Falling apart or into place?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

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

I love that thought.

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

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

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

So why does it seem I’m hitting roadblocks?

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

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

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

What do I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If it isn’t lameness then what?

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

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

She was asking about gaiting again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s not lame.

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

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

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

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

Success.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

😚

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this the wrong sport?

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

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

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

I heard the inner voices start.

Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…

Then the drag riders showed up behind me.

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

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

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

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

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

[photo credit Becky Pearman]

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

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

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

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

We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.

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

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

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

This is when the detour came back to mind.

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

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

So why are her feet such a problem?

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

Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.

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

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

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

Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They do indeed.

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

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

True Success means:

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

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

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

The knife.

Monday, November 6, 2017

My journey into hoof health continues.

I went back to check my hoof history and am reminded that I’ve only had this mare just over 3 years (feels like I’ve had her forever…) and actually she was only in shoes starting as a 5 yr old:

  • 2015: August-November
  • 2016:April-November
  • 2017: March-June

So one full season and two half seasons.

I don’t think it’s my imagination that her legs look stronger, thicker and more proportional now than in this picture from September 2016 (I see an even bigger difference in the hinds here).

September 2016

October 2017

Until now I’ve been working with a rasp and a woodworking file tool only as I felt the changes were minimal enough that I couldn’t do any drastic damage too quickly that I might with nippers or a knife.

I have a lot to learn but keep trying to understand the mechanics of the foot and read as much as I can as well as working on a few actual horses with some initial direction from a mentor and seeing how my eyes steer me over weeks and months.

The good news is that K hasn’t had any true lameness issues from going barefoot and hasn’t been trim sore in months.

Photo from July 2017 a couple weeks after pulling shoes:

Photo from November 2017:

I’ve been working on her feet every couple of weeks in small maintenance trims and am now much better at watching how her feet change.

Because she’s more flat footed than any of the other horses I’m working with, I’ve come to decide she would benefit from better removal of some of the dead sole than my current tools were allowing for.

I suppose it was time to get myself a hoof knife. It wasn’t quite as big a deal as I’d worried it might be. I wear gloves because my concern was only in small part screwing up my horse- the bigger part was slicing myself!

One thing I’ve been told and read is that dead sole will come out pretty easily and live sole takes a lot of pressure to cut through. My aim was to try to remove some of the dead sole to give a little more concavity andtake the bars just slightly done to basically sole level.

Photo from July 2017 a couple weeks after pulling shoes and pads:

Photo from November 2017

My hoof trimming work is anchored currently in the ‘first do no harm’ mindset and though I’m quite pleased with how her feet came out of my mini-trim it is far from beautiful work!

The first hoof I was working left handed with a right handed knife (this took me a little while to realize) and the paring out was small rough little patches. None of them are deep and I think it will get the job done but it’s not particularly pretty.

I was pleased to find that the dead sole did take a little effort to remove but wasn’t difficult. The thin layer I started with will help ensure she doesn’t have as much dead sole causing pressure spots that are even with the hoof walls.

I didn’t see any evidence of hemorrhaging either which is also good news both in impact/pressure and diet/sugars. (She had some blood traces in her first barefoot trim in July)

Photos of hinds from early July 2017 a couple weeks after pulling shoes:

Photos from hinds November 2017:

I got a little handier with the knife as I went along.

Walking her back to pasture she was moving fine on all surfaces (pavement, hard pack and grass) at walk and trot. I’ll see how she’s doing as the days go by and if she’s at all tender (I’d be surprised as I was so conservative this time).

I can’t imagine going barefoot and taking on your own trimming is the right choice for everyone, but I’m glad to be in this position for the moment as I like being able to have more hands on control week to week instead of going on a 4-6 week trim cycle.

I’m thankful to Scoot Boots not only for a great easy to use boot that stays on for us making barefoot even possible- but also for their barefoot information and blog that gave me the courage to try!

Without question this is a whole horse picture and none of the factors are stand alone. Good nutrition, body work to be sure she can move her best, work on my riding to do the least harm when riding her (effecting her natural movement), a saddle that goes beyond a good fit to encourage building topline, and next stop will be looking into different schools of equine dentistry and how the teeth have an effect on the entire body and how the horse moves.

I suppose I’m also grateful for endurance riding that has been the catalyst for finding the best instead of what works- the journey has been eye opening for sure but also really fascinating!

Lessons.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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

Now for the lessons…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I chose not to worry.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


It was a fantastic ‘come back’!

Miracle.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The last post Against the odds I said I was looking forward to a miracle or a lesson. In fact I got both. The lessons can wait a day or so until I collect my thoughts but a shorter review on the big question of the hoof boots seemed like a great post to get up right away.

The boots worked 100%.

I am blown away actually. I didn’t lose one boot the entire 50 miles.

The were two separate incidents of a front twist – both times the left front. The first at mile 18 coming into the first vet check. It was a long gravel downhill then pavement. Not certain when it happened but it wasn’t twisted long. It was so close to the vet check I walked the rest of the way in once I got off to fix. The second around mile 42 on grass between some trotting and cantering. I felt something off and began to panic no no not lame now!!!! And looked down to see the boot had twisted. Hopped off to fix and back in business.

The fronts I used the Scoot Boots that have been working for us since spring.

The rear ended up a combination. I began with the Scoot Slims and they stayed on the entire first loop as well. When I vetted in there was very slight questionable gait issue. The vet held the card and suggested we come back in a few- this isn’t unusual for a something questionable in a check.

I pulled the boots and a couple of us checked her feet and legs- all looked fine. I trotted her barefoot for a ‘wandering’ vet who knows us — actually he’s the first vet I met at my very first endurance ride when I vetted in Faygo… and asked an informal opinion. He checked her over and thought she was sound.

Went back barefoot and trotted her again for a re-check and the vets decided it was a little ‘odd’ but not truly ‘off’.

I’m not afraid to bail on a ride if it’s best for my horse but my gut told me to keep going. I also thought: if something is wrong I need to see it to help fix it. Mystery potential lameness doesn’t give me much to work with. I’d either see her do fine or I’d make it worse to help me pinpoint what’s going wrong.

Also- her heart rate was stellar which told me that she wasn’t likely in pain. When I pulled at the OD her heart rate was running high and this was before she was lame (in fact she never went lame because I didn’t continue with a pulled shoe and a boot rub from an incorrect pad).

This didn’t seem like that. No heat, no elevated heart rate, she was eating and drinking like mad… to me she seemed fine.

However: as the original vet first thought it was a hind that was off I decided to try going back to the renegades on the hind just to be safe. I had three loops so could rotate between hind boots with whatever worked best

The Scoot Slims didn’t cause an issue that I’m aware of- I just haven’t had the time with them to really put them to the test. They are too new as they just released the slims weeks ago.

As the next vet check Khaleesi looked sound without question so I opted to stick with the renegades on hind for the third loop.

I never had a hind boot issue on trail in either boot style. Not with twisting and never coming off- we navigated some rough terrain and went in every speed and gait through the almost 12 hours.

So I took on some pretty long odds and I feel got the miracle I’d hoped for.

Quick disclaimer– I finished very last on Friday with only about 5 minutes to spare. This tells you the speeds I was traveling overall were very conservative comparatively. Early in the day she was ‘flying’ (for us) through the rocks like I’ve never seen- but that changed over the day as the rocky trail continued there is fatigue and also some sensitivity that can build up. Still she moved through the rocks better than she has in the past without question.

I don’t push her anymore on rough trail. I learned my lesson once when I just about destroyed her feet in my ignorance at Iron Mountain 2016. I would rather not finish than put her there again. I only ask that she keep moving and she does.

A a few things I’ve learned in my boot journey:

  1. Trim is vital, key, and necessary. Without a good barefoot trim you cannot keep boots on reliably. People used to say this to me and I did not really understand. For some reason farriers are leaving a lot of toe on horses. I’m not saying they’re wrong but I am saying I don’t really understand it now that I’ve learned what I know now. When you look at a balanced foot having a midpoint and then half the foot in front and half behind it should be somewhat clear where the toe is supposed to be. I had x-rays in the winter after spending some time filing her toes back myself over weeks – and the x ray showed still a LOT of toe left out in front. Boots are not simple with a good trim but they are about impossible in varied gaits/terrain without one. If someone with an experienced eye tells you your heels are too high and your toes are too long they are probably right if you want to use boots.
  2. Nutrition is imperative. I’m not saying go for every hoof supplement (I am in a less is more approach) but try to feed smart. Grass is great but it can also be the enemy if it’s too rich and creating sub-clinical hoof issues. In my case we also had a hind gut absorption issue that I think probiotics helped fix. It’s very individual and also takes some trial and error. Shocks to the system can screw up healthy hoof growth from vaccines to chemical wormers to periods where the gras is too rich. Just be aware.
  3. Find the boots whose design you like and start there. I’ve seen that not every horse works every boot style. Trying them out can be expensive and takes time. If one doesn’t work consider trying another. I think it’s worth it.
  4. Your horse might need some time to figure out how to move in them. If you have a ride where a canter or some hard terrain pulls them off- consider a few more rides in them to see if your horse might get better at moving better in the boots.
  5. Modifications are awesome. They can take a good thing and tweak it so it works even better for your needs. Small things like a pad, layer of vet wrap or athletic tape on the hoof, custom fitting with adhere in a too wide boot or in my case the duct tape collar on the boot can be just the touch to go from mostly good to true success. Check in with groups who are hoof boot savvy for creative ideas.
  6. If you ride on trail do SOMETHING to make the boots HIGHLY visible. Spray paint, bright duct tape, anything. This makes it very quick to see if the boots are on while riding and if one comes off you’d be shocked at how sometimes you KNOW it’s RIGHT AROUND HERE- but you sill can’t find that black boot in the leaves. The process to get started is already costly- it’s more expensive when you lose them!
  7. When you find what works get a spare or two. Always carry at least one along – laws of life say if you’re prepared you won’t need it. 😁

Making boots work takes patience and some ‘longsuffering’. I had given up on the process already once before when it just wasn’t working for me and was frustrating enough to just ask for metal shoes to make life easier.

<<<
only reason I really dedicated myself to this was from necessity. I knew my horse's feet were not doing well in metal shoes and they continued to decline. This horse has been great for letting me know what doesn't work. She does not suffer quietly. That's a good thing- it may take me some time to sort out what makes her comfortable, but I'd rather learn that than get by and have her just fill in and work through it only to have her break down later on.

Also though initially it can be costly to try and lose boots, in the end it's getting less expensive for me: I now maintain my own trimming every couple of weeks doing a little here and there instead of waiting a whole cycle then making big changes to the hoof. My knowledge will save me money on trim visits and only have my trim mentor come out at certain intervals to check how they look. Also metal shoes and pads can get expensive too. If my boots hold up and I don't lose them they are more cost effective.

This is the long range view and have a decade plus horse for me. And though some have been smart to find a horse bred or naturally suited to this sport, I've got a genetic mutant that I think can be a solid endurance horse and will eventually get through a 100 safe and sane but she needs some extra attention to detail that others may not. I love everything about her but she's not tearing up the rock mountain trails on rock crusher hooves. Yet…..

I am thrilled (and a little surprised) that my boots are becoming truly viable especially for training miles and even in competition.

I love my Scoot Boots and though I may play around with renegades on the hind at the moment as I sort out if she needs a little more heel protection on the hinds on the worst of terrain- I'm still going with the Scoots to see if they end up doing the job just as well as they are a simpler boot and I love the no Velcro and no wires.

I cannot see the future yet and it's possible I may end up using shoes on some of the hardest rides then pulling them right after.

I saw a few metal shoes out there on the trail discarded on the rocky passes. One thing I really appreciate is that I was able to make a change on this ride without a farrier. It's much easier to throw on a replacement boot than get a new shoe at a vet check or especially on trail. I don't think metal on 3 and a boot on 1 is going to end up good for the horse over long miles so I appreciate the ability to have control with a strap on boot.

If that system can get working well it's actually a big advantage.

Thanks Scoot Boots! It's really changed the options for me and my mare. The blog they put out has very interesting information about going and staying barefoot along with hoof health insights. It was a blog entry by a thoroughbred owner who’d been told her horse would never be sound barefoot that truly inspired me to try something very different and I love how great her feet are looking now!

Identity Crisis

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three weeks since a blog post!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there could be a detox factor potentially at play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned.

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

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

She’s going through an identity crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I say?

Friday, September 1, 2017

I haven't written recently not because my mind is blank or because I haven't been active with my horses.

I just don't know what exactly to say.

So in discussion with the 4am voices in my head that often turn into a blog post all I could think was I might as well start with that.

I don't know what to say. I'm not sure where to begin.

Big South Fork is next week and I've been wavering about going. What is best for me, what is best for my horse?

On the scale is the crazy amount of work that presents itself at the beginning of a new school year… that I have a lot of music to learn… that it's a hard time for me to put in added expense (especially with the mileage there and back – a long haul)… there's still the fact that I don't have reliable back boots (still waiting since June on the Scoot folks to release the slims)… I'm rebuilding my horse from the inside out and ground up- literally– this summer… and I just went through another mind-blowing clinic that has my head still reeling about how to proceed with my horses that could take a little time for me to settle into.

But trail miles are a positive thing for both me and her. Our partnership has been formed around competing (I use that term loosely) in endurance rides and she likes it. She understands the trail. We have a great job! And as long as it's possible while rebuilding we need to keep working together. On the trails and in endurance!

As long as it's possible.

Yesterday when doing some arena work she was off at the trot on the grass. It's hoof sensitivity from the massive changes that are in progress. She may be starting an abscess… either way.

Decision made easy.

She may be ok in boots and pads- I would trail ride her that way around here bailing out and going home if she presented issues- but I'm not hauling her to TN compromised. Not even a question.

No BSF for us this year.

When I consider the decision I'd been wavering with I found some interesting self-reflection about myself.

I consider myself one who doesn't care about what others think of me. I try to decide what is right and move forward and if others don't understand that is not
my business .

But this decision was harder for me because I felt this imagined pressure to get out there and ride my horse (in events). No one is doing this to me. It's the voices in my head.

I have a mare whose gone through a successful season of 50 mile rides. We even attempted a 100… what happened? What on Earth am I doing? I imagine it looks from the outside I've gone off course.

I can understand how someone might ask:

She had things working and now they're falling apart… where did she go wrong? Why couldn't she just stick with what was working?

Thing is it was working …. kind of… but I knew we were capable of better. I have this vision of what I want my endurance horse to look like and the direction I was going wasn't improving it was weakening.

I believe the directions I'm headed will build a better horse and a better team, however, it turns out in the re-building stage sometimes fixing problems for the future costs something from the present.

I find myself in the 4am conversations hearing my gut say: You're on the right track. You know it deep down. Have faith and stay the course.

It will be worth it in the end.

I'm thrilled with the improvements coming from changing to a Balance Saddle. I didn't have any issues with my Phoenix Rising saddle. It fit her, not a touch of back soreness, gave support yet ability to move and I would highly recommend one as a consideration to anyone searching. I will probably always keep one on hand because it's a fabulous saddle. However when I heard about the concept of constructive saddling vs. traditional saddles it struck a chord with me.

The muscling that's developed in just a month of riding in this saddle is astounding to me. Also- she wasn't exactly difficult to saddle before but she is a dream now. She stands relaxed and calm and I can saddle her with the rope draped around my arm loosely and she won't move a hoof. She loves it.

This decision to go from acceptable to inspiring is a small view of what I envision is possible with this mare if I provide her with optimum instead of adequate.

There's a saying: if it ain't broke… but what if all I ever knew was slightly substandard… would I even recognize broke?

I also made a nutrition switch that I've been publicly quiet about. I took her off any grain, pellet or balancer as of end of April. I have her on forage of course which in VA I am blessed with in spades – and she gets coolstance and some free choice minerals to supplement her that can be mixed in food but I find she eats it free choice as she needs. I took this advice from some people who have a long history of incredibly healthy horses that look fantastic and are high level performing… over many years.

I am watching carefully to see the affects- and after 4 months her coat and hair look the best I've seen and after years of my farrier letting me know that her hooves grow slowly on the scale of his experience (even with a year of extra biotin supplementing) – her hooves have been growing faster this summer (also since I pulled her shoes) than I've ever seen. So far I like what I see overall.

As for her feet- that's my biggest hang up in the process. I've had a trusted second opinion say that the trim from my hoof school day is well on its way to better hoof health but it isn't there yet. These changes take time as the hoof gets shaped and regrows. This is one reason I had to take the best part of riding season to do this- it's when the hoof is really growing.

It's taken a couple months to get here and there's still a ways to go- but now that I'm becoming more educated about what the angles mean and what that does gradually over a lifetime of stress on the suspensory system in the legs it's important to me to get this sorted out now and as quickly as she can handle so we can have a long career without issues ten year from now over it.

Endurance has definitely helped educate me about the feet, shape, angles etc because it is so important to that community over so many miles. Many endurance riders I know do a lot of their own hoof care because they know so much about it from having to!

Meanwhile to get these changes moving quickly I have been getting as much as I can done without crippling her and then continuing the process so she has some sensitivity on and off – it is in the hooves.

She's just not ready yet and was perfectly clear about it to me.

On another note I am inspired after the weekend clinic to continue to improve my communication and relationship. What I noticed is that she fills in for me. She helps me out a lot. But as I'm working on myself and getting better- she is starting to demand I take on more and she fills in less.

It's been fascinating to watch that shift and it's wonderful and a little scary at the same time. My horse is asking me to step up my game. She deserves a better and more knowledgeable leader so I'm doing my best to take on the challenge.

The horses are the best teachers.

It's caused me to rethink some of the things I do or the way I do them and that is tiring and time consuming in itself.

That is my part of the re-building process. Exciting and exhausting!

So as for Big South Fork… it's sadly just not going to happen this year.

Endurance riding is our work together and horses need and love to have a job. I'm not backing away from the sport I love and am challenged by. I'm not going to disappear into a fenced in green arena obsessively building 10m circles and working on better side passes…


I'll be back as soon as this re-building process allows and hopefully that means Fort Valley in October.

Some of the non-physical things I'm learning and working are getting more difficult to talk about in this kind of setting… and quite honestly some of it I just don't understand well enough to even try.

But I'm still here and I'll keep you updated best I can as the journey which I wondered last spring if a chapter might be closing (attempting my first 100) is actually in many ways barely begun.

I'm just beginning to understand- just beginning to glimpse what it's all about.

The headline photo at the top of the post was taken after I'd spent 45 minutes in the field communicating with K in a way I hadn't taken the time to previously doing a couple very simple things (including approach and halter). When I walked away she followed at a distance shaking her head occasionally and watching me. She stood there a good while before walking off to eat. It was the way she watched me that day that caught me as different. I lightened the photo below to make it a little easier to see her posture, ears and eyes….