Pony

Wednesday, October 10, 2017

I’ve been getting Wild Heart back on the trails by ponying her from Khaleesi at least once a week and though it began as a bit of a chore, I’m beginning to really look forward to those rides!

First I’ve begun to expect Khaleesi to be more responsive to exactly what I’m asking on a higher level than usual. This means I am very specific as to what side of the trail I want her and how to go over obstacles, exactly the speed I want and to be faster to respond when I need to stop quickly (because Heart does sometimes and I don’t really want to drop the lead due to lame response time from my good horse).

This higher level of expectation began from necessity in trying to handle two mares on the trail together but it has really produced some of my favorite rides. She’s completely stepped up and been that horse. This includes not wanting to have to use my hands if possible so really focusing on steering from my body first. It’s been fun by the end of the ride to be able to be as subtle as turning my head and having her move to the other side of the trail or just think about stopping as I feel the slightest change in my pinkie on the lead rope and have Khaleesi stop right with me.

The other product has come from truly walking at a slow to moderate pace for 45-60 minutes (Wild Heart is not in great shape for the mountain climbing so I’m bringing her up gradually building muscle and cardio without going too fast and damaging her body or mind.)

At that walk I found I was able to tune in more acutely to my body and better feel between my right/left balance and also tension. I’m holding the lead rope with one hand and I want to stay balanced in both my upper and lower body. I have made it a point to lead from both sides as well!

I’m also working on letting go of all tension and I think I’m doing better each ride but I noticed if I saw a log ahead, a dip in the trail, a hill coming up I would feel some small part of me tense in anticipation! Very subtle but tension nonetheless.

The last thing that’s been interesting to observe is that the first few rides Wild Heart would stop often. I would allow her a moment and eventually ask her to continue forward with us. She would. But she would still stop pretty regularly. On one of the first rides back after she stopped she went right down on trail and rolled.

I waited patiently. Let her do what she needed to do and we moved on without a second thought. Sometimes she hesitated going down hills. I watched her move as she’s had some issues with discomfort before but she has a clear bill of health to get started so I wondered if it was fear of pain or actual pain- or weakness.

The most recent ride this week she stopped a total of 3 times early in the ride then not again. Not uphill and not downhill. The rest of the walk she stuck right at our side and even walked a little faster a few times going head-to-head momentarily. (Pictured below Khaleesi takes a pee break and heart stays clear of the stream!)

I think she’s building up fitness and hope she’s finding it doesn’t hurt.

It’ll be a while before I make her carry a rider again as I’m in no hurry. I would rather see her come around physically and mentally in her own time and I’m enjoying the process of starting over with her right now.

But I like even more how that has influenced my relationship with Khaleesi – both from the ponying and also just the things I’m learning about myself as I slow down and work from scratch with her trying to do it from the equine perspective.

And sometimes I get it right… sometimes I still struggle! But it’s a great journey to be on.

Discomfort.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friday brought a beautiful mild early Fall day and a long overdue ride with some friends.

Khaleesi seems to be coming back all around so this ‘fast and far’ ride seemed a good testing ground to see where she is.

My friend’s son in from NYC had only one birthday wish this year- to get out with the horses and have fun on the beautiful trails. A natural horse-guy comfortable on a horse, physically fit with no equine inhibition- he created a perfect training opportunity for me in all realms at once!

Somehow the saying:

Ride em like you stole em

Comes to mind. 😳😁

There were a few occasions where he let that horse fly and literally ended up completely out of sight for a while!

I enjoyed his carefree abandon from a distance and insisted that Khaleesi take my version of a ‘footing-safe’ speed and not just running with the ‘herd’ (if one horse plus yours constitutes a herd…) and that was great training for us both.

No darlin- I set the speed. Yes. Really. When the footing and circumstances allowed (when she was checking in with me and not assuming take off) I occasionally did encourage her to run – and as fast as she could get her legs to go! Try as she might she is just not as fast as the old gelding but we had fun. It’s good to push the limits once in a while physically.

There was also a section of the ride where the other two cut through the beautiful field. I decided to stay on the path along the edge in part because Khaleesi wanted so badly to go with the others that I decided it was yet another opportunity to train something different from the herd.

I am aware that for the most part we are on the same page on the trails- however that is not the same as leadership. I don’t like to ‘pick a fight’ just for the sake of doing so, but taking an opportunity to do something different can be helpful in establishing that long term goal of us both agreeing that I am the brains of the operation.

It develops patience, character and faith.

There are many things my horse cannot know because I cannot explain them to her. She is a being with thoughts and intellect. I give horses a lot of credit. However I cannot completely explain to her when she steps on that trailer if we are driving 10 minutes for a short ride or 6 hours to the Biltmore for her first 50 miler. I can’t tell her if we’re going to play in the manicured arena or have a rough trail cutting ride through briars and overgrown brush that will make little scratches on her sensitive legs and get caught in her tail. I cannot completely assure her she will EVER return home again. (Honestly we can never promise such things anyway in life).

The horse has to put her faith in me that I will put her well being first. She may ask not to have to go through the discomfort of a long hard ride, but she has a job and I insist she stays fit. In return I’ll do my best to meet her needs and give her the best life I can.

We all build this with our horses one example at a time and with every interaction like it or not – so eventually the relationship gets to a point where the horse says: ok! What do you need me to do today and how can I help? Now zoom out a level.

I also need to have some faith.

The decisions I made in the spring when I had that nagging feeling that things were passable… but that we could do better… went against some expert opinions. There was that voice I’m learning to hear and learning to trust and I was sure by then it was the right thing and at the right time.

Then things got uncomfortable:

  • My horse struggled to stay sound.
  • I had to pay a lot in travel costs early on to get a barefoot trimmer I trusted to come this far.
  • My horse started hanging out at the far end of the field making me go get her instead of running to the gate to greet me.
  • I held off on my summer conditioning rides because she didn’t seem 100%.
  • My riding seemed to be getting worse as I tried to improve.
  • I started to question my own leadership ability.
  • My leadership suffered as I reexamined and overthought trying to sort out what to do and how to do it and if I was doing it right.
  • I made a few interaction mistakes including a trailer loading one that was significant because fixing the mistake I created brought a surface injury when she fought against herself trying to back off during loading. (That issue is now gone- the fix worked- but I’d have never had to fix if I hadn’t made the mistake to begin with).

This week of getting back to riding has given me a glimpse that the vision of what I saw could be possible is coming closer. I still need to get some conditioning miles back on her but the boots are staying on [the scoot narrows have arrived at NY customs and should be at my door within days- but meanwhile the old renegades are doing pretty well- only lost one at a crazy canter last ride- having her feet actually trimmed properly HAS made a difference!] and her feet are getting stronger. I’m learning more about how the feet affect the entire body. I believe she’s coming through that detox period and her guts are starting to wake up getting essential nutrients through her body and hair and feet are benefitting.

I’m feeling her back lift underneath me more often on her own while riding in the new saddle. My riding balance is improving. I’m continuing to build new layers of leadership and trust and my confidence is coming back. My horses are beginning to follow me in the field again from time to time.

It is exciting to see the light. However I don’t want to lose sight of the lesson that it’s during that uncomfortable waiting period where you grow. It’s where you stay the course or bail out.

I’ve pondered recently the classic stories of the greats who waited through the discomfort I think wow:Noah was told to build a boat and wait for rain (which had never happened previously). It was 120 years in between and I’m sure everyone thought he was a looney toon. He didn’t even know what rain was. That would be uncomfortable.

  • Sarah was told her son would be the father of a great nation… only she was barren and waited until she was 90 to have her first child. THAT would be uncomfortable!!
  • David went through many years as a servant for the current king (and passing by a few opportunities to kill him and take over) and then hiding for his life toward the end of the 10+ years after he was ‘anointed’ to be king. That would be uncomfortable.
  • The people of Israel were in slavery 400 years after being promised they’d be delivered. Slavery would be the extreme example of uncomfortable.

It so happens the Bible generally has more stories of faith through discomfort than literature of our more recent history. I think one reason for that that most humans are discomfort-adverse. I certainly am.

At some point I’ve finally grown up enough to realize that discomfort is actually my friend. Sometimes it comes from bad choices and lack of personal boundaries. Then it’s a warning to pay more attention.

Sometimes it’s there to encourage growth.

I have been chewing on the concept a friend recently mentioned to me:

Sometimes God comforts the afflicted… but sometimes He afflicts the comfortable.

Living in America in the present time I found it easy to live day-to-day in the uninvestigated belief that the goal of life is to be comfortable. To make enough money to eventually not have to work (or work so much), to have friends that like me, leisure time and ways to enjoy it and above all have fun and be happy. But there is always something missing.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase: as long as she’s (he’s) happy. It never sat right with me.

Yet that is exactly what I’ve been spending 40 years in pursuit of. Basic comfort and happiness.

Yes- I volunteer in my community, I give to non-profit groups that are doing good work, and I even started a strings program that reaches young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to learn music. I care about my friends and do my best to help where I can… I do good things- but there is more. A shift in perspective that I sense changes the reason you get out of bed each day.

Challenge me today. Give me something to work out… not only do I accept that I may have a tough problem to solve- but I embrace them! Instead of ‘why me’ maybe ‘why not me?’

Maybe that’s my version of: what are we doing today and how can I help that I want from my horse?

If I hadn’t been born in the US, things might have been different – I might have been in pursuit of clean water. Or shelter from the elements. Or freedom from being trapped in the current human trafficking systems worldwide. Maybe safety in a war ravaged country.

I found it pretty fascinating one day a couple years ago listening it a Freakonomics podcast that suicide rates in America are basically double the homicide rate… and in the Amazon jungle the native cultures don’t even have a word for suicide and when asked about it laughed at the concept that someone would kill themselves.

First world problems? Is comfort literally killing us?

I digress. 😐

It seems there is a law of the universe as real as gravity that one must put in some discomfort in order to grow. Growing appears to be a necessary step in being prepared for a greater purpose… (I can help others better if I’ve gone through enough myself to be of use!) and being part of a deeper purpose seems likely to lead to more depth of satisfaction than the pursuit of comfort and happiness …

Then logically if I were able to live that comfortable life I was aimlessly seeking and never get stretched, I would never have the opportunity to mature, grow personally and have a more positive impact on the world around me.

And developing faith and growing through the discomfort of waiting means that I am able to be ok with circumstances that create difficulty and instead of wishing for the discomfort to disappear I can dig in and allow it to mold me and still have peace about the process.

Byron Katie suggests we make friends with the situations that create discomfort. They are opportunities. In her ‘Work’ after many series of questions she encourages participants to say the “are willing to experience (insert uncomfortable thing here)” and you are really getting it when you can honestly go to the next level of “I look forward to experiencing (insert uncomfortable situation here)!”

I have to admit I’ve spent some time working through some things ‘getting it’ in my head but thinking: I look forward to being ignored by my husband… annoyed by my mother… let down by a friend? Seriously. Who are those people?

Now I see those things show me weaknesses and places I can still grow. Places I can ask: how can I help someone else instead of being bothered about how it made me feel? Maybe my husband is overworked trying to support our family. Maybe my mom could use a little understanding today. Maybe my friend is going through something personally.

To the initial point- my equine example is basically trivial. My horse rebuilding from the inside out and missing some riding days as I worry if it’ll take two years for her feet to grow in right isn’t even close to significant in the world as human trafficking or war refugees. But going through the process has been a reminder.

Maybe I can change my view on life that the things that challenge my comfort could be strengthening my character that will allow me to do more good- and then start looking for the open doors, the way to use those strengths. Not just the things that seem easy but the ones that seem … maybe even impossible.

I’ll admit it- I’ve grown weary of the noise especially on social media of folks complaining about politics and about being offended or protesting or resisting or making loud public statements that lead those who agree with you to applaud and those who don’t to entrench themselves deeper into the belief they are right. Even those who are active politically seem sometimes to miss the point. We cannot legislate love and tolerances can only live it every day. Governments are notoriously bad at helping the world be a better place when compared to motivated people coming together. No current president is stopping me from opening my wallet or donating some time toward disaster relief, persecution or world hunger. And there is one positive side to

America: we are as a whole more generous with our finances than most other countries! ❤️

however still we get more divided each year. I don’t see any slowing down either. We fight hate with hate now completely unveiled. My tolerant friends are completely intolerant of those who disagree.

While we stay distracted by our arguments and being right or being offended, make snide or sometimes truly hateful remarks about those we feel justified (because they behave the same way), the true enemy wins: hunger continues; human trafficking continues; children are turned into soldiers; people are tortured for their faith; women are beaten for various reason in areas of the world they don’t have unequal rights- they truly have NO rights; people die of curable and preventable diseases…

I want to zoom out a level or two – see something bigger than comfort (having a government leader I like… being offended by someone else’s words or behavior that don’t even truly affect my life today) that is part of the comfort.

If nothing else all the fighting has embarrassed me enough to look for ways to take action and realize it could take me out of my American comfort zone.

And that honestly gets me a little excited.

Maybe the hunger for challenge- leaving the comfort zone or attempting the impossible is a little why endurance riding appeals to many of us…

Because don’t get me wrong- it’s all about the horses, but at the end of the day I think we’ll find that it really wasn’t about the horses at all.

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….

Physical.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ride was 20+ miles.

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

No problem. I'm in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THAT will another blog entirely… soon!

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

Two horse tack newsletter coupon

Building.

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

Absolutely.

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

What exactly does one mean by a lot…..

I am at the barn a lot…

I'm building.

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

She has been teaching me how to build.

You know that saying:

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

Well I have to believe it with this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the horses have a lot to say.

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

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

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

How do I know it's not my imagination?

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

Let's talk pee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She pees again. (Within a minute).

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

SHE PEES A THIRD TIME.

Ok. I heard you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

Yes. It's that important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is this getting me to 100?

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

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

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

You know how so many people say….

If only they could just tell us…..

Imagine they are. Then it becomes…

If only we could understand.

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

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

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

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

Moon Landing

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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

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

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

I knew selling her was out of the question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tevis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She'd just landed on the moon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She's got this.

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

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

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

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

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

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