national animal in the 1300s. Apparently much of the Western world believed them to be real until ‘disproven’ in the 1800s. (We all laugh at this now but we are more civilized and modern than that… of course they are real!)

What I loved was the reason the unicorn was so important to the Scots: first it was said to be the only real enemy to the lion which was the adopted symbol of England (and everyone knows the Scots have little love for England). 


Even more importantly the unicorn was known to use its power to protect and provide resources for the other animals. The horn was known to be an antidote to most poisons and the legend has it a snake would cause trouble poisoning local water sources but the unicorn would dip her horn into the water and purify it again. 

One thing I noticed was the unicorn was always depicted in chains to a royal neck ring. While there isn’t one answer to why that is today- I speculate that all men want to tame the untameable and because men ruled for so long (yes, there is the occasional queen but men still had the power) they wanted to show symbolically their ability to rule. I think the pure virgins whom it was said the unicorns would submit to and become tame would have depicted them free and allow the unicorns to chose to serve the good humans with their powers. 

Either way, the unicorn is always depicted as a creature of nobility and purity. 🦄

While I had a fantastic trip back in history, visited the home of Sir Walter Scott and even met the Duke and Dutchess of Sutherland and was given a private tour of their home and gardens bordering the Tweed River, it was nice to come home to my own unicorns. 


Don’t tell anyone else though, we try to keep them on the down low!

Upon arriving home it was like Christmas in July… and it’s not even my birthday yet!

My new (used) Balance saddle had arrived with mohair girth and a Mattes shim pad I found for a great deal on eBay. 



You can see the build of this saddle really leaves room for the horse to move!



Coincidentally I’ve been contacted by both Scoot Boot folks in AU and Jackie from Two Horse tack about trying some products and I am geared up with my Scoot program which I’m hoping will give me a better ‘hoof up’ in trying for barefoot again as well as a timely new English style breastplate for my new saddle!



So it was wonderful to reconnect with my horse buddies (human and equine) and get a short re-entry ride in. 

I’m embarking on some exciting adjustments that have been in planning stages for a while now including the Balance saddle and trying the Scoot products that so far have stayed on 100% (when used as suggested!) to see if Khaleesi might do better barefoot. 

For the saddle, I’ll be having Dee Janelle from Simple Equine Teaching help me tweak the pad set up and my riding balance and abilities next month. Meanwhile I’ll be experiementing on my own to see what works and how I feel. 

I also connected with endurance rider Traci Falcone who rides in Balance and rope halter or neck string (depending on the horse) for some advice from her experiences. 

When I saw this picture of her going over cougar rock I was so inspired. She seems to be doing what few riders are able to do – and I hope to be able to someday! I contacted the folks at Balance and asked if they would contact her and if she would be open to me picking her brain. Generously she did respond and gave me some ideas to work with.  (Photo credit Hughes Photography)


For my first ride in the Felix GPJ I have to say I was very comfortable and had no sliping or shifting at all in any direction. The saddle helps encourage me into a position that gets my pelvis/sacrum underneath me (as opposed to a hollow back) and will allow my horse to round her back as well- and with a saddle that won’t inhibit that lift and development of muscles. 


It is different though and like anything takes some getting used to. Riding that way did make my back a little tired though not sore. I believe I’ll get stronger and more accustomed to it – and so will she. 

I didn’t have the time to both check the fit of my new Scoot pads and glue them in (24 hour cure period) so I rode with just the boots and she was fine but we took the rocky trail and I still think she’s a little slow on rocks. However she was not much better in shoes and pads so I don’t think this program so far is any worse than the shoes were. 


One thing I noticed: her feet are beginning to look harder and get some callousing around the edges. It seems they are growing faster- I know change of season affects that but she’s generally not grown hoof very fast in the past even in summer so I think it’s improving. 


Between her diet change (no more filler grains or GMO products, she’s on California Trace and Bug Check Field Formula for minerals) and going barefoot for a month on her fronts I think she’s growing some nice hoof and starting to harden up. 


They aren’t pretty, but it’s definitely improving! Her back shoes are still on but will come off soon. I will be curious to see how they look under the shoes and pads in comparison. 

Tomorrow we have a visit with a cranial sacral practitioner for all the mares. She comes very highly recommended and I am curious to see what she finds in each horse and if she gives me anything to work with that makes a difference. 

Of course I’ll keep you posted!

A few more unicorn spottings…






Now what?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Since pulling out of the OD100 on my first try a couple weeks back I find my life to be surprisingly normal (slight sarcasm). No long term disappointment holding on… just back to life as usual! No regrets. 

My farrier came out. He looked at the bare hoof and wondered why I didn’t put on the spare shoe. I was prepared for this. He made sure of that. It is true that in the moment I thought the foot was more torn up than it was. It might have held the shoe. But maybe not. It was a gut thing. I assured him many times over I didn’t think an ounce of blame was his these things happen to the best. 

I asked him to pull the other front shoe for me so it would be done clean with no damage. Leave the hinds for now- they look great!

What’s that you say readers? Barefoot front feet in mid summer!? The middle of conditioning? What am I thinking? Madness…

Well I’ve been kicking around my hoof program continually and yes yes yes. I know.

IknowIknowIknow Iknow Iknow. I know I know.

I know

Shoes and pads were working for the most part. 

But

I just have this gut feeling that says I can do better. 

Gut feeling can get me into trouble, but also could be that little voice in the right direction. I’ve listened to that gut feeling little voice before and it’s taken me on a different path I know is right for me and my horses. 

Because it’s shown results. 

I wasn’t willing to make a change before the OD ride, but now I don’t have an event on the calendar until September (unless my schedule opens up)- it seems like an opportunity to expirament. 

I’m not thrilled keeping her padded all the time. It’s been a damp spring and even though the pads drain, they have to keep some moisture in there. I also don’t like how the heels begin to seemingly compress over time riding especially with the pads. Then there are all the people who swear that having nails and steel shoes keep the blood from flowing as well through the leg over time…… 

Added all up it makes me wonder if the pad & shoe program is building her up for the long term or tearing her down for some protection in the here and now. 

There’s one way to find out…

I had my farrier take off the other front, and leave the hinds. The hind feet shoes are staying on and I am not as happy with my boot program on the narrow hind feet for the moment so I’ll take this on in parts. 

The Scoot Boots are still working. With the one exception of when I tried to add a pad 16 miles into my first 100 

Lesson learned here by the way: rule #1 is never ever even think of trying something untested on ride day – especially a 100. How many times have I heard that is one of the most common rookie mistakes?

So with that exception the boots are staying on 100%. I am now noticing some rubbing as I haven’t been using the gaiters- and one of the gaiters has a broken snap. So I have two issues to sort out now that the most important one (boot staying on) is settled:

  1. Are they protective enough for sensitive soles?
  2. Rubbing.

I called my USA Scoot representitive in Vermont and went all through my concerns. Scoot now makes pads for their boots- I assumed I’d need to invest in the next size boot up… more $ 😤😝… and add the pads. 


Turns out she doesn’t believe I will need to go up a size. She thought the pad I added likely didn’t stay put- and shifted toward the heel in movement pushed her heel up and caused the rubbing. 


They also have new endurance gaiters that are more protective and more durable. She believed that my current boot size with the pad they manufacture to go in the boot is going to be just fine- and when they arrive I will take a picture for her to see for sure. Once certain the fit is good, it gets glued in and stays put. 

Then we start training in boots and pads with the protective gaiters and see how she does. If they seem to be working then I move to the hind feet- in August (hopefully) they will have come out with the narrow version (in development and slated to release in June but not quite ready yet). 

I’m willing to try. The worst case scenario is I’m back in steel shoes at the end of the season – and that certainly could happen!

Meanwhile I have been doing some digging into the concept of the Balance saddle. It was recommend to me at the clinic in April as a way to improve on something that was working ‘ok’. My saddle fits (in the traditional sense) and my horse is doing well in it. She is not back sore ever since I switched to the wide tree last year and the beautiful design of the Phoenix Rising gives lots of shoulder movement and some ability for the back muscles to work underneath it. 

All in all she has a nicely muscled back. But there may be the start of some atrophied muscling right behind the withers- which I understand becomes pretty normal in most horses ridden in traditional (English, western or endurance) saddles. 

The Balance system builds a saddle in an upside down ‘U’ shape (yes- this is similar to the hoop tree concept, but I understand the Balance founders began this design originally) instead of the normal ‘V’ shape. Even if your horse isn’t currently that rounded- that if you use a saddle that allows for proper movement in their back instead of fitting the saddle to the static back then they are able to develop those muscles in work, have a stronger back and move better. This has proven true in at least two people I know personally who are using Balance. 


Standard jumping saddle v shaped 

Balance GPJ saddle in super extra 8x width I just ordered
Balance saddle I just ordered U shaped. 

I like it. 

The gut thing again. 

The concept that intrigues me is that almost the worst thing one could do is custom mold a saddle to a horse’s back (even worse while standing as they are in motion while you ride in the saddle). Pressure points are only a small part of the bigger issue- that I want my horse’s topline to improve and build muscle over time and a saddle sitting on the muscles and nerves especially behind the withers will not allow for that. 

Treeless seems to at least have more give however having no tree to distribute the pressure at all is also not good – at least that’s what I believe. Some riders swear by them and compete healthy backed horses many years. I wouldn’t want to argue with one of you- it’s just not the direction for me!

My friend Pam has a Balance saddle and I asked her to bring it to VA for the summer so I could test run it. I loved it- and Khaleesi really loved it. I could feel her lift more underneath me and she was more forward than usual. In good spirits.  



So I happened upon a used one that was exactly what I’d need in size and style – it even had added D rings from the manufacturer so… I made the jump. I’ll sell my second Phoenix Rising and the price is about equal so it ended up being easier than I’d thought it would be!

I will keep my saddle and have both for now. I don’t think the Phoenix is a bad fit and it’s working. I do think this could be even better but we’ll see how it goes in riding it. 


One thing about the Balance saddle concept: it demands the rider take on more responsibility in actively riding in a balanced position. Because the saddle doesn’t perch exactly to the shape of the horse it can move if you’re not doing your job. 

I did not find this to be a problem for me in the 12 miles I rode in the saddle. In fact I didn’t have a breast collar on hand that fit and I worried it might slip back in the Mountains.  

It didn’t. It wasn’t nearly as ‘comfortable’ as the Phoenix for the rider’s butt – but it was fine- probably occasional riding in a bareback pad helps with my balance too! 

However I do wonder if going through a 100 and getting tired I may find myself needing to have both options as the night wears on. It would be nice to be able to change it up for both of us to do our best. 

So I will share how these experiments in upping our game go!

Meanwhile what next?


We ride!

I have had a wonderful time riding with some friends close to home with no particular goals but to enjoy the trails and get some miles in keeping fit!


Life is good!

Love letter to my crew:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

5:30am start on Saturday means an early morning- in fact 5:30 am start means I’m on my horse by 5:15 (ideally but it hardly ever works that way for me) so probably getting up by 4am to make sure we are adequately dosed with coffee.


As for Khaleesi, I will offer a light meal of wet beet pulp with minimal coolstance added as soon as possible to 4am with salt and her supplements. Her job is to have been eating and drinking all night and she usually takes it pretty seriously so she doesn’t need a heavy meal right before start. I also plan to dose her with a plain salt mix right before I climb aboard to encourage early drinking.  

You will be amazed at how anticlimactic the start of an endurance ride is. But you’ll want to see it anyway- maybe you can remember to get video of us coming through at hopefully a very moderate trot.


The first loop into BIRD HAVEN isn’t terrible for terrain with one major climb and I hope to be in around 8-8:15. Last year on the 50 it took me just around 2:30 so maybe a year later she’ll be a touch more confident and faster. Your job this day is to get us in and out as efficiently as possible. If we waste 5 minutes at every vet check trying to pulse or cool down or not being in the saddle by our out time that is a lost 30 minutes to our finish time and depending on the day could mean we complete or not. 

This means be ready to pull tack basically as I’m getting off the saddle and if it’s hot have COLD water already sponging her neck, sides and underside with a scraper practically while we are walking in. Cooling down means quicker to pulse. She can drink but don’t want her eating until she’s down to 64bpm because digesting creates heat and can keep the heart from dropping Gut sounds are vital however so someone needs to have a flake of hay and/or carrots as we walk or in line for the vet. 


It’s a 45 minute hold. You will be shocked at how fast 45 minutes is especially in comparison to how SLOW 2 minutes is when you are sitting in the saddle waiting for your out time to come. Bird haven is the main check as it’s first in and last out- and it will be set up since Thursday as another friend riding the 50 will be using it as his crewing spot when he rides Friday. So you shouldn’t have to do a lot in the AM to get ready! 

Main things at Bird Haven after getting vetted through: feed the beast- mostly grass if there’s any left- so someone may need to walk her around to find some, hydration hay which should be available to her at every check and already hydrated (I guess that’s obvious), beet pulp is also ok and coolstance can be mixed into it. 

I’m not sure if we’ll need her waterproof sheet as we may be getting some rain in the morning if forecasts stay accurate- it’s hard to know at that time of day if we’ll be keeping her from getting a chill or trying to cool her down. Be ready for both. If it’s not raining per mentor’s instructions wet her chest and neck before we ride off and NEVER EVER let me forget to Elyte her, and be sure I have an extra syringe to go in my pack as well.

After Bird Haven I ride 16 miles to LAUREL RUN this has a massive demoralizing climb and could be one of the slower MPH loops I do all day. I’ve done this stretch of trail in the 50 last year and hiked a lot of the climb on foot because it’s that steep and if she’s walking, I’m walking… no sense in making her carry me up the mountain if we can’t pick up speed. I think this loop took me almost 4 hours last year. It was later in the day for the 50 and it was a very hot day, a year less conditioning under her hooves, so I hope to make slightly better time- but never know. 

The big climb before laurel run

LAUREL RUN is crew-less in the AM. They take care of us there because space is at a premium and you won’t be there. I am considering sending up a bag with elytes the night before- I want to be sure I’m dosing enough and don’t know if I want to carry enough for over 6 hours of trail because I won’t see you until Bucktail. This is another 45 minute hold. The legal range for us to be there is like 10:30 – 1:45pm (meaning if i didn’t get OUT of there by 1:45pm they’re sending me home in the trailer cause I’m overtime!). Since you can’t come here you get a morning break! This is when you’ll want to be sure we have plenty of ice because we have 15 miles to get to…..

BUCKTAIL. This is mid-afternoon. The check opens around 1pm and stays open till about 4pm so it’s the heat of the day and I’ve heard there are some climbs… I have no idea at the moment when we’ll get there because now i’m in uncharted territory! I hope we can somehow stay in communication occasionally or you can check in with officials to find out when we got to and left laurel run if we can’t text or call. If I make it to Bucktail I’ll want a yummy lunch (which i’ll have to figure out!) and watermelon and cold drinks.  Well be spending a lot of time icing and scraping K so she goes back on trail with a totally cool core temp. You will think it’s overkill. 


It isn’t. This is also a 45 minute hold. Then we do 7 miles to…

WAITES RUN – gate and go. This means only 10 minutes after reaching pulse. where the vets want to see the horse trot by after you give them a snack. It’s open like 2-7pm… I believe you will be able to crew this for us- they should have water tanks and you SHOULD only need to get us fresh drinks for our packs and e-lytes for the horses and hay or beet pulp whatever she seems to be eating. (maybe carrots and apples if she’s not being snotty about them.

Note here: those who’ve gone before me say DROP TACK immediately. It’s not required but not doing it almost always costed them time in the past. Many riders take more than the 10 minutes required and we will hope not to if possible… Make sure you have a sponge and sweat scraper and some ice water ready in case it takes time to cool her. I will take extra elytes but will NOT elyte before leaving this check – it is the only one I will wait until water because there’s an immediate climb and she won’t have much chance for water for a while. Then 12 miles to

LITTLE SLUICE
– this is what they call “hospitality” and you will not be there.. there is no vet check or hold, they just provide us with water (horses), usually some hay or carrots… and take our number to be sure we’re still ok…  I’ll electrolyte for sure… you should be able to get information of our position because in 4 more miles we’ll see you at:

BIG 92
… if i make it here we are at mile 70 and i will probably be exhausted or ecstatic because that’s the farthest I’ve ever ridden by many miles and it’s hard to believe I’ll see big 92!!!! 😳) this check is open from 5-10:30pm… I can’t imagine I’ll be there at 5 but I sure hope it’s not 10pm either! I’ll want dinner… if we’re lucky something warm from the store or restaurant you were able to get earlier! hot and fatty like a cornbread grilled cheese…. or fried chicken… maybe a burger… and probably bourbon… (ok, kidding on the bourbon… well… maybe just a shot… ;-)) This is a 40 minute hold and vet check. Pray my horse hasn’t lost a shoe or is lame (don’t read that out loud and curse us though)… this ride is hard- they don’t call it the Beat of the East for nothing. After I take a 5 minute nap and eat something hearty… and my horse eats and drinks like a monster we hope… passing the check with all As!! we have only 8 miles to get back to…….

LAUREL RUN
the second time! (on the way home baby!) this check can be crewed at night because enough (other!?) riders have been pulled in the day (and the other riders have spread out) – not so many people in the confined space. Open about 7pm – 1am my guess is this is the late night stop for me… could be midnight?? 


These night checks will not need ice- more likely my fleece or waterproof to keep her from getting chilled… rump rug? you’ll have access to all of them depending on the weather. It’s a 30 minute hold which will probably feel like a time warp and I can’t imagine what I’ll want then besides alleve and a bed. Note: whatever I say to you put me back on my horse if she’s still not lame! I’ve come almost 80 miles at this point and should be able to do 20 more … in the dark… in just about any state. It’s only 14 more miles back to…..

BIRD HAVEN!!
!! almost home! I’ll be cold and tired and either grouchy or out of my head. If grouchy please forgive me in advance I don’t mean anything personally. My sentances may not be coherent. Hopefully I’m at least not throwing up at this point.  Just feed me something warm (probably some kind of soup) make sure I have warm dry clothes on (fresh if it’s cold and raining – my worst nightmare) and ignore me… this is only 20 minutes if all goes well and i have no idea when I’ll get here at this point sometime between 2am and 4am? There is just over 6 miles back to camp from here… so once again if my horse is healthy and you think i need to go to a hospital… PUT ME ON THE HORSE. I have plenty of vet wrap that should cover just about any injury or pain i’ve sustained… alleve is probably good to have on hand. I’ll make sure to bring a bottle- enough to share should you find anyone else needs it too! 


One of you may need to trot out my horse for me at this point if my legs are failing me… REMEMBER! always jog fast- minor issues like being tired from riding 90 miles can look like lameness if you go too slow- but NEVER EVER EVER let the lead rope get tight as it WILL look like lameness when her head is pulled even if she’s completely fine. She gets graded on “attitude and impulsion” both and they matter- so unless she’s seriously exhausted and can’t go on pull up your energy and get exciting so she wants to run with you which she always is skeptical of even on the vet-in when she’s not tired (why do i have to run to that stupid cone?) if she looks reluctant that will lower her grade. we’ll have to practice some trot outs.. this is kind of important actually… also Lynne says there’s a direction you should always turn… there was a reason… i’ll have to ask her… ok… so now we hopefully get to…

FINISH LINE
– back at camp. Now is when you need to have the bourbon… or even better would be a good peaty scotch… but i don’t think my budget is going to allow that with all the crap i’ve had to pick up just in case… If i actually make it to the finish line on a horse I will be crazy happy even though it could be 5am meaning I’ve been up over 24 hours and maybe a little delirious as well. 

This is where the kid gloves come out- it’s her first 100 and we’ll both be tired. I am slightly terrified of muscle cramping here. My vet says the best medicine here is prevention and good electrolyting through the entire day is key on never having her deficient so her mucles are able to function at their best and stay strong. My mentor’s finsh line advice is NOT to get off her when we cross the finish line but stay on and walk slowly toward the vet area leaving tack on- have a rup rug ready for me at the finish as it’s a little walk from there to vet and if we use it – it goes on GENTLY but without being sneaky. Any jump or spook can take a tired muscle and give it a pull that will get us pulled. I want to see her heart rate down as we slowly walk to vet and once it is we’ll drop tack right there and keep moving nice and slow-like into the final vetting. Have her fleece ready. The goal is to get in and out of that final vet as quickly as possible with a capital C (Completion).

We will hopefully vet through- but if she gets pulled at the finish for lameness or whatever please remind me that we still did something amazing, and it happens to the best of riders/horses and it’s only our first try… 


Next i’ll be looking for some help with taking care of K- lots of hay, coolstance, beet pulp, apples, carrots- she gets whatever she wants and at some point during the day, depending on our camp set up, i’d like to consider moving K’s electric fence so she has new grass after the ride… i might be able to set up two pens at once depending on my supplies. The second one can be smaller as she won’t move as much and we’ll be there less than a whole day- but fresh clean grass is good!! Also getting K’s legs poulticed (possibly wrapped) and possibly ice soaking her feet with epsom and ice water to help alleviate any bruising/soreness she may develop. Brandon suggested finding the farrier if possible the next day to make sure her shoes are still on tight and ask them to check nails and/or clinches and leave them on if they are on good to protect her feet in the rest period to come. I may need to be reminded or helped with this too!


I’ll hopefully get some sleep- a few hours or so, and I think there’s a brunch and awards thing too on Sunday.  I plan to go home later on in the afternoon and could use a hand i’m sure cleaning up camp and packing in!

No matter what happens I am so grateful to have friends who are willing to help me get through this big day and support me on my journey! We will have a great adventure! 

F-U-N! Much love- see you Friday!