Physical.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mental building is important but to get to 100 so is physical building… which includes hoof care, nutrition and riding. My miles have been unimpressive this summer.

Most weeks I've gotten in a 12-15 mi ride and true, any ride around here isn't a walk in the park, but I am hoping to get through the Big South Fork 50 in September and the mare needs to be stretched a little more to truly be ready for that.

The rides I have done were more social than training (though our social rides still move along pretty good) and also I'd actively looked for decent footing trails as her hooves are still in rebuild transition mode and I really didn't need to tear them down while I'm trying to build them up.

Now I needed to put it all to the test. See where we stood.

I asked around to see if anyone was due for a good ride and Kelly (who is also my vet) was planning a mileage ride Sunday- so I dropped her a line to see if she wanted company.

Turns out she welcomed us to join however the location is about a 90 minute drive for me (minimum) and they had a start time of 7am to be done early enough for another rider who had later in the day plans.

The ride was 20+ miles.

That means leaving the barn by 5:30… which means if I am ready to pull out the night before at best arriving at barn at 5am to pull a horse out of the field in the still dark morning… meaning out of bed at 4:30….

No problem. I'm in.

The ride is exactly what I'd needed for K. And I was so grateful not to have to ride 26 miles up here alone that I was willing to go it in the dark to have the company!

I showed up for a tough 26 mile ride with hoof boots in tow. I was practically holding my breath as I said.

I'm crossing my fingers — SO for these have been staying on but they haven't had a test quite like this…

The last thing I wanted to do was ruin a training ride for Kelly with constant boot drama. As it was we were tagging along with Hope- a tested 100 mile horse heading to another 100 in Maine in the next couple of weeks. We were with the big kids now.

Even more present in my mind was the fact that though my front boots were going A+ strong the hind boots didn't fit so great. (As of now I'm still waiting on the narrow boots to release.) She has narrow feet to begin with- and right in the middle of growing out nail holes so even more so.

The last ride was about 13 miles of varied terrain and with the exception of a hind boot twisting completely in a dry creek rock pile early on they stayed put the whole ride through walk-trot-canter.

The other hoof question is potential sensitivity. Will she move through the rocks? Up till now I've avoided rocky rides to allow her to build some callous- I prayed she wouldn't hold Hope up too badly.

Worst case scenario. I'd brought my gps. We could separate if we had to- she could go on and me home if it got too unbearable.

This was also the longest ride for my Balance saddle (if you're curious about constructive saddling do check out their webpage… tons of fascinating information!!)

I have my best go at the pad and shims. The sweat patterns are perfect, the saddle isn't falling onto her withers or spine, she's moving great- I'm actually super comfortable now that I'm used to it. However there is an occasional slight tweak around the loins that I can't decide is just a funny-bone type spot of if there's a little pressure.

She is not at all sensitive to pressing on it- but in running something down her back she'll twitch just a little… then sometimes if I do it over a couple times she won't… like it was more unexpected than painful.

The saddle is much more stable than I'd thought it would be and through the serious climbs (I believe at least 2,000 feet of elevation change- much more if you go by the GPS cumulative ups and downs – closer to 4,000 feet!!) I didn't have any shifting either forward or backward. That being said I'm still LOVING my Two Horse Tack breast collar (I just can't say breastplate… that sounds like a piece of war armor!) it's easy to attach, stays in place nicely, is great weight and thickness (not too thick). It still looks new and just needs a wipe down to stay that way (love love love biothane!). I thought I wouldn't like the English style with the extra strap on top of the neck- but I found I do like it.

We had a fabulous ride and the two mares even seemed to get along (for my horse that's saying something- she has a lot of confidence and can be intolerant of any horse not respecting her space bubble).

Hope is a move down the trail horse and most of the ride she set the pace. Occasionally we'd fall a little behind on some of the tough rocky climbs and I allowed her to do what she needed to manage the footing without hurting herself and we'd catch up on a trot when the trail allowed. Much of the ride they paced nicely- especially the flatter river sections.

One of my favorite things about this mare is she will take care of herself and doesn't care too much about the other horses. She picked her way through rocky sections never getting worried even as Hope and Kelly got out of sight. There were a few times K wanted more time at a river crossing to cool her legs and feet, a few times she stopped longer at a drinking hole, and a few times she wanted a couple extra bites of grass.

Hope was impatient and ready to move so we just went with it- like in my blog The Work on Rider Etiquette I practiced what I believe as I told Kelly to let Hope go ahead- Khaleesi will do what she needs and we'll catch up. It is great training for K to focus on herself regardless of what the other horse was doing. That is important someday- riders will ride off while your horse is drinking… and other riders may be going to fast for my horse's best ride. And in 6+ hours – a little time 'alone' on the trail is really ok!

The front boots were once again A+ not one problem. Yeah Scoot!!

The hind boots hung in there pretty well. I had to stop once in the 26 miles for each hind boot (so twice altogether). This included the 2 mile canter up the fire road at the tail end of the ride with no issues!

And I was impressed at how well she took on that canter around mile 22 of a tough ride!!

She was forward till the end and looked great at the trailer. She munched on grass and hydrated hay pellets with a little coolstance in water while I rubbed and poulticed her legs.

Next day her legs were tight and cool and I did a trot out video for myself barefoot on the pavement. Certainly would pass a vet check!

Maybe upon close inspection a slight mis-step here and there but from where we've been it's a great success! Her feet are not tender right now and I think finally getting to the shape they can better support her body and movement and I've taken the advice I read in various ScootBoot Blogs to hand walk her on a 'tarred surface' for a few minutes a day. Thankfully the driveway is paved and I make an effort to hand walk her every day I can out there barefoot. This is supposed to help develop sole calluses and toughen the hoof. I've also been told it's good for her ligaments and tendons.

I've also taken the advice of a couple farriers I've talked to to try pine tar. It is supposed to condition and help harden the sole. I only use it on the sole. I've used it about 4 times in two weeks with 2 of those being before and after the 26 mile ride.

The biggest factor I believe for her has been the probiotic regime the CST recommended. If her guts aren't working properly the nutrition just is not getting to the hoof (or hair or teeth etc). She's been on regular probiotics for about a month and I believe it's making a difference. Sandy (CST) said in her opinion within 45 days I should see changes for the better in those hooves and I believe her mane – which has always been a little dried and brittle is feeling softer and healthier already as well.

I also think her muscling and body looks great right now and her coat is shinier even though I'm not a grooming fanatic.

So this is the physical building and her feet for those asking!

I'm taking a class on 'reading the hoof' and will finally get an expert barefoot trimmer to look at what I've been doing the past 2 months and help me learn how to better care for and shape her feet!!

THAT will another blog entirely… soon!

PS: if you're looking for tack- two horse tack has a discount if you sign up for their newsletter!! Here's the link:

Two horse tack newsletter coupon

Building.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I've been asked a few times lately if I'm getting ready for another endurance event.

The answer has been the same since mid-June: Yes! Hopefully in September!

It's a long in-season hiatus especially since I didn't complete the OD so my last 50 was in April.

I don't usually ride in July and then had the trip to settle in Faygo making Ride Between the Rivers impossible. Then the clinic with Dee had to be the same weekend as the Iron Mountain ride… but doesn't everything happen as it should?

Absolutely.

Meanwhile what is going on? Am I riding a lot?

What exactly does one mean by a lot…..

I am at the barn a lot…

I'm building.

Building myself. Building K. Building relationships along with the physical structures. And Wild Heart the mustang mare seems to be at the center of all of it lately.

She has been teaching me how to build.

You know that saying:

We don't always get the horse we want… but we always get the horse we need.

Well I have to believe it with this one.

The horse I wanted and thought I was getting was a mustang mare who would have fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles. Just needing some more experience and confidence. Ready to hit the trails!

What I ended up with was a mustang mare with fantastic feet, ability to take care of herself, a good head on her, already gentled to humans and with some saddle time and a few trail miles that had a lot of questions and some residual physical issues from past injuries (likely in the wild or in captivity) and wasn't ready to carry any one of us around on her back until she got some answers!

Maybe I could have cowboy'd (is that a word? No offense to the great cowboy horsemen who didn't use violence and force) her into submission. But in my opinion that is how people get hurt.

I am well aware that anyone working with horses will get hurt at some point… I'd like to at least cut back on the likelihood of it being on purpose because my horse is sick of not being understood and decides I'm of no use to her anymore and she'd rather pick a fight than cooperate. Especially at the point when she realizes she's bigger and stronger (and probably in that instance smarter) than me.

I'd prefer to work together so we agree life is better when my brain is the one making decisions when we are together.

So I'm listening. And finally I've begun to actually hear (my equine translations beginning to improve) and they know it now.

And the horses have a lot to say.

It's like being immersed in another language knowing only a handful of words and someone you really need to work with is talking to you in that strange language and your brain hurts trying to figure it out without a translator.

At least that's how my barn time feels sometimes.

Yes. I'm the crazy horse lady now who thinks my horses talk to me.

How do I know it's not my imagination?

Because sometimes I get it right. And it's so obvious then.

Let's talk pee.

Wild Heart is basically good to be tied in the barn. For long periods of time too. For the most part she'll stand quietly and relax. Until she doesn't.

What I've often heard in training advice is basically ignore her – if she paws, gets antsy, impatient. Horses need to learn to stand tied!

She'll learn to stand there all day if I need her to. That's her job. Stand tied quietly as long as I ask.

Then one day my friend Pam is here and she sees the horse go from calm to antsy and asks: do you think she needs to pee?

Are you kidding me? No. I've never considered that. If she has to pee… she'll pee. She's peed in the barn before. We just rinse it away.

While we are talking about it she pees.
I rinse it away and think…. hm.

She is still a little antsy. Seems like maybe that wasn't it?

She pees again. (Within a minute).

Rinse it away…. boy am I feeling like an idiot. She peed a little to try to help me understand and I assumed that was it.

SHE PEES A THIRD TIME.

Ok. I heard you.

Now I have a horse who asks to go out and will poop and pee outside the barn and will ask to go. Not every single time we work inside- but more often than not.

She has not pooped or peed in the barn since that day. And she stands quietly tied for hours if I ask her to.

It's much easier to work on her feet when she's calm and not begging me to go out and pee.

In the past if she was antsy while I was trying to work on her feet I'd have assumed I have a training issue and need to train her to stand quietly.

Go figure. Come to find out I had a language issue and the horse was simply asking if she could go to the bathroom before working on her feet.

This is bigger than urination- because the problem that seems like that problem isn't always actually the problem!

I am not at all saying if your horse doesn't stand quietly when tied it has to pee. I'm actually saying the opposite…. that it could be a million things and the only answer to every training issue with horses is: it depends.

There is no answer or method that will work except understanding of their equine world and their communication. If you get the answer wrong because you didn't understand the question it ends up lose-lose.

So maybe your answer IS the horse needs to learn some patience and to stand quietly tied. Or maybe it's something entirely different. But it's the tiny things we get right or not that will determine the success with that horse.

In Heart's case I know she was saying she needed to pee because that answer worked.

I think back to how nicely this mustang had her feet trimmed by my farrier in months past- he'd worked with her twice.
Then the last time a blow up.

Why?

First answer is always the same: because I failed her. I put her in a situation she should never had been in.

That doesn't mean beat myself up and live there in failure but I need to sort it out because failure is only useful if it's about learning.

It also means I have to now dig myself out of her being resistant in her right front and leaning to care for her feet myself for the time being because I can't allow anyone to work with her who might jeopardize the relationship I've worked so hard to build.

Yes. It's that important.

And my farrier is good. I like him, I appreciate and respect him. I don't blame him. I blame myself for not following my gut that day in better controlling the environment – and very likely for not understanding she may have had to pee and just began with a question that could have been answered with respect to her…

The two things that ruin horses the fastest are ignorance and ego. That day both of those things came into play. It can happen in an instant.

One thing I've learned about having a mustang: there is little room for error. They are sensitive to everything and a change can happen very fast.

Hopefully I can use all that to my advantage. First in learning how to be better myself, and because she can have fast positive change as well… if I get it right.

It's Wild Heart that has insisted I get better. Fast. She has a lot to say and is much less patient.

Khaleesi talks to me and I understand like 10% and she seems to say: for a dumb human you're not so bad and I'll take the 10% and the fact that you're trying and I like you.

Heart talks to me and I understand like 10% and she says: DO YOU NEED ME TO S-P-E-A-K S-L-O-W-E-R? HOW ABOUT LOUDER? HELLLLOOOOO HUMAN…. ARE YOU RETARDED? Maybe if I nip or kick at her she'll wake up?

When you don't have a choice you learn or get hurt. Don't misunderstand me: she is an excellent horse!! This is not bad behavior! And also by listening to her communication and trying to help her I am not putting her in charge or abdicating my leadership role.

My job is to understand as much as I can and then use the information. And they know so much we are wise to ask for their report. I can say 'no' or 'not right now' or 'thank you but I have a better idea'.

Being a good leader does not mean saying: shut up I don't care what you have to say if you don't get in line I'll have to force you to and get frustrated or angry in the process. Then when I have an emotional melt down (anger, frustration, fear…) and yell at you-you'll know to just shut down and obey!!

How is this getting me to 100?

First I am riding my horse. Just not as often.

But second, I have this gut feeling that understanding my horse and leaning her language could be a vital component of a long successful career. If I work together with her and she's willing to carry me that far because we are a true team I will be more successful for longer.

If I learn her language enough for her to tell me when something isn't right early enough for me to adjust and fix it we will be more successful.

You know how so many people say….

If only they could just tell us…..

Imagine they are. Then it becomes…

If only we could understand.

The only way to understand I've found so far is through regular conversations practicing the language and listening and hearing. Assume EVERYTHING horses do is communication. NOTHING IS RANDOM.

But once the box is open. You can't put it back in. You can't unhear what you've heard. You can't unknow what you've learned.

Sometimes I think about how much easier life was when I just went out put on a saddle and rode my horse. I had a nice one. She knew I meant well, loved and cared for her and she put up with me.
She was well trained.

Hopefully now I'm better trained. The horses are my teachers. I have many years to go before I'm fluent. But I have a few words here and there and at least am trying!

Moon Landing

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I am flying home from a week in Reno helping my fantastic fabulous fine Faygo transition to a new home in the desert.

She was my first horse and now the first to move on. It's almost 10 years since I first rode her and over time I've watched the mare age and get left behind more and have considered deeply what she needed and what I should do about it.

At 20, she is too young to fully retire- but increasing heaves and gradually building arthritis meant she didn't need to be along on the 20 mile mountain climbs on humid warm days. In the past she was the horse few could keep up with, now she's the one we wait on to catch her breath and try to keep her from killing herself to lead the way (she still wants to be young and fit!). What she needs is moderate trail riding to keep her joints moving and her lungs working without such stress on the system.

I knew selling her was out of the question.

Over time the answer seemed to become increasingly clear. My mom.

She had picked up a young filly and had worked for a year on getting horse property and ability to keep her at home with the one problem remaining: she didn't have a buddy.

Yes. You can keep a horse alone. However it's not usually best for them mentally.

If anyone could have a shot at making that work it would be my mom who spends half of her day in and out of the barn and was with her horse a LOT. Still. A human doesn't substitute for one of their own kind. This horse came from a feral herd in northern CA and grew up in the safety of a herd. Her little filly Shine was 'ok' but suffering from hyper motility and no diet, vet or acupuncture seemed to really solve her low level stress. This also made it hard to keep her in work (because she truly didn't feel well) which made it worse and the cycle continued.

My mom just wanted to be able to do some light trail riding with friends and have some buddies in the backyard to care for and enjoy. Add in the fact that the climate (dry) would help Faygo's heaves, this seemed like a no-brainer. There was no one that would love and care for that horse like my mom would. Of that I was certain.

So the question become on of how. It's a long haul and commercial services would cost twice as much as she was worth if we were being generous.

Tevis.

It so happens mom lives just miles from the Tevis start and there were people hauling horses to ride the famous endurance race who might have some room in the trailer.

The bonus to this plan is I knew that anyone taking a horse to ride Tevis would be getting healthy horses through that long journey with as little stress as possible for the circumstances and the animals would get the best care. We were lucky enough to get a spot on the trailer with some of the herd of a rider and vet I deeply respect: Claire Godwin.

We all made plans and I reserved my plane ticket. The herd arrived on Monday night and stayed two days with my parents before heading on to Auburn enjoying the comfort of a barn and room to move around and stretch their legs, and my mom enjoyed seeing 5 horses fill up the space that had held for the most part one lonely filly since the move in October.

I arrived Wednesday evening – the day the herd pulled out. Since then it's been constant work around the barn to make the transition comfortable for everyone. My mom is just a couple years into horses so helping her move forward as best I could with the time I had was the secondary assignment. It was a solid couple days before we'd left the property except on horseback.

My first order of business was to reassure Faygo I hadn't just thrown her on a trailer to a new life without seeing the process through. I don't know what horses understand but they do understand something. I'd told her when I sent her on that I'd see he again when she arrived. And I followed through.

When I first arrived I sensed a little instability in her. And who could blame her?

She'd just landed on the moon.

After leaving lush (humid) VA she spent a week with strangers with a strange herd. She'd maybe begun to get comfortable with that scenario (?) then they end up in the desert somewhere very foreign and after a couple days she is left there and the herd she'd been traveling with leaves her behind with this dumb annoying 4-year old for her as her only friend.

Then I showed up and I hope at least someone familiar could reassure her this wasn't an accident.

My mom is in a horse community with trail access from her backyard.

Yes- the trail is along properties with horses, dogs, trailers, tractors, lawn mowers and a gauntlet of human things for a horse to get used to. But they are dedicated horse trails and could be easily mix and matched to ride 2 to 10 miles depending on your needs. The trails are sandy with some rocky sections and mostly flat.

Mom had been struggling to get her horse on the trails due to inexperience in riding, the horse being slightly sick with hyper motility on and off, and lack of confidence going through the gauntlet. If you can get a horse comfortably through the neighborhood trails there you should be able to ride just about anywhere!

The next morning we got right to work. Barn chores and saddle up to hit the trail. I borrowed a bareback pad and rode Faygo and mom rode Shine. The poor filly had been out of work for a good while and truly plodded along without any care that Faygo and Marsha's horse Justina were walking twice as quick. We'd occasionally wait for her but also wanted to see her make the effort to get those legs moving. At least she is calm and doesn't care about being left behind.

We did the 5 miles in about 2 hours (slow) but we did it. Earth moving construction tractors were the biggest challenge on the farthest end of the loop – dogs rushing fences, quail popping from bushes, jack rabbits everywhere, a couple random coyotes and cars and bikes. Nothing they couldn't handle.

The next day Shine got a 'light' day. She and mom rode around the yard to work on their in-saddle conversation (mostly steering) and mom rode Faygo while I rode along on one of Marsha's geldings.

Rhett is a handsome 12 year old but a bit of a handful for me. He wanted to stick with his mama who Marsha was riding and threw fits when Faygo went on ahead with some bucking and crow hopping. I don't spend a lot of time on other people's horses and this was good for me in many ways.

Hopefully my practiced ability to stay calm and focused answered his question that I wouldn't be ok with that behavior while I'm riding him, but I'm also not afraid (right?) and I wouldn't get emotional when he did. Just relax and walk along which he eventually did. He tested me on and off (and even showed me his nice TN Walker smooth moves a few times). It was a challenging ride because I had my hands too full to help mom with her questions. Stopping and standing still to sort anything out was hard for me as this guy had feet that really needed to keep moving at the time. I preferred not to frustrate him entirely on our first ride while still asking him to stay 'with me'.

That meant mom just had to 'get it done' that day with Faygo. Also help me out by keeping her out of Rhett's space. And she did great.

Next day was Shine and Faygo going alone the perimeter trail in reverse and I was pleased to see Shine picking up a nice walk right from the start! Those legs got working and she even willingly added some trotting intervals. Great ride!

We alternated the riding days getting the girls exercise and getting my mom some confidence until the last day she took Faygo and the dog's GPS tracking collar and headed out alone. I took her phone with the tracking program and the bike and pedaled around the neighborhood intersecting with her a few times to be sure she was comfortable and answer any questions she might have had.

I watched her at a turn around point deal with the fiery 'I want to go home' horse that can get pretty heated up. Mom just sat down and insisted she walk and they settled back in and continued walking – also taking a different trail than the one straight home which is great training.

She's got this.

I watched Shine improve through the week with some appropriate exercise and the herd dynamics settled in as easy as one could hope. Faygo established quickly she was the leader and Shine said she was glad to have her. There was minimal argument although occasionally Shine didn't move out of the way quick enough and got a nip or warning kick. She's learning 😝

Her hyper motility that had been going on and off for weeks now and has been a recurring issue since she came from CA a couple years ago cleared up in less than 2
days and she just looked better all around.

Faygo who seemed at first a little unsettled became right at home and relaxed in the comfort of the breezy open barn stalls or relaxed under the locus tree and the constant hay isn't a bad switch for her as she's always a little heavy on the VA grass as her workload has been decreasing.

My last night I went into the stall for something and she came walking in from her hay fest under the tree. I assured her that I was leaving and she was going to be great here. She was calm and relaxed and I hope she understood.

Of course goodbyes always mean some tears for me- but as my friend Byron Katie put it: tears are not about sadness but about love.

There's no question I'll love that mare the rest of her life. And I believe I will see her again. But there's also no question that she is exactly where she belongs. And there is not only love, but peace too.

Obsession: work for solo horse and rider in 4/4, 2/4 and 3/4 time 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

I can hardly remember the last solo ride I’ve taken with Khaleesi. I’ve been blessed with the season of riding friends as some of my favorite riding buddies have been ‘in town’ for the nice weather and for the past 2 years or so Susan has been coming up to ride so regularly that I hardly end up on the trails alone anymore. 

I realized as I headed out that this ride was one of the few solo rides I’ve taken in a long time. 

The things I was most focused on was staying connected the entire ride with my horse (sometimes easy to lose in the fun chatter and catching up with friends on a group ride) and honing some of the Jedi skills I’ve begun. 

Mental intent.

I began by really dialing in on the beats of the walk and feeling the footfalls. 1-2-3-4/1-2-3-4/1-2-3-4 and the rhythm they create always beginning with a hind (right or left at this point). 

I asked for a specific walking out speed to my rhythm and insisted she keep the tempo I chose. I played around with asking for a cross-over to the other side of the trail by timing my leg with the rear foot leaving the ground and got a couple nice ones (I think). 

The most fun was working on my transitions that I’d begun in the rectangle recently and struggled to ask for a canter. 

It’s hilarious really- I learned my canter ask is accompanied by flying out my elbows like I’m about to lift us off with my own set of wings into the horizon!


Oh I’m a sight!

I did it at least once on this trail ride before I caught myself and insisted on quiet arms and hands above the spine. Old habits and all…

But another important thing I learned about myself is that I keep my mind at a trot UNTIL the canter is established. 

How this happens is much more environmental or accidental obviously because I’m behind the action. 

This makes it hard for my horse to somehow know to ‘go before me’ into a canter when I’m still in a trot! 

Confusing at the least. 

So I began to envision the canter with that 1-2-3/1-2-3/1-2-3 strongly in my mind and voila! We cantered off like it was the easiest thing in the world. 

Mental intent. Before physical reaction. Duh. 

Khaleesi is so incredibly sensitive to my mental intent (which I love) but that means I have to be absolutely clear in my mind otherwise it creates confusion.  Too much of that will lead to her tuning me out- which I never want!

I do as little physically as possible and found regularly that I was able to make these changes with little or no pressure from legs or hands (even to stop!). 

So the entire loop home I played around with my time. I walked in 4/4 then picked up the trot in 2/4 and got a ton of lovely canter transitions into 3/4. (With my arms quietly in place!)

Lovely music for an afternoon. 

At the half way point we passed through a herd of sheep! It’s the one thing that still worries her- and the sheep dog won’t chase us but he barks his warning to stay clear and that was our true test of partnership for the day. 


Because of the terrain I got off to walk. The area with the sheep is hilly and a lamb could easily pop out upon us without much warning and she was on edge worried about it. I had a little better leadership from the ground in this case. 

Overall a lovely summer afternoon together and as always a gift. There are so many layers to delve into with my mental and physical riding I could spend days on end at the barn and not run out of things to try. 

But alas balance is also vital! I’ve had some great days at home this summer as well working on my yard and doing some home projects too. I also love digging in at home. 

This obsession must take its turn…


Stay tuned for more on Wild Heart’s progress and what’s going on with Khaleesi’s feet. 


And a trip to Reno to help settle Faygo into her new home with ‘grandma’… (here she is traveling with a very well seasoned endurance crew on a stopover en route this week)

The Work on Rider Etiquette 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It’s a brand new year! 

I start my new years in July because that’s when my life began. It’s also the middle of summer so as a teacher makes sense for me – I’m heading toward a new school term starting in August. 

I’ve spent some time in the past year revisiting The Work by Byron Katie and it’s impacted my life over the decade I’ve been aware of it, but I spent more energy revisiting the concepts this year and I love the perspective, simplicity and clarity it brings.

**disclaimer: the following are my opinions. What works for me. I’m sharing it because it may work for some others as well. Everyone  is entitled to what works for them- the question I always go back to: is it working?

This week I put the work to work on the big topic of trail etiquette. 


If you’re ever on a horse, in a group, on the trail then it’s come up for you whether you realize or not.

The dictionary tells me that:

Etiquette is the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

It is indeed a code. And with a few exceptions I’d say most riders have their own code. Some hold one or two generally shared basics and some have a very long list of polite behaviors that the entire world of trails riders really ought to agree to if they ruled the world. There are entire books on the matter and many many many opinions. Just throw out the subject on any Facebook horse group and you’ll hear:

  1. Everyone’s do’s and don’t’s for the trail (with the potentials safety hazards to back up why they they should be important to everyone)
  2. Examples of other riders who have broken such rules and how some was or was almost hurt due to this shameful behavior. 

It exhausts me. 

While I do wholeheartedly support the concept of polite behavior on the trail, I struggle with the control and victimization that I hear in the etiquette conversations online and around me.

What I’ve learned from The Work is there is my business, other people’s business, and God’s business. 

Whose business is it what etiquette code I live and ride by? Mine!

Whose business is it what etiquette code you live by? Yours!

Whose business is the weather that day, the trail conditions due to torrential rain or lack lack thereof, or how much water is in the creek… or lightning… or groundhog holes? God’s.

Then take into account how my horse is feeling that day… which is her business… and also mine. My business to give her what she needs to be a well balanced horse and not to put her in situations she isn’t going to succeed… and that’s a whole other blog topic!


What this means to me is that I get to decide how I will behave on the trail. I also ask my horse to stay within my behavior requirements as I’m able. That is my job. 

I can’t control your trail behavior so when I even think about what someone else SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be doing I have left my own mind. In other words. 

I am out of my mind

I have also left my horse. 

And worse: I am now a victim. At the mercy of how you ride that day. 

Whoah. I have found that to be no fun for me.

So here is my own personal approach. 

I assume first that people do not have to obey a polite customary code on the trails and may do all manner of things that will challenge me and my horse to have a strong partnership. 

Yippee! Challenge always means opportunity for growth!!

At a group event one should assume not all riders will know or agree with your particular ideas of trail etiquette. Add on top that they may be stressed, confused, overwhelmed, or in a situation they weren’t prepared for etc and may just not be able to stick to a code they would have liked to in better circumstances. 

Hopefully all riders have a minimum connection and comfort level with their horse – AND awareness to their surroundings – so they will at the minimum be safe if someone does something unexpected, out of their control- or even just plain rude. 

On your own home trail rides- you can chose to only ride with riders who fit into your comfort level. That is generally safe, and if you all agree on your basic ride manners then harmony will rein! 

Maybe. 

So how does this work in my reality? I’ll just tackle one of the 106 comments of appropriate/inappropriate trail etiquette on a recent Facebook thread. One of the most common: the water source code. 


EVERYONE knows NEVER to walk off from a water source until every horse has had ample opportunity to drink their fill. 

But yet… I sometimes ride with people who’ve kept walking at a mud puddle (or stream… but my horse will drink from a mud puddle and most people don’t recognize it as a water source which might be why they’d keep walking 😊) when my horse decided to drink. Sometimes I let them know, maybe I just stop to drink and then catch up. Maybe they notice I’m not with them and wait for me. I have a few choices, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. 


I’ve worked on staying connected to my horse and holding her back at a water hole while riders walk off. Who cares about them anyway? They aren’t in charge of my horse.

In any situation, the moment I get into the business of the other rider I have lost connection to my horse. She knows it. She will then either do whatever she wants because I’m ‘gone’ or she will go where my brain went: the other horse and rider team. 

No wonder she’d walk off from the water source. I’ve already left with them mentally first. 

And I’ve let you ruin my day or ride, or moment with my horse. I’m now a victim of your behavior and I’m frustrated that I can’t control you… that leads to more frustration because I feel like you are controlling me (and worse my horse) and now I’m out of control and annoyed. 

And my horse feels my emotional energy and is likely confused (why are you frustrated or annoyed??) which after time means she shuts me out to protect herself. 

This means I will have less connection and be less of a leader the next time it happens… the cycle continues… and then people say this kind of connection where a horse chooses to stay present with its rider instead of throwing in with the herd is impossible and unrealistic. 

The other side is the idea that I must have some special kind of horse to have that kind of connection because all arabs… or all OTTBs… or all ____________ are prone to crazy herd behavior ignoring the rider when _________ situation comes up and we all need to agree on how to ride to keep everyone else safe. 

First let me be clear: my horse is not that unique. And our relationship is still in the developing stages and she does connect to the herd at times when they have a stronger call than I do … and she does get ‘race-brained’ and she does try to kick at riders who push in on her rear end…. 

In truth- when I look at less than optimal circumstances as an opportunity instead of annoyance then my horse and I grow together. Those rude, or inconsiderate, or out-of-control people are giving me a little gift. Growth! The chance to try to be better with my horse. 

The point of this post, in case it hasn’t been clear, is about responsibility. Not the actual code of ethics or the trail riding rulebook. I think polite behavior is great! I have observed in reality we all do not agree on what is acceptable in every given moment (if we did it wouldn’t be nearly so contentious) and we all have good days and bad days- and sometimes just aren’t aware. 

It happens.

Looking at it this way also makes it easier for me to ask for help if I do really need it. 

If I assume not everyone shares my personal trail code without judgment (doesn’t make them a bad person) then I can simply ask for help if I need it on a case by case basis. 

Hi… sorry… K is drinking would you hold up a minute for us?

This is assuming I’m among friends. This does not include random strangers I met on an endurance ride. They have absolutely no obligation to me… if they do afford me some courtesy I can thank them graciously. 

So I have a happier life when I assume responsibility for myself and my horse and never become a victim of anyone else’s choices.

 It also means I can ride with just about anyone which gives me lots of opportunities to deepens the connection with my horse.  

Of course not everyone may like to ride with me. 

That’s ok. That’s their business!

Tack and Tweaks

Thursday, July 13, 2017

First I was excited to get my first mileage patch in the mail:


This is a summer of trying some new things – and some old things again. 

The tweaks in my riding tack have been going well.

The more I ride in the Balance saddle the more I like it. The mattes shim pad is also nice but I’m still working out my combination- it has lots of options. 

One way she tells me she likes the saddle- I tacked her up yesterday with no halter on at all (so not tied). She stood calm, relaxed and still for me to tack up. (Did not get a picture of that so this pic is her normally tied in the barn)


Along with the saddle I needed a new breastplate. My other is western style and isn’t long enough. Two-Horse Tack sent me a really nice red on black biothane one to review and I really like it. 

The breastplate is 3/4″ with a shiny 1/2″ overlay and looks great. It’s a nice size (width) and weight. Also the English style has a whither strap which I always thought I wouldn’t like but it keeps the shoulder straps from hanging too low without having to overtighten them. 


It’s easy on and off with snaps and I like that with the whither strap (which also snap releases) I can actually have the breastcollar on her ready but unhooked from my saddle as I’m tacking up or untacking depending on when I’m ready to grab it – without having to find something to set it or hang it on. 

I haven’t had the need to clean it aside from a quick wipe but I love biothane for super easy cleaning and except my saddle I do everything I can in biothane. It doesn’t break (at least I’ve never yet for me) and if I get behind on wiping or rinsing I toss it in the dishwasher. It comes out shiny and new. 
And finally: as I was looking at breastplates they are expensive. This one I was slightly skeptical of because it was half the price of the other one I was considering. I ended up with both and I liked this one better and sent the other back. It was heavier and a little wider and thicker. 

Personally I prefer the lighterweight – and though I do climb the mountains here and prefer to ride with a breastplate- my saddle fit and hopefully my riding is such that I don’t slip around much. It’s a precaution and safety measure so I don’t need a thicker heavier duty one to offset it pulling into her chest often. 

If you’re interested in perusing two-horse tack you can click HERE for their site and this month they have a 10% off deal for anyone who signs up for their newsletter. 

NEWSLETTER SIGN UP DEAL 

But wait there’s more… 😁

At least for me and K.

She finally has all four feet bare again and I feel a big sense of relief somehow. I’m working on slowly bringing back her toes now that she doesn’t have shoes on and I’m able to. It’s too much for a trimmer to come take 6 weeks of growth off at a time so a gradual filing is better for her. 

I was fascinated with the difference between the hoof with pad and shoe just removed vs. the front hoof that has been bare about a month. 

Front hoof- I can see how she carriers herself more on the inside of the hoof and that was also apparent with her used shoes. 

My farrier says it’s not uncommon but it’s something I’m curious about and keeping an eye on. It’s the same on both of the fronts.  

Here the hoof though not ‘pretty’ is doing ‘its thing’. It is developing callouses and getting tougher. I’ll have my farrier back soon but for the moment I’d like the hoof to have a chance to develop on its own then work with what it needs help with. 

The rear hoof just after the pad and shoe removed. The quality of the underside of the hoof is not at all like the fronts. 


The only way I’d consider trying this barefoot route again is if I had boots I believed in and thankfully the Scoot Boots are still going strong. I now have tried them on her back feet and so far so good. It was a short ride but included all of walk-trot-canter and didn’t lose one yet. They also have glue on shells that I may try in the future depending on my ride needs. 


I am convinced that the horse’s movement and hoof shape all play into how well boots work. I’ve heard at least someone who absolutely loves every different kind of boot on the market.

I am grateful that these boots are the ones that have worked for K because I love them. If you are looking for a boot I highly recommend them- that being said they won’t work for everyone. I’ve heard of some who have had them come off during a ride. C’est la vie! Every horse is unique- that is the fun part right?

This brings me back to

I’ve tried that- it doesn’t work. 

I’ve heard it from other riders and I’ve said it myself. But one thing I’ve learned about horses is the dumb small detail I missed that seems so unimportant is the difference between total failure and success. Sometimes trying again in a slightly different way can bring different results. 

Ok- sometimes it’s a big detail. 

On the OD100 I added a pad not intended to be used in a boot to my Scoot boot. It caused a rub that when I found it later in the day was pretty ugly. It was the only time I’ve lost a Scoot boot. 

I wonder now how likely it could be that Khaleesi dumped that boot as best she could on purpose. It was already not fitting quite right. It may not have been hard to do. How often did a boot not feel right, rub at the heel or twist a little and she torqued just right to get it off?

I have no idea. 

But that mare has opinions.  And the longer I try to find out what they are the more she tells me.

This is a pandora’s box! Sometimes it would be easier not to know…

Getting shoes on- I work to keep her compliant and still. She behaves but she doesn’t like it. 

Getting those two back shoes pulled I could have left her ground tied and walked away. She didn’t twitch for a fly landing on her. She was perfect. 

Coincidence?

Maybe. 

When do the coincidences add up enough to being intent?

Fly mask is another example. 

Why don’t you use a fly mask? Look at all the flies on her?

She hates them. The last time I put a fly mask on her she came to the metal gate I’d just gone through and BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG with her hoof. 

I have never seen her do that before or since.

I took the fly mask off and she walked off calmly to eat. 

I’ve tried it – doesn’t work. 

How about this new fly mask that doesn’t poke their eyes and sit on their face?


Ok… sure I’ll give it a try. She hung out quietly and didn’t seem to mind it. 

Now if she stands and helps me put it on next time I’ll know she has a different opinion of this fly mask and if she walks off she probably still hates it. Or maybe just doesn’t want it at that time. 

But the spaceman like hoop that keeps it off her face just might be the detail that changes the story. (You can easily see from the picture it’s a Rambo product 🙂 )

It’s a much more interesting journey when I’m able to include her in the decisions of her own care and tack. To stop looking at her behaviors as training issues and first ask what she is saying. 

I’m astounded by the layers she’ll communicate if I am willing to listen. Then if I need her to help me out (training issue) I can ask, and show her what I need, and she is more willing to help.  

It’s such a better process for us both. 

Seek… and ye shall find.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

After a really fascinating day at the barn I’m left reflecting over that gut thing, that voice from somewhere else that has led me to the place I’m in right now. Then I feel grateful because that search that started as a gut feeling those years back that sent me off to find a young feral mare to start – when I didn’t know a thing about starting a horse – and to find a different way to approach it, to approach horses in general…. has been an amazing journey and I know it’s still only the beginning. 


Just to clarify: I still don’t know a thing about starting horses and have barely scratched the surface of the secret equine world but I want it. I want to learn. I want to be better. I’m better than I was and I’m getting deeper glimpses of that world all the time!

The latest leg of the journey involved a visit from a really good cranialsacral practitioner yesterday. We arranged her visit because of Wild Heart’s issues that were not connected to an injury that a vet could pinpoint (nothing broken, swollen, pulled, diseased etc) but after serious amount of firm insistence from myself and my friend Susan only resulted in this fine mare digging in her heels (literally) we needed to dig deeper ourselves. 


Dee Janelle from Simple Equine Teaching came to do a private clinic back in April and we started with her. 

Definitely pain. By that time (April) she had developed an obvious stiffness in her stifle and something going on in the poll. The pain she was dealing with had caused louder and louder communication from her and though I was listening I wasn’t completely certain just what the mare was saying. But she had begun to show disrespect towards me likely because if I couldn’t understand her and continued to insist on things she couldn’t do- I was not going to make a good leader for her to trust. 
I did not go down that path very far without getting help. 

Dee helped start some basic healing process that was amazing to watch (as a science minded skeptic… this laying of hands type stuff seemed unlikely to make a difference. But when you see the changes with your own eyes and if you care about results… you’ll believe too).  

After the clinic I went back to groundwork she could do without pain and allowed her some time to continue to repair and reset – because the body will do that, sometimes it needs a little help when it’s stuck. I took Dee’s advice and called in Sandy (cranialsacral practitioner) to give her a deeper look and give us either a prescription to go forward or the green light to get into saddle work again. 


Sandy is highly regarded in her field. This meant a two month wait to see her- even with the connection from Dee- it was worth it. 

In the end I decided to have her look over all my horses and my aging pup Linus who has been getting stiffer and stiffer with age after even a short easy trail ride. 


One thing I’ve learned that has begun to save me time, money and aggravation: if Dee says it is a good idea, jump on it. I have yet to see her be wrong. I can’t explain exactly, but in a couple years time I’ve seen the evidence: she is not guessing. And she is not going to be wrong. 

I’m not a mindless-follower type. I believe in results. The longer I stay connected to her and her methods- the more my horse life blooms and my animals thrive and things come together. 

When I saw her in April she said to me (paraphrased): She’s a great mare- I really like her.  I’m not happy with her [Khaleesi’s] feet. You have a nutrition problem. Get her shoes off, get her nutrition issue fixed, start by getting off the junk food [commercial processed fillers and grains], you’ll need hoof protection that isn’t nailed on constricting the blood flow into her legs. Her legs will look better too when you get the shoes off. Your saddle is ok, she’s happy with it- but there’s minor atrophy starting behind the withers- talk to Carol about a Balance Saddle so her back can grow stronger. You like riding trails in a halter – I see you in a neck string, that will be better. Let’s just get everything off her face entirely – is that legal in your sport?Next year. 2018. That is your year. You are going to have a fantastic 2018. 


I heard her. I still hear her voice in my head. 

2018. That is your year.

Well I wasn’t quite ready to bail out on 2017 in April. So I made mental notes and thought:

There’s no way I can afford another saddle- especially an expensive one. I spent all that time and finally found what ‘works’ for us…. LA LA LA LALA I DON’T WANR TO HEAR SHE MIGHT DO BETTER WITH ANOTHER SADDLE… 

I can’t pull her shoes off today I have a 55 mile race next weekend and I don’t have a good boot program in place. Plus my vet and farrier keep telling me pads and shoes are giving her the protection she needs to reverse some of the impact damage. Pull the shoes- ugh! Just when I’ve found something that seems to be working ok. I know I’d like to see her able to get out of shoes but I’ve tried that before…. how can it work?

I don’t feed a lot of grains anyway- I can pull off my feeds pretty easily. I’ll start there….

And I did start there. I at least took one thing to start with immediately. 

I pulled all the mares off ration balancers and feeds and went to coolstance and grass only. I add a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Then got to the OD 100 in June and lost a shoe in mile 2. 

2018. That is going to be your year. 

I can’t lie. That’s the first voice I heard when I started having shoe issues. She’s always been right before. 

Pull the shoes as soon as you can and get her nutrition fixed. 

I suppose that gut feeling is partly why I didn’t put that shoe back on and try to finish. Something is not right with those feet. Hasn’t been for a long time. She’s always been right before. 

Interestingly, Jeanne Waldron the legendary endurance vet took a look at K as a favor to Lynne two years ago and said a similar thing: her coat and feet and sensitivity in the lower back tell me she has nutrition issues. Probably worms. Give her a power pack.

I did. Not sure if it helped a little. But I’m still here trying to sort out her feet. 

Enter Sandy Siegrist of Perfect Animal Health. I was intensely curious what she would find with Khaleesi. First I’ve been working on my riding and balance a lot and for a couple years now. Sandy can tell a lot from the horse about how the horse is being ridden and about the rider. 


I’m not at all afraid of what Khaleesi would say! The good bad and the ugly I want to know it all! Especially the ugly- that’s where you learn how to improve.

I was beyond glad to hear that she was in great balance and great shape. Her back looks good but her top line could come up to improve it.

I just picked up a balance saddle.

…. this is what I’m learning about following this path. My reaction to finding a balance saddle was: no way. I can’t afford it. 

Seriously I can’t. 

But I started to do some research- to search. To follow that voice- and within two weeks of being open to the possibility the saddle was here. The exact right size and style available used for a price I could sell my other saddle for and a year interest free to find the right buyer. The saddle I could never imagine would be attainable fell into my lap. 

I’m slowly learning to stop putting up roadblocks and start watching the doors open. 

Wonderful- that’s perfect! That will help. 

So the only problem you have with her (and I like this mare very much!) is her guts aren’t working. Like at all. So no matter what you do for her nutritionally it won’t help because her guts aren’t processing it. 

Ok so now what?

Probiotics. 

Her feet should come around in 45-60 days. Keep them trimmed shorter so her angles are better for good growth. Do you have good boots for her? (Yes i do!!) Then she showed me how to tell if the probiotic is working and when to stop feeding it. By feeling a spot on her side with a lump that will eventually go away.

So I embark on a probiotic program to see if it helps and will keep in touch with Sandy as it goes. 

What creates this issue with the gut health? As we all know a lot of things including stress, pain, heavy workload, herd changes, antibiotics, chemical wormers, vaccinations… and more. I am fairly certain this has been an issue since she came to me. Since the first times I ponied her with Faygo (about 6 months after she came to live with me) she was sensitive in rocky ground. 

I wonder about taking her off the land and starting the important modern horsekeeping necessities such as worming and vaccinations and feeding grain added with the stress of leaving her feral style life and herd and having to get to know a human as her new best buddy. 

Often once the balance is upset it needs help to rebalance. 

Luckily Pam has a big tub of a good probiotic she loaned me before the OD ride and Khaleesi loves it- she’ll lick the powder right out of the bowl with no feed. 

Which brings me to the fascinating concept of free choice and how I’m changing even to free choice minerals now because I’ve been told by too many people that they will if allowed to – balance themselves by taking in what they need if they have the access. 

I won’t put the Forco out free choice but I am intrigued that the horse who won’t try new things: it took me a while to get her to try a carrot… she resisted eating grain feeds when I first got her… she licks the Forco out of the bowl as a powder like it’s candy. Does she know she needs it? Does the wisdom of the horse really go there? I don’t know but I’ve stopped assuming it doesn’t. 

As for the others: I’m also glad to say none of them have serious issues and are overall balanced in body, mind and spirit and in good health. 😊

Faygo had a very long ago head trauma that created uneven growth and development in her head and face. Sandy moved things around – this I don’t understand but I watched it happen- in the structure of her head and eye and even in her mouth. She does this with almost no pressure and no force. However when she was finished she asked me to walk her so she could process the changes and readjust. The mare stumbled like she was slightly drunk at first. After a few minutes she came around but the changes for her were significant. 


It is very likely she will breathe more easily now. She may have suffered harder breathing for many years because of the shift in her face and head from an early injury and though her heaves are always worse in humidity so I don’t believe that will cure the condition it will be interesting to see how much it helps her. I talked over her move to live with my mom with Sandy and she agreed a drier climate will be beneficial and she’ll be working with my mom to come up with herbs or remedies that will help with symptoms as she continues to age. 

As for Wild Heart: she had a shoulder way out and bound up. Sandy said it was like she was T-boned at some point not sure how long back… could have been pasture antics here or in captivity or as far back as her wild days. She wasn’t telling. It caused an issue in her psoas (I think it was that, but I could have the body term wrong) which is what works and drives the hind end and allows that back leg to reach underneath her. All this makes a lot of sense from what we watched ponying and riding her in how she moved and how hills were when she’d have the most trouble. 


Her stifle issue and poll were completely fine during this visit and after the shoulder was reset and released she is good to get under saddle again!

Her prescription is go for a pony ride first and get a nice long trot out so she can see that her body is working properly again and she should be pain free. She may struggle at first until she realizes it’s ok- or she may realize it right away – but she is healthy and ready for work.


As for Linus- he had scarring in his shoulder probably from when he was hit by the car as a pup. She spent a lot of time with him and helped release some of the scar tissue. Sandy has worked on wolves and wolf dogs before and said that they are different than domestic dogs. She didn’t say that Linus had wolf in him, but that she sensed a definite wild dog gene in his bloodline. She said it’s a strong presence. I was not at all surprised. He is also healthy aside from the shoulder injury and said raw apple cider vinegar and turmeric will help him as he’s aging. After his session he went from stiff and slightly limpy from Monday’s ride to moving like himself a few years back. It was lovely to see!

I left the barn feeling reflective and grateful that the path I began seeking a handful of years back- to find better answers and a deeper understanding – not just to be successful with my horse but to be a better person is a path that continues to come to me one footstep at a time. I don’t know where it will lead me, but that isn’t my job to know. 


My job is to seek. And to stay open as the steps present themselves – and to have no fear but instead walk in faith that the next step will be clear as it is meant to be. Then take the step. And enjoy!