Better than I deserve

Monday, October 22, 2018

Home from the last ride of 2018 I’m pleased and a little surprised to say we had a fantastic day. Better than expected and truly better than I deserved.

The abrupt drop in temps made for a great morning for Khaleesi who has a full on winter fuzz coat that I refused to clip this year.

As I wrote in my last entry- and it continued until the morning I was loading up- I flip flopped daily on going to the ride or not.

Arriving at base camp with left hind scratches that were flared up again which meant a horse that was avoiding me and kicking at me as I continued to treat them; also a larger bare patch from the rain rot spot near the wither under the saddle — I wasn’t certain we would even pass the pre-ride vet.

That’s ok I decided mentally because maybe I’m really here to support C…

One of the friends I’d been helping out this season get started in endurance riding had come to do her first 30 mile as well. Maybe in the end this ride was about her and I could crew and cheer her on.

Maybe it’s an opportunity for me to take the back seat and enjoy someone else’s success?

I’m ok with that… I have my completion for this season to stay on track for a decade team… I don’t have to ride this one.

But we passed the vet-in with a flying trot out (she does get excited sometimes) and flying colors on our vet card.

One step at a time I just kept on toward the ride half expecting each one to fail.

As I prepped the night before I still had doubts. I laid in my hammock as the temps dropped into the 30s (thanks Noel T for the heater!!) I was certain I’d go to put the rear boots on and she’d be lame from the painful scabs where the boot sits on the back of the foot.

But in the morning the previously inflamed warm scabs were not warm to the touch and she seemed ok with the boot.

She looked at me obviously annoyed as I went to saddle her:

I don’t think she wants to run today

I told her it’s just her job so let’s give it our best. She knew what was coming- it’s always a long day when we go to a ride and she works hard… but she is a horse and it is her job. We all have to work sometimes. She doesn’t hate it once we get out there.

In the cold morning I hand walked her a good 10 minutes before even getting on… back and forth to check-in, drop some extra supplies at the crew bag and just wander warming up joints. I got on and she was ready but not hyped up as she sometimes gets with the pre ride energy in camp.

Once trail was open we stayed toward the rear as usual but got right to business and began the immediate 2 miles straight up hill that begins both the first and second loop. I allowed her to trot and walk in intervals and we made our way through the group.

A couple times I wondered if she was ‘off’… was it that back foot?

Maybe I should just turn back right now… what was I thinking. This is a bad idea. Is it just for my ego… to do what I planned… me being inflexible and not listening to my horse?

Yet she evened out and seemed ok. So. One more step at a time we just kept moving.

In fact I was pleased to see her maneuvering through the rocks with no trouble and the ScootBoots were fantastic.

I often allow her to move along the first loop because it’s the coolest part of the day and not having an arab it makes a big difference for us. Her trot ranging through the rocky single track trails was way faster than I’d anticipated but she was asking to go and I said absolutely. On the grassy roads we cantered more than usual as well. Riding mostly alone she was really picking up the trail!

First and second loops head the same basic direction and include a steep climb/drop in and out. The way back to camp includes what I call fondly the trail of tears and it’s steep and rocky after 15 or so miles of hard riding. It’s a challenging ride for sure and we do it twice.

Khaleesi led a group up the mountain and just kept going one step at a time without lag and I was very proud of her.

By the time we returned to the 2 mile steep road now returning to camp at the end of the first 17 mile loop and I jumped off (I jog her down on foot as it’s just a brutal steep gravel road and we can move faster safely if I’m on the ground) I was shocked to find riders usually way ahead of me coming up from behind.

Turns out we were solidly in the middle of the pack.

After trotting into the check and pulsing at 52 before I even had the saddle off, I held my breath knowing Khaleesi often gets questioned on her gait but we got through the vet check without a hitch. Even hydration and gut sounds were As though she hadn’t eaten a thing on the first loop. (She drank often)

Turns out we’d arrived in 2 minutes behind my friend A so we decided to hit the second loop together.

The second loop went much like the first. This loop has a long out and back along a gravel road and we cantered most of it in a small group of friends. It ended at a pretty stop along the Shenandoah River with lots of grass for a quick snack.

She began to drag on and off as we turned back to camp but I think it was post snack break coma and eventually she picked back up and began to hit her stride.

By the time we returned from the second loop (also hand jogging in the last 2 miles down the road) the temps had climbed into the 60s and it took K a few extra minutes to pulse but still in the 50s in no time and again a great report to head out onto the last loop.

My goal was to finish before dark and it appeared at this point we just might do that.

The last loop is the shortest and doesn’t include the insane 2 mile climb out and the trail of tears climb back to camp but it’s no joke and includes two good hills and comes at the warmest part of the day and after 35 tough miles before.

That 14 miles always feels longer than the 17+ mile loops before!

In the heat of the later afternoon she began to tire. We stopped trotting or cantering the climbs and began walking them. A’s horse was also beginning to lag.

I know my mare always gives me what she can- and I continued to encourage her. There is something about miles 36-45 that always seem hard for them. And without fail as we get closer to 50 an amazing burst comes and as I would tell her how strong and great she is she took on a small hill at the fastest center of the day passing As horse who’d often gotten just ahead enough of us to be out of sight from time to time.

The burst was contagious and As horse raced to catch up and we were off again with more cantering and faster trot speeds again.

I sometimes wonder why I’m compelled to do this crazy sport and mile 45 feeling my horse come back alive underneath me and begin to reach for a new layer of strength is so inspiring there’s not much like it to remind us the true spirit of endurance!

It reminds me to keep going when I feel tired. When I want to say I’ve given enough. Tried hard enough to love someone who is hard to love… don’t want to give anymore… feel like I can’t. Somehow there is always more.

We haven’t come to the point of sweating blood…

The last few miles thankfully were mostly pasture fields and the mares continued leap frogging for the lead and we all encouraged each other on.

We raced off to the finish line hollering like a pack of coyotes. It was fitting that we came in 12th to As 11th – her horse had truly inspired K to keep up a better pace than we would have alone.

With a ride time of 9 hours and 2 minutes it might be one of the best rides of our career. Technically our first 55 at the Biltmore in 2016 was faster but that terrain was much easier and not nearly the elevation. Same with the Blackwater ride in 2017- that was under 8 hours which is amazing for us but it was in tidewater and not any hills in sight and no rocks.

Certainly as I mentioned last entry I have not put in the distance or speed this season in training as I’ve been sharing trail with friends who aren’t at that point more than I have in the past. I suppose I feel that her coming to life this ride beyond my expectations is a gift for investing in others. It wasn’t really due to my own amazing conditioning program this year.

Either way I will gladly accept the grace that was extended us for the unexpected strength and speed to share trail with a good friend and her amazing horse! And the gift from them to not leave us behind although as I reminded her often they certainly could have! We are ok alone… but we are better together.

I am also very pleased to say my other friend C and her lovely mare also finished 12th in the 30 mile distance. I’m very proud of her accomplishments as it’s a tough first ride!

I look back to the many many many doubts I had about this ride and learn that though it’s important to listen to the voices of reason when things look not so great… still we can take one step at a time to see how far we can go. And in that way sometimes we get much farther than we’d ever hoped.

Ride the trail in front of you…. that’s all you get sometimes!

Fly into the turbulence

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I often wake up in the dark on race day and get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and wonder what I’m doing here. Why do I do this?

Fear.

Yes. I do feel fear.

Thursday morning my biggest fear was that my Scootboots would fail me.

What was I thinking coming to ride a 50 with just my training strap on Boots? It’s against the odds to use strap on boots on a tough 50 mile endurance ride. Most people know better… I’m going to lose them… I’m going to be getting off my horse every 5 miles to fix them, a twist, falling off, lost in mud.

Is my horse really ready for this? I haven’t been able to get more that 15 miles in one day due to many assorted issues in the past 6 weeks. Sure she finished a 50 in June… but that was a lifetime ago… have I really gotten the conditioning in? Do I have what it takes? Is my horse even suited to do this- she’s not like the other horses here. What about my saddle set up- I can’t get anything to be truly consistent. Just when I get a great sweat pattern then next ride the same set up leaves dry spots. She doesn’t have any back soreness but will we run into trouble over 50 miles?

Am I failing my horse?

I’m going to throw up.

Boldness comes not from the absence of fear but from moving forward anyway. Fear will also come along with big adventures and growth potential. The choice is to do your best and walk on– willing to learn what lessons come– or get paralyzed and hide.

We’ll fly into the turbulence… no telling where we’re going to land. Isn’t that part of the adventure?

For the most part I tend not to hide. I pull up my ‘granny panties’ and get on the horse.

What’s the worst that can happen today? I fail to complete. I loose all my boots. I look foolish for trying.

But what if we fly?

So at 0-7-hundred we head out into the mist at a nice trot on the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to throw our number into the AERC National Championship 2018 50 mile ride and see what adventure brings.

It was a beautiful morning and my horse was forward and trotting beautifully passing by some other riders as we settled into a comfortable trot. With 90 riders on trail we fell in with a group that seemed to pace well and made a friend for the day (MaryAnn and her horse Princess Tessa).

The adventures began at mile 5 when Khaleesi began to fuss. Was something on her leg? In her boot? Kicks, a couple small bucks then a big buck I was tossed onto her neck not quite ready for it but still in saddle. At that point I was about to get off when I heard the too familiar

GO GO GO GO GO! BEES!!!

We were under attack and so I took my bucking bronco and said RUN GIRL desperately grateful I hadn’t gotten off but now feeling like a rodeo rider. She ran and bucked on down the trail. I am still shocked that I stayed on through all that. I have never ridden that kind of leaping and bucking in my life and at a full out run too in this little AP jump style Balance International saddle that won’t stay put on its own. It took a minute for her to level out and then we kept cantering along as we still had bees in pursuit.

Talk about flying through the turbulence!

The rest of the first loop went much better. It was cool in the morning and I allowed her to move along down the trail as much as possible knowing the heat was coming and I’d like to buy some time now.

The first loop was 15.6 miles and we came in a little under 2 1/2 hours. Khaleesi immediately pulsed in at 56 with CRI of 52 and ate like a machine the entire hold.

I am so grateful to Brandea for coming to crew for me. It was a great introduction for her to the sport and being a bit of a loaner I tend to assume I’ll be on my own but have been very lucky to have crew company on many rides. The support and company is really helpful and in part makes you feel a little less alone in the crowd.

She learned quickly about what needs to be done with the horse but even more important, she is a mom so she was adept at being sure my human water was refilled for the trail and that I’d eaten something and always knew where whatever I needed was as I’d mindlessly tossed helmet, breast collar, pads etc into piles with laser focus on my horse, cooling, pulse, and getting to vet ASAP.

The second loop was 20 miles and I knew that would be a challenge as we headed into the heat of the day. It was out the black access across the famous bridge over the French Broad River and 12 miles around the wooded trails of orange west before returning to the main estate and doing a 5 mile jag to add enough mileage then returning to camp.

It was in the high 80s and extremely humid. About half way through the loop Khaleesi began panting after climbing hills. The air was still and thick so trotting on at a controlled pace was really all we could do because at least that created some airflow. Slowing to a walk occasionally was ok but she couldn’t ever cool that way and stopping completely to recover would have killed us. We had to get air through the radiator so to speak and a slow trot through the shaded trails was the best bet even though it was insanely hot.

Still she was willing and forward. That told me we were ok- because this mare doesn’t stay willing and forward to please me. She takes excellent care of herself and will tell me when she is not doing well regardless of who leaves her behind. However the other horses we were riding with would grab some grass as we meandered along and Khaleesi was too hot even to eat. That had me concerned.

Finally when MaryAnn stopped to pick up a dropped sponge from the trail and we waited a moment in the shade, Khaleesi grew momentarily bored and began picking at the grass. That was a good sign and from then on she would snack here and there as we went.

The rest of the loop went ok though we walked on and off in the shade to keep from overheating and the riders we’d grouped with decided to stay together even though Khaleesi likely slowed the pace of the thin gray Arabs they were riding a bit.

I anticipated the heat would be a challenge and made sure I had two full bags of ice ready and Brandea had them waiting for us to cool Khaleesi at the second check while she ate like a monster (mile 35). Thankful to my lesson from Kate on my first OD 50 riding in heat- to cool that horse the entire hold with cold water to get back on trail cool to the core. That was my plan.

Unfortunately upon trot out the vet saw a potential left front issue. Not enough to call lame but a question and she held our vet card. Upon closer inspection I’d found a slight boot rub where some recent scar tissue was. [K had come in a couple weeks ago with a cut on her foot looking like a caught in a fence issue. It wasn’t serious but just enough by mile 35 to begin to irritate her.]

I tried some vet wrap but wasn’t convinced it would stay in place. We rechecked with the vet and given the all clear to take on the last 15 miles with this word of warning from Art as we walked away: don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!

Brandea had done her best to sponge and scrape K with the cold water but it was miserably humid and even so I didn’t think we’d gotten her cool as I wanted to the core. The whole thing- cooling and boot issue- made for a harried check period and I barely had time to scarf a sandwich and pee myself.

At least we were heading out later in the day (maybe beginning to lessen in heat intensity) and I had moved fast enough early on to leave about 4 hours for the last loop.

Tessa and MaryAnn had waited the extra minute or two we needed to get out of the hold and we began to ride on together. She said she liked riding with us and once she paired up with a buddy didn’t like to leave anyone behind. I thanked her and we walked onto trail together.

This is the first ride that returns to camp each loop that Khaleesi left camp willingly on all loops. Usually I have to encourage her to get back onto trail and then she’s fine. This ride she certainly didn’t take off at a canter like the front runners did as they jetted out onto each loop but I never had to insist she go out.

After around 5 miles I felt any tiny stumble or uneven step and began to worry. The vet wrap had indeed come loose and wasn’t protecting anymore.

I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have gone back out.

The doubts and fears.

I stopped as we began to lag behind the little group and silently hopped off as they went on – I didn’t want to make a big deal- they didn’t need to wait for me.

Don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!

I made a decision to pull the front boots. Our only hope was to do the last 10 miles barefoot. We had almost 3 hours. If the rub is truly the issue this might be the only chance. I can’t make it worse.

Sweet MaryAnn noticed I’d fallen out and called to me. I told her go ahead I’m fine and I heard hoofbeats as she cantered back to check.

I told her my plan and said to go ahead. I will be slowing down and I ride alone all the time! Enjoy the last few miles and see you at camp.

She frowned in thought and said she didn’t want to leave us. I assured her that I am really ok and would not accept her walking along with us at a handicap with bare front feet! Go!

She reluctantly cantered back to the other women and I hooked the front boots to the saddle and prayed her feet were continuing to improve to the point we could do 10 miles barefoot in the time allotted and still come in sound!

Ironically my biggest fear to start the day was the boots would not stay on.

Another win for Scoot Boots as not ONCE did I have to fix a boot in 50 miles. Not a twist, not a strap undone, not a mud suck. I was amazed myself!! (hind Boots stayed on all 50 miles with no issue and the pulling of the fronts I believe we’re not a boot issue as much as a scar tissue creating a rub on only the left that is abnormal for my experience.)

The biggest problem I truly faced that day was the heat and humidity. In retrospect going barefoot slowed me down in the final 10 miles and that may have saved us metabolic concerns.

Sometimes speed bumps and unexpected issues are given to help guide us toward the better direction.

More than once I considered giving up… calling someone or bailing with a shortcut back to camp and accepting this wasn’t going to work for her.

We walked anything too hard and gravel and trotting the wooded paths and grass at first she seemed to protest being barefoot but gradually she picked up confidence and was trotting beautifully on soft ground.

A pair of riders caught us on a gravel road and we rode together for some miles giving Khaleesi a mental jolt of having some company. She perked up more and began trotting faster again as we kept watch on the clock but riding as safely as we could.

Still as the evening approached and the worst of the heat gone after longer trot and canter intervals she would pant again, hot and tired yet willing to continue.

Finally we reached the water stop at mile 49. One more mile to go!

We had 22 minutes on the clock. The pair of riders we had hooked up with drank and then began out toward the finish while Khaleesi drank and stood quietly breathing hard watching them walk on and told me she absolutely was not going on yet.

I waited a moment and asked

Can we go? We’re really close girl…

No– she’d drop her head to the water and pretend to drink but she was buying time.

I waited again.

Can we go?

No.

Two more times no. Not yet.

Less than 20 minutes on the clock.

We are so close to stop now.

Finally I insisted- we must at least walk. We are not going to stop and die here. Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other girl. You can do it.

We began to walk the last mile toward home.

Thankfully as she picked up a slow trot we rounded up to the estate view hill that means the last drop down to the lagoon and then the finish one more group of 4 riders came from behind. As they approached Khaleesi began to perk up.

Newly motivated she began to trot faster and the steep hill I would usually walk down she took on a like a mountain goat hind underneath and front end light as I did everything I could to stay out of her way and balance quietly down the hill. Now it was just across the street down the wildflower path and the grass runway to the finish line.

All of us picked up speed and Khaleesi felt like she had this morning fresh and forward – on wings like eagles – as we rounded into the cornfield and cantered the last 1/8 of a mile riding on pure joy together.

We crossed the line with 2 minutes left on the clock and my horse’s spirit completely recovered as she dove into the grass to eat while I waited for my official finish time slip.

The finish is a mile from camp and I slung the rope over my shoulder loosely as we walked side by side together. As far as I could tell she was perfectly sound and though hot she was alert and walking out with good energy and bright eyes.

No matter what my horse had done the miles- now it was up to the vet to see if we’d get them on the human record.

After a 20 minute walk back to camp we took off the saddle and did a little sponging then walked straight to vet. I hadn’t even thought to check her pulse first.

She was right at 64 so we headed to trot. Moment of truth. I ran fast as I could and turned her to the right to keep weight off her left front. And then ran her as fast as I could back. And prayed.

She looks great. Nice job!

Relief flooded through me as he checked hydration, gut sounds, back soreness and muscle tension. She passed it all with As and we had officially completed the ride.

She was healthy, sound and in good spirits and looked fantastic overall.

I felt so proud of her and inspired by the magnificence of horses. I was glad I made the trip, faced the fears, keep trying through some doubts… cantering strong into the finish line high on the joy of making it through a challenging day was exhilarating and triumphant – even if we did come in completely last.

We got to the starting line, we tried our best, and out of 68 to start in our division only 50 finished successfully. That is something!

I still stand by the fact that doing difficult things that take work, dedication, focus and are risky at times can result in learning what you are capable of, seeing what your horse is capable of as you press into the limits of possibility, and grow us together as well.

(Photo Becky Pearman)

I have pondered recently how some people seem to believe that pushing limits and struggling through things means it must not be right, not meant to be, or a sign one should turn back.

The concept of emotional fitness.

Bob Goff tells a story of renting a plane to fly to a work engagement that was farther than he wanted to drive but close enough to fly himself as he had a pilots license. He would cross a few mountain ranges and charted his course to take off, get high enough to fly over the mountains and the drop back down and land safely without drama to his destination.

Upon landing he overheard some Air Force pilots who had just flown the same territory chosen because of the mountain ranges. They instead charted courses that took them lower and flew through the canyons because it challenged them to be better pilots. They didn’t choose the safe route- they chose the challenge. They were deepening skills before the emergency situation called for them.

We work on physical fitness and certainly mental fitness- but what do we do to improve our emotional fitness.

In conversations with friends over this question most of the answers came in the form of what to do when emotional trials come, but no one really seemed to consider how to work a little each day on improving emotional fitness before you are faced with a traumatic event.

If we live as best we can always choosing the higher, smoother route above the difficulties of challenging friendships that are good for us in the long run (a harsh word from a friend is worth more than the kiss of an enemy) or uncomfortable but real conversations, or keeping the peace at the expense of being real with others, choosing forgiveness when it’s undeserved, not always choosing the easy path or the happy one if a more difficult one that will pay off in deeper relationships or more strength are the longer term payout.

If we don’t face our own fears on smaller levels we will have a much harder time facing them when devastating things beyond our control enter our airspace.

It’s a concept I’ve come to think of as trying to live wholehearted. For the joys and for the sorrows- the mountains and the valleys.

A song I love by For King and Country echos often in my heart:

Look how far we’ve come. Look where we started from. Best thing about it is you know we’ve only just begun
They say life’s a dance– 10 percent circumstance but What great adventure ever plays out just the way you’ve planned it
We’ll fly into the turbulence. No telling where we’re gonna land. Isn’t that just part of this romance?
So when I’m stuck out in the cold- Let me be warm-hearted
When it weighs too much to hold- Let me be light-hearted
When all I have is not enough-Won’t be broken hearted
you taught me how to love, to live to learn
To live whole hearted
Should we take the easy life? Should we take the smoother ride? No need to ask, I see the answer written in your eyes
So sail the ship onto the sand. No telling where we’re gonna land. Oh that’s just part of the romance.
On and on and on we’ll go… to our lives through the unknown
On and on and on we’ll fly… Write the legend of our lives
On and on and on we’ll fly… For every day and every night
The greatest stories ever told
Were written with a heart that’s
Whole

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 mud of black sheep

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

This weekend proved one of the toughest rides for me. It began the morning of departure – loading up and hitting the road.

I didn’t feel great when I woke up… had a strange disconcerting dream about doing too many things that made me behind to teach a class… then everything took longer than expected. I was grateful to have Iva come along to crew. She’s a huge help and fun to spend time with- only I’d not explained the meeting spot quite right and we waited at 2 different gas stations (in an area with no cell signal) for almost half an hour before I sorted out what happened and went to look for them.

Then on the road we hit severe rain, construction traffic, a truck issue (minor but needed a stop at an auto parts store), and as we got closer to Elkins Creek Camp had some questions with the directions that cost us time sorting out as well.

All told I got on the road almost an hour after I’d wanted, and a 5 or less hour drive turned into 7. I was concerned about K being in the trailer for that long. I’d have prepared and treated a 7 hour haul differently than a 5 hour one.

It also meant 3 less hours in base camp for her to rest and rehydrate for the ride the next day.

Upon unloading the mare I wasn’t surprised to see a horse that was dull, tired from a long ride, likely dehydrated and not interested in eating or drinking. It was concerning. If this didn’t change soon I may not even register to start the ride.

Having Iva meant that though I was getting a late start- I could start setting up camp while she hand walked Khaleesi in hopes of helping her begin to recover. With little change in the first few minutes of walking around, I pulled out molasses, CMPK and a light dose of electrolytes and hoped it would help jump start her system.

In a few minutes the shot of molasses and minerals kicked in and she began at least eating a bite here and there. Not her usual self yet but it was the right direction.

I didn’t think she would be compromised as to not ride at all, but I considered dropping to the 25 mile. I can sometimes be inflexible once I set my mind on something and wanted to consider all possible options. I wanted to make the choice that put her needs first.

I discussed with my team (Iva) and we decided together that K was continuing to improve and that I should go ahead and register the 50 as planned. If she only got part of it done then that’s ok, but we should at least try.

Two hours later we headed to vet-in my almost back to normal horse. She had begun to look alert, eat grass with interest and had drank a little from the creek. I relayed my concerns immediately to get some feedback with closer attention to her metabolic state- not only did she have miraculously good hydration and gut sounds, she had one of her trademark trot outs where on the return a volunteer was moving something large and noisy on the edge of the trot out field and she bucked, jumped, and ran behind me to get on the farther side of the threat and stopped short in front of the amused vet staff who remarked that she looks pretty ready to go.

Make sure she keeps eating and drinking and see how she feels in the morning.

The queen had returned to her normal self and began ravaging the grass as Iva walked her once more around the pretty field right across the stream from us. We were the farthest from the vet check area, but the flip side was we had the nicest spot in camp at the very end where the stream came down and a pretty meadow for hand grazing directly across.

Thank the good lord for the little red wagon. He provided it just in time because the water hose was all the way at the vet check and it would have been brutal to hand haul buckets from there!

It was then I recalled my strange dream where I was almost late to teach a class and didn’t even know what class it was or what expect, I wasn’t sure how to get to the college and if I’d taken the correct turn… I had arrived after some stress in travel, later than I’d wanted, and not knowing what to expect to find that it all had worked out and miraculously I was able to take one step at a time and teach the course.

Things began to fall in line. Elkins Creek Horse Camp is lovely- complete with a small tack shop, great facilities including cute showers. [I highly recommend it as a camping/riding destination- the owners were very hospitable and the trails were lovely just don’t go in monsoon season!] A nice group area where we had dinner and a concise ride meeting with clear explanation of the trails- then to bed in the trailer with two hammocks to watch the lightning bugs light up the field across the stream out the back of the trailer. And my favorite thing of all- to listen to Khaleesi eat and drink all night long. Good girl.


… listen to her eat and drink … and the rain. And more rain… and a monsoon of rain barraging the trailer roof above us.

I knew this was not good.


Start time was 6am. I wanted to get K saddled around 5:20. So though the morning had been still dark when I got up at 4:45, it had at least not been raining- at least it didn’t rain again until 5:15 right as i planned to get the mare (there would not be much grooming at this ride- everything was a mess and a little towel drying was all I planned to try)… the next monsoon came. The kind of rain that beats down on everything and you can’t see through. I opted to go back in the trailer and hope it would pass.

It did. But not until after 5:30. Once again I’m running late. I hate these kind of starts.

I did get the beast tacked up and in the saddle just before 6am and headed to the start to leave just as the last of the 50s were leaving camp.

Partly because of the rush and partly because I couldn’t find a reason not to, I decided to ride in her halter (no bit) which we both prefer. Even at the start with lots of horses around we have no problem with control and negotiating a good speed. I did not ever go back to the bit for this ride- I do not make the choice on control of my horse. It is strictly a question of if the bit can help her when she’s tired with better form and carriage. She self-carries beautifully because of the saddle and my determination to be an effective rider (I’m still working on it). I suspect the bit can help her when she’s tired if she uses it to hold her form by taking the bit in her mouth which she cannot do with the halter. However, this would be more likely if I was better at helping her in that way and I’m not sure I am more help than hinderance still as I’m working on my form and connection.

The course: what condition is my condition in?

A few days before the ride we were told it had been dry lately and the trails were in beautiful shape. The monsoons that came through two days prior and the night before changed that quickly and the rain turned much of the trails into a hoof sucking slop that made for very slow riding.

I had done the sikaflex on my boots before loading up the day before. But this was no testing ground for anything- it was extreme conditions and I would have been afraid of losing metal shoes as well as boots. I saw at least one metal shoe in the muck and I’m sure there were more buried deep down there in the sunken graveyard of trail.

I first lost a hind boot (the right hind which is the one I’m most likely to lose- it’s how she twists the leg somehow). I decided it was ok – the ground was mud let’s carry on for now. When a front came off a bit later I pulled the other hind and replaced the front.

The Scoot boots really stayed on well all considered. The first loop was close to 14 miles and I left my front boots on until the last 3/4 mile into camp. The worst of the mud is on this section because at least 50 horses use this section both coming and going and it had been churned into a mire. It’s also steep. She was close to home and when she’s not paying as much attention to how she moves she’s more likely to lose a boot.

** after sharing my ride story with the Scoot folks I heard they have a new mud strap that is in testing now that would mean the boots may actually stay on even in these conditions…. it’s hard for me to imagine but exciting! Maybe I’ll get to test them! Of course we’ll be going into dry season so may be pointless for now but I love seeing what they are up to!**

I got off, grabbed the boot out of the mud suck, removed the other front and clipped the muck balls onto my saddle. My raincoat was covered in mud from trying to wipe my hands all morning on something and I hand jogged her the final 1/2 mile into camp.

I dropped tack in a heap into the little red cart and thankfully the pulse timer was not busy (we were the last horse in being a couple minutes behind the riders I was with when the last boot came off and I got off to walk in); she was down to 49 so we vetted right through with all As and great hydration and gut sounds- except a slight tightness in her hind. The vet suggested being sure she got some extra calcium (the bottle of CMPK was really coming in handy) and lots of refuel during the hold.

It was on the walk back to the trailer that Iva quietly asked:

so… did you loose all your boots or take them off on purpose?

Grinning I told her not to worry- I didn’t lose them all if that’s what she meant.

We went to the trailer to clean up my muddy gear and get ready for the longest loop of the day. The 24 mile pink.


I made the decision to head out barefoot and carry the boots clipped to saddle as I had no idea what I’d encounter for trail. The pink loop was my favorite for scenery. It had a lot of the mud but some beautiful grassy trails as well. We rode alone now and the rest of the day in last place, but parts of the loop were shared by the 25 mile riders and sections of returning pink loop riders so we did see other horses; mostly going to opposite direction. It was nice to see others on occasion and exchange an encouraging word.

The farthest end of the pink loop had a ‘lollypop’ 4.5 mile circle ending with a 10 minute hold to recharge the horse and rider around mile 12.

That loop was very grassy, pretty and mostly flat and K and I negotiated an ‘eat and run‘ deal where she’d reach down and get a massive mouthful of nice grass and we’d trot immediately for a stretch then I’d allow her to stop and get a big bite. She ate really well this loop before the hold where she chowed the hay and feed provided while the volunteers sponged her continuously to help her cool.

Being last does have its benefits- lots of volunteers hanging around with nothing else to do!

Now heading back to camp (not exactly the same route) and recharged we had some good momentum. Barefoot was working- however it wasn’t foolproof. Occasionally there were sections of trail that had been graveled to help alleviate the mud and trail damage and those we had to walk (although she did walk through that gravel willingly). Some of those stretches would have been decent for trotting if not for the gravel.

At one point I put on her front boots as we were high enough that the trail wasn’t mucky. That helped pick up some more speed through hard pack and light rocks- until the mire of death appeared.

We both stopped and I looked in front of me at a mud suck that had treacherous downs on either side and a drop off and it went down into a ravine then had a climb out. The muck had leg imprints 6 inches or deeper from horses before us. Apparently others survived this sucking pit- if it weren’t for the tracks leading out the other side I may have wondered if they’d been completely sucked under into the abyss.

No. Nope. No way.

I am not riding you through that. That’s wrong. That’s just wrong!

Khaleesi: thank god can we turn around?

Me: I don’t think so. There might be a way around it? Let me see.

We rode back a few feet to see if there was any other way to get around the pit.

There wasn’t. There really wasn’t.

We are like 5 miles from camp on a 24 mile loop- I don’t think turning around is really a potential answer.

As it sometimes happens in life… the only way was through. The worse part was this was a shared trail section with the yellow trail that was the last loop.

Not only was this the only way home, it was also necessary to do it twice to complete the ride.

I seriously considered that it may not be worth going back out if we had to come back through here.

So I got off, I took off her boots as there was no way I’d ever recover them from that bog and they might make getting through it even harder.

Then I got back on and slowly we slid down into the mess. She expertly and carefully climbed out without too much struggle and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe as other life lessons: it looked worse than it really was. Although still- it was pretty bad.

As I questioned if we’d get back into camp in enough time to go out again and even potentially finish in time, and questioned once again if going through that muck hill ravine was worth the completion even if we could make the time…

Then the first riders who we already heading out onto the yellow last loop passed by us and said encouragingly:

Don’t listen to your GPS- you’re so close to camp you guys are almost back! You’re looking great!

And my spirits lifted a little to imagine we were really getting close to camp.

Life lesson three hundred seventy five: a little encouragement can go a long way.

I knew we needed to be in by 3 to even consider going back on trail after a 50 minute hold to finish in the neighborhood of 6pm.

At exactly 3:01 we walked into camp and before even dropping tack the timer came to help us get the first pulse reading possible so we could start our hold time.

Criteria 60bpm.

She walked in at 72. Dropped steadily as we began pulling the tack around the pulse taker 70… 68… 66… 65.. 62 until she saw the pan of feed! Dropped her head to start eating!

No!

Pulse starts to walk back up 66, 68

Iva move that feed pan behind the water tank out of sight!!

I stop moving around tack in cart and just breathe softly.

64, 63, 62,

Time on rider 72!

Whew!

All that happened in 3 minutes.

Our out time would be 3:55. That meant just over 2 hours to do 12 miles.


Khaleesi looked great for just having done 38 tough miles. I knew she could do the last 12 but I was skeptical [honestly doubtful is more accurate] if we could make the time to get a completion.

There was one consideration that gave a glimmer of hope: the official finish line was a half mile out of camp. We were told at the ride meeting that only the top 10 would have someone there with official times. The rest would ride into camp and they were able to offer a 20 minute extension to make up for the walk back to camp. So technically I had a few extra minutes to work with.

Still, I knew it was a reach. I asked what Iva thought since she was part of my team that day.

I could quit now with a strong 38 mile training ride toward the Ride Between the Rivers 50 in August. In a sense this was an investment- money in the bank.

Yet 38 miles is also much closer to 50 than we’d been since October. If I didn’t try now I may not know where her fitness and conditioning is.

I wanted to see if she had 50 in her. I believed she did.

On the other hand- If I continued, as she would be getting tired, it was more likely she could hurt herself in the muck- and injury would set us back significantly.

Was I feeding my ego or making a calculated choice? What did Iva think- honestly.

She watched us come and go all day and saw K looking strong and happy, eating and drinking and said she thought we should try.

We may or may not finish in time, but Iva said she believed that Khaleesi had it in her. And we should give it the chance.

The alarm sounded on my phone at the time I needed to saddle or quit.

I agreed with Iva and began to put the saddle on.

Khaleesi wasn’t so sure but she didn’t protest. She knew she was good to go, she just wondered why on earth we’d want to go for yet another ride when the grass, hay and snacks in camp were so good?

As I rode past the skeptical out timer and called my number I said: well we’ve got two hours left, and we’re going to do something with them.

I did need my crop stick momentarily to convince her to hit the trail but once she left camp she picked up more energy and life than I’d seen all day!

This was where the magic happened – at least for a while. She came alive and climbed that hill out of camp like she had a mission. Miles 38-45 were my favorite all day. It was late afternoon and the light was pretty, the trails had been drying out all day and were already less murky than at 6am, and my horse felt strong.

Every chance she would trot on and almost the entire last ‘yellow’ loop was comprised of sections of the blue and pink trails we’d already seen- somehow familiar trails are a comfort.

We crossed paths with riders coming in to finish and they all encouraged us to ride on and get it done. For the first couple of miles I wondered if we might pull out a miracle.

Then the back side of the mountain came and the continuous rolling ups and downs began. The hills were short but steep and I felt it began to take a toll on her stride. She had been a little tight in her hind at both checks – not serious but present. I knew she was beginning to short stride and so at the top of a very steep hill I got off and walked her down it watching her move. She slid a little (mud) and worked her way and I knew she had burned up some strength in the burst of energy and I needed to help her now by just slowing down but keeping her moving.

On and off all day (11 hours alone on the trails is both a long time and goes by quickly just one mile at a time as you ride the trail in front of you) I would sing my favorite song bytes to her for encouragement:

Call it a reason to retreat, I got some dreams that are bigger than me; we might be outmatched, outsized- the underdog in the fight of our lives….

I know your heart’s been broke again! I know your prayers ain’t been answered yet! I know you’re feeling like you got nothing left- but lift your head! It ain’t over yet! Move.. keep walking… khaleesi keep walking on!

When love broke through- you found me in the darkness wandering through the forest- I was a hopeless fool now I’m hopelessly devoted, my chains are broken! And it all began with you! When love broke through!

This is what love feels like: poured out used up still giving… stretching us out to the end of our limits.

After some walking she began to feel better but I knew it was too late, we would not finish in time.

And that was ok!

We had truly given our best shot and she was a champ! I hated to keep the vets and timers waiting too long so I kept moving at a pace I felt safe but not dawdling. Eventually I asked gently for a trot on a nice flat stretch and she trotted some intervals and felt fine. We walk-trotted until we came to the one gravel road section I’d ridden this morning on the first loop which signaled the very last couple miles into camp. She perked right up and picked up the pace- until two strides in she realized she was trotting on a gravel road and came to a slow plod walk- I decided not to get off again and try to deal with boots which would come off in 2 miles when the last mud section appeared. We searched each side of the road for decent footing and moved out when we could.

The gravel was spread everywhere though and it was hard to avoid.

This gravel road section was truly the only place that going barefoot didn’t work out for us. Still she didn’t come up lame we just did our best and slowed down when needed.

We pulled into camp around 6:40. Technically 40 minutes late but officially we could have rolled in until 6:20 so 20 minutes OT seems a little less disheartening!

She pulsed down quickly but because of her tight muscles I sent Iva to the trailer for the CMPK and date syrup – I went straight to the vet knowing she would be likely to cramp up if I didn’t keep her moving and take care of her properly. Her CRI was 52/52 right off trail which I was pleased with.

No sign of lameness and a fine trot out- and we had done it barefoot!! However she was stiff in the hind end. The vet suggested calcium and to let her eat and drink for 20 minutes before hand grazing her to just move her around before putting her to rest. (And a butt massage which Iva was apparently very good at as K was in heaven!)

She was bright eyed and her usual mare-tude self and though we didn’t make the time, we did ride 50 miles and I was proud of getting through safely with a healthy horse.

AND WE DID IT BAREFOOT!!

I’m glad I made the decision to go back out. I am amazed at what she’s capable of doing and though I have some work to do in July to get her moving again at a faster pace, she proved that she’s good for the miles in what many riders said was a really challenging trail.

did I mention we rode barefoot? 🙂

I owe a lot to the folks at Scoot Boots as nothing is certain in the hoof world but the success and ease of the boots have made it possible for us to continue on the barefoot journey. It does take a lot of time and immense patience- but I am so glad we’re doing it because she is stronger now than she was when we were in shoes!


Mentally this ride was hard on me for a variety of reasons and it would have bee so much harder without Iva. She was fantastic crew, helpful, great company and she’s wonderful with Khaleesi (My heart was happy and full spending a moment watching them walking quietly alone in the meadow post-ride while I cleaned the mud off my tack and the rest of camp was at dinner. She is one of the few people I think Khaleesi actually likes!) She truly was a godsend this time and I couldn’t have done it without her.

The ride home was less eventful thankfully and only took about 5 hours. K walked to the water tank then trotted off into the good grass with Wyoming to graze.

I looked over between unloading wet/muddy gear and she had made her way back toward the fence and was watching toward the barn where I was working.

Then the next day when I came to check in and feed she was at the gate waiting for me. She hung around while I rubbed on them and spent a little time- that was the biggest gift of all.

I had honored her and taken care of her the best I knew how and she has thrived in her own way. And she was still connected to me when we got home- maybe even more than when we left.

That is a million times more valuable to me than a number on a rider record.

Well get there.

In our own way, in our own time.

We’ll do it together.

The time it takes.

June 21, 2018

It takes the time it takes.

The biggest problem I run into when adults come to me to learn the violin is that their brain works faster than their body.

It takes a long time to master the fine skills to play the violin- and when I say fine I mean small. It’s the smallest string instrument and balancing the bow and finding the exact right place for each finger to land within an eyelash to be in our out of tune without a fret or key to help guide but only the connection of ear to brain then to finger is challenging enough then the fact that normal life doesn’t use the exact small muscles needed, it takes a long time to gain “fine” control of them and you use the right and left sides completely differently: left is the bow which creates sound and right is violin which creates pitch.

It’s not difficult in concept, however it takes a long time for the body to catch up no matter how old. A kid doesn’t have much expectation to get in the way of the process. Making a sound on an instrument is fascinating enough- they don’t even need an entire “song” at first. Then their bodies and brains are still forming and the skills needed become part of that development.

I have had very very few adult students over the years overcome this barrier with the violin. They know what they should do, they know what it should sound like, but the instrument cannot be tamed any sooner than its ready. Most cannot wade though the dismal swamp of discouragement long enough to come out the other side. In the end it usually just isn’t worth it. I never blame them, it’s a great learning experience to even try and many get enjoyment out of even learning a few simple tunes, especially if they’ve never played a musical instrument in their lives.

I see this basic process mirrored into my own life-

I want something. It’s often a good something (a scholarship funded community strings program… a horse I started myself even though I had no experience training a horse… better relationships where I learn to give more of myself)… the something is even better if it’s unlikely, hard or even has uncertain success!

Then I figure out what steps will get me there and I’m ready to go! I’m tireless, nothing will stop me. I can be singleminded toward my vision. I’m willing to work hard, learn, practice, and since I’m fully on board I want to see results…. not yesterday… but immediately! Now!

This isn’t a bad thing, and it is part of how I’m hard wired so even if I can tame it in some way to be a little easier on those around me, I need to use it.  It’s a gift I can’t take credit for. It’s part of the “Who Am I?” question I’ve been writing about. In fact I get a lot of really cool things done, and I learn a lot in short amount of time and if I wasn’t motivated I would have a lot less wonderful things to show for my life thus far.

Yet it’s not always that simple!

An example of how this can work against me came to the forefront as I continue trying to improve my riding.

I know that my body imbalances affect my horse. It’s something I think about often. When I began working Khaleesi I vaguely understood this concept but not nearly deeply enough. I created a horse significantly strong sided to match my own body. This shows up most apparently in the fact that there is a trot diagonal that has always felt more comfortable (Right).

Like my adult violin students- I’ve known this but the knowledge is only a small first step. Fixing is tougher. I’ve had a few minor injuries over the past two years to my right leg. The compensation has made my left leg stronger- and being right handed I think there’s already something about the cross-connections in the body where I’m upper body right strong which corresponds to lower body left strong.

That all being said though I have some ideas about it there are a google of variables involved in each of our bodies (mine and my horse’s) – then you combine our two bodies working together and as I descend the layers I get overwhelmed even trying to sort out what is going on!

Over time I’ve worked on my own body balance both in the gym and with body work. I’ve worked on becoming more left-handed. I’ve paid attention to how I do chores and how I walk and sleep and brush my teeth….

I’ve worked on how I ride. Watch more carefully my balance and when riding try to change diagonals more frequently. My horse doesn’t seem to understand the whole process though. When I switch to the weaker diagonal she usually checks in with me as if to say:

why did you do that? that doesn’t feel good- you aren’t good at that side- do the one you are good at!

Sometimes she tries to throw me back on the stronger diagonal.

Sometimes she just stops trotting in an attempt to train me that the bad diagonal equals go back to walk.

Then when we’re out on a really long ride if I use the weaker side too much she gets tired and starts to feel off. (This also makes complete sense why she had minor overuse damage showing in one coffin bone and not the other in her radiographs two years ago).

Thankfully she’s still young and I’m aware and there’s hope.

I can fix this!

Then, working in the arena last week, I realized that no matter which way I’m going, no matter if I’m even circling left, she will always do a right lead canter. Period. I spent at least 20 minutes with a friend watching to help me know if anything I did got a Left lead so I could immediately stop and let her process.

Nope. Nothing.

Finally in the midst of trying a left slow circle trot the pond fountain nearby came squirting on and she did a quick panic dart and ran in random formation around the obstacles that were out for practice in the arena which had me off balance, then the saddle shifted sideways and I hung on then as she slowed, gracefully did an emergency dismount in the soft sand- thankfully she sidestepped me then came to a stop and I decided that was enough of that for the day!

Maybe the fountain was an intervention: this is not going to be a one day fix.

But I understand. I want to restore the thing I broke in ignorance. I’m ready to get it right now. Why wait? Let’s keep working that weak side until it’s the strong side!

(Below shim added to the right side evens out the saddle evenness)

When I got home I checked her back and realized that she had a sensitive spot. It’s not the saddle. It’s me. In fact I had a slightly sore spot in exactly the same place as she does.

Granted this saddle doesn’t allow much forgiveness, and it comes with a pretty strong disclaimer- that it’s a constructive saddle and if the rider is committed to being a BALANCED rider it will be comfortable for the horse and enable the horse to build a strong topline. I’ve seen evidence of this- but my imbalances are only made more of an issue as the saddle doesn’t protect the horse from me so to speak – in the way most othernsaddles do.

This is also a good reminder to me that though I love this saddle and I do believe it is one of the best out there for creating a strong topline and allowing the horse the best movement and comfort- and I’m committed to the saddle and the process of becoming the best rider I can me… it comes with a caveat: the rider MUST always be on guard to stay balanced. Due to injuries, or even for those who don’t have the interest to get so serious about this in everyday life- the very saddle that is an amazing gift for one horse could also be a terrible curse for another. It isn’t for everyone. I’m putting a very concerted effort and am in decent physical shape with good balance overall and I’m still struggling at times!

Ironically the soreness has been developing gradually (and it’s very minor right now) as I’ve been trying to work on the weakness. When I was less aware of the imbalance I had less issues (although over years that would cause a lot of long term issues in her body!)

Growth and building up weakness can be a hard process.

It was past time however to get serious about support- and in this case I needed to add a 1/4″ felt shim to the pad.

I’ve been avoiding doing it because I wasn’t sure WHICH SIDE to put it. It’s not that obvious- and doing it wrong might make things worse which I wasn’t in a hurry to do. But when I took the time to think it through and looked at all the parts- I think I figured it out, and when I saddled her the next time with the shim in the pad she seemed to lick and chew and relax as if to let me know that it was an improvement.

It felt dramatically different to me- but after the long ride I took I noticed some improvement already. I did give her a bute that afternoon in case it would help with inflammation and a couple days later I checked and her sensitivity was even less. [and editing the blog today a few days later, it’s not there at all]

When I went to ride with a friend we talked over the process and in close inspection she saw the right side where I added the shim was even still a slight bit lower than the left. I probably should have slowed down to think this through a month ago.

(Below an imperfect but improved sweat pattern after the 15 mile ride)

It reminded me that everything takes time.

I’m often in a hurry to move forward- for the best reasons. My heart is in the right place, but timing is beyond my control.

I still want to get that left lead canter, but I’ll remember to give it time and work on it more gradually. I realize that going to fast to try to fix this will only cause more damage.

I want to even out our balance (mine and hers) but I’m also reminded of a concept I heard this year that’s intrigued me: Sometimes when you’re out of balance you need to find a way to weaken the strong side, not only to strengthen the weak side.

Without incurring injury, I’m not quite sure how this works- I’ve never tried to intentionally weaken something. Maybe that’s the key here… and maybe it’s a concept I’ve not paid enough attention to.

Doubtless these insights apply to the way I function in the human world too. It always seems to be that way for me- few things I’ve learned that help me with my horse don’t translate at least in some way to ways I could handle the world around me better.

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.

Who are you?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

[this post is dedicated to my parents. To my father who I inherited most of my adventurous spirit from and to my mother who in difficult times always reminded me to be who I am and never try to change myself to make other people more comfortable]

There was a massive convergence on this concept this weekend for me. It’s been building for me… over a lifetime but more intensely in the recent months and it seemed to erupt like a volcano that’s been building gradually and quietly under the earth for years.

I love looking at all the pieces that were orchestrated over about 2 days that pushed the realizations to the surface. One more piece of evidence for me that this isn’t random universal juju. I’m too scientific in my mind to accept those odds.

I’d once again turned down invitations to ride with friends on Friday to go solo and explore some new trails with Khaleesi. It’s something I’d been wanting to get to for months but needed a whole day’s time. Also it had to be alone. I wasn’t sure what I’d find, how long I’d be out, what the proposed trails would be like, and if things got ugly I prefer not to be responsible for bringing someone else into iffy conditions- I prefer to decide how to proceed with only myself and my horse in the equation as I know what we’re capable of.

The trails in question were a solid hour drive from my house and I was listening to Bob Goff as I drove. He asked the question

Who are you and what do you want?

He said if you can figure that out- and help other people see who they are, and even more importantly who they were becoming, then we’d all be a little better off.

The question – though I’d heard it before hit that tuning fork deep in my spirit.

The day was perfect- hot and humid, but no rain (which we’ve been overly blessed with this month), the sky was blue with floating white clouds and in the wooded trails were shaded. The mountain laurel was in bloom and the streams were flowing and serene.

I set out with my GPS and no plans until dinner at 8pm… I had the whole afternoon.

Khaleesi was in fine shape. She looked and felt fantastic. We were clicking along once again together in sync and right from the start she would ask to pick up a trot heading out with nice forward energy.

The trails were better than I’d expected.

Beautiful, clear, grassy and wooded, rolling hills, varied scenery… we trotted and cantered along finding new territory and marking tracks on my GPS to cobble together a more organized ride with friends once I found where they went and how they connected.

I kept going along a new trail for a few miles heading still generally away from the trailer. I’d marked some trails a couple years back that seemed likely to connect with and kept gambling as I rode on (loving what I was seeing) that the trail would turn or there would be an intersection taking me back.

At some point the time was running out and I had to decide. If I continued on much longer I was going to end up in the next town over… not the back at the trailer and home in time for dinner.

I could either go some miles back along the trails I’d already traveled… or cut into the woods and in only 1/2 mile hook up with a trail that appeared to connect to one I’d been on a couple years ago.

The day was wearing later than I was comfortable with… but once you get this far it’s hard to not find the information you waited a year to come for.

I decided to try for a cut through. I knew I’d gone farther than would get me back in time going the way I came.

The biggest gamble is on the terrain. If it’s not bad then I would be fine. If I hit rocks, cliffs or impeding brush growth I would lose the time off trail and still have to turn back all those trail miles anyway.

Khaleesi and I have developed a pretty advanced skill set for this type of adventure so I bet on us and my gps.

I looked for the closest spot to traverse and we left the trail.

Thankfully the woods in this area were open and and no rock veins as is more common closer to home. Bouldering with a horse is always a bad idea and one thing I’ve learned through experience to turn around from if at all possible.

The first section was easy to navigate and took us along a pretty ridge. Unfortunately where I needed to be was down in the hollow and it became more and more clear there was no good way to get down there.

I had considered the elevation lines on the gps before making the gamble and they did not appear to be this intense on the screen. The lines looked far enough apart to find a manageable path.

As the slope we were traveling got steeper I got off to walk. I risked putting K off balance and both of us sliding together down the side of the mini canyon. I also removed and carried her headstall- bit and was grateful for my rope trail halter and 10′ treeline lead.

Along the way I slipped and had to get up again numerous times but my faithful steed did not once stumble. I was slightly concerned especially at my ticking time clock, but not truly afraid. I did my best not to envision getting home well after dark after getting stuck in a detour or worse and only made the decision of where to go next. And then taking that step.

Finally at the end of the nose and still no good trail down I was looking into the ravine with the little stream and where my ‘trail’ should be. There was no turning back now. We were getting down there one way or other.

I started with some switchbacks hoping for something less steep. Soon it became apparent that we were both going to have to slide the last 20 feet down or so on our haunches. It was too steep for walking switchbacks and in the end falling sideways would be more hazardous than going straight. Thankfully there were few trees, no brush and no rocks which was best of possible conditions.

So I started first and stopped myself half way to encourage K to follow (slightly to the side so she wasn’t coming down on top of me). After asking her a couple times and her asking if I was sure, she began to come down. She fared better than I did. When she was almost to me I slid the last half (I only have 10′ of lead line) and she continued on down to pop onto the bottom of the ravine at the little stream.

Success!

I gave her a moment there to relax and drink. It had been a difficult 1/3 mile and she’d handled it like a mountain goat. I was grateful and proud. She is the perfect horse for me and I am blessed to have been able to build such a partnership together.

Not only that but her boots had stayed on the entire time and not caused her any slipping or tripping. Once again Scoot Boots get a win!

Now just to get back on my horse and hit the trail home…

I zig zagged around where the trail appeared on my gps and was disconcerted that I didn’t find a trail. This was not good news and my heart sank.

I’d gotten this far only to not find a trail and the woods were getting thicker.

Now my gamble was looking like a bad bet. The cell phone service is bad as well so my life began flashing before my eyes as a husband wouldn’t simply be annoyed at me for making us late to meet our friends (one of his pet peeves and thing he hates about me the most… how I cut things too close. Take chances…) but if I was late enough (and now I had no idea what was going to happen if I couldn’t find trail) and couldn’t get word to him… he was also going to be seriously worried about me which would make him more mad when I turned up unharmed.

Unsure if it was good news or bad I eventually found the trail so overgrown with trees and low branches it was almost impassable.

Almost.

I crossed my fingers and lay down on the side of K’s neck and kept my eyes just ahead on the ground as I could and she began to willingly bulldoze through the mess of young limbs and pines. At one point getting a hind leg stuck in a grapevine that I was able to cut with my pruning shears from the saddle. I was grateful for my helmet and branches swept around me and my trusted steed took each step with definitive purpose.

Thankfully it wasn’t long until she busted out onto another trail that was clear enough for a 4 wheeler and I sang praises aloud as we began to pick up speed. I also had just enough service to get out a text message to my husband that I was running late due to a detour but all was fine. I still had hope to get back in time for dinner.

I was an hour off my intended schedule by the time we made it back to the trailer. I got home and was showered and dressed in 10 minutes to make us just a few minutes late to meet our friends. I apologized and took full responsibility but thankfully it hadn’t been a big deal anyway as we were all catching up with other friends that had also decided to meet up that night. We didn’t even get around to a table for 45 minutes after that.

As we chatted with different people a woman new to the area told me and a friend her story of a life where their family never stayed more than 2 years anywhere. She was looking for the ‘right place’ for her family and never seemed satisfied. Then they moved here and she wanted out of this strange little community as fast as possible. However she began to connect with a few key people and it changed her mind.

She said she came to the realization that this was the place she had been looking for and meeting me (weeklyas a teacher for her son) was one of the things that changed her mind.

They bought a house and have made the decision to finally put down roots so as her older children now almost ready to leave the home… now felt they might have a home to return to.

I’d had no idea I’d impacted her this way.

The next morning I sat in reflection.

Over time I’ve noticed that some people (friends… mentors… even my husband) seem to want to help me conform more to their ideal person of who I should be. I think it’s always done out of a sense of them helping me, but in the end it actually helps them be more comfortable with me.

I am sure I’ve done the same.

But something in me asked again

Who are you?

I looked back at the day before as my horse and I took on the ravine and the possibility of not finding a trail and having to make our way one step at a time through the unknown. Alone.

And there was such a definite answer that welled up from my spirit it was like I was being told…

You are fearless. You are bold. You love adventure. You are willing to take a risk. You are fully committed. Quick to ask forgiveness and quick to forgive. You are generous and brave. You love big. You are uncontainable and are growing to be even more.

A good friend used to describe me when he’d introduce me to people as a force.

A force can be good or… not so good. And without realizing it I’d spent a fair amount of time in recent years trying to just be less. Less of a force, less bold so I had less impact and could do less damage. It never felt very good. I don’t think I was successful either.

I’ve learned now the answer for me isn’t to be less but to be more: Love.

I was created to be this way. And to impact the world around me for the better. I have a purpose that I’m working on finding and then walking in each day and I can only be effective if I’m living fully in who I’m created to be.

Who am I and who am I becoming?

As Bob Goff writes… I hope I’m becoming love. Because if I’m big and bold and fully committed- I had better be all of that in love!

This realization also makes me more interested in helping others become who they are supposed to be. All unique. Not more like me. More like whoever they are created to be.

I hope you will consider this- if you already haven’t… and in a world where many want to help you look more like them- instead become more of the unique you that you were created to be too!

Who are you?

And now when I hear the advice some give- because they think they are helping. They want the best for me… to be more careful when I jump into things… or to be a little less bold… I’ll love them and give them a hug.

And I’ll slide down into the ravine and see if I can’t make a trail!