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.