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!

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

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

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

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

Mental intent.

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

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

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

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


Oh I’m a sight!

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

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

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

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

Confusing at the least. 

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

Mental intent. Before physical reaction. Duh. 

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

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

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

Lovely music for an afternoon. 

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


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

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

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

This obsession must take its turn…


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


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

Seek… and ye shall find.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

2018. That is your year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018. That is going to be your year. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I just picked up a balance saddle.

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

Seriously I can’t. 

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

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

Wonderful- that’s perfect! That will help. 

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

Ok so now what?

Probiotics. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Gifts [edited]

Monday, June 12, 2017

One thing I love is finding ways everything is a gift- even the things you didn’t think you wanted. If you change perspective and turn them around enough you can see the beauty- but sometimes it takes a little squinting through tears!

I am back from the OD safely and have taken one of the few best showers of my life now able to relax finally and boy it feels good!

Though I tried not to think negatively and ‘curse’ us- I wasn’t convinced I would finish the OD100  sound and healthy the first go at it. The completion rate is usually close to half- and to even enter the 100 usually (hopefully!) means you’re a smart rider with a dependable horse who has some solid experiece, so half those riders pulled out of the race are top endurance competitors. 

Everything has to go right for this to work. And then you still need a little luck to make it through. 


Khaleesi and I began with all the hopes you can carry and within about 3 miles something felt off. I asked Amy to let some riders pass us and watch me trot. 

Something’s not right….

Yep you’d better check. I think you lost a shoe!

I got off and sure enough. Front Left. Gone. Hoof tore up pretty good. Damn rain this spring. This is not a good way to start. 

Now what.. ok. Boot. Vet wrap. We are prepared for everything including this.  
I wrapped the hoof and put on the Scoot boot. And crossed my fingers. We had A. Long. Way. To. Go. 

We start moving again and she’s a little off but better. Frills takes a nice trot pace and K follows without much trouble. In short time she feels better and we’re moving along well. The boot is doing its job. And it’s staying on. 

How will we get through. It’s a long day and I’m now feeling worried. I decide there to ride the trail in front of me on the horse I’m on. Stay present and don’t think of what’s to come or what’s happened. Be. Here. Now.  


We climb the ridge and Khaleesi does her thing- the mountains – she leads Frills at a nice power walk up the first big climb to the ridge. I relax. Amy is terrified of tie up. I’m terrified of lameness. We both try to enjoy the lovely perfect morning with pretty Laurel and nice views. The horses walk the ridge where it’s rocky and grab bites of grass while waking. Eat and chew. Feeling good. 

We came out to the water tanks in good spirits. Electrolyted. Began to head down the mountain- all downhill into Bird Haven. We got this. 

Heading into Bird Haven we caught up with a couple riders at the stream crossing and all the horses have been here before. They were not gong to stop and relax in the stream. They wanted breakfast. And they were not happy to wait while the two horses they just caught got there first. 

We trotted into the hold faster than I would have on my own in order not to choose a fight right there over it (counterproductive) and my heart rate was up at 135 coming to the In-Timer. 

Not what I’d normally do. 

Crew is waiting and ready!


Let’s get her in the shade, tack off and hope we don’t take too long to pulse. 

By the time Ricky came over with the hand-held as Frills had pulsed we’d just gotten her saddle off and started some water. She needs to come down to 64. From 135. Fast. 

Please…..


Go. She’s at 58

I’m surprised. That was fast. 

We walk slowly to P&R and breathe deep. Cross fingers. 

Me: Good Morning. She should be ok. She was just at 58. 

Pulse taker: Well she’s not now. 

Inner voice: Shoot did we walk too fast- is she looking for Frills?

Pulse taker: She’s at 54 now. 

Very funny.

We walk to the vet. She does fine, trot out with the boot she’s sound. The boot is working. CRI was 48/48.


I’m very happy. Despite losing a shoe early on the first vet check seems like a good sign. 

We go back to eat, drink and get ready for a long afternoon stretch before we see crew again. Pam and Susan are fantastic help! 


Pam is good with K and listens to her when she asks to eat more grass and walk around a little and susan is on top of everything and even makes 3 trips (running) back to the truck for this and that including a second extra boot now for the rest of the day. 


We have a hard loop with a severe climb into Laurel Run with no crew accesss then a tough stretch on to Bucktail. Probably over 7 hours before we catch up with them again. 

I make the decision to stick with the boot. There isn’t a lot of hoof left to nail into and I don’t want to chance loosing that shoe and tearing up a hoof more that already grows slowly. One day’s goal isn’t worth losing all that hoof. Maybe the experience today is going to be in seeing how good these boots really are. 

But I decided to add a pad to make them more protective. We’re heading into some rough territory. It could only help. 

Or not.
 

We left the check together and within a mile I was feeling something wrong. I looked at the shoes- they were on… the boot however was not. 

Go on ahead. I’m going back for it. I’ll catch up!

Are you sure?

YES!! GO!! 

I turned back and was certain it couldn’t be far. It was at least a half mile. I got off to hand jog her. 

I should have FIRST put the extra boot on- then rode back to get the spare. 

I found the boot and pad. The pad had changed the fit enough to cause it to come off for the first time since I bought them. 
I put the boot on without the pad to see how that would work. It was working from the whole first loop- maybe that was enough. 

We had good gravel road to canter on and possibly catch up to Amy. She could do this in her sleep. We train for this. And it’s early in the day. 

She didn’t. She cantered a little then trotted and little then walked. I compromised on a solid trot. Catching up was not vital. I could ride this ride alone if I had to and it might be better for us. 

Maybe that’s what the day is about. Taking this on alone. That doesn’t worry me. 

Heart rate wasn’t right. As we trotted up the gravel road she hung around 150bpm. Should have been 120 or so. 

That’s an indicator. 

I tried changing diagonals – she wasn’t comfortable. Ok. You’re not doing well with that foot. One last thing I can adjust. I will vetwrap the pad to the hoof before putting the shoe on. That’s how I should have done it in the first place. 

We went on and got off the gravel road into the woods. Let’s see if she comes around and feels more comfortable. 

She’d walk and then trot and then walk and then stumble a little- trip- trot. 

Walk trot walk trip trot walk trot walk trot trip. 

Is this going to sort out? Am I being paranoid? Am I causing this by over-obsessing? 

She paused on trail. 

I thought about it: I know where we are headed and the rocks are only going to get worse and worse. The next two loops are brutal. For a horse going in 100%. 

Do I want to chance it and have to bail 7 miles into this loop making it harder to get out? Do I want to obsess and worry my way through the next 80 miles? Do I want to push my horse to try even though her foot hurts?

Of course not…. 

The drag riders caught me paused in thought on the trail. I told them I was done today and they got me the number (I had some service) for Duane back at Bird Haven and they held the ‘ambulance’ trailer for me.

We walked most of the 2.5 miles back and trotted some of the good footing as I was curious how bad it was. It wasn’t bad- mostly she was pretty sound but occasionally a mis-step. When I switched my diagonal though it was worse and I knew something was there. 

She passed the vet check and the vet at Bird haven gave her a ‘Rider Option’ code because she was considered sound officially. There was again a rare mis-step and we all agreed it was likely a sore spot or minor bruise was the culprit. The time I rode unprotected probably she was ok until she hit a rock then was off and I noticed but the damage was there even if it was slight. 

Let me be clear for those who haven’t been to an endurance event: just because the vet officially cleared her doesn’t mean she didn’t agree that pulling out was the right call. We all believed it would have gotten worse. It just means right then it wasn’t bad enough to call her grade 3 lame. 


Drinking back at camp waking to the trailer. Done for the day!

You don’t take on the Beast of the East with a hoof bruise! Well… at least I don’t. 

I don’t want to get through- I want to do it so my horse is good with the process. I made a promise that I would never (again) put my goals ahead of my horse and what fits into that promise even adjusts over time. This sport asks a lot of a horse. I don’t want to shove it onto her, break her down mentally and physically and then tell her later as she’s recovering in the pasture: see that wasn’t so bad right? We’ll do it again next month.  

I think the vets are amazing. And they do everything they can to ensure the riders and horses can do their best. But I think they stay on the side of allowing the riders to make the call regarding what is best for the horse until it’s severe enough to force a pull.  Depending on your relationship and personality they may give advice- and they’ll always tell you if they think you’re headed for trouble. But I’ve scribed enough to see humans glaze right over as long as they get their rider card back. 

I think it needs to be that way because their job isn’t to be a rider’s conscious – when they pull it isn’t a matter of opinion: at that point the horse cannot continue. 

One thing I took from this ride experience is the confirmation to me that the relationship I’ve created with my horse is way way way too important to force her into a situation that she is hurting or struggling and I insist she continue anyway because it’s not life threatening, career-ending, or it will heal up and not cause long term damage and the vet passed me through.

I want to have a crew that knows me enough to tell me I’m riding my horse too hard or her back hurts or her eyes are getting dull or she’s not eating or drinking enough. It can be hard not to do everything possible to push through when you’re in the middle of it. 

I know I have that crew!


I also want to consider how my crewing stops work from my horse’s perspective and not just my own human needs. I’ve learned that she is a smart mare and if I at least listen to what she is saying I can get more information to help me excel. That’s her job- to be my co-pilot. If I’m a good leader I will want to hear what she has to say. If she wants more grass than beet pulp and that means taking a little walk to graze in vet check that is ok. If she wants to eat everyone else’s food that is not ok. It’s not that she’s in control- but I will try my best to hear her and then determine if I can give her what she’s asking for. 

I believe in the long run over her decade-plus-team career this will build into a horse that doesn’t just put her head down and do her job, but pushes herself to carry me faster, farther and with the great heart of a mare more willingly than otherwise. 

And because she isn’t a Arab bred from the womb to excel in this sport it’s all the more important to use every angle at my disposal to succeed with her. 

That is what this sport means to me. 

And this ride where I made the call to hear her as she told me she wasn’t feeling right to continue into the rough mountains – that is a sacrifice for the goal but a huge gift to her. 

I will always remember last year’s Iron Mountain ride where I didn’t listen because I thought she was not giving her all. She was alone and didn’t want to leave camp… she could move along faster… we train at home we’re ready! But the rocks there hurt her feet and was significant. It was significant mentally, emotionally and physically. 

She leaned that day I would force her into something she couldn’t handle. She learned if she didn’t perform even when in pain I would get emotional (frustrated… oh that embarrassing scene alone in the woods). I caused physical damage to her hooves that I think she is still paying for over time trying to get stronger feet and the impact damage from the x-rays. 

Saturday when I turned her around was very significant. 


She learned that I can be trusted. That I will take care of her. That I will not push her into a situation she can’t thrive and perform. 

Like Buck says:

Always make a winner out of your horse so she can make a winner out of you. 

That is a gift. 

The opportunity to prove myself and my dedication to my horse. You can’t do that when the stakes are low. It’s only a sacrifice when you give something up. And I know she knows. 

She may not have completely understood what it meant to enter the 100 but she knew my energy had been different. She felt it in our tack and warm up ride the evening before. She was a coiled spring ready to perform. She was proud and prancing and happy. She was different. I felt it in every step. Not out of control- just strong. 

Without question she knew this was a significant event. And as I turned her around I told her how proud I was of her and rubbed her neck and said I knew she did her best and I will work on getting her feet stronger to support the rest of her. 

I cried a little too for the disappointment I felt because it was honest. Yet I knew in my heart it was a gift to both of us. This day would be one more invaluable link in our relationship and the years of preparation for the day we do cross the 100 finish line strong and healthy!


This year has taught me valuable life lessons and I am blesssed to be in a place where I believe that it’s not good and bad but truth and love.  Reality is a gift. 

Everything is a gift. 

Here are some more of the positive things that came from pulling out of the race after riding the first 20 miles:

* Because it was early enough, I made it back to camp in time to jump in and crew for Amy!
* I got to see all the vet checks from the road. What they look like, how the set up and parking is like. What other riders and crews are doing and what works. 


* My awesome crew got to experience crewing this 100 with Ricky helping Amy so no pressure to get me through but to help, watch and learn…
* they are already thinking of ways to improve on my gear and packing systems that would make the day more efficient for them (awesome!!) and have said they will help me try again!
* I did all the mental, emotional and physical prep for the ride and will be more efficient next year with better understanding what is coming. 

* A 20 mile trail ride instead of 50-100 miles will mean I get more saddle time this summer as she won’t be on a 3-week recovery break. 

* I have more compassion and empathy for others who try and don’t succeed at something important to them. 

My mentor Lynne said always buy the ride photo. It goes into a photo journal and you can look back at your progress. So I bought my photo from the first loop and wrote this on the back for future reference:


My good friend Sarah upon getting the text that I didn’t make it through sent this wonderful quote:

Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; It strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.

ˈkäNGɡro͞oənt

Thursday, May 25, 2017

As this 40th year for me draws to a close in July there and I get closer to a big riding goal- I also reflect on where I am in life and what it means to the larger journey. 

A good place to check in. 


Those of us who are horse enthusiasts all struggle with the personal, relationship, work, homelife balance. We find ourselves defending the time, energy and treasure we dedicate – sometimes striking the perfect balance… often veering off one way or the other.

Sometimes I carry guilt over the balance: Am I giving my horse (who has no one but me to depend on) enough? Am I giving everything my work needs? How about my homelife? Is my yard getting out of control? Dirty laundry and spiderwebs taking over the house? How about other important relationships?

I believe that I change the world only by looking in the mirror. There cannot be peace on earth if there isn’t peace in me. That is my only job here: To change the universe within myself. 

It is a relief to know that I don’t have to worry about what is going to happen in politics, my relationships, my work, my health, (healthcare!?!), people around me… I don’t have to worry about any of it. 

I realize some people believe that means I’m putting my head in the sand… If I don’t fight for my political views with friends and strangers, stress over deadlines (or even miss some!!) or worry over my health it looks like playing the fiddle while Rome burns. 

It is not

Stress and pain are draining and make me less effective in the moment. Fear takes away clarity in decision making. Though discussions with the emphasis on listening are good, arguing with another human being causes separation and rarely sways opinions. 

My obsession with horses and my quest to understand them has taught me some valuable things about life. I hope these lessons make me a better teacher, friend, wife, daughter and leader. 

To my readers who already know and practice these… thank you for your patience  and generosity in reading my own personal process.

Disclaimer: the fact that I’ve learned them doesn’t mean I’m always successful at living them. The reason I can write about them is because I’ve lived every one. I’ve done every one of these the wrong way and seen the less than optimal results!

Seven things I’ve learned:

7. Be joyful.  


Have some fun. Lighten up. When healthy and balanced, horses have great senses of humor. They horseplay. 😁 Horses and people want to be around someone with a generous and joyful spirit. Make a choice not to be a gloomy, glass-half-empty, pessimistic person who always sees the obstacles and doesn’t bring fresh ideas and solutions. 

And life will always bring challenges. Get over it. Make a choice to be happy no matter what is going on around you. If you wait until your outer circumstances are ‘right’ to be content, you will chase joy until you die miserable. Choose love and joy regardless of who is president… of if you have the ‘right’ job… make ‘enough’ money…  have the ‘perfect’ body… fill in the blank. 

❤️

6. Slow Down. Observe. 


Many of these lessons interconnect. Almost all of them have this element buried in them. Take the time to see what is really happening and make less assumptions. Question what you see and what it means. 

🤓

5. Stay present.


Even two seconds ago is the past. It is done. Don’t carry it with you and don’t load your horse, spouse or friends down with it either. 

On the other hand anticipating the future based on past experiences brings about the negative response you are trying to avoid- especially in horses. Don’t allow yourself to waste time visualizing your fears- they create negative energy.

Allow yourself, your horse and your friends, spouse, parents, children, co-workers etc the gift of a fresh start and the freedom to learn, grow and change.

😇

4. Find three!

I’ve learned good leaders are demanding. Thankfully I seem to fall into this naturally. However the flip side to demanding personalities is they are overly critical. 

I am embarrassingly more aware with my horses, my friends, my family, my husband and ESPECIALLY my students that I lean too heavily on what needs to improve and don’t take enough time to encourage the good things.

I have enjoyed the Byron Katie turn arounds this year and when I get stuck on something like my husband doesn’t listen to me I now write that down, turn it around to I don’t listen to my husband and my job is to find 3 ways that is true. There are usually more than three. It changes the perspective quickly!
Another find 3 is when I realize I’m being too tough or critical in a lesson (always with students I really like and believe have a ton of potential!) I stop myself and find 3 positive things to encourage. Or if my mom calls me feeling like she failed her horse and can’t do anything right- I ask her to find 3 things she did right that day… 3 successes. 

🤗

3. Don’t fight


Picking a fight with an intelligent 1,000 pound animal isn’t wise. And we wonder why there are so many injuries in the horse world. Working with and riding horses is dangerous enough without creating enemies out of them.

One way we start wars is through inappropriate reaction. When a horse is distracted or makes a mistake (knocks your head, steps on your foot..) and the human blows up screaming, hitting, jerking to make sure they never make that mistake again. 

Horses who aren’t being disrespectful on purpose are not trying to hurt us and there are much more effective ways to enforce safe space and increased attention to where you are than hitting and yelling. It is likely your horse will pay more attention to you because you have proven to be emotionally unstable (cra-crazy) and reactive and they’ll want to try to steer clear of that. Personally that’s not why I want my horse to pay attention to me. It kills connection. This is easy to translate to human relationships as well and is an unhealthy and hard way to live. (Hard especially on children who cannot chose to leave). 

One of my favorite quotes brings me to the other less obvious way we fight:

Defense is the first act of war. 

Unless you or someone before you created a horse that is disrespectful (they do not come this way naturally) then your horse is not interested in fighting with you. They are the ultimate seekers of peace. We are a species of war. Just look at social media. We can’t disagree with someone without calling them names and picking a fight. No one is allowed to think differently than me. No other solutions to problems except the ones I believe in. 

I’ve watched a horse try to communicate with a human, maybe ask a question… the human reacts immediately as if the battle lines are drawn and they have to win the energy goes up and the yelling, hitting, or lunging begins to teach a lesson and the connection is broken. That will teach your horse to dare an attempt to connect with you!


[clarification: if you truly do have a disrespectful horse then you have your work cut out for you. Hopefully you have the emotional stability to not take it personally. To never allow frustration or anger into the process, and you have the correct tools, knowledge, and cool-headed strength without fear even when the animal is coming at you like a wild stallion- to meet the challenge and climb your way back into the horse’s trust and belief that humans can behave unemotionally and fairly and can make a reliable leader. However This is a totally different scenario than what most horses owners talk about when they use the term disrespect.]

Similarly in the human world- no one can tell me that I have done wrong without battle flags going up. The first instinct is to defend my position and beat down the accuser so they will never consider communicating honestly again. Am I the only one with this natural tendency?

I have challenged myself this year to change the pattern and attempt to begin with: is that true? And then follow it with how can I help?

Can you imagine if your horse refused to walk into the puddle and instead reacting with argument, force and warfare…  to take a moment (slow down) and ask: why don’t you want to go into the puddle? 

Then when you hear the answer which could be I’m afraid there may be a preditor hiding in there…. or I may sink in and get my legs stuck in quicksand… 

you could respond with something like ok- I hear you. Thank you for keeping our safety in mind. I happen to know this puddle is safe. I’d like you to trust me- and I’m going to give you the time you need to learn that. Let’s do this together. 

Then do the inhuman thing and take the time your horse needs to walk through the puddle without fighting. If you have done the work to train your horse in steps and you are certain you can communicate what you want-  put your watch away and go into their world. (If you haven’t trained the steps to get what you’re asking then don’t expect them to do what you’re asking until you have) The saying slow is fast has never been more true than with horses. If you are riding with people who have no patience for helping a horse gain trust in their rider you are with the wrong humans. Not the wrong horse. 

Human lesson: a friend says I don’t think you treated me fairly over this situation! 

My first instinct is to defend why I acted the way I did… but it always feels better to step back and say tell me about it? How could I help? What could I change?

And I can change it or not. But now I have information, and I am not cutting off those who care enough about me to tell me what they think.

🤕

2. Nurture connection

Real connection is one of the most amazing things to experience in life. We all want it yet (speaking for myself) we seem to be better at killing it than nurturing it. 

If my horse is connected to me she will stay willing to do what I ask and enjoy our time together. Even more importantly she will do everything possible to protect me. 

I’ve been cantering along with friends, felt Khaleesi spook half way across the trail in an instant… then there was the time a deer jumped out of the bushes and from a fast trot she jumped, spun and ran directly into Faygo’s shoulder behind us. In these and other instances it’s not my ah-maz-ing riding skills that keeps me glued to my horse. Anyone who rides with me can chuckle here. It’s her choice to keep me in the sweet spot. It is her protecting me. 

Then there was the ride she ditched me on trail and left me there. I had lost connection and been a terrible leader on that ride. And she let me know it. She wanted to get as far away from me as possible!


Human connections work best as a two-way line, however I cannot be responsible for others. Thankfully I’m not at their mercy. I can choose to keep myself connected and open. My connection and behavior is my choice. 

It feels like a risk to stay open and connected. However staying closed and ruining relationships is guaranteed to bring failure and pain in the long run. 

(This doesn’t mean I allow just anyone to repeatedly hurt me with their decisions. I can stay open and still make choices as to who I will work with, who I will live with, who I allow into my close friendships – but if I am open hearted I can make these decisions for myself and not be at odds with those I do not choose. Not have hatred, feuds and conflict. And a clarity in those choices based on what I think is best.)

The challenge is that so many things break connection: ego (we all have one. It’s a basic psychological tenant- not allowing it to rule unchecked and questioning its voice is how we grow. The ego is out front in some and easy to see; but more dangerous is the ego that is camouflaged… disguised behind a good facade it is like a silent cancer. Ego is the great destroyer of good things. I work especially hard to keep mine from taking over and destroying everything I care about. Sometimes it seems tirelessly dedicates to that end…)

Then there’s: nagging, being pushy or overly critical, not actively listening, defensiveness, being unclear or fuzzy in your communication, reacting inappropriately, making assumptions, holding on to the past, anger & frustration, arguing, impatience, fear… it is a challenge not to allow these to destroy relationships. 

😘

1. Stay congruent. 


What is in the inside must match what’s on the outside. 

Congruent comes from the Latin to agree: defined as being in harmony. 

Horses cannot lie. And they are confused and uncomfortable when humans do. 

Horses require honesty and that we stay real. They will take a lot of ignorance, unclear communication, failure to understand them (trust me- this I know very personally) and they can bear a lot of pain and sadness with us if we are congruent. They know when you are real: when you are trying to stay open and trying to learn. 

You cannot hide your insides from a horse. They know. If you lie to them, pretend or worse try to trick them (ever bring the grain bucket with the halter ‘hidden’ behind your back?) they know. And it makes them uncomfortable. It destroys connection. 

People do this often. We talk one way but act another. Some people work hard on the exterior… the facade… while doing everything possible to hide what’s really going on inside. 

One of the biggest lessons I’ve come to in sharp focus is that I require congruency in my world. I make the decision to be honest as possible in my own circle, and I want to surround myself with others who are the same. 

I make mistakes and gratefully have friends who love me enough to help me see when I go offtrack. I make an effort to stay real with the people in my world and be honest with my shortcomings and move forward being better for them. 

People who have a pattern of being incongruent over time are confusing and I’m more able as I get older to see there is something wrong and let those relationships go. 

However I don’t have to be at war or dislike the people I feel that disconnect with. There are many reasons people behave this way from life trauma, self protection, fear, being out of touch, confusion… everyone has a journey and a path to walk. I have enough on my hands to walk my own and am way out of line when I try to live someone else’s.

🤥


This year especially I am grateful for those whose paths intertwine with mine. 


The people and horses who are my teachers. 



The friends who have walked with me, the family who have carried me, the love that is present in things I welcome and things I dread. 


And most of all for the person who is always there. The one in the mirror. She has a long way to go… but we are getting to know each other better each year.