The mud of black sheep

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I knew this was not good.


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

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

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

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

The course: what condition is my condition in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. Nope. No way.

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

Khaleesi: thank god can we turn around?

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

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

There wasn’t. There really wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criteria 60bpm.

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

No!

Pulse starts to walk back up 66, 68

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

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

64, 63, 62,

Time on rider 72!

Whew!

All that happened in 3 minutes.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was ok!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND WE DID IT BAREFOOT!!

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

did I mention we rode barefoot? 🙂

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Well get there.

In our own way, in our own time.

We’ll do it together.

The time it takes.

June 21, 2018

It takes the time it takes.

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

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

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

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

I see this basic process mirrored into my own life-

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

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

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

Yet it’s not always that simple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can fix this!

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

Nope. Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth and building up weakness can be a hard process.

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

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

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

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

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

It reminded me that everything takes time.

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

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

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

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

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

Delta-one-one

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This worked great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experiment was worthwhile!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and who are you becoming?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

(Part 2)

It’s become curious to me how each post will form as I’m reflecting on a myriad of ideas. It seems to take shape out of one of those geometric images that seems like static at first until you look at it long enough and a clear image begins to rise in 3D out of the noise.

This week it was a Saturday night dream followed by a Sunday morning church service reading that seemed to compliment one another in a way that kept bringing me back to the second part of the question from last week:

And who are you becoming?

The dream

I was in an area where a trail guide was getting ready to take some riders out at dusk. They were experienced riders and experienced guides one apparently I liked (but not a person I recognized from my waking life)

What bothered (but didn’t surprise) me was how the guides and riders were speaking to their horses.

  • Don’t be so stupid
  • Quit acting like an idiot
  • You’re being stubborn
  • Come on you already know how to do this

It bothered me enough to talk to the guide I knew in the dream off to the side.

I asked if she’d ever considered treating the horses with more respect? The horses are not stupid in fact, they are arguably smarter than these riders… why would she allow them to talk to them using these words? Words have power.

We should speak the truths that are positive into our horses as well as each other!

I continued explain that when I talk to Khaleesi I tell her she’s smart… that she’s strong, and good at her job. Also that she’s beautiful and perfectly created for me. We are a great team. I cannot imagine calling her a dumb beast. Nor would I want to have a horse I thought was stupid or obstinate.

It made perfect sense to me: words can bring life – why not speak what we want to see more of into our horses and gracefully offer help with the rest hoping those things will diminish if we don’t feed them.

But she assured me that absolutely, Khaleesi is smart but these are obstinate dumb horses that act stupid.

And the group went on their way.


I haven’t had a waking experience in recent memory to bring this up into my dream world… in fact I go out of my way not to ride with people who yell at, nag, patronize or talk to their horses this way. To take it one step farther I have found people who nag and complain about their horses often do the same about their family and friends too.

The dream seemed to come out of nowhere.

That morning I went to church and the reading was about Peter.

For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Peter was the ‘rock’ that Jesus said the early church – beginning with that ragtag band of Christ followers and today an entire headquarter city in Rome – would be built on. It’s quite a legacy to have spoken into your life.

But he wasn’t always the rock.

I like Peter. I can relate to him. I’ve heard it said he was the disciple with the foot shaped mouth… or as Bob Goff might describe he was all gas and no brake. He often had to be redirected as his energy went off the rails. He didn’t always get where this crazy Nazarene was headed…

Yet he was the only one who got out of the boat to walk on the water! Yes, I totally get Peter.

This was the passage where he denied knowing Jesus after he was arrested.

Three times.

And once was to a little servant girl who basically had the power in that time of a girl scout today.

Yet… this is the guy that Jesus renamed from Simon to Peter. Peter for Petra or the rock.

God spoke into Peter what was becoming, not who he was at the moment. He wasn’t hard on Peter when he cut off the soldier’s ear (which showed that even after three years of following Jesus around on the inner circle and getting the extra q&a time, Simon-Peter didn’t quite understand what Jesus was all about) he knew Peter who just promised to stand by his man to the grave would run like a coward too…

Still Jesus loved Peter and saw his heart and who he would become with a little encouragement and help. He didn’t chastise him or make him feel stupid… he saw what Peter could be and that was what he spoke to him.

This tied into my dream too well to ignore and I began to ask how I can apply this in my own life.

I find it easy to do this with my horses. It always seemed strange to me to yell at or fight with a horse…. But what about humans? It’s probably both more difficult and more important how this works with them.

How does this show up with my husband, my mother, my friends, what about the people I find hard to love? The ones that I find myself easily annoyed by? The ones who I don’t understand at all? The ones that creep me out? The ones that actively try to make my life more difficult?

  • What an idiot…
  • Stupid…
  • He always does that…
  • What else would you expect from her?
  • There you go again…
  • You don’t care about my feelings…

And what about the turn around to ourselves as well which is even more painful?

When we see our own faults and how we disappoint ourselves. Most often this is what’s going on deep down- but lashing out is what we see but it’s usually a reflection of the silent lashing in.

I look at the times I let myself down. The tendencies I have that I want to grow past. And I think how I’d like to be extended a little extra grace when I fail once again into selfish old thoughts and habits and get up to try again.

I don’t mean positive self talk- that just doesn’t work because it’s crap and we can’t fool ourselves… but to deal with the real question

Who am I? And who am I becoming?

The realization that we are all struggling through life doing the best we can might help me walk in a little more grace and remember to find the positive words to speak into someone else.

We’re on a lifetime journey. None of us arrive in tact. We’re all broken and wounded and trying to sort out how to function.

To allow those around me to fail me, to disappoint me, to be rude… to not consider my feelings, to say things that hurt me, try to manipulate circumstances… say unkind things about me (true or made up…) and then to make my choice to not allow myself to define them by that.

I can find the positive things and encourage them toward those strengths and speak (internally, to them AND to others!) positive things into their lives.

To all of them I want to extend that crazy bold grace that speaks to what they can become. And I’m not Jesus- I don’t know their future. This means I don’t get to decide they’ll ‘never change’.

I want to be the one who refuses to only go ‘up to a certain point’ then write them off for ‘bad behavior’. Not to give them three strikes and they’re out. To be willing to take the radical risk to believe the best and to use the power of my words to encourage the best as well.

This is what love does… with my horse, my husband, my friends and my enemies (or since I choose not to have enemies I’ll use that word for people who don’t like me, or who I don’t understand or agree with). Love is not afraid of looking foolish. Love is not being afraid someone will take advantage of me. Love is not making sure I protect myself from someone who might try to hurt me….

Love is wondering what the other person feels before getting my own hackles up and being offended. And trying to see the world how they see it- even if I don’t quite agree.

Love bears all things. Love hopes all things. Love believes all things. Love endures all things.

All things.

A-L-L

That is a radical way to live.

I’ll go first.

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!

Beyond me

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I wouldn’t trade her for any other horse in the world.

There’s something incredibly sweet about having that horse you click with- through the good times and the hard times and in the in-between times.

I was recently on a trail ride with some folks visiting for a local competition they did very well in. They had some very nice horses and it was a pleasure to show them around some local trails before they headed home.

My unremarkably bred local farm horse and I (not a horse trainer yet the only trainer this mare has ever known) tour-guided the group along some old Virginia logging roads with a few rocky washes, cows, a stream to cross, and a wide wooden car bridge- all standard things we regularly encounter out riding in this area.

The horses all did fine with expert riders but I found it interesting how new much of this ride was for some of them. Of courseI’ve ridden these exact trails and many like it and Khaleesi and I were able to wait as long as needed for another horse to sort out a rocky wash, or go ahead first through a stream crossing to get a gate.. or be ready to chase off some curious cows if any horses were bothered by them. She moved along when needed, rode in the back when other horses needed to find their own confidence, and waited very patiently when I asked her to.

This ride was particularly chosen as a relaxing and easy ride with nothing I’d consider challenging to a horse whose been on a trail but as I observed the riders with me two things came to mind:

  1. Not everyone and their horse does what we do (we as in the ladies I ride with regularly) Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted that what trail riding means to me is what it means to everyone else.
  2. Khaleesi and I have a pretty darn solid trust relationship that is special. And I shouldn’t take that for granted.

The experience drew me to reflect on how we’ve gotten here.

A few years ago I decided I’m not getting any younger and if I want to have a horse that only has what I’ve put into it- then now is the time to try. I did not know how to start a horse. I had zero experience training a horse.

But I wanted to try. How on earth else can one learn? So I found a young horse (a 4-yr old) that was basically untouched living on a large farm in a herd. I could try her for 6 months and if it was working out then pay for her – if not just bring her back. Plus she wasin the budget.

Cheap!

Perfect.

So I began my search- reading, doing online classes, bought DVDs and books… I was seeking something unique. I knew I wanted something different with this horse.

In the first days I couldn’t even reliably approach her. She was feral. I just sat in her small enclosure, read my book and drank my coffee in the mornings and let her get used to me and her new surroundings.

Eventually I had a big grass fenced in area to work with her on and off lead and I’d pony her from my super solid older mare to get her on the trails.

Looking back it was a messy process but I loved it. I kept going- determined to learn. I dug up any information I could find and sifted it through the filter of what I wanted my horse relationship to look like. I sought out help when I saw others that had what I wanted for my horse and me.

Over time I got on her, rode her in the grass area, then on the trails with a friend riding my older mare… eventually riding alone!

Many people said I was foolish. Didn’t know what I didn’t know. Dangerous even.

Probably.

Thing is I didn’t really hear that noise.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

There was something deep in me that began this process. It wasn’t a whim – similar to the deep drive to work toward a one day 100 mile ride. The way these came up and happened upon reflection were almost not ‘of’ me.

Why on earth I decided to start a horse having no experience… and without understanding anything about endurance and only having heard of the 100 mile ride… I distinctly remember the evening I told people at a dinner party that’s what I’d like to do with this mare. 😳

The mare I hadn’t even sat on yet.

Even as I said it there was a part of me that asked myself: what are you talking about?

Something I’ve come to observe in the past year more directly than ever is there is one who directs the universe.

I hear many people talk about the ‘U’niverse like it’s in charge, providing us humans with something somehow. But my lifetime of observations thus far show me that the universe alone is at best either random (this is how we get probability and statistics… a random universe is foundational to that) or more often a force of decomposition or decay.

We all know this. Everything that lives eventually and -unless interrupted by instant tragedy- gradually dies. Trucks rust away, man made cities become ruins if abandoned, nature left alone often tends toward destruction – just ask the beavers after a flood. It’s not only man that’s destroying the planet- it’s on a ticking clock even without us to eventually decay as well. (We humans often make this process worse but that’s a whole other story)

So when things come together you can assume that in the randomness of the universe you’ve gotten a lucky coincidence (that is of course part of statistics)… but for me– when the stirring in the depths of my soul whisper things to me as if from someone else entirely…. and then begins to orchestrate the universe to open doors and create a path- it’s way more rational to realize there is someone behind it with a larger plan at work.

I have friends that talk about The subconscious and about energy vibrations manifesting things into your life. Without question the one who made the universe also made it work rationally and created the laws that govern it. Personally I would find it a shame to get stuck on that without acknowledging the artist behind the work itself.

Like admiring a wonderful painting as if it came to being without an artists hand.

Especially when you could get to know the painter. And even commission a work for yourself….

This little mare is not perfect. Well she’s close I take responsibility for any gaps because I’m far from perfect myself. She’s not highly trained. But we have done it together.

It has become obvious as I’m not a horse trainer and didn’t even grow up around horses; this came from a small whisper in my soul those years back and developed into something that’s actually working- I’m going to take a moment and say THANK YOU because regardless of the work I have put in- I didn’t orchestrate it alone.

There was a hand guiding this process and bringing the exact right animal, wonderful places to keep her close to home, the information to work with her and the people, the friendships and the help along the way in so many places I couldn’t possible mention all of them here.

And this horse and relationships built because of her provided vital support I needed when going through a very hard time in my life- that was also not random or accidental.

In some ways she helped save my life.

You gave me the stars put them out of my reach… call me to waters a little too deep. I’ve never been so aware of my need when you draw me to see that it’s way beyond me.

How wonderful to take a moment this Sunday morning and reflect that there is one who took the time to create us both uniquely and pair us up- then roll the circumstances into place and help us (especially me) along. Because this whole thing… it’s beyond me.

What a gift.

We’ve been through a lot in these 4 years together.

From the ride early in our solo journey on trail that on a 12 mile loop only 4 miles from home (so was not turning around!) a massive oak had fallen onto the mountain road and each side was quite steep. After some investigating I chose the best possible of the bad options around and we crashed down into the woods with rocks, brush and trees and muddy footing that threatened to slip. The mare expertly and without fear navigated the detour and climbed herself back up with me on board to the trail once we routed the huge oak – it was so steep I felt her stifles push my feet and legs out of the way on the climb out.

I’ll never forget that day. It was our first significant trial and she carried me like a champ. Without question or hesitation once I confidently pointed her nose to the detour.

We’ve gotten caught in wire and grapevines and briars sometimes at the same time – she stands still for me to dismount and help her through one hoof at a time trusting me to tell her when it’s safe to take a step.

We’ve crossed so many rivers many with high waters up to her chest- including Big South Fork in Tennessee.

I’ve cleared seemingly endless trail from her back including dragging logs, cutting branches and clipping briar bushes.

We’ve been attacked by a dog where she stood to fight and kept me in the saddle as long as possible while fighting off a very aggressive attack, and more recently chose to run at full speed where we eventually lost the pursuing mutt. Yet she has no standing fear of dogs.

We’ve passed tents and campsites (she’s not a fan of campfires but we get along ok) ridden along with bikes, seguays, joggers, camping wagons and carts, fisherman (often curious about the equipment!), many friendly dogs, and every animal the VA woods can host (bears, deer, bobcats, turkeys, grouse, various snakes and many a squirrel).

Pouring rain… relentless sun… freezing temps and deep snow. Day rides and night rides under the moon. Not only has she managed all kinds of terrain including rocky ledges, ridges and the valley of the 7th ring of hell (the No Frills 30!), she’s completed a handful of 50 & 55 miles endurance rides with good vet scores in the time allowed.

[my favorite picture credit Becky Pearman at our first 55 completion at the Biltmore]

I am reflecting and remembering these things as I write not to brag- some of the situations I’ve gotten into were not good- however if you want to ride the mountains, often things are out of your control and you and your horse do your best together. And quite honestly it’s nice to know I can always ask for help navigating anything because I’m convinced we have developed our own team of angels at this point. Apparently we require much assistance!

It is striking to me as I contemplate all this maybe for the first time in one sitting… that maybe I have taken for granted what I and friends like me do and have done while riding the mountains that other very highly trained and impressively bred horses would not find so easy to navigate.

Of course….. if they did navigate these situations they would do it on the correct lead!

And that’s a conversation still above my pay grade… for now. We aren’t finished yet- still have a lot of work to do together. A lifetime I suppose.

I plan to take my first practice dressage test this week as a matter of fact!

For today I spent a few moments in appreciation of my wonderful mare, and of the connection I have built with her beginning 4 years ago when I sat with her in an enclosure just getting her to trust me enough to allow me to rub her on the neck.

And the help I’ve gotten in the journey- that is uniquely ours and only just begun.

Maybe it’s good that I had no idea…

because somewhere along the way…. between the mountain miles and rugged detours… in the rivers and the rocks and even the white fenced arena… it has come to be… just as I believe was planned before time began:

I am hers and she is mine.

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!