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….

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.