Better than I deserve

Monday, October 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t think she wants to run today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fly into the turbulence

Saturday, September 22, 2018

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

Fear.

Yes. I do feel fear.

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

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

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

Am I failing my horse?

I’m going to throw up.

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

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

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

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

But what if we fly?

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

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

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

GO GO GO GO GO! BEES!!!

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

Talk about flying through the turbulence!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The doubts and fears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I waited a moment and asked

Can we go? We’re really close girl…

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

I waited again.

Can we go?

No.

Two more times no. Not yet.

Less than 20 minutes on the clock.

We are so close to stop now.

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

We began to walk the last mile toward home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looks great. Nice job!

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo Becky Pearman)

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

The concept of emotional fitness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Delta-one-one

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This worked great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experiment was worthwhile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you and what do you want?

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

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

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

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

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

The trails were better than I’d expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next morning I sat in reflection.

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

I am sure I’ve done the same.

But something in me asked again

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I and who am I becoming?

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

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

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

Who are you?

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

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

Falling apart or into place?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I recently heard a song that suggested though I may feel like my world is falling apart, really it’s falling into place.

I love that thought.

I’ve had some nagging questions that have been beginning to feed doubt into my world.

The main concern in my horse world at least – circle around hooves and soundness. Khaleesi has been barefoot for almost a year now and I see great improvement in her feet.

Since switching to Scoot Boots I finally have a boot that is staying on around 90% and win the award for me as easy to use and durable. ScootBoots also offers fantastic barefoot information online including good Q&A forums that have helped me along the way.

So why does it seem I’m hitting roadblocks?

Subtly I’ve been getting this nagging feeling something isn’t quite right. It’s shown up in the shadows – one ride in late winter around the property where she’d feel a little off but would clear up if I rode her through.

The lameness pull – granted I lost a boot on a seriously bad part of trail… But then why did the treatment vet say her hooves were not only not sensitive- but also looked in great shape and healthy….. at the time I accepted the minor tendon sensitivity… but… something is fishy.

Then there was a recent ride where when I tried to get her trotting the ‘lameness’ feeling would show up and then disappear. Once we hooked up with friends it seemed to go away and she felt sound and even the rest of the day.

What do I do?

It’s the nagging doubt that makes it tricky in deciding which approach to take:

If she has a very minor injury then I need to back off, give her rest and get her to 100% health…

but there’s also the possibility I need to be clear about moving down the trail and my expectation isn’t to relax and bop along at a wandering pace. If this is going on then I need to demand clearly that she get going and move at the pace I set regardless if it’s faster or slower than what she has in mind (without being unsafe).

What if I’ve now trained in this odd broken gait by worrying about it and allowing her to go back to a comfortable walk when I feel it. It’s certainly possible that I can create a cycle where I ask to go… she ‘stumbles’ and pops off in her front… I say ‘never mind it’s ok- you can walk. Maybe she’s learned if she answers my request to move out with a misstep I’ll just stop asking.

Plus I’m more likely to err on the side of caution and not cause long term damage.

The nagging continued to plague me. Finally I had one entire day available with no other commitments. So I graciously bowed out of friends offers to ride and celebrated a day to ride solo. Just me and my favorite mare.

I even told my husband I just didn’t know when I’d be back but assumed it would be by dark.

It was incredibly freeing and I realized how much I needed that time when the burden of a time constraint was absent.

I now had at least 6 hours with my horse and chose a trail with lots of ‘boring’ miles on a dirt road where I was able to focus on she and me more closely – asking her for transitions in and out of gaites, change speeds within the gaites, and to switch sides of the road laterally.

That funny broken up feeling came back from time to time and alone in the woods I continued to chew on it and turn it around for examination.

First- as much as it wasn’t ‘right’ still it didn’t feel like she was lame- that feels like falling down. This feels like popping up higher in the front. It is most often on the left front but she did the same thing on the right as well. It was always going from a walk into a trot.

I could push her through it and eventually she’d trot even. She didn’t appear to hold onto any lameness.

If it isn’t lameness then what?

Was it my riding? Was she telling me I’m falling forward? And I stiff somewhere?

I experimented for a while with my riding and position and then it came to me like a bolt of lightening and I felt like an idiot that it took so long!

She was asking about gaiting again!

Considering she’s 3/4 gaited breeds and 1/4 Arab, she has the genetics in there to smooth gait physically. It’s likely I could focus on getting her to gait and pushed her more in that direction, but I’d decided that her trot was just fine and I wouldn’t do things that would feel like force to her in order to create a smooth gait if she wasn’t naturally offering it.

However if she has that gear I’d love to help her develop it. But at the moment I wait until she brings it up.

Once I figured it out I began to help her when she popped her front up. That was my cue – when she started feeling ‘off’ she was really trying to break out of a hard trot and into something ambling or racking – not exactly sure what it will be.

I would sit slightly back and hold steady with my reins and she’d get a few steps of something smooth and then pop back out and trot.

Eventually she seemed to have her curiosity filled and she stopped bringing it up for the day. We trotted and cantered happily the last few miles back to the trailer.

My understanding is that gaiting (especially without force or unnatural aids) can be tiring as the horse begins to use their muscles differently.

She did bring this conversation up late last summer. There were times when she broke into a lovely ambling gait of some sort and then she just stopped asking through the winter.

Now I think her muscling and topline is stronger that she’s starting to ask about it again and that’s the popping up movement.

She’s not lame.

I’m not completely certain she wasn’t lame at No Frills but I have a suspicion she may not have been. When a horse tries to start learning to gait I’ve heard it feels a lot like the horse is ‘falling apart’ underneath you.

She’s learning a little more about who she is.

I would love it if she decides to continue to develop this new gear.

Maybe this is a good reminder that sometimes when things seem like they are falling apart… they just might be falling into place!

Success.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Friday morning was cold and windy and I had to put a fair amount of effort into keeping Khaleesi’s attention. I was not completely successful even as we walked my speed onto the open for competition trail past the starting line following 10 minutes of asking for a walk and getting a rough trot with some head tossing – she tried to make sure I understood all the action was heading toward the start and it was so wrong for us to be walking around ride camp in the wrong direction.

She kept asking to trot up the first road and for some of it I allowed as long as it was a controlled easy trot.

The first miles of the ride were mostly great footing or dirt roads and she settled into a nice trot and eagerly lead the small group we settled into as much as I’d allow.

April: if you are reading this I so enjoyed a few miles of trail with you and Brave ❤️ Khaleesi sends her greetings and I have some pictures for you. I need an email though…

Once we hit the first climb with embedded rocks she slowed down but at least kept walking and trotted when she was able. We fell back here but that was ok with me. At the top of the ridge is where things began to go wrong.

I couldn’t tell which way to go. I saw the pie plate that said “NO” but the way it was positioned on the tree I wasn’t completely certain which way it was prohibiting. I also saw a sign that was for the 30 mile ride.

I didn’t see any red/white ribbons. Then in looking around I did. And I headed that way. Khaleesi was slower than usual- it was rocky. But after about 10 minutes where I was mostly focused on navigating the footing it bothered me that the ribbons seemed to be on the left. I know the ride meeting said they attempted to keep the ribbons on the right.

😚

I stopped pulled up the map from my phone. Khaleesi was attempting to turn me around and I wasn’t certain if that was good or bad…. once I had a good look at the map I realized indeed I had gone the wrong way on the ridge and was heading on the 30 mile trail back to ride camp. 😬

I allowed Khaleesi to turn around and we immediately picked up some forward motion.

Back at the intersection I looked more closely for the right trail and found it though I can see how I’d missed it the first time and Khaleesi picked up more momentum.

This I write in such detail because later it gave me a clue to a question I wrested with.

Onward we went. I knew I’d lost at least 20 valuable minutes and in these rough terrain rides I also know that was a big price to pay for me and this particular horse.

She seemed to have some good momentum again and the footing was not so bad. I had been watching her boots and was pleased to say they were all working so far.

It wasn’t very long before she started slowing down maneuvering the embedded rocks. And then progress became even slower. She began to eat the grass on the pretty ridge trail and it was hard to keep her moving.

I couldn’t sort out exactly why this was happening. Because I couldn’t see a physical reason for the reluctance I began to question it she was communicating to me as plainly as she could:

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ride all these miles. I’d rather just eat grass. We can stay up here all day as far as I’m concerned.

A question that had crossed my mind but hadn’t surfaced seriously came nagging to mind.

Is this the wrong sport?

I did not ask is the the wrong horse. Of that I have no question. This horse is my partner- the sport or activity may have to change but as much as I like to ride endurance and all the challenges with it- this horse comes first

Does she hate this and I keep pushing it on her? Am I ruining the relationship I’ve built by doing this sport? How much say do I give a horse in choosing what work she does? What if she just wants to eat grass all day (?) that’s not a job.

It seems unlikely with the time lost on the detour combined with this lollygagging on the ridge that I will make the time I need to finish the day. And quite honestly I do not want to ride the grueling middle 25 mile loop at a snail pace wondering if I’d be faster walking it myself and left the horse in camp! No matter what, I believed we were done at the first loop.

I heard the inner voices start.

Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…

Then the drag riders showed up behind me.

They were friends of mine (Roberta and Jennifer) and I was grateful for the company. I explained why I was here poking along and we rode a little together.

Jennifer noticed the bottom of my boot seemed wrong though all of us thought the top part looked fine- I got off immediately and checked. The entire front right boot was gone but it was hard to tell because the glue pattern left and the black boot same as black hoof looked like it was still there from a distance.

(You can see it’s a little hard to tell what you’re looking at on trail- especially in motion)

This explained a lot – and I have absolutely no idea how long she’d gone barefoot on that hoof. I had been certain even until she asked that the boot was there.

I strapped on the replacement boot and we were on our way. However this was the worst of the rocky trail and it was still slow going. I wasn’t sure if any damage had been done in the time with no boot so I allowed her to pick her way through. I never pushed her to go a speed beyond what she offered. Which was a moderate walk.

[photo credit Becky Pearman]

She did better but not moving as fast as I’d need in order to continue. As we got onto the gravel road into the vet check she would volunteer to pick up a trot and I’d feel she wasn’t quite even and she’d drop back to walk. Because it was only a mile or less I hopped off and walked in with her.

We had taken over 4 hours to go the 20 miles (detour included) which truly wasn’t devastating but I knew already she was compromised.

The vets checked her over. Heart rate 40 (good), great hydration and good gut sounds. All healthy- except the trot out. I knew it from the first steps – she was off.

Sometimes vets will give you a chance to sort out a problem if it’s minor. She could have been uneven due to different boots on the front feet for instance- but it didn’t matter I wasn’t planning to go on and they knew it so we made it simple and they went ahead and pulled her as lame.

We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.

All in all the rough 20 miles wasn’t a bad training ride- also the camp excitement was good testing for our continuing connection. It was good to catch up with friends… and I let her know with complete certainty that SHE was a winner! She’d carried me through the loop, done her best, and I was only pleased.

[heading in good spirits to the ambulance trailer: photo credit Becky Pearman]

But deep down the questions still linger: will her feet always be a problem? Is this not working? What else can I do? Does it need a better answer or do I let it go and not push her to do something she’ll never genetically be able to do well?

This is when the detour came back to mind.

I don’t believe anything is wasted in this life if you’re paying attention. I believe things have reasons even if we don’t always understand them at the time. Sometimes we do get answers in the here and now.

It is in part because of the way she chose to move out onto the trail instead of back to ridecamp (she’s ridden the 30 trail twice and would know that trail – plus the general direction – I will give that to her as an intelligent equine. At that spot where the trails join, ride camp would have been significantly closer than vet check) brought me to believe at least for now, she does not hate endurance riding, I do however believe she hates the rough rocky trails that some of the OD rides are famous for.

So why are her feet such a problem?

The X-rays last year didn’t show a thin sole issue. I’ve put a year into rebuilding them without shoes and nails- so better blood flow. She’s doing well nutritionally and looks fantastic otherwise better than before with skin and coat and mane health.

Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.

As is customary the treatment vet takes a look over all pulled horses – I am grateful to the endurance community for this detail among other strengths endurance has as a sport… and he brought out the hoof testers to see if we could find a sore spot or bruise.

He cranked on the hoof best he could yet no reaction from her. Then he said to me-

your mare has really nice feet. They are hard and look great. The feet seem fine. Let’s try the legs.

Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?

In palpating the legs he found a slight reaction around a tendon higher up around the middle of the leg. He could feel no heat and no swelling, and a very small reaction but enough to think there was something bothering her.

Likely how she was moving on trail to protect her feet angled her hoof and pulled something just enough to make it uncomfortable.

We put an ice boot on and gave butte for anti inflammatory preventative to keep any swelling at bay and he said he thought she would be just fine in a few days at the most.

One more thing I’m grateful for is this mare is not stoic- she communicates especially if she knows you’re listening. It does make it harder sometimes because you can’t get by with much- but in times like this I’m glad she communicated instead of stoically allowing me to continue and cause worse damage. Some horse do this… they’ll do what you ask of them regardless until they are too hurt to go on and often long term sometimes irreversible damage is done. Not this mare. She will let me know if anything is not at full capacity. Occasionally I think maybe too much communication!

So… I thought some more. Maybe I’m mis-hearing her communication about the rocks.

Maybe it’s not as much hoof sensitivity as I’d assumed. Maybe it’s combined with how much she hates the unbalance and stumbling over those jagged rocks and maybe it’s also her tendons and muscles in her legs.

One of my goals this year has been to walk her barefoot on paved surfaces. I’ve begun to but not done the miles and miles I’d like to work up to. Maybe the hard surface work will continue to harden her tendons and ligaments. Maybe her feet are improving- but not ready for the OD trails… maybe she’ll never want to ride those courses just because … well … for a horse that many miles of brutal rocky trails frankly sucks.

A look at the left boot skin I removed in camp. It was on pretty good and I had to loosen it with a screwdriver. I may try them again. I like the concept and like the closer hoof fit, but I’d considered trying to paint them red so they were more visible and I’d take that more seriously the next time. I had a plan B but hadn’t anticipated seriously that I would know when it was time to put it into effect. 😫

Maybe if I stick with this sport (which at the moment I am inclined to do) I will need to adjust the rides I choose – which is a little sad because I love my OD family – but maybe not best for her. And the horse has to come first. I decided that years ago.

I may try to aim for rides like Biltmore, Big South Fork and Foxcatcher and see how she does on those. They are all farther away from home, but fewer more carefully selected rides at least may help me see if she does better and seems to thrive there or not at all.

Admittedly the ride home and the late night dark voices at least until a desperately needed shower spoke to me of my failings… failing my horse, failing myself, not being good enough- me or my horse… something is wrong with me… look at all the other people who sail through these rides… but at least after the shower I was able to decide that… No. I don’t give up that easily. My journey is unique and it’s my own. If it’s not right for her I am ok with leaving endurance but it’s not time to decide that now. I will remember that I’m a work in progress – so is my horse, and things will look different in the morning.

They do indeed.

Today in reflection I remember the lesson of what success means and it is not a ride completion.

My horse cares not about mileage records or placings. And I remember it’s how my horse sees me that matters more than looking like a failure with a lameness pull to human eyes (myself included).

True Success means:

  • I honored my horse and put her needs first.
  • I saw what good strides we have made in connection – how well she went through vetting in, how she works with me so much better than she ever has before.
  • The rear Scoot Boots (strap on not glued) for through the 20 miles perfectly and no rubbing! The spare I strapped on finished the loop with no issues as well.
  • She got good vet scores and is strong and healthy.
  • I made it through the trip without injury to her or me.
  • I learned things (about glue on boots, about my horse, that I may need to reconsider which rides she’ll enjoy more)
  • I got to work on my personal “Love Is” project: Patience when waiting for a ride back and volunteering to wait longer so another horse/rider could go first… in kindness I spent a few minutes early in the ride helping a stranger on the trail knowing that I don’t have much time to spare. And this week has been love does not envy which I don’t normally struggle so much with. I got to see some of that emerge as honestly I did envy some of the riders and horses who had an easier day.

Coming home with a happy horse and sitting in the grass writing this blog with her munching lazily around me, it’s nice to remember what success really looks like.

Sometimes it looks like coming home with more miles on our record, someday it may even be with a top ten finish, maybe someday it might mean changing our activity to something that suits our team better but building us into a team with a solid relationship that can only be truly tested when things are at stake is what matters most to me and that success I can be proud of no matter what the outcomes look like to humans.