Sometimes you’re the windshield

… sometimes you’re the bug….

Friday, September 7, 2018

This song has been wafting through from my teenage years from Mary Chapin Carpenter of late.

I am preparing for the Biltmore 50 on September 20. It’s the AERC national championship ride and I was just informed Khaleesi and I qualify for it!

I’ve been amping up my physical training: more miles, some speed, and some big workout climbs. Also mental and communication and down time together too.

I’ve sat in the field after evening feedings just being around without asking anything except companionship, I’ve brought both horses into the barn more and worked together on everything from trimming feet (especially on Wy), to tacking while getting advice from K on what’s working and what isn’t, and enlisted K’s help on some very relaxed and productive trailer loading with Wyoming.

Done some easy rides to pony Wy along… Family time.

I’ve spent some time in my little arena under video surveillance to see if I can improve my riding and our communication with some 3rd perspective help.

Through all that I’ve had moments of great triumph … and not so great as well.

It has been a reminder that no matter if I’m in the glorious heights of floating along at the perfect trot and feeling completely balanced and in sync with my 4-legs underneath me… to bailing as my trusty steed goes running up the bank in terror of a slow moving tractor…

I can always be truly joyful to realize that I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have horses, to be able to communicate with them and grow with them, to have a horse life with all its ups and downs.

I would trade any of it.

Well… maybe except…


That day last weekend clearing my main trails close to home which with a rainy year are severely overgrown only to stop for the first big briar mass– clipping away while Khaleesi behind me learns she’s standing on a ground bee nest.

🤯

Four stings for me and I’m sure more for her by the time I realized why she was acting like such a lunatic behind me. When I started getting stung the answer maniacally appeared.

Bees!!! Why didn’t you say so? Run!!

Flip side- even on the tight grown-in laurel tunnels both running for our lives she never trampled me, and when it was too hard to navigate at a full run and I let her gallop off ahead of me she waited once cleared of the bees for me to catch up and walk on home together. One more day I want glad to be riding in a halter and not a bit!


Yes, the above mentioned bail out on the embankment did happen while waiting to cross the road and letting a very slow but very large and very noisy front loader tractor pass by.

I thought I could convince her to stand firm. No. It was too much, she had to move her feet. I’m still kicking myself that I reacted so badly in that moment.

She could have run up the embankment to escape and been fine. I could have ridden her up there. But I was determined to hold her- and thus when she went, I was behind her and on that steep incline the only thing I was left with was re-balancing myself on her halter (thank god I didn’t have a bit that day).

The only thing I clearly remember was an instant where I saw her head clearly and realized I was PULLING!!!!!

[NO PULLING EVER!!! I KNOW BETTER]

I immediately let go and bailed seeing her feet cross my eyes as I landed next to her and hoping she had the balance not to fall or slip down onto me but knowing that she would do everything she could not to hurt me.

I rolled down a few feet and stood up to see her standing at the top of the hill now calm and waiting for me to get up and go to her.

The flip side– I had a real reminder of what I need to do in an emergency…. if she has to move her feet and we’re not going over a cliff or into barbed wire (which usually she’s smart enough to avoid anyway) you get ready to ride!

And even better I had only a small scratch on my hand and no injuries – I wasn’t even sore in the following days.


And there’s yesterday…. I had the whole day, alone, and a plan for 20 miles or so on some amazing trails I’d been wanting to connect! I planned to start at the other end and find a new route for a group ride soon.

What could go wrong?

The obvious trail was apparently not obvious and I went wrong right in the first half mile. I ended up doing some steep ups and downs, went through two backyards before realizing I’d circled right back around and my best bet was returning through the town for a whopping 6 miles in almost 2 hours.

The flip side: I think I made some people’s day riding up and down the sidewalks as cars slowed to take pictures out the window- we stopped where I dropped out from someone’s yard at this point obviously lost to chat (and apologize to the neighborhood for trespassing) with some local folks from the holler and they were tickled and took pictures of Khaleesi… a little girl came out to see and pet a ‘real horsey’ back in the neighborhood and in using the town back roads we went both over and under the main freeway with lots of foreign noises, lawn mowers, barking dogs behind fences, car traffic, bikes, tarps … all kinds of things.

(One is the yards we passed through trying to get un-lost… this was better than most of the no trespassing signs we passed!)

This time I was ready to ride at the moments I felt her tense to the unusual obstacles. Funny thing- when I gave her permission to move her feet, and decided to go with her- watching for a safe escape zone should we need it and I could at least help guide the flight…. she never needed to run.

🤔… could it be that slow moving tractor episode was preparing me to cut through town the following week? I’ll let you decided that one.

No matter what it was great training for Biltmore where some trails and roads are shared with bikes, joggers, strollers, seguays and even maintenance vehicles or lawn mowers and tractors.

And now I know where not to go- and upon better map inspection I think I can do it right the next time.

(I did load up and drive to another nearby trailhead for some more miles but still not the day I’d planned)


My saddle fit and shimming seems to be working well. It’s a funny combo but it leaves even sweat patterns and she has been pretty chill about the tacking process.

Her better breakover toe trim has been a winner as the slightly sore spots on her lower back that were coming and going (that the body worker was certain were not saddle related but the breakover inhibiting her free movement) – they seem to be staying gone. And her feet continue to look better each week.

However I’ve been encouraging her heels to grow and basically leaving them alone unless I had to even them a bit. This week I’ve begun to see the first signs of rubbing from the boots in the couple years I’ve used them- which tells me it may be time to pull those heels back a little now that the toes are coming into place.

It’s probably been 2-3 months since I’ve touched her heels so I did that after the ride yesterday. With a couple days rest we’ll try again and see how it helps.

Everything affects something- I love learning how the system functions and how I can help it hum along at its best given circumstances.

And my riding has been part of that too- I saw some things in the video from the arena that helped me adjust myself in a way to really opened up a freer trot and felt great for both of us and finally I could switch diagonals and felt completely the same on either instead of one being stronger or easier. That was a glorious moment.

I wish I could say it’s constant. It still comes and goes but I’m finding it more often each ride.

On and on and on we go through our lives and the unknown…

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I’m with you.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I spent a couple days riding and camping with a close friend in West Virginia this week. The riding was stunning and the friendships rich.

One of my favorite things about the trip was meeting new friends. An endurance friend connected me with a guide to help us through a new and potentially dangerous territory. Some of the wilderness can be treacherous for a horse if you take a wrong turn – you can end up in some deep swamps, there are sink holes, tricky rock formations and boulders that can be leg breaking and of course some areas are more fun with more stunning views to ride through than others.

Dan was not only a great guide but a very interesting person with an eye always out to learn something from others. Humble, gracious and easy going. We took along a friend of his who had been an endurance rider in Brazil who rode a great little mustang mare, and a woman new to town who works with horses and people to help them improve their tools to connecting.

We were delighted to watch her with a green Arab that she was being asked to take on for some fundamental training. It was clear she was someone we could relate to who was working without force, from energy, and looking to create relationships and when she said you’ve lost everything the minute you get frustrated or mad at a horse we knew we’d found a kindred spirit.

In the 5 hours together (about 20 miles) we talked easily and enjoyed getting to know each other.

It was also a great training ride for Biltmore if I decide to go.

Dan set us up to camp at a barn where there was a huge field for the horses and a pretty spot for the humans overlooking the Cannan Valley floor.

The second day we rode unguided in the ‘safer’ terrain of Cannan Valley Wildlife Refuge and Blackwater State Park. We missed a turn and ended up farther than we intended for a short ride and called Dan to see if he had any advice on the easiest way back to the trailer.

He happened to have a little time right then and we’d dropped into a place accessible by vehicle so he offered to meet us and take one of us to bring back the trailer. It would save time. That was fine for us and would mean getting on the road earlier.

It may have been the 20 minutes I relaxed with the horses that turned out to be my favorite moments of the trip.

After I pulled tack on both horses I sat on the grass and to let the horses graze and walk around dragging their leads. There were no people, no traffic, and plenty of grass. If either started to leave I would redirect them back, worse case one of them would step on a lead and get themselves stopped long enough for me to catch up.

They each took a couple meandering steps and a few bites and within a minute I found myself looking up into two horse muzzles comfortably resting above me.

They weren’t doing anything… just looking down on me as I rested sitting on the ground.

I leaned back, looked up and wondered.

What is this?

I’ve spent lots of time around my horses loose. They usually graze, or walk around, or sniff me, ask for a scratch, I’ve never had them just stand looking down at me… for 20 minutes.

They shifted weight, cocked and uncocked hind feet, sometimes looked a different direction for a moment, but until the trailer rolled up they didn’t move.

As I looked up at them in peaceful contentment, and I reflected over some of the trip’s highlights, a thought resonated with me that reminded me of something Bob Goff says:

I’m with you.

Bob says that real love, it isn’t about doing things so that you can get something in return. Or in his words collect tickets like at an arcade and turn them in for a cheap trinket… or to add up your own good deeds to tip the scales somehow.

The change has to be from within the heart; the thing that creates connection and lasts is the heart that says: I’m with you.

That’s all we three were doing at that moment. Being together.

My mind floated back to earlier that morning as this idea played out in beautiful layers like gossamer threads in the fabric of life.

My friend used to have trailer loading issues with her main horse. Then she got some better tools, did a lot of personal work, more work with her horse, and found she had a reliable loading horse and built a better relationship.

Yet recently she began to see some very small signs that things weren’t quite right. He still would load but not as easily and with some of his old habits returning (like rearing up and avoiding before stepping on). She felt like she’d somehow ‘lost ground’.

That morning he did not willingly immediately load on the trailer and it created worry, fears, pressure and frustration in her and then there’s that nagging voice we all hear that tells us everyone else has it so much more together than I do.

She didn’t want to mess up my day or be the reason we were held up. She didn’t want to imagine that she’s going back to the times she didn’t know if he would load or not. None of us want to feel like a failure and most of all not in front of anyone else to watch.

Her horse is not afraid of the trailer. He wasn’t being disrespectful. He didn’t want to fight her.

He had some concerns. One of which was Khaleesi.

Is she coming?

We both knew we could load him in 30 seconds by answering that question: load the mare first.

He would have walked right on (I’m 100% certain he would have walked right on because he didn’t load right away the afternoon before after the 20 mile ride. Not wanting to take everyone else’s time at the trailhead we loaded Khaleesi first and he practically ran me over eager to get on behind her.)

However getting him to load on the trailer was NOT the thing she wanted to solve. We could trick or manipulate him into doing it but that isn’t a lasting solution.

She was working toward a relationship with him that he could trust in her to the extent that if she asked him to load up he would be confident in her. She would be capable to trust with the details.

Considering what a powerful, sensitive and highly ranked horse he is, this is not an easy job and it takes her constantly being aware of everything – because he is constantly aware of everything. You don’t earn that trust and then float on with it. You re-earn it every interaction. It has to change who you are when you have a horse like that. She has to be that good. 100% of the time.

I think she’d say he’s worth it. ❤️

And from what I know of her- she can be that person, in fact I watch her turn into that person a little more every time I ride with them.

Thankfully there are few of these kind of horses in the world. Most people have a more middle of the pack animal that isn’t quite as demanding.

What I love most is that we all get the horse we need to teach us to grow.

There are the really bad fits that need to be sold or given to a better situation of course, but for most of us, the horses we struggle with are growth opportunities if we start by looking not to the horse to change first, but look in the mirror. Then seek out and get the right tools and education to work on ourselves first.

She knows all this and I encouraged her to spend whatever time she needed that morning to tell her horse not: we’ll be ok if you just get on the damn trailer already…

but simply: I’m paying attention, I see you’re struggling here, and as you sort it out… I’m with you.

That was the other layer. She is a close friend and I cared much more about her opportunity to connect with her horse than anything else that morning.

Love doesn’t demand its own way.

I’d gladly give up doing any ride at all if that’s what was needed. For her to connect with her horse I would trailer 2 hours then spend the day trailer load and go home if that would help her. And I’d love every minute of the process doing life with her because she’s my friend.

She didn’t need to worry about loading her horse AND me getting impatient or frustrated. She didn’t need to wonder what I’d want back from her in trade for my patience. She also knew I’d never judge her journey with this horse- that I knew it was unique to the two of them and not comparable to my own or any other friend’s situation.

No matter what we were doing that day she needed to know: I’m with you.

This is not a trailer loading post. What she did is not the answer to everyones horse that doesn’t want to load. But we learned some interesting things together because I was able to be a different, outside pair of eyes as she worked with him from her limited first person perspective.

It seemed clear he knew what she wanted- and she didn’t need to continue to ask him again. He just wasn’t ready to do it. He would get comfortable part way onto the trailer and most people would ask him to continue on and load up- finish the job- but we observed that even just pointing the direction she wanted (asking again) without any pressure from the rope would send him flying back off completely to restart the process.

She’d lose everything just as he seemed ready to load that last few feet. This happened a couple times and my outside 3rd person perspective was able to see it play out and help her with the information.

I’m no smarter than her, I just had the right viewpoint.

What she was doing wasn’t wrong. It just wasn’t what he needed that morning.

He’s a really cool horse- extremely sensitive. This can work for you and against you depending.

I suggested she try something different. Just keep him focused on her inside the trailer- and she could do it with only a click of her tongue (he’s that sensitive). Don’t add any more pressure or ask him again to get on. I was certain he was under no doubt that she wanted him to load. He wasn’t confused. He just wasn’t ready to do it.

She expertly timed relaxing vs. a tongue click the moment he’d look away and get distracted. Very soft, very relaxed he would inch forward closer to her, paw the ground, sniff inside… one level at a time he continued onto the trailer.

I know it was hard sometimes as he was almost there not to ask him to take that last 6 inches and let’s get going. In human terms we’d waited long enough for a horse that is 20 years old and been riding in horse trailers almost all of his life.

Even I had a hard time not wanting to push that back foot the last two inches and close the ramp so he was trapped on.

Gotcha!!

That would have destroyed all trust immediately!

But she worked out her patience with sweat and blood – it was killing her to be so close but not force or pressure him, get excited that after 30 minutes he was almost there or even think about how close he was until he was ready to close that last gap of his own free will.

Its easy to see with horses. We humans are often making the choices for our horses. We don’t even give them the chance. We don’t let them make a mistake. It takes so much time at first to consult them for every little thing we do with them. It seems easier and faster to just push and pull them around.

What could have been done in 2 minutes with a shortcut (load the mare first) took her 45. (I was prepared to spend hours or all day!) But the end result was beautiful.

He loaded himself onto the trailer for her.

Anyone watching would wondered what was wrong. Most people would have offered help. But watching them was a gift for me of exactly what was right.

Her message to him during that time was not conditional: if you do what I want then I’ll be with you...

That’s manipulation. We humans are so good at it. We manipulate each other, we manipulate animals, we manipulate ourselves and try to manipulate God.

Her message was simply: it’s time to get on the trailer, however you need to do it today… I’m with you.

And Khaleesi and I stood quietly nearby saying: and we’re with you both too.

I look around… and in the mirror and see so much manipulation hidden deceptively in the clothing of generosity and kindness.

I’m a nice/giving/tolerant person… up to a point. But take advantage of me … or disagree with me and watch out.

My friend had a limit in her mind of what was ‘enough’ time for him to sort out getting on. At that point she would ask again [he knows how to do this!!!], add pressure. But her limit was like 35 minutes before he was ready. He needed that time that day and she got a win for their connection by giving it to him instead of demanding that after 10 minutes he was just taking advantage of her and she’d now show him!

It also looks like ticket counting when we want to trade our kindness or being with someone for something for ourselves:

If I spend today working around the house with my husband then I have saved up enough tickets to go riding all day tomorrow with my girlfriends!

Or…

I’ve saved enough ‘tickets’ that you should be more thoughtful of my needs…

There’s also the scoreboard we all seem to keep running track of:

I have gone out of my way to help you X times… the least you could do is do Y for me…

The change of heart to simply if I can I will, and because I want to be with you is enough, opens a transformation so much bigger than any act itself. And there is never anything on the other side of the equal sign. I don’t count tickets anymore. Mine or yours.

I think this is how hoses live. They do life being with each other.

I’ve had friendships along the way where if we happened to be going the same direction then it worked, but both of us were really just doing what we each wanted and basically lined up doing the same things. Sometimes it’s a surprise when you thought you had a deep friendship to find that once you did need someone to be with you… they weren’t with you… they were doing what worked for them still. Or the other way around. It happens both directions.

This isn’t necessarily bad. And we can’t do life with too many people this way. I love how Bob Goff suggests you should figure out how many people will fit around your bed so that as you’re dying you have just the right amount of deep relationships that no one is squeezed out and you don’t have too much empty space either. I think he decided its like 10 or 12 people!

But this can work with everyone you interact with in allowing yourself to be with the people you are with through your day.

Can I set myself aside whenever I’m in someones presence to be with them at that moment and really see them not just what I need from them?

There is a magic that happens when you can’t be taken advantage of because you’re actually just giving.

Maybe the most ironic part is realizing that you can’t have this heart change if it’s because you want a horse that will load on the trailer, or your spouse to be kinder to you, or because you want anything.

Because that is the heart of manipulation again.

if you can find this change in your heart then for it to be real, and to matter, it must become a way of being over your lifetime. The deep changes around you come in increments over time as you change and those who you love begin to be loved as you say…

I’m with you.

Peace

August 13, 2018

Things in the barn have been quiet lately.

No that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped going! Very funny.

After years… at least four or five or even six… of seeking a different way of relating to horses… of struggling to connect and communicate with them more effectively. Something has clicked over.

Friday I brought in both mares. I walk out to greet them even if they are at the farthest point of the field. As I approached they walked a few feet up the fence line and turned their attention to the field past the adjoining driveway. So I did as well. I stood there next to them scanning the tall grass for a moment until I heard them.

The sheep were coming. They hang out at the big oak tree just a few feet over from the mare’s favorite shady spot.

Oh- are they your friends? The sheep? Well hello sheep…. ok, are you ready to go?

Then I rub both horses a greeting and hold up khaleesi’s halter. She drops her head into the noseband letting me know she is indeed ready. (If she’s not ready she will walk out of the halter I am holding- and I allow her to. Sometimes she needs to scratch first, or show me something, or ask if I still care if she’s ready or not….)

I walk with K on lead and Wy follows. I don’t need a halter for her. Khaleesi knows which side she’s supposed to walk on depending on what hand I carry the lead rope. I don’t choose the same side all the time. Yet today she dips behind my back and changes sides then walks ‘too close’ to me with her head right in front of my shoulder.

That’s odd. She doesn’t usually do that. She knows how to walk in with me…. why would she do that?

So I stop and turn to her and find a green headed fly sucking the blood out of her neck right in my eyeline.

Can you please kill that thing!? She asks me so politely.

And I do.

She goes back to the side we agreed upon and we walk on.

I open the gate and both mares come out and we head in to the barn. I loop khaleesi’s line through loosely (she will stay there) and get the green halter for Wy as I will tie her while we’re in the barn.

Wyoming’s feet are long in the toe again. Working on her feet takes a long time commitment for me so I don’t do it as often as I would like to. I work on them every couple weeks- but I only get so far before it’s too much for her so they more need regular attention for now.

Then there is the right hind that she still cannot allow me to work at all. That one is wicked long in the toe and I hope she breaks it off herself soon.

I grab my rasp and gloves and get started. Her front feet used to be difficult but now she lifts them easily and will give me a good amount of time with them before it’s ‘too much’. For the most part I allow her to decide what she can handle. I haven’t always taken this approach- after all it’s for her own good that I get her feet trimmed.

But she is a mustang and if she’s not comfortable nothing goes right. When she first came I tried to push her comfort zone so she would see it’s all going to be fine. And it wasn’t fine for her. Which meant it wasn’t fine for any human who had to work with her.

My farrier at the time suggested she needed more fear of humans. He tried to help that process along. It cost me dearly with her and he (I’m sure to his relief) never worked on her again. This process isn’t his job anyway. It’s mine.

So a year later I am still healing the breech and honoring her spirit above the health of her hooves.

After getting a lot of hoof filed off she asked to pause and I dropped the hoof. She set it down and off she went. Deep into her mind. Vacant. Processing. It must feel so much better to get that hoof in balance.

I stood quietly (this is why it takes so long to work on her feet right now…) I couldn’t pay a trimmer or farrier enough to allow the luxury of this wild mare to process the changes both physically and emotionally. I watch and wait for her to return knowing that every time we do this she takes a big step toward being easy to trim.

This goes on for both front feet and in one of the pauses khaleesi who had been standing quietly and often also processing along with in support of Wy starts to paw her right front hoof in the ground and lift it up.

You want me to check that out for you?

So I let the mustang rest and go to Khaleesi. She holds the foot just off the ground and I see the pillars are growing in thick even though it’s not two weeks since I trimmed them. I shave a little off with my rasp and even up the heels just a touch (the medial grows longer over time). She sets her foot down and shakes her head and licks.

She’s happy with that.

Then she raises the other front hoof and I do about the same.

Moving back the the mustang she now lifts her left hind as I approach her. She is beginning to understand that what I’m doing is helping her. Yet there emotional damage that makes it hard for her to trust and let go.

This horse doesn’t need me to force her through. She needs understanding. Time.

Lifting that hind is huge for her so I pick it up and do my best to work in a way that she’s comfortable. It’s stop and start as I find an angle to work the rasp effectively and when I get it wrong she takes the hoof back uncomfortable.

Yet we sort it out and I get more done on that hind than ever before.

The other hind is a whole other layer of internal struggle for her. She wants to give it to me but but just can’t seem to be ok yet.

In the end I take my lesson of never letting what’s good for her in my mind (not having one long toed hoof left after trimming!!) get to be more important than the whole horse and what she’s capable of… just getting her to lift that hoof a tiny bit and not step over to avoid me is the best I’ll get without losing everything.

(Wyoming relaxed in thought with Khaleesi also in process mode in the background)

So I stop with trimming for the day.

I decide to put the saddle on her and she is a good sport but I sense a very low level concern building. She is ok with the saddle- she is more likely worried about what might come next.

Don’t worry about that today. This is all you need to be ok with.

I walk her in large circles through and around the barn so she can move her feet and not stand tied up and worried about what the saddle means.

Once she’s relaxed again I tie her back up and remove the saddle.

Good girl.

It took a lot of time to get this far today so I have maybe an hour to ride. Perfect to pony Wyoming which I haven’t done in a while.

It will be good for us all…

I’m in the midst of troubleshooting some very ugly rub spots on Khaleesi. Saddle woes have been from time to time part of every horse person’s life I know- at least anyone who is paying attention.

I wrote recently about my own saddle journey in my other blog drawing board. You can find it here: Saddles: constructive, destructive, defensive

https://drawingboardlessons.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/saddles-constructive-destructive-defensive/

My saddle is great. In fact that’s the problem. Her topline is muscling in continuously and I have to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve and I’m not doing a good job of adjusting with the changes. I’m behind.

As she grows in more back muscling I need to adjust how the felt shims work and in this case I believe now that the pads I was using didn’t do what I now need which is different than what I needed a year ago.

Thankfully I have a good friend who is helping me sort it out and is a bit of a pad-hoarder and has loaned me some options to work with.

After trying some set ups that made it worse I had that 4am flash of inspiration and was ready to try that today.

I began to tack up Khaleesi and in tightening the girth she scrunched her face, bared her teeth and as I didn’t really believe her (just give it a try!!) she nipped at me.

Ugh. She says no way. So much for that idea. Now what am I going to do?

As I loosened the girth I felt underneath. The 1/2″ pad was tight under my hand. Maybe the 1/4″ would do?

So I tried the thinner ‘J’ pad and she stood quiet and relaxed as I tightened the girth without even a side glance.

She approves!

It is so much better when she helps me figure out what works for her!

With Khaleesi moving comfortably and happy underneath me the shimming solution seems to be a winner (for now). And with Wyoming healing emotionally over lots of time and patience she walked exactly at my knee like a buddy.

Everything at peace. Even the two mares with each other.

Life is never without challenges so we did have a couple trials: first being two terrible big biting flies that attacked Wyoming on the hind. I couldn’t do anything to help her except stop and give her lots of lead to get them off. She twisted bucked and reared and finally spun so her butt was smashed against my leg.

Later I thought how frightening her antics would have looked to someone with less experience with her. But I knew she wasn’t being ‘bad’ she was begging for help.

It made me wonder how many people appear to be acting badly outwardly but really have a problem they can’t seem to sort out on their own. All of us I recon.

I had to finally let go of her and trust. I couldn’t get those flies and I knew they would stalk her until I did. She bounded a few steps down the trail away from me and khaleesi and I walked the opposite direction. The flies came with us and landed on Khaleesi and I killed them both.

I didn’t know what would happen next. Would Wyoming try to head for home? Would I be able to get her lead rope without having to get off and on wrangling two horses? No matter what I knew I could sort it out.

In the end it wasn’t a big deal. We walked up to her and I was able to reach out and get the lead, turn us around and continue on in peace.

On the way home as we walked along the property fence a down tree was casting strange shadows. Something terrified Wyoming and she hard-stopped then panicked in fear dashing in front of Khaleesi, getting to the end of the lead then spinning around into a tree so their heads were together and Wyoming was facing me and the downed tree. (Again… what may have looked like a ‘bad’ horse was a horse terrified for her life. I don’t think it matters if there is anything to actually fear. It’s what she believes that matters at the moment)

We just stood there a moment and khaleesi and I were calm- after a moment observation I knew there was truly nothing there to fear but the little mustang was visibly shaking.

After a moment she regained her wits and I untangled the lead from the tree, situated us right again, and we walked on relaxed and easy.

There was a time when that mustang would have not stopped to consider if she was ok until she’d put a big distance between her and the fright. I’ve watched her leap a fence from a standstill to evade a spook. That’s wonderful progress!

Last thing I noted about her- she used to struggle going down the steeper hills. This time it was easy going both up and down. No fussing or discomfort.

I maneuvered much of the ride with little aid from my hands and feet as Khaleesi responds pretty well now from my energy.

We returned to the barn with a relaxed Khaleesi and Wyoming still at my knee on a loose lead.

Everything about the day as it had been for the past few weeks. Aligned. Connected. Peaceful. In agreement.

I haven’t arrived. I am not done learning… I still haven’t finished a successful 50 this season.

In fact, this may finally be the beginning.

Whatever it is, I like it.

I will not say I love you.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I once heard it said that love is heard better as a non-verbal language.

Khaleesi carried me 35 miles over two days of (over) 17-mile training rides literally over the rivers and through the woods. And she did it with a fresh barbed wire cut on her left front.

I bandaged the cut before booting- and as fortune would have it I’d just filed her toes enough that her boots were a little loose so the bandage and vetwrap actually seemed to improve the boot fit.

She trotted and cantered miles on varied terrain in without complaint but I am certain it was at least a little uncomfortable. She had a good attitude the entire 35 miles.

Not only that but most of my closer rider-friends know the queenWILL kick a horse if she feels necessary.

Necessary to her is specifically being ‘boxed in’ she will protect her space if she cannot move forward and a horse comes into her close zone (I’m talking touching distance not a few feet).

This I do not blame her for. She doesn’t do it at random or because she’s mean. She does it not allow a horse to run her over or into another horse or a tree or human etc. Now it’s truly a last resort (it wasn’t always 😝) and it’s been at least a year since she has kicked another horse.

I work actively to protect that space and not allow this situation, but sometimes moving fast on narrow wooded trails with 4 horses things happen.

There were two times this occurred and both times I knew she was about to kick — I was able to avert the crisis by moving us offtrail to give her a way out or by turning her tightly and asking the rider who’d crowded us to remember to leave some space.

Both times no kick.

My horse is connecting with me as a leader more as I continue to become a better one. Riding despite physical discomfort is a sign of willingness and not kicking but allowing me to quickly (instantly) adjust to protect her instead are both positive growth for us.

As I get better… she gets better. 🤔☺️

This has been years of focused effort in my part to be consistent and pay a higher level of attention at ALL times I’m in EYESIGHT of my horse.

I don’t always get it right, and I may have wondered if this level of focus would be worth or.

It is.

A million percent.

This morning I went to the barn feeling much love for my mare. I could tell her I love her till my voice gives out and it will mean very little to her. (I think she’s a little like my husband in this respect!)

With a deep joy in my heart I showed it the best way I knew how instead.


My solid, trusted, strong and bold khaleesi.

I will walk the entire length of the field with my halter and bag of wound care supplies to find you in your favorite morning spot. The only place that is still shaded after the morning sun is high.

I will find you with your strong muscular neck low and your head relaxed and a hind foot cocked, with Wyoming awake and on duty to keep watch while you rest.

Wyoming will step away from you to greet me and ask my business and remind me that the queen has asked not to be disturbed unless it’s important.

I will rub her hello and assure her it’ll only take a minute.

I will greet you gently as you come half out of your nap still breathing so deeply I smell the grass and earth as I approach.

I will ask if you’d like me to check your ears for little scabs from biting midges and you will lower your head toward me to say yes please.

I will rub your neck and withers, along your back and rump and tell you I’m really grateful for your hard work the last two days.

I will notice how strong and fit you look in the height of summer and how your brown coffee coat highlighted with carmel by the sun gleams and shimmers with health.

I will take out my halter and you will drop your nose into it even though you know it could mean a walk to the barn and another 17 miles. If I ask you will go.

I will drape the lead over the fence as I pick up and unbandage your foot and check the cut. I am not ready to leave it open yet to the dirt and flies so decide to rebandage it with a clean dressing and duct tape for one more day and you never move a hoof though Wyoming curiously moves around to watch from different points to get a better view- sometimes her nose on my shoulder, sometimes on the other side from beneath.

When I finish the job and you put your foot down you will lick and chew and yawn in agreement as I remove the halter.

I will allow you to decide if you’d like to come in for breakfast now or rest in the shade a little more and eat when you’re ready.

I will walk away alone and leave you resting in the shade with peace in my heart as Wyoming goes back on watch.

I will leave some food in your bowls for later if you want a snack.

And today…

I will not say I love you,

I will let you be a horse.

The Long Dreams

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tevis season is near… the details that make my heart skip a little as I read about them.

Why?

Why on earth does this equine sport in its extreme forms appeal to some of us. I can’t explain it logically, but we are all created unique from one another, and for some the call to attempt something so challenging… with another living creature with its own personality and opinions- the partnership involved in that and the long hours on the trail- often alone- to get to the starting line…

I’ve had people suggest it’s about a competitive nature- but they misunderstand me and many of the friends I respect in the sport (yes there are unfortunate exceptions) – to us endurance is about me being better than I was yesterday.

We don’t much care about ribbons and trophies** (there aren’t any) or notoriety (this sport doesn’t provide much of an audience) or cash prizes (do some equine sports still do that?!). The motto of the governing organization AERC is “To finish is to win” and in fact sometimes the best prize of the race is the turtle (I’ve collected a few of these) for the rider who completed the ride and came in last.

**nothing against ribbons and trophies or cash prizes! And of course all competitive equine sports require discipline, skill and a relationship especially to get to the highest levels!

I recently went to hear a knowledgeable vet talk to new riders and Lani remarked:

in this sport I can’t remember who came in first last year at the Old Dominion 100, can’t tell you who was top 10 at Tevis… but I can tell you who finished 100 miles healthy and sound on a 21 year old mare, and who has been riding the same horse for 10 years without injury, and who is competing strong with a horse that is not genetically bred to make the sport easy (most non-Arabs), who has faced big challenges and overcome… those are then riders and horses we remember!

It’s captured me. It’s captured my imagination. The journey to get there has made me better.

This sport is not for the faint of heart. It’s called endurance I think now, not because it takes endurance to finish a ride- the longer I compete the more I understand: it takes endurance to get to base camp!

Once you arrive it’s one of the few sports that won’t even let you compete with out a veterinarian’s approval. And you can ride 25, 50, 100 miles in your division, come the the end and have your horse come up slightly lame, have a hind end cramp, not recover to a resting heart rate in time, or be 2 minutes past the allowed time, and not be rewarded your completion of the miles.

You have to be good. You can’t get away with much if you want to succeed over the years.

You don’t have to ride well to start- but you will damage your horse if you continue to ride badly over the thousands of miles training and competing… you have to have a well fitting saddle, a good hoof program, the right nutrition, must understand things like electrolytes and mineral loss in sweat, must be able to mitigate stress in trailering and camping in unfamiliar locations, must be mentally prepared to ride alone or in an unknown group of horses who may be sane and lovely or completely schitzoid and half out of control, must be ready to cross any kind of ditch or bridge or high river, move through any terrain from sucking mud to ridge line rocks (on the same day), meet various animals from wild turkeys to cows… even lamas or sheep and goats from time to time… I’ve encountered joggers, fisherman, hunters, cars, bikes, kayaks and seguays (thank you Biltmore); you will need to ride in the dark either for a few miles at the end of a long 50 or all through the night for a 100, and through it all watch for trail ribbons- stick with the right color for the loop you’re on, and try not to get lost in the great wilderness these rides cover.

You cannot really prepare for everything you’ll encounter. This is one reason your relationship with your horse is possibly even more vital in endurance than other disciplines where you can know more what to expect and find more consistency. I also find some people really like knowing what to expect and planing and preparing! This sport is hard on those people.

Talk about cross training!

It’s drawn my attention to a fundamental difference I’ve begun to notice in people around me. I have a view of things that if it doesn’t cost you something, if you don’t have to work for it it is not as special. (This does not include gifts! I have some very very special gifts in my life that I treasure though they came only from the love and generosity of the giver)

I’ve always wanted to experience the almost impossible. I want to explore the limits of what I’m capable of and see if the limits can go just a little farther. I want to do the things most people are just not willing to put the effort in to experience. I want to solve the puzzle and find a way to make the unlikely happen.

When I did marathon training in Northern California I ran a beautiful trail along a reservoir that had only one entrance that went for miles. On long run days I might run 10 or more miles, and gradually I would leave the families out for a walk and the casual joggers behind and eventually I’d be completely alone on trail fewer and fewer people would see. I remember one day reflecting on the reward for working so much in my running was to get to beautiful parts of the trail into the park that not many see and the gift of being in my own world out there gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Recently I’ve discovered that not everyone looks at life this way. Some people feel that if things don’t come basically easily then maybe you are on the wrong path. That things shouldn’t ‘be so hard’. While at first I thought this seemed like laziness or lack of drive- I came to realize that these other folks see it like trying to force a square peg into a round hole and that is an exercise in stupidity. Truly.

There are merits to both ways of understanding the world and it’s one thing to work hard for something and quite another to force something that shouldn’t be.

This balance is observable in endurance as people try to determine if their horse is truly a terrible fit for the sport and not likely to succeed verses the horse that needs more training and support to do well. Someone like me is more likely to continue longer than useful in coming to the realization that it’s a truly bad fit, yet someone with the opposite view very well could give up too soon on a horse that with the right help could be a successful endurance mount (for example).

No matter what, to do this sport well a solid relationship with your horse is key. And no matter what relationships take work.

Horses don’t lie- this is a lot to ask of them, they are amazingly capable creatures who will stun you to tears with their physical ability when trained well and their massive hearts to do their job for you.

My journey into the rabbit hole of endurance has made me better with my horses, it’s made me better a better writer, it’s made me better with my friends, it’s made me better with my family. Yes, over time, I think it’s even made me a better wife.

I leave you with a blog repost to the inspiration for my entry. It is written by Elizabeth Speth Mostly Beautiful Things- Tevis Volunteer. Here is a quote from the blog that stirred my heart as she shared real experiences she has gone through volunteering for the famous Western States Tevis Cup:

I will be happy to see you at one a.m. in a remote place, with the moon rising over a tree-fringed canyon, as the air is turning cold.  You have been riding nearly twenty hours, give or take.  In temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees.  You’ve had a long day.  We’ve left the light on for you, because you still have a ways to go.
I will stay with you while you throw up, wretchedly, exhaustedly, on the ground in front of your chair under the gas lamp.  Riding in the dark for hours gave you motion sickness, and your dehydration didn’t help.  You are too tired to be embarrassed, and I’m glad, because you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
I will hold your horse and look discreetly the other way while you pee on a bush not a foot away from me.
I will run five miles down a trail in my boots, in deep darkness, because your horse stumbled and you both went over a cliff.  My fellow volunteers and I will be overjoyed to find you alive, clinging to a steep hillside, seriously injured but with humor and graciousness intact.  Your horse will have made his way back to camp by then, in better shape than you.  I will sit with you for a few hours while the moon pries the black sky open, and we wait for rescue folks to arrive.
I will envy you as you pile your tired body in the saddle for the last fourteen miles, so delirious you have to ask me which way the trail lies.  I will watch you until darkness swallows you up.  I will think you are very brave.  I will think your horse is a miraculous thing of beauty.

… and who are you becoming?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

(Part 2)

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

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

And who are you becoming?

The dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the group went on their way.


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

The dream seemed to come out of nowhere.

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

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

But he wasn’t always the rock.

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

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

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

Three times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I? And who am I becoming?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All things.

A-L-L

That is a radical way to live.

I’ll go first.

Beyond me

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap!

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably.

Thing is I didn’t really hear that noise.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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

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

The mare I hadn’t even sat on yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In some ways she helped save my life.

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

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

What a gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s good that I had no idea…

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

I am hers and she is mine.