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.

Love is patient.

Friday, April 5, 2018

I have been very interested in love for at least a year… what does love require… what does walking in love cost (it always costs something)… how do we take and give love to others and how do we love like the other (horse, human, dog etc) needs and not just how we want to love.

So I decided personally to spend some time on each of the famous facets of love. You know- the ones read at every wedding ceremony. I thought a week seemed like a good idea.

Starting with:

Love is patient.

I am not the picture of patience. I like to get things done and move on! I’m a mover. So much so that on the first day of love is patient I wondered if it really had to be an entire week on each one! This one is not that interesting to me… what’s the next one?

To which the small quiet voice reminded me this is exactly why you need a week on it.

Ok. A week. Of focusing on patience.

Actually relaxing into the concept of patience in my world, at home, at work, with students and family began to seem good although I had no intention of writing about it. Then around midweek it showed up at the barn.

Working and riding with Khaleesi has been more connected than ever. She is standing so quietly to be saddled and so light and responsive on the trail- I love just thinking about going into a trot and feeling her hind end engage like a little turbo drive before even considering adding any physical push!

Yet occasionally she is not ready to come in from the field. And though once in a while she comes right to me, just as often she walks away and even sends the mustang to block me from bringing her in.

What I have learned is just to be patient and pursue her gently until a connection is made. I don’t insist, I don’t make her run the field until she chooses to be with me and let her rest, and I don’t get upset about it. I know she will come with me. I am the leader- it’s a question of when. Time.

Patience.

I love her and am willing to be patient with whatever keeps her in that field until she is ready to chose me first. I do whatever makes sense at the time to start a conversation- not tell her what to do- converse. I step in and ask and when she gives me attention I even step back and allow her to respond.

It works every time. But it takes time.

Then yesterday as I walked her toward the trailer she stopped somewhat far off.

There was a time I could hear myself:

You know how to get on the trailer.

I am a sensitive trailer driver… and it’s never even a a far ride lately.

You always come home too so you have no reason to worry about this!

Stop stalling and let’s get going already!

Impatience.

This would only get her upset.

But I watched her- she was lined up with and focused on the trailer. She was with me. Just not ready to be rushed.

the very boring video shows what I mean- she isn’t asleep, she isn’t stalling. You can see by how she’s standing that she is processing the process.

Love is patient?

So I stood with her. I asked her for just a step or two and waited and watched her. She was with me the entire way, thinking about the process, heading straight for the trailer. She wasn’t trying to get to the grass and she wasn’t distracted.

She seemed to be asking if I’d be patient with her.

It took 8 minutes. Which is kind of an eternity if you’re used a 15 second loading process (which she is capable of) but it was an act of love for her to stay with her in her process. It really wasn’t about the trailer.

It was like being patient meant it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing – what matters is we’re doing it together.

I also noticed that part of me felt like a failure if my horse takes 8 minutes to load on the trailer. I mean- if this were a trailer loading contest I lost big time. Not only have I gone back to walking on instead of sending her (which I used to do successfully) but it takes way too long.

But somehow I felt deep down that maybe it’s not the way the world sees, but how my horse sees me that makes me a winner. How much I love instead of how fast I can load my horse?

In fact the only way you can really follow this simple equine teaching method I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the past couple of years is if you’re willing to look foolish to the rest of the equine community in order to maybe gain the trust and connection of your horse.

She stayed straight in line with loading the entire 8 minutes and in the end walked so calmly and gracefully into the trailer stall it felt good and not at all stressful.

Just maybe… a week of looking for opportunities to be patient will help me in more ways than I’d imagined. ❤️

Now for the ride itself…

In front of the hidden valley bed and breakfast also known as the mansion from the movie Somersby (which was filmed here years before I came)

Finally some half decent miles- about 16 and much of it walking because….. we did the forested half barefoot!!!

That may not sound like much to most horse owners with even half decent hooves but even the forested part here has embedded rocks in much of the trail so I allowed her to walk lest we slam down on a protruding rock and cause a stone bruise and abscess a couple weeks before the first 55.

Also she wasn’t thrilled about picking her way across the river 3 times which is all rocks.

When we got to the half way point I put her boots on for the hard packed dirt road back and she trotted and cantered easily with no sign of lameness so I think her feet continue improving.

I have decided to try the Scoot skins for the 55 glue on the fronts. It’ll be the first glue ons for us but it seems a good option for where we are. The back boots are almost no-fail and the fronts are really good but depending on some other factors sometimes have a minor rub particularly on the right front. (This doesn’t say as much about the boot in my case as it does about the rider imbalance and what it’s done to her developing new hoof. I am improving but new hoof growth and patterns take time … and patience)

It’s not enough to worry about for even 20 miles but 55 has has me questioning. The glue ons will take that out of the equation if they work.

If they work for even half the ride and I switch to my strap on boots I’ll be thrilled. And who knows. Maybe they’ll really work and stay on the whole ride.

That will depend on the weather (it’s a wet season which is tough on glue) and the gluer which will most likely be inexperienced me.

Also yeah us! Her topline muscles have developed further and I’m removing a shim from the mattes pad- you can see the saddle is a little high in front now! This is great news regarding how she’s moving and how I’m riding.

So great ride on a cool breezy spring day. And she was trotting and cantering without tire up till the last feet I asked her to walk in. Not excessively sweaty and she still has plenty of energy. So far so good for trusting in her base and pulling back some fitness from a place of rest.

What I really want.

Monday, January 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

When we finished she was soft and connected to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently heard a quote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel…

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

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

But there also IS a physical component! Without question.

Can’t I do both at the same time?

No. Well not yet.

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

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

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

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

No wonder Monty Roberts works with deer herds!

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

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

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

So in the physical:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She cantered through the rock piles.

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

She ran. Right. Over. Them.

All 3 sections of them.

 

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

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

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

This really is the year for this mare.

Lessons.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Last post (Miracle) I went through the miracle part of my weekend– hoof boots that held up to an OD ride!

Now for the lessons…

As I trotted across the finish line under the lights at 7:25pm (with a cutoff time of 7:30) my triumphant words to the gracious volunteers that had to stick it out just because of me in the dark and cool evening were: in case there was any doubt, rider 520 is indeed alive!

Leading up to this ride was a little different than before. I think it’s due to the fact that the last ride I prepped for was a 100 and compared to the mental energy and preparation to ride 24 hours going into a 50 somehow didn’t seem so big anymore.

I packed carefully but not overly so. I didn’t worry about having every little thing I MIGHT need… it’s just a longer trail ride- I can make due.

I didn’t overthink- Dale would be proud of me!😁

The morning of the ride I did spend some dedicated quiet time asking for a little extra help: God grant me the wisdom to make wise decisions today, help me recognize if I let my goals get ahead of my horse! Keep my mare safe and healthy today. Help me to ride the trail in front of me and stay present. Also- I would like to complete the ride but if you have a greater lesson in store- I’ll take that instead. Help me do my best.

I started out of camp a couple of minutes after the controlled start left. I took my time getting tacked up and the boots took a few more extra minutes than I’d anticipated. I do tack slow and methodically. It’s just who I am.

Leaving behind the group was fine. I wanted to connect with my mare and keep us a herd of two and not running with a pack.

I insisted she take the first mile or so at a real walk and not trotting. I do believe a warm up matters to help the joints especially in the cool morning – and I hadn’t made time to do one before start.

Lesson #1: get better time management on ride mornings to get some walking in camp to warm up. I would have liked to have used some of the first mile or two of the open trail to move out but not on a ‘cold’ horse. We had enough terrain coming ahead to walk not to waste time walking the first section that was fine for trotting on a fresh horse who was motivated to go.

A note about how this also worked well for me: my own ‘controlled start’ was good for us mentally. I believe it did serve to connect her mind to me instead of wandering with the horse herd. For the long haul I do want a horse that is with me and not only willing to go with a herd or a buddy. That’s a bit of a challenge sometimes. <


it was a gorgeous morning on a beautiful trail. The sun was shimmering through the trees coming over the first mountain and we had a beautiful view of the river on the low road that reminded me of looking over the Tweed in Scotland.

<<
>she moved well through the first loop even along rocky trail (short video in the boot recap blog Miracle) and my boots stayed


we trotted a lot of the low sections and I was pleased to see her heart rate hanging between 80-110.

I got off to do the steepest of the climbs right before the ridge and as I was getting back on another rider approached from behind. She was also not pushing her horse through the rocks so she opted not to pass me and we rode the ridge together (the only part of the ride we had company for) we would trot as many steps as we had good trail then come back to a walk for the rocks.

At the end of the ridge we began to catch a few riders on the turn downhill back toward camp. Khaleesi got excited at both elements (other horses ahead, and home) so she picked up speed. I allowed her to motor down the dirt trail and she’d slow in the rocky sections (all good). On the gravel road that connects to camp road she was happy and forward and trotted that whole downhill. At some point she twisted the front boot and at the camp road I got off, fixed it and walked into the vet check on foot.

Pulled tack and pulsed immediately. I believe her cardiac recovery (CRI) was 54/54. All around she had As except the vet thought she saw evidence of lameness in left hind.

She held our rider card and told us to check her out and come back. It might be something in a boot?

I removed her boots and we checked her legs and feet. All seemed good. I trotted her barefoot and she was fine. Took her back for a vet recheck barefoot and she was ok to go.

Me & K with Lynne – my official mentor at the crew area.


I believed she was ok or I wouldn’t have taken her back out. But a seed was planted in my mind. Something to be aware of. That process cost me 10 extra minutes in the hold that put me going out last, alone, and considering I also had a nagging concern for her feet and potential lameness I didn’t push her and we stayed last and alone the remaining 32 miles.

In the second loop I noticed she was willing and happy to trot uphill but she slowed significantly on downhills. As I paid attention I believe I got my next lesson:

Lesson #2: no matter what the mare says, don’t let her go so fast on the downhill gravel road! At this point I’m pretty sure it was something she did on that gravel downhill that caused her some discomfort and made her slightly off at the trot out.

So I allowed her to walk the downhills (eek- that cost us some time!) and trotted uphills but then didn’t push on the rocky stuff. And there’s a lot of rocky stuff! This gave me a very slow loop 2 average under 5mph.


my favorite moment of loop 2 was crossing a really beautiful stream and I let her stand there in the water for a while and eat some greens at the edge. I dipped my sponge and wet her neck with the cool stream. I got off to secure a front strap on a boot (not a big deal but a good time to get off and check it) we both enjoyed an unhurried moment to cool off in the serenity of the afternoon.

Reflecting on this a couple days later- this moment was one of the joys of riding alone. I don’t know if many other riders would have wanted to wait as long there considering how far behind we were running. It may not have been ‘wise’ on the clock, but at the time it was what my horse asked for and worth it to me. I doubt we would have done that if we were not riding alone. It would have been a very sensible request from a buddy to move along sooner. <<<<<<<<<
day for fall and her coat is pretty thick already. I did a trace neck clip but still- the afternoon riding was harder due to her winter coat without question. She's thicker skinned already than the arabs and during this loop her breathing was definitely harder and her heart rate higher than the cool morning.

I felt she was basically ok on this loop but still depending on the diagonal and my riding she would sometimes trip slightly, land harder on one side… super minor things that now had my antennae up. I absolutely got paranoid in this loop and probably created small issues with my obsessing.

We passed two radio spotters and 'ambulance' trailers in that loop and both times I asked myself: are we ok? Is she better or worse? Each time I looked for a sign we should quit and get hauled back – wondered if I was taking her unsound up the mountain making a big mistake. Each time I heard that voice tell me it's ok- keep going.


I got off again on the biggest rocky climb back over the mountain at the end of the loop and then back the same dirt trail down from the ridge I rode until the gravel road. Having learned my lesson I got off and walked briskly down the road. On foot I noticed how steep it was. I had to set my own ‘hind end’ underneath myself to move without sliding on the gravel. That had to be a full mile or maybe slightly more from there into camp but i stayed on foot this time with a brisk walk on the steeps and a jog/trot when it leveled out a little.

We pulsed immediately (before pulling tack) upon return to camp as I needed an out time as fast as possible if we were going to finish. We got our pulse even with tack on right away at 3:17pm for an out time of 4:02 giving me 3 1/2 hours to finish the last 15 miles that included more grassy meadow trails with good footing. This seemed very do-able to me.

Then I returned to my area to drop tack and remove boots with my fingers crossed that she would pass the vet check.

Here is when I say a special thank you to April Dobson!


April didn’t get to ride as her horse had something questionable going on so she jumped in to help riders like me who were solo. I’ve known April on and off just at rides and always enjoyed her spirit. In fact she was in a small group I finished my very first ride (an LD on Faygo).

For a particular mare who doesn’t really like everyone, Khaleesi fell in love with April. She has a kind heart and gentle soul and was a Godsend on this day. She made everything easier for me and made Khaleesi totally at ease and relaxed. April truly made my day on Friday THANK YOU!!!


i went to vet and when he asked how it was going I said I think ok but the mare will tell us.<<<
had great hydration, gut sounds and muscle tone. Now for the trot out…..

I jogged her out and back not looking as I went and waited for the results: she looks even better than last time! Enjoy the last loop!< strong>Great news.<<<<<<<<<
d had the presence of mind to toss in a few glow sticks leftover from the 100 prep in June and you bet I put them on: heading out at 4pm meant a good chance we'd finish in the dark.

The last loop felt like a gift since I'd texted my mom and husband on a walking section of the second loop that: who knows- I feel like it’s 50/50 if we get to finish today. < em>


the late afternoon light was soft and the trails were almost all on private land an really beautiful. As the day continued to cool off Khaleesi kept picking up speed and we were in a sweet spot. It was very special to have spent all those miles and hours together on the trail just the two of us and me very focused on her, on my riding, and feeling fantastic. At this point we both felt strong and positive.

I believed we had a good chance of finishing. I thought the loop was only 12 miles for some reason and in the end my gps said it was close to 15. I believed we could finish close to 7 with a good 30 minute cushion and also not quite completely dark.

Though the last loop was my favorite here are a few things I struggled with:

The fields: we needed to stick to the edge of the fields. She wanted to wander into the fields. This is exactly the struggle I still have in insisting the mare stay on the rail in an arena. Actually we worked on steering this summer and that is going great but staying on a path in the open without drifting is a challenge. I can do it and did, but I expended way more energy than I’d have liked and just the ‘discussion’ over asking her to get over closer to the wood line.

Lesson #3: keep finding more time now that ride season is over for us and we don’t need to climb the mountain to condition I can make time to get back into the arena and work on better communication especially regarding open areas.

My riding: one thing I really appreciate about long rides alone is the ability to focus more on my riding itself. I mean physical riding specifically – not all the elements that go into riding a horse. Just how my body moves with the horse.

I am not a trained rider. I have had some tips and direction but I’m mostly at this on my own trying to sort out what works and what doesn’t. I also began my riding with gaited horses so learning to trot is still very new for me.

I believe the seeds that have been planted by the person I most want to ride like are beginning to germinate. I’d like to get it all at once, but that’s not how it works. It’s about 2 years since my first lesson and I only get them maybe 2x a year. But the information from her is of great value and I find in those nuggets I am able to get deeper layers as I work with the small and simple things I do know.

Three things clicked in better for me that I’ve been working on over more than a year in some way or other:

  1. I really thought about engaging my pinkies. There is so much feel in them and I let them float around too much- it’s in both my ride photos if you look close. It was on my mind all day but not really takin hold until the last loop. I actually felt it changed things significantly in my entire body when I engaged them and that was slightly uncomfortable for me so it took all day to play around with.
  2. As my horse got tired I thought a lot about how to help her physically. In addition to engaging my pinkies I experimented with how I might give her more support with the reins and bit without putting any pressure, pulling, or being active in her mouth. At some point on the last loop (I’d also been playing around in the second loop) I heard Buck’s voice say: I want to reach for the horse and feel the horse reach for me… and that is exactly what I felt. It gave me goosebumps as I really felt her. It was like she was taking my hand… this is a process that’s been fascinating to journey through basically alone. It came from a place on this long ride that was so different for us than doing ring work (that I do believe is valuable) but the organic way it came from me trying to fill in, support and help my horse as she worked so tirelessly through the day was very fulfilling and became less (for me) an exercise in ‘collection’ and more of a labor of love.
  3. I felt more and more as the day progressed moments where her back really rose up underneath me. It happened most often at a forward walk on the last loop and I literally felt myself rise up a couple of inches. I felt noticeably higher off the ground. It was inspiring as she was moving with such strength that I encouraged her to continue to walk a little more than was probably prudent for the timeline we had. But this mattered more to me than the “C” at the finish line. This whole connection we were finding was worth everything to me at the moment.


we rode on through the last loop feeling pretty free and easy with time to spare – Khaleesi continued to get more energy trotting and cantering along the gentle trails until it began getting dusky and I checked my watch and gps wondering why we didn’t seem closer- it must be right around the next hill or wooded section…

Eventually it got downright dark and I kept thinking we must be right there…. as I wondered I was also pleased at how great Khaleesi was the darker it got. She wasn’t spooky, she kept up a slow trot wherever we could and I trusted her while I kept my eyes peeled for hanging ribbons to tell me we were at least on the right track.

At one point in a field area along a wood line I stopped seeing ribbons and had to take out my flashlight and backtrack. I believe we’d gone off course. There are A LOT of twists and turns in the final few miles.

We got back on and kept trucking. Things began to look all the same and were so twisty and turney I wondered if we were going in circles in the piney/meadows in the dark.

I chose not to worry.

Finishing was a bonus today remember.<<<<<<<<<
e kept up her energy and we forged on in the dark toward the finish line. At a certain point she even picked up more steam and began to beeline taking me exactly as if we were on rails. This leads to my last official lesson:

Lesson #4: always do a tack check ride the day before- and definitely ride the finish line backward as far as makes sense so your horse really knows the trail when she’s close to finish.

I am so grateful I did this because she and I both knew we were close and it really gave the last 1/2 mile a pick up of spirits and energy! Which brings us to….

….my triumphant words to the gracious volunteers that had to stick it out just because of me in the dark and cool evening: in case there was any doubt, rider 520 is indeed alive!< em>


Khaleesi was peppy and full of energy. I was in good spirits and we even had fellow greenbean ‘monstas’ Kristen and Dan come out to make sure we were ok and might need help the last 1/4 mile from the finish into camp. Dr. Birks met us at the vet check and we all worked together in the dark to drop tack and get a fleece on her to keep her from getting cramped in the chilly evening.

< em>with Dr. Birks at vet in Thursday<<<<<<<<<
he final check was 48/48 (our best ever) and her trot out was completely fine. I'm amazed at how perfect her back is after 50 tough miles in the Balance Saddle – it's the first endurance ride I've ridden in it and she was perfect at the finish and perfect the next day!

We got everything we could have asked for. Great connection riding almost 12 hours alone together, healthy horse and human (I've never felt so good after a ride myself!), a little practice riding in the dark, and even a completion making it in on time.

Thank you God for guiding us through!<<<<<<<<<
grateful that Pete still had some chili left as the ride meeting was in session and dinner was almost cleaned up.


I was there to get my turtle award and even though I wasn’t able to get my ride photos Pam Stoneburner saw them the next day and got them for me… it’s the little thoughtful things (that were happening all over the place) that make me so thankful for how I’m always taken care of no matter where I go and how special the endurance family is.


It was a fantastic ‘come back’!

Discomfort.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

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

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

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

Somehow the saying:

Ride em like you stole em

Comes to mind. 😳😁

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

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

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

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

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

It develops patience, character and faith.

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

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

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

I also need to have some faith.

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

Then things got uncomfortable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes it’s there to encourage growth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First world problems? Is comfort literally killing us?

I digress. 😐

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that honestly gets me a little excited.

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

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

Identity Crisis

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three weeks since a blog post!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there could be a detox factor potentially at play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned.

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

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

She’s going through an identity crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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