Go ahead… explain…

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I believe there are reasons for the struggles and shaping I go through. They are good for me in the long run, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally throw a tantrum.

Sometimes I have the energy to take the annoyance or difficulty in stride and sometimes I wish God would work on the other people around me instead…

Can’t you work on him/her for a while right now so my life is easier!?

Silence.

I’m tired. Can we do this some other time or never?

Silence.

Ouch that hurts! Why do I have to go through this?!

Silence.

Why?

Silence.


Then I went to the barn to check on Khaleesi’s painful scabby scratches on the right hind. I wasn’t able to do much the previous two days due to cold rain leaving fields completely mud soaked. No chance of drying the infected spots out which is necessary for them to heal.

It’s been a losing battle with this wet 2018. Just when I get a window of headway the mud and rain return creating new hot painful scabs.

First I used the hose to wash the mud off her legs and feet. She tolerated it.

But when I began as carefully as I could to dry and just assess the bad foot with my eyes she avoided, sidestepped and even air kicked at me.

Stop! That hurts! Leave it alone!!! GO AWAY!!

I know it hurts but I need to help you.

In order to truly help her I had to dry the area I’d just cleaned, run the mini clipper over it to remove as much hair as possible, then spray an aloe-antibacterial gel that cleans and cools the area (slightly easing the pain), then add some skin cream to soften the scabs so I might be able to remove some of them to allow them to heal – and a protective zinc oxide to help them feel better and protect them as they heal.

She was highly and visibly against this process and I understood. It hurt. The low level irritating pain is easier to deal with than the excruciating pain involved in true healing.

We know as humans that if we put up with the bad pain in an effort to heal we will then be well and not eventually to lose use of a leg and possibly die if you’re a horse who gets taken down by a predator.

So here I am in the barn knowing I absolutely have to get the scratches treated. With her consent or not in this case.

So I picked up the one thing that gets that mare’s attention beyond any other mental or physical distraction.

The flag.

And the next time I went to spray the cooling gel and she danced away I flapped the flag and she understood I was now not negotiating. And I had her undivided attention.


I want to pause to explain a couple things here:

First– I have worked to build a solid relationship of trust with this mare over years. Most times she will go along with me even if she’s unsure because I’ve built that foundation. I cannot say I would take this same course of action with Wyoming the mustang. She is learning to trust me but the foundation isn’t solid enough yet.

Second– I did wave that flag toward her and I meant business. But I was not emotionally upset with her. I didn’t act out of anger but love. While the flag gets waved either way- the intent behind it was to help her. It does matter. If I’d have been frustrated, angry and out of control this would not have worked out the same way.


She is sensitive already and the flag is BIG language for her.

It brought her back to me and though she still moved it was much less… no air kicking. I didn’t get everything done to the level I wanted but I got done what I needed.

And though she didn’t like it, she was able to relax and process when we finished and we walked to the field connected and the relationship not broken- in fact probably stronger for it.


There was a moment however in the barn while I watched her struggle and stood back a moment to allow her to calm that tears began to puddle in the corner of my eyes.

I was thinking of something I’d heard earlier that morning.

Tim Keller described watching – years ago on a farm in Europe- sheep got dipped for parasite control that saved their lives. The process was terrifying to them. As a soft hearted human, Tim explained, we want to explain to the sheep that it’s for their own good.

We want to explain.

So… suggested Tim…

Go ahead and explain.

😶

😚

Exactly.

Peace

August 13, 2018

Things in the barn have been quiet lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You want me to check that out for you?

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

She’s happy with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I stop with trimming for the day.

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

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

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

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

Good girl.

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

It will be good for us all…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She approves!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, this may finally be the beginning.

Whatever it is, I like it.

The Long Dreams

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tevis season is near… the details that make my heart skip a little as I read about them.

Why?

Why on earth does this equine sport in its extreme forms appeal to some of us. I can’t explain it logically, but we are all created unique from one another, and for some the call to attempt something so challenging… with another living creature with its own personality and opinions- the partnership involved in that and the long hours on the trail- often alone- to get to the starting line…

I’ve had people suggest it’s about a competitive nature- but they misunderstand me and many of the friends I respect in the sport (yes there are unfortunate exceptions) – to us endurance is about me being better than I was yesterday.

We don’t much care about ribbons and trophies** (there aren’t any) or notoriety (this sport doesn’t provide much of an audience) or cash prizes (do some equine sports still do that?!). The motto of the governing organization AERC is “To finish is to win” and in fact sometimes the best prize of the race is the turtle (I’ve collected a few of these) for the rider who completed the ride and came in last.

**nothing against ribbons and trophies or cash prizes! And of course all competitive equine sports require discipline, skill and a relationship especially to get to the highest levels!

I recently went to hear a knowledgeable vet talk to new riders and Lani remarked:

in this sport I can’t remember who came in first last year at the Old Dominion 100, can’t tell you who was top 10 at Tevis… but I can tell you who finished 100 miles healthy and sound on a 21 year old mare, and who has been riding the same horse for 10 years without injury, and who is competing strong with a horse that is not genetically bred to make the sport easy (most non-Arabs), who has faced big challenges and overcome… those are then riders and horses we remember!

It’s captured me. It’s captured my imagination. The journey to get there has made me better.

This sport is not for the faint of heart. It’s called endurance I think now, not because it takes endurance to finish a ride- the longer I compete the more I understand: it takes endurance to get to base camp!

Once you arrive it’s one of the few sports that won’t even let you compete with out a veterinarian’s approval. And you can ride 25, 50, 100 miles in your division, come the the end and have your horse come up slightly lame, have a hind end cramp, not recover to a resting heart rate in time, or be 2 minutes past the allowed time, and not be rewarded your completion of the miles.

You have to be good. You can’t get away with much if you want to succeed over the years.

You don’t have to ride well to start- but you will damage your horse if you continue to ride badly over the thousands of miles training and competing… you have to have a well fitting saddle, a good hoof program, the right nutrition, must understand things like electrolytes and mineral loss in sweat, must be able to mitigate stress in trailering and camping in unfamiliar locations, must be mentally prepared to ride alone or in an unknown group of horses who may be sane and lovely or completely schitzoid and half out of control, must be ready to cross any kind of ditch or bridge or high river, move through any terrain from sucking mud to ridge line rocks (on the same day), meet various animals from wild turkeys to cows… even lamas or sheep and goats from time to time… I’ve encountered joggers, fisherman, hunters, cars, bikes, kayaks and seguays (thank you Biltmore); you will need to ride in the dark either for a few miles at the end of a long 50 or all through the night for a 100, and through it all watch for trail ribbons- stick with the right color for the loop you’re on, and try not to get lost in the great wilderness these rides cover.

You cannot really prepare for everything you’ll encounter. This is one reason your relationship with your horse is possibly even more vital in endurance than other disciplines where you can know more what to expect and find more consistency. I also find some people really like knowing what to expect and planing and preparing! This sport is hard on those people.

Talk about cross training!

It’s drawn my attention to a fundamental difference I’ve begun to notice in people around me. I have a view of things that if it doesn’t cost you something, if you don’t have to work for it it is not as special. (This does not include gifts! I have some very very special gifts in my life that I treasure though they came only from the love and generosity of the giver)

I’ve always wanted to experience the almost impossible. I want to explore the limits of what I’m capable of and see if the limits can go just a little farther. I want to do the things most people are just not willing to put the effort in to experience. I want to solve the puzzle and find a way to make the unlikely happen.

When I did marathon training in Northern California I ran a beautiful trail along a reservoir that had only one entrance that went for miles. On long run days I might run 10 or more miles, and gradually I would leave the families out for a walk and the casual joggers behind and eventually I’d be completely alone on trail fewer and fewer people would see. I remember one day reflecting on the reward for working so much in my running was to get to beautiful parts of the trail into the park that not many see and the gift of being in my own world out there gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Recently I’ve discovered that not everyone looks at life this way. Some people feel that if things don’t come basically easily then maybe you are on the wrong path. That things shouldn’t ‘be so hard’. While at first I thought this seemed like laziness or lack of drive- I came to realize that these other folks see it like trying to force a square peg into a round hole and that is an exercise in stupidity. Truly.

There are merits to both ways of understanding the world and it’s one thing to work hard for something and quite another to force something that shouldn’t be.

This balance is observable in endurance as people try to determine if their horse is truly a terrible fit for the sport and not likely to succeed verses the horse that needs more training and support to do well. Someone like me is more likely to continue longer than useful in coming to the realization that it’s a truly bad fit, yet someone with the opposite view very well could give up too soon on a horse that with the right help could be a successful endurance mount (for example).

No matter what, to do this sport well a solid relationship with your horse is key. And no matter what relationships take work.

Horses don’t lie- this is a lot to ask of them, they are amazingly capable creatures who will stun you to tears with their physical ability when trained well and their massive hearts to do their job for you.

My journey into the rabbit hole of endurance has made me better with my horses, it’s made me better a better writer, it’s made me better with my friends, it’s made me better with my family. Yes, over time, I think it’s even made me a better wife.

I leave you with a blog repost to the inspiration for my entry. It is written by Elizabeth Speth Mostly Beautiful Things- Tevis Volunteer. Here is a quote from the blog that stirred my heart as she shared real experiences she has gone through volunteering for the famous Western States Tevis Cup:

I will be happy to see you at one a.m. in a remote place, with the moon rising over a tree-fringed canyon, as the air is turning cold.  You have been riding nearly twenty hours, give or take.  In temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees.  You’ve had a long day.  We’ve left the light on for you, because you still have a ways to go.
I will stay with you while you throw up, wretchedly, exhaustedly, on the ground in front of your chair under the gas lamp.  Riding in the dark for hours gave you motion sickness, and your dehydration didn’t help.  You are too tired to be embarrassed, and I’m glad, because you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
I will hold your horse and look discreetly the other way while you pee on a bush not a foot away from me.
I will run five miles down a trail in my boots, in deep darkness, because your horse stumbled and you both went over a cliff.  My fellow volunteers and I will be overjoyed to find you alive, clinging to a steep hillside, seriously injured but with humor and graciousness intact.  Your horse will have made his way back to camp by then, in better shape than you.  I will sit with you for a few hours while the moon pries the black sky open, and we wait for rescue folks to arrive.
I will envy you as you pile your tired body in the saddle for the last fourteen miles, so delirious you have to ask me which way the trail lies.  I will watch you until darkness swallows you up.  I will think you are very brave.  I will think your horse is a miraculous thing of beauty.

Delta-one-one

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This worked great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experiment was worthwhile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundhog Day

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Some local friends have an annual tradition of spending February 2 (regardless of what day of the week it falls or the weather) devoting a night to their favorite French peasant dish: Cassoulet — paired with a screening of the classic allegorical film Groundhog Day.

I love good food and this dish introduced to me years ago by the same good friends have inspired me. Cassoulet takes days of preparation and is rich and decadent and yet simple. It’s everything Ed and I appreciate about fine food and we have even been fortunate enough (with help and guidance from the same friends) to spend a weekend in Toulouse as a part of our wedding trip — eating cassoulet in Southern France.

I tease (well it’s only half teasing) that the Groundhog Day Invite is the toughest invitation to score in our little county. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few times over the last 10 years and had seen the movie at least once or twice before that.

The food and company were wonderful last night but the movie- though normally the part I cynically groan through as payment for eating the finest meal of the year- somehow struck me fresh this time.

If you haven’t seen the movie ever or if it’s been a while I will highly recommend taking a cold winter evening and some good food and watching it. I think this one just gets better in time and is worth a revisit.

I am assuming everyone knows the gist of the film: highly self-centered cynical television weatherman has to relive the same day over and over (some estimates taken from what he accomplishes says it could accumulate to up to 30 years!!) going through many new layers of self realization until he finally learns that true fulfillment comes from not seeking your own happiness but from serving and loving others.

The layers he goes through are touching and funny and I could relate to them so well in my own personal journey.

The section of the movie that struck home to me most regarding working with horses was as Phil decided he wanted to try to get to know Rita (earnestly sweet natured producer) he spent many many many of his days trying to find out what makes her tick. Each of these days goes well a little farther on until he gets to a new thing about her that he gets wrong. Because it’s fake manipulation, that new detail whenever he gets to it always shuts down the process. Thus he begins again the next (same!) day.

He really wants to spend an entire day with Rita and be exactly the guy she is looking for… he learns her favorite everything and mimics it each step of the way. His ultimate goal is still self centered… he’s more interested in conquering her than caring for her… possibly to use her to get out of the Groundhog Day cycle, or both… still about him.

One of the scenes shows him – almost crazed – going through the motions; using all the techniques and memorized details he’s acquired to get through the day until he can get to the ‘new material.’ He is doing all the ‘right things’ he’s learned but it’s so insincere it becomes creepy.

It reminded me of working with horses – how many times have I learned something with my horse, then gone back with my idea of what to do that day in mind and I’m going through the motions to get it done but it has little connection or feeling? I’m hardly paying any attention to the horse (Rita in this example) but I’m doing what I know works because it worked before. I’m right aren’t I?

How many times I’ve heard the voice “Come on you already know how to do this!!” In my head. “Why are we wasting time here?!”

It made me laugh to imagine it. Phil in the movie even overdoing his ‘love’ commentary to get what he wants but his heart just wasn’t in it.

Oh… I think I’ve been there before.

The end result of that whole process- trying to learn what he thought the girl wanted him to be and put on a fake exterior of all the right things in order to be successful– finally when he does get all the way through the day and into night with her strung along but blows it in the end… in his desperation to get that final piece in place after working so hard for so long and being SO close, his true self shows through and she feels only manipulated and just that last little thing ruins it all… back to zero.

It makes me think of the last 6 miles out of a 100 mile ride (the OD 100 has a check at mile 94). If we’d come that far and my horse showed me she wasn’t somehow really ready to finish- that she was done… let’s say technically we could pull it off- not something a vet would pull… but I knew she would be compromised…

what would I do? The investment it takes to get that far even before showing up on race day is gigantic. Would I look at my horse and say: ok girl. Not today. I’m with you.

Or would I say: you’re kidding me… it’s 6 more miles you’ll be ok. Whatever it is isn’t that bad… I mean on the scales I’ve invested this thing of yours is small! Do you know what I’ve put into this?? Come on let’s get it done?

That one decision could mean starting over from below zero (lost trust and respect from my partner) or going home to continue building on those 94 miles and all that work that truly creates a long term team capable of almost anything together.

I so hope that thinking about these things in advance will help me make that decision better when it comes. And even to see the decisions for what they truly mean. That can be even more dicey.

In the end Phil comes to the end of himself and his immediate gratification. First he gets more honest with who he is and where he is. I think that is always the hardest hurdle for most humans. He doesn’t have to be something he’s not to make Rita interested in him- being real is the start.

Then getting better. He begins to invest in the people around him, he begins exploring (educating himself) by learning music and French poetry and ice sculpting. He eventually wins the girl and his life when he stops trying to win the girl… he spends the day putting his own wants aside to care about others and finds ultimate success and fulfillment there.

I feel like this winter has been a time where I’ve been asking those same questions- how do I care about how my horse feels and what she needs above the things I want her to do for me?

What does that look like?

It’s not bad to want to ride on the trails with friends, or have high dressage scores, or run a clean course, or ride 100 miles … as much as seeking a relationship with Rita isn’t bad in itself… it works better through honesty, seeking knowledge, letting go of the ego and putting others (your horse) ahead of what you want your horse to do.

But it must come from the heart… horses, just like Rita, know when they are being manipulated or ‘played’.

The changes can only come if they’re real.

Last thing I noted was heartening: all those days Phil spent trying for the wrong things still weren’t wasted. He may have had the wrong motives, but he learned about Rita anyway… and he may have been lost for a while but the patterns emerged through the day in the town that he was able to use later to help people.

Keep seeking… really searching and eventually everyone who wants to can truly change, and use the lessons along the way for our good and those around us.

What would love require?

Monday, January 15, 2018

I heard something recently that made me pause.

wait…

I’ll take a step back and fill on the context surrounding New Years resolutions.

Most often people look for ways to improve themselves in the new year, but this talk I heard asked a different question: what will you do to make the lives around you better this year?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve myself. However especially in the Western World we sometimes get so wrapped up in self-help and self-improvement that we miss the fact that we will never truly be fulfilled seeking self fulfillment. In the words of Andy Stanley:

If you spend your life living for yourself, at the end of your life you will have nothing but yourself to show for yourself.

In the end people don’t impact us because they ate healthy, got to the gym and got out of debt.

There are people who inspire me in my life and it is because they’ve made a difference in a positive way often sacrificing their own time and money and comfort for something they believed in. And the most important facet for me is it came from a broken heart and love- not out of anger, fear or hate.

I am fascinated by the major shifts of finding the thing that breaks your heart and walking away from fun or comfortable choices to make a difference there…

But also on a day-to-day scale as a lifestyle there is something much more basic which is the thought that gave me pause this week.

I generally put my own goals and interests over others. No, I don’t go around intending to get the best of everyone in some malicious way- but my pre-engineered human nature is ‘self-preservation’ and getting what I want. This doesn’t mean I don’t do random nice things (I’m actually pretty good at that…) but my default is doing and getting what I want. A gazillion small decisions go into this machine every hour. There are tons of books written about getting what you want… Not only is this perfectly normal, but I always have perfectly good justification for when it affects someone else:

  • There are endless loopholes: the rule doesn’t exactly cover this situation right?
  • There are the world’s low expectations: well it’s how she treated me when the situation was reversed, no one could blame me…
  • Rationalization: now he’ll know how it feels. He deserves it. What goes around comes around…
  • There are the things you know no one will see or notice…
  • And then what about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? Being seen by other people as the good guy or assuming it will come back around and serve self in some way later on…
  • And of course the tally- I’ve done X amount of good things so I’m entitled to be selfish about this decision here… I’m usually a selfless giving person… most of the time….

But what would it be like to choose the more excellent way and ask not what is fair, required, expected, or seen by others but instead:

What would love require me to do?

This is still a horse centered blog (promise); I am still working one step at a time toward a 100 mile ride on this horse no one else has trained or educated but me.

So how does this look when applied to my horse?

How would this constant worldview shift affect my journey toward the goal?

When it comes to my horses, what does love require of me?

In reflection sometimes I’ve gotten this right: as in pulling out of my first 100 attempt last June because of a pulled shoe. My horse was officially not lame, and I could have had a ride farrier epoxy the nail holes and torn hoof and put on a new pad and shoe. But I knew that it wasn’t about the shoe. I had a big picture issue needing long term resolving and continuing as far as I could get until pulled by a vet would have been selfish of me. Love required stopping while ahead and going back to the drawing board (not for one ride but maybe months or a season!) to regroup on a new hoof plan and better nutrition etc.

And I’ve gotten it wrong … more than once.

Like the time two seasons back while I was still trying to sort out saddle fit and I knew her back was showing signs of soreness but breathed a sigh of relief when the vet cleared her to ride the next day. After all I’m working on it… it’s not that bad. The vets said she was fine. I knew better.

Worse still was the ride I pushed her through hard terrain without enough hoof protection and we finished but I knew I didn’t deserve that completion. My horse was not fit to continue. I got what I wanted at her expense. In that case it was mostly ignorance that hurt her but I had multiple opportunities that day to hear my horse asking for help and choose the more excellent way and I got it wrong over and over. She paid the price. I may still be working my way out of that mentally and physically with her.

Then there’s the ride I got it right by staying in and riding on- it’s not always about pulling out:

I came into the first vet check to have the vet question K’s soundness. I believed that she was fine. I had second opinions, I looked closer myself, I took her back to the vet and she was cleared by committee and we went back out. That was one of my favorite rides and she has never looked so good after a ride with as much energy and spunk as she did that night. She never showed a hint of being off.

But besides these big defining moments, I do believe that the small everyday lifestyle choices are more defining and more valuable.

I will choose to truly see my horse and her needs and remember to ask not what can I get done, force into place, shortcut or get away with… (and this doesn’t mean whatever she wants any more than one would indulge a child’s every wish all the time. It certainly includes continuing my education so that I know what my horse actually does need to be well balanced and healthy)

And in the human world when things aren’t fair, or they are trying my patience, seem unbelievable (I mean who could think that way… or say that thing…) or they don’t make sense… when people let me down… when they say unkind things… when it’s hard….

for 2018 I commit to asking…

What does love require from me?

Gifts [edited]

Monday, June 12, 2017

One thing I love is finding ways everything is a gift- even the things you didn’t think you wanted. If you change perspective and turn them around enough you can see the beauty- but sometimes it takes a little squinting through tears!

I am back from the OD safely and have taken one of the few best showers of my life now able to relax finally and boy it feels good!

Though I tried not to think negatively and ‘curse’ us- I wasn’t convinced I would finish the OD100  sound and healthy the first go at it. The completion rate is usually close to half- and to even enter the 100 usually (hopefully!) means you’re a smart rider with a dependable horse who has some solid experiece, so half those riders pulled out of the race are top endurance competitors. 

Everything has to go right for this to work. And then you still need a little luck to make it through. 


Khaleesi and I began with all the hopes you can carry and within about 3 miles something felt off. I asked Amy to let some riders pass us and watch me trot. 

Something’s not right….

Yep you’d better check. I think you lost a shoe!

I got off and sure enough. Front Left. Gone. Hoof tore up pretty good. Damn rain this spring. This is not a good way to start. 

Now what.. ok. Boot. Vet wrap. We are prepared for everything including this.  
I wrapped the hoof and put on the Scoot boot. And crossed my fingers. We had A. Long. Way. To. Go. 

We start moving again and she’s a little off but better. Frills takes a nice trot pace and K follows without much trouble. In short time she feels better and we’re moving along well. The boot is doing its job. And it’s staying on. 

How will we get through. It’s a long day and I’m now feeling worried. I decide there to ride the trail in front of me on the horse I’m on. Stay present and don’t think of what’s to come or what’s happened. Be. Here. Now.  


We climb the ridge and Khaleesi does her thing- the mountains – she leads Frills at a nice power walk up the first big climb to the ridge. I relax. Amy is terrified of tie up. I’m terrified of lameness. We both try to enjoy the lovely perfect morning with pretty Laurel and nice views. The horses walk the ridge where it’s rocky and grab bites of grass while waking. Eat and chew. Feeling good. 

We came out to the water tanks in good spirits. Electrolyted. Began to head down the mountain- all downhill into Bird Haven. We got this. 

Heading into Bird Haven we caught up with a couple riders at the stream crossing and all the horses have been here before. They were not gong to stop and relax in the stream. They wanted breakfast. And they were not happy to wait while the two horses they just caught got there first. 

We trotted into the hold faster than I would have on my own in order not to choose a fight right there over it (counterproductive) and my heart rate was up at 135 coming to the In-Timer. 

Not what I’d normally do. 

Crew is waiting and ready!


Let’s get her in the shade, tack off and hope we don’t take too long to pulse. 

By the time Ricky came over with the hand-held as Frills had pulsed we’d just gotten her saddle off and started some water. She needs to come down to 64. From 135. Fast. 

Please…..


Go. She’s at 58

I’m surprised. That was fast. 

We walk slowly to P&R and breathe deep. Cross fingers. 

Me: Good Morning. She should be ok. She was just at 58. 

Pulse taker: Well she’s not now. 

Inner voice: Shoot did we walk too fast- is she looking for Frills?

Pulse taker: She’s at 54 now. 

Very funny.

We walk to the vet. She does fine, trot out with the boot she’s sound. The boot is working. CRI was 48/48.


I’m very happy. Despite losing a shoe early on the first vet check seems like a good sign. 

We go back to eat, drink and get ready for a long afternoon stretch before we see crew again. Pam and Susan are fantastic help! 


Pam is good with K and listens to her when she asks to eat more grass and walk around a little and susan is on top of everything and even makes 3 trips (running) back to the truck for this and that including a second extra boot now for the rest of the day. 


We have a hard loop with a severe climb into Laurel Run with no crew accesss then a tough stretch on to Bucktail. Probably over 7 hours before we catch up with them again. 

I make the decision to stick with the boot. There isn’t a lot of hoof left to nail into and I don’t want to chance loosing that shoe and tearing up a hoof more that already grows slowly. One day’s goal isn’t worth losing all that hoof. Maybe the experience today is going to be in seeing how good these boots really are. 

But I decided to add a pad to make them more protective. We’re heading into some rough territory. It could only help. 

Or not.
 

We left the check together and within a mile I was feeling something wrong. I looked at the shoes- they were on… the boot however was not. 

Go on ahead. I’m going back for it. I’ll catch up!

Are you sure?

YES!! GO!! 

I turned back and was certain it couldn’t be far. It was at least a half mile. I got off to hand jog her. 

I should have FIRST put the extra boot on- then rode back to get the spare. 

I found the boot and pad. The pad had changed the fit enough to cause it to come off for the first time since I bought them. 
I put the boot on without the pad to see how that would work. It was working from the whole first loop- maybe that was enough. 

We had good gravel road to canter on and possibly catch up to Amy. She could do this in her sleep. We train for this. And it’s early in the day. 

She didn’t. She cantered a little then trotted and little then walked. I compromised on a solid trot. Catching up was not vital. I could ride this ride alone if I had to and it might be better for us. 

Maybe that’s what the day is about. Taking this on alone. That doesn’t worry me. 

Heart rate wasn’t right. As we trotted up the gravel road she hung around 150bpm. Should have been 120 or so. 

That’s an indicator. 

I tried changing diagonals – she wasn’t comfortable. Ok. You’re not doing well with that foot. One last thing I can adjust. I will vetwrap the pad to the hoof before putting the shoe on. That’s how I should have done it in the first place. 

We went on and got off the gravel road into the woods. Let’s see if she comes around and feels more comfortable. 

She’d walk and then trot and then walk and then stumble a little- trip- trot. 

Walk trot walk trip trot walk trot walk trot trip. 

Is this going to sort out? Am I being paranoid? Am I causing this by over-obsessing? 

She paused on trail. 

I thought about it: I know where we are headed and the rocks are only going to get worse and worse. The next two loops are brutal. For a horse going in 100%. 

Do I want to chance it and have to bail 7 miles into this loop making it harder to get out? Do I want to obsess and worry my way through the next 80 miles? Do I want to push my horse to try even though her foot hurts?

Of course not…. 

The drag riders caught me paused in thought on the trail. I told them I was done today and they got me the number (I had some service) for Duane back at Bird Haven and they held the ‘ambulance’ trailer for me.

We walked most of the 2.5 miles back and trotted some of the good footing as I was curious how bad it was. It wasn’t bad- mostly she was pretty sound but occasionally a mis-step. When I switched my diagonal though it was worse and I knew something was there. 

She passed the vet check and the vet at Bird haven gave her a ‘Rider Option’ code because she was considered sound officially. There was again a rare mis-step and we all agreed it was likely a sore spot or minor bruise was the culprit. The time I rode unprotected probably she was ok until she hit a rock then was off and I noticed but the damage was there even if it was slight. 

Let me be clear for those who haven’t been to an endurance event: just because the vet officially cleared her doesn’t mean she didn’t agree that pulling out was the right call. We all believed it would have gotten worse. It just means right then it wasn’t bad enough to call her grade 3 lame. 


Drinking back at camp waking to the trailer. Done for the day!

You don’t take on the Beast of the East with a hoof bruise! Well… at least I don’t. 

I don’t want to get through- I want to do it so my horse is good with the process. I made a promise that I would never (again) put my goals ahead of my horse and what fits into that promise even adjusts over time. This sport asks a lot of a horse. I don’t want to shove it onto her, break her down mentally and physically and then tell her later as she’s recovering in the pasture: see that wasn’t so bad right? We’ll do it again next month.  

I think the vets are amazing. And they do everything they can to ensure the riders and horses can do their best. But I think they stay on the side of allowing the riders to make the call regarding what is best for the horse until it’s severe enough to force a pull.  Depending on your relationship and personality they may give advice- and they’ll always tell you if they think you’re headed for trouble. But I’ve scribed enough to see humans glaze right over as long as they get their rider card back. 

I think it needs to be that way because their job isn’t to be a rider’s conscious – when they pull it isn’t a matter of opinion: at that point the horse cannot continue. 

One thing I took from this ride experience is the confirmation to me that the relationship I’ve created with my horse is way way way too important to force her into a situation that she is hurting or struggling and I insist she continue anyway because it’s not life threatening, career-ending, or it will heal up and not cause long term damage and the vet passed me through.

I want to have a crew that knows me enough to tell me I’m riding my horse too hard or her back hurts or her eyes are getting dull or she’s not eating or drinking enough. It can be hard not to do everything possible to push through when you’re in the middle of it. 

I know I have that crew!


I also want to consider how my crewing stops work from my horse’s perspective and not just my own human needs. I’ve learned that she is a smart mare and if I at least listen to what she is saying I can get more information to help me excel. That’s her job- to be my co-pilot. If I’m a good leader I will want to hear what she has to say. If she wants more grass than beet pulp and that means taking a little walk to graze in vet check that is ok. If she wants to eat everyone else’s food that is not ok. It’s not that she’s in control- but I will try my best to hear her and then determine if I can give her what she’s asking for. 

I believe in the long run over her decade-plus-team career this will build into a horse that doesn’t just put her head down and do her job, but pushes herself to carry me faster, farther and with the great heart of a mare more willingly than otherwise. 

And because she isn’t a Arab bred from the womb to excel in this sport it’s all the more important to use every angle at my disposal to succeed with her. 

That is what this sport means to me. 

And this ride where I made the call to hear her as she told me she wasn’t feeling right to continue into the rough mountains – that is a sacrifice for the goal but a huge gift to her. 

I will always remember last year’s Iron Mountain ride where I didn’t listen because I thought she was not giving her all. She was alone and didn’t want to leave camp… she could move along faster… we train at home we’re ready! But the rocks there hurt her feet and was significant. It was significant mentally, emotionally and physically. 

She leaned that day I would force her into something she couldn’t handle. She learned if she didn’t perform even when in pain I would get emotional (frustrated… oh that embarrassing scene alone in the woods). I caused physical damage to her hooves that I think she is still paying for over time trying to get stronger feet and the impact damage from the x-rays. 

Saturday when I turned her around was very significant. 


She learned that I can be trusted. That I will take care of her. That I will not push her into a situation she can’t thrive and perform. 

Like Buck says:

Always make a winner out of your horse so she can make a winner out of you. 

That is a gift. 

The opportunity to prove myself and my dedication to my horse. You can’t do that when the stakes are low. It’s only a sacrifice when you give something up. And I know she knows. 

She may not have completely understood what it meant to enter the 100 but she knew my energy had been different. She felt it in our tack and warm up ride the evening before. She was a coiled spring ready to perform. She was proud and prancing and happy. She was different. I felt it in every step. Not out of control- just strong. 

Without question she knew this was a significant event. And as I turned her around I told her how proud I was of her and rubbed her neck and said I knew she did her best and I will work on getting her feet stronger to support the rest of her. 

I cried a little too for the disappointment I felt because it was honest. Yet I knew in my heart it was a gift to both of us. This day would be one more invaluable link in our relationship and the years of preparation for the day we do cross the 100 finish line strong and healthy!


This year has taught me valuable life lessons and I am blesssed to be in a place where I believe that it’s not good and bad but truth and love.  Reality is a gift. 

Everything is a gift. 

Here are some more of the positive things that came from pulling out of the race after riding the first 20 miles:

* Because it was early enough, I made it back to camp in time to jump in and crew for Amy!
* I got to see all the vet checks from the road. What they look like, how the set up and parking is like. What other riders and crews are doing and what works. 


* My awesome crew got to experience crewing this 100 with Ricky helping Amy so no pressure to get me through but to help, watch and learn…
* they are already thinking of ways to improve on my gear and packing systems that would make the day more efficient for them (awesome!!) and have said they will help me try again!
* I did all the mental, emotional and physical prep for the ride and will be more efficient next year with better understanding what is coming. 

* A 20 mile trail ride instead of 50-100 miles will mean I get more saddle time this summer as she won’t be on a 3-week recovery break. 

* I have more compassion and empathy for others who try and don’t succeed at something important to them. 

My mentor Lynne said always buy the ride photo. It goes into a photo journal and you can look back at your progress. So I bought my photo from the first loop and wrote this on the back for future reference:


My good friend Sarah upon getting the text that I didn’t make it through sent this wonderful quote:

Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; It strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.