Love is patient.

Friday, April 5, 2018

I have been very interested in love for at least a year… what does love require… what does walking in love cost (it always costs something)… how do we take and give love to others and how do we love like the other (horse, human, dog etc) needs and not just how we want to love.

So I decided personally to spend some time on each of the famous facets of love. You know- the ones read at every wedding ceremony. I thought a week seemed like a good idea.

Starting with:

Love is patient.

I am not the picture of patience. I like to get things done and move on! I’m a mover. So much so that on the first day of love is patient I wondered if it really had to be an entire week on each one! This one is not that interesting to me… what’s the next one?

To which the small quiet voice reminded me this is exactly why you need a week on it.

Ok. A week. Of focusing on patience.

Actually relaxing into the concept of patience in my world, at home, at work, with students and family began to seem good although I had no intention of writing about it. Then around midweek it showed up at the barn.

Working and riding with Khaleesi has been more connected than ever. She is standing so quietly to be saddled and so light and responsive on the trail- I love just thinking about going into a trot and feeling her hind end engage like a little turbo drive before even considering adding any physical push!

Yet occasionally she is not ready to come in from the field. And though once in a while she comes right to me, just as often she walks away and even sends the mustang to block me from bringing her in.

What I have learned is just to be patient and pursue her gently until a connection is made. I don’t insist, I don’t make her run the field until she chooses to be with me and let her rest, and I don’t get upset about it. I know she will come with me. I am the leader- it’s a question of when. Time.

Patience.

I love her and am willing to be patient with whatever keeps her in that field until she is ready to chose me first. I do whatever makes sense at the time to start a conversation- not tell her what to do- converse. I step in and ask and when she gives me attention I even step back and allow her to respond.

It works every time. But it takes time.

Then yesterday as I walked her toward the trailer she stopped somewhat far off.

There was a time I could hear myself:

You know how to get on the trailer.

I am a sensitive trailer driver… and it’s never even a a far ride lately.

You always come home too so you have no reason to worry about this!

Stop stalling and let’s get going already!

Impatience.

This would only get her upset.

But I watched her- she was lined up with and focused on the trailer. She was with me. Just not ready to be rushed.

the very boring video shows what I mean- she isn’t asleep, she isn’t stalling. You can see by how she’s standing that she is processing the process.

Love is patient?

So I stood with her. I asked her for just a step or two and waited and watched her. She was with me the entire way, thinking about the process, heading straight for the trailer. She wasn’t trying to get to the grass and she wasn’t distracted.

She seemed to be asking if I’d be patient with her.

It took 8 minutes. Which is kind of an eternity if you’re used a 15 second loading process (which she is capable of) but it was an act of love for her to stay with her in her process. It really wasn’t about the trailer.

It was like being patient meant it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing – what matters is we’re doing it together.

I also noticed that part of me felt like a failure if my horse takes 8 minutes to load on the trailer. I mean- if this were a trailer loading contest I lost big time. Not only have I gone back to walking on instead of sending her (which I used to do successfully) but it takes way too long.

But somehow I felt deep down that maybe it’s not the way the world sees, but how my horse sees me that makes me a winner. How much I love instead of how fast I can load my horse?

In fact the only way you can really follow this simple equine teaching method I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the past couple of years is if you’re willing to look foolish to the rest of the equine community in order to maybe gain the trust and connection of your horse.

She stayed straight in line with loading the entire 8 minutes and in the end walked so calmly and gracefully into the trailer stall it felt good and not at all stressful.

Just maybe… a week of looking for opportunities to be patient will help me in more ways than I’d imagined. ❤️

Now for the ride itself…

In front of the hidden valley bed and breakfast also known as the mansion from the movie Somersby (which was filmed here years before I came)

Finally some half decent miles- about 16 and much of it walking because….. we did the forested half barefoot!!!

That may not sound like much to most horse owners with even half decent hooves but even the forested part here has embedded rocks in much of the trail so I allowed her to walk lest we slam down on a protruding rock and cause a stone bruise and abscess a couple weeks before the first 55.

Also she wasn’t thrilled about picking her way across the river 3 times which is all rocks.

When we got to the half way point I put her boots on for the hard packed dirt road back and she trotted and cantered easily with no sign of lameness so I think her feet continue improving.

I have decided to try the Scoot skins for the 55 glue on the fronts. It’ll be the first glue ons for us but it seems a good option for where we are. The back boots are almost no-fail and the fronts are really good but depending on some other factors sometimes have a minor rub particularly on the right front. (This doesn’t say as much about the boot in my case as it does about the rider imbalance and what it’s done to her developing new hoof. I am improving but new hoof growth and patterns take time … and patience)

It’s not enough to worry about for even 20 miles but 55 has has me questioning. The glue ons will take that out of the equation if they work.

If they work for even half the ride and I switch to my strap on boots I’ll be thrilled. And who knows. Maybe they’ll really work and stay on the whole ride.

That will depend on the weather (it’s a wet season which is tough on glue) and the gluer which will most likely be inexperienced me.

Also yeah us! Her topline muscles have developed further and I’m removing a shim from the mattes pad- you can see the saddle is a little high in front now! This is great news regarding how she’s moving and how I’m riding.

So great ride on a cool breezy spring day. And she was trotting and cantering without tire up till the last feet I asked her to walk in. Not excessively sweaty and she still has plenty of energy. So far so good for trusting in her base and pulling back some fitness from a place of rest.

What I really want.

Monday, January 29, 2018

I’m at an odd sort of place where I could share a million little details of every barn visit… but then at the end I almost have nothing at all specific to say.

While I’m in the moment there are a ton of things going on… little conversations… things I’m learning (like which brush Khaleesi prefers or what happens when I change the angle of my approach to pick up a hoof… why did Khaleesi just send Wild Heart over to check me out instead of approaching first herself like she did yesterday… ) and at the time they are all fascinating and then looking back it becomes one far away landscape of… well that was good.

It’s a nice zone to exist in for the moment. It’s fun and rewarding and a glimpse of what I’ve been searching for since I began to consider getting a young horse back in 2013. A horse that only had what I put into her. For better or worse.

I spent an hour this week riding in the yard. It was a nice warm winter day and I tied Wild Heart safely nearby and let her watch us work. I used what was already there to do some things like weave through landscape posts, move her hind end around a support pipe in the ground, sidepass through the wider space in the posts… we trotted and walked and made a few circles and explored.

It was wildly fun. With each new maneuver I’d ask and let the mare figure it out. I gave her time to think and respond and process. She loved it. I loved it.

When we finished she was soft and connected to me.

Friday I decided to get out of the yard and the property and I took her to a place we can ride home from (we both love one way rides!). It was dry, warmish, and the footing was decent. I wanted to start getting back to some physical fitness.

I trust her solid base of physical conditioning. This mare has been on a break since mid-November for any serious physical rides but I am not worried at all. The physical will be easy for her to regain.

What I’ve done for the past two months is really deepen our mental work learned what I needed to understand to be a better leader so my horse is more focused on me and beginning to understand what I’m asking (and care) and it’s been a million times worth it.

I’ve looked around me a while…. years… and wondered what seems off. Something just didn’t quite add up.

I mean we look at these amazing creatures–  see them in a field or in the wild or maybe on a video and they are magic. They draw us (many of us). We want the magic. We dream of being that figure riding bareback holding onto mane and galloping through a field with no groundhog holes. Then it gets more real and some imagine jumping great fences on an athlete, some picture (wait… no one actually dreams about working cattle do they!?)… some imagine the perfect dressage moves with an intimate communication only between you and the magic creature, some dream of exploring lonely new territory on their best buddy or maybe sharing the trails with a herd of human friends and equines 5 days a week, and some dream of 100 mile rides testing all their endurance, spirit and skill: human and equine… but all of us want that magic of befriending a 1000 pound majestic creature who will do anything for us… together… [music crescendos here!!]

Then just go to a show… an organized trail ride camp… even a solitary barn.. anywhere there are horses and you see reality: physical tactics (human will or tools usually both) applied to get it done because the horse along the way said to some degree: no thank-you. I’ll pass. Your idea is stupid… or confusing… or something I’m not capable of today… or maybe I don’t like the way you treat me.

If we can’t have the magic, we begin make due with boring reality. But what’s so amazing is with a horse… even just boring reality is so good we are usually still happy… sometimes we pretend things are all good and that might even work most of the time until things escalate.

Sometimes this comes in the form of a horse that gives up, becomes “respectful” and performs even to the point of long term injury to itself. Sometimes it comes in the form of little annoying things that make it just not fun anymore: hard to catch, paws, doesn’t stand well for tacking up, drags me or drags her on the lead, refuses to load on the trailer or a million other small things we work around… or shows up in refusals that end up dangerous: nipping, biting, bucking, spooking all the time, rearing, running off with us…

Sometimes people get on the horse mill looking for the magic one, sometimes they stick it out with the one that isn’t working and keep trying things to make the horse magical. Many horse people have such an iron will they are pretty good at insisting (hand raised here) and the horse has learned the consequences are usually not worth the trouble. Even more sad some people just give up on horses altogether… let down because the magic ended up so elusive, it was like believing too long in santa claus.

It’s really easy to point my fingers around… but as with every blog I post I know because I am guilty.

Yes. I have used physical force and training to fix my horse when I created the problem to begin with. I will probably do it again unfortunately and I am sorry in advance and promise to try to do better.

I have come to believe through my searching that a big part of why this magic is so elusive is because we want something completely magically “two as one” but most of us  seem to be so limited to the tools of unmagical physical attempts (at least I was).

Can we imagine for a moment wanting a relationship with someone…. but let’s say we don’t share a language. So instead of slowing down and trying to find common language- which could take years especially since I’m not a language specialist… that’s too long… instead I start to drag the other around by the arm doing all the things I want him or her to do with me with very little understanding.

The point that sticks out to ME the most in this example is what do I really want?

If I really want the other person and the magic with them- it doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ll always keep them as the center. I’ll never push them beyond what they understand. But if what I really want is to DO STUFF with someone else (you’ll do, come with me) then I’ll get bored with the process and drag them around to the activities I’d been so looking forward to.

I recently heard a quote:

Do not give up on what you really want ultimately for something you think you want right now.

So after 10 years I want a healthy horse who still wants to work with me because she wants to BE WITH ME. [magic]

If I build it focused on her, I have a better shot at that.

[It definitely helps that I have a horse I adore.. though most do, sometimes theres that horse you ended up with somehow is an animal you don’t really like… well… that’s a little harder to sort out.]

The short term view is pushing her to do my activity and find tools and use my will to get it done so that at some point I risk causing physical damage because she goes along “respectfully” even when she’s not thriving, or I turn her off to the process and she eventually says: I’d rather not.

However the question really becomes one of: does the magic really exist (after all it’s a horse) or do I need to settle for kind of… enslaving an animal to do my activity. (This isn’t the worst thing right? we treat them well, feed them, shelter them, LOVE them… it could be worse.. I mean some of these horses are incredibly spoiled right?)

Anyone who reads my blog knows how I feel…

I believe in the magic. I’ve seen it. I know it’s real. I will chase it until I die in pursuit.

I do want to complete a 100 mile ride. I don’t have a talented Arab. I have a local grown mixed up bred horse that I happen to adore. So I need more than physical fitness, I’m going to also need brain and heart.

But there also IS a physical component! Without question.

Can’t I do both at the same time?

No. Well not yet.

Some people can!! I know some of them. They inspire me!

But I’m getting closer… I’m definitely beginning to see some magic.

But magic being what it is, one still has to learn it. I have to learn it- she’s a horse for goodness sake, she may carry the magic, but I have to sort out how to access it. And she has to choose to give it to me, I can’t ever take it, just like you can’t make someone choose you no matter how much you want them to- in a relationship it only thrives when all is given freely.

She may never be as intelligent as me, but it’s going to take a lot of effort for me to become even half as sensitive and observant as she is, and no matter how much I LOVE this mare, it won’t matter if I don’t get better and understanding HER world. I’m going to have to somehow begin to train myself to be sensitive and observant on that kind of level.

No wonder Monty Roberts works with deer herds!

That’s what’s been going on in my barn these winter months. Slow, messy, human education.

My Jedi powers are finally getting stronger. I felt more than ever before that I could think it and she did it. Not perfect. She didn’t always stop on a dime without a feel on the reins but sometimes she did… she didn’t always slow back down when she wanted to canter and I was saying trot right away- but sometimes she did!

That ride was mostly trot and canter with some walking mixed in. She was a little out of breath and got a little sweaty but the mare did great and I have no doubt she’ll regain that fitness and strength without any problem.

So in the physical:

I cannot express how blown away I am by the changes that continue to occur with the Balance saddle. More and more often I can feel her lifting her back into the saddle as we go along. Especially on the downhills and also uphills. This made me wonder yesterday –

So many people say if you want to build your horse’s topline go climb hills, or back up hills… but I’ve been riding hills every ride of this mares life with me and though that might make my horses naturally more muscular in the topline than someone in the flatlands… methinks now that you can ride all the hills you want to but if the horse isn’t carrying herself like this you are never going to get the result you really want.

I noticed good changes immediately when I switched – but the effect is compounding over time and 8 months.

In other physical news her feet are getting better all the time. They are not where I envision them yet, but hooves takes years to grown so I’m working on patience and seeing the positive changes as progress.

Not having shoes for going on 8 months now her feet are a better shape (not so narrow and long), growing gradually more underneath her, and ever so slightly LARGER!! This is huge (literally 😆)

I’ve had to go up a boot size in the rear thank you Scoot boots for the slim sizes- they are still best on her hind feet. The new size 3slim boots with the supracore pads stayed on 100% in varied terrain and every gait including some full throttle canter sprints on Friday.

The front boots are still doing well though I had to reattach the front right pattern strap once toward the end of the ride.

And beside them staying on and allowing me to improve khaleesi’s hoof quality and size, something really stood out to me on this ride:

She cantered through the rock piles.

There are 3 ‘strips’ of the trail home that have about a 4 ft swath of large rocks that are now somewhat embedded into the trail but may have been leftover from years back when the road was used for logging. This horse knows where they are. I know where they are. We ALWAYS slow down and pick through them. I have no problem with that- they are some ugly rocks. It’s reasonable.

She ran. Right. Over. Them.

All 3 sections of them.

 

I hope this could be a sign that the hoof program is going in the right direction. Especially because I am the hoof program!But I’m a little afraid to hope too much too early.

I firmly believe that the time I’ve been spending learning my human part to meet her where she is and seek the magic at the risk of not meeting my physical goals or getting done my plans for the day… just as in how a human will do better physically when their spirit and mind are in order, has compounded what is going on with her physically as well.

Maybe. Though it’s still too soon to tell… I have this little hope… Just maybe.

This really is the year for this mare.

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….

Tack and Tweaks

Thursday, July 13, 2017

First I was excited to get my first mileage patch in the mail:


This is a summer of trying some new things – and some old things again. 

The tweaks in my riding tack have been going well.

The more I ride in the Balance saddle the more I like it. The mattes shim pad is also nice but I’m still working out my combination- it has lots of options. 

One way she tells me she likes the saddle- I tacked her up yesterday with no halter on at all (so not tied). She stood calm, relaxed and still for me to tack up. (Did not get a picture of that so this pic is her normally tied in the barn)


Along with the saddle I needed a new breastplate. My other is western style and isn’t long enough. Two-Horse Tack sent me a really nice red on black biothane one to review and I really like it. 

The breastplate is 3/4″ with a shiny 1/2″ overlay and looks great. It’s a nice size (width) and weight. Also the English style has a whither strap which I always thought I wouldn’t like but it keeps the shoulder straps from hanging too low without having to overtighten them. 


It’s easy on and off with snaps and I like that with the whither strap (which also snap releases) I can actually have the breastcollar on her ready but unhooked from my saddle as I’m tacking up or untacking depending on when I’m ready to grab it – without having to find something to set it or hang it on. 

I haven’t had the need to clean it aside from a quick wipe but I love biothane for super easy cleaning and except my saddle I do everything I can in biothane. It doesn’t break (at least I’ve never yet for me) and if I get behind on wiping or rinsing I toss it in the dishwasher. It comes out shiny and new. 
And finally: as I was looking at breastplates they are expensive. This one I was slightly skeptical of because it was half the price of the other one I was considering. I ended up with both and I liked this one better and sent the other back. It was heavier and a little wider and thicker. 

Personally I prefer the lighterweight – and though I do climb the mountains here and prefer to ride with a breastplate- my saddle fit and hopefully my riding is such that I don’t slip around much. It’s a precaution and safety measure so I don’t need a thicker heavier duty one to offset it pulling into her chest often. 

If you’re interested in perusing two-horse tack you can click HERE for their site and this month they have a 10% off deal for anyone who signs up for their newsletter. 

NEWSLETTER SIGN UP DEAL 

But wait there’s more… 😁

At least for me and K.

She finally has all four feet bare again and I feel a big sense of relief somehow. I’m working on slowly bringing back her toes now that she doesn’t have shoes on and I’m able to. It’s too much for a trimmer to come take 6 weeks of growth off at a time so a gradual filing is better for her. 

I was fascinated with the difference between the hoof with pad and shoe just removed vs. the front hoof that has been bare about a month. 

Front hoof- I can see how she carriers herself more on the inside of the hoof and that was also apparent with her used shoes. 

My farrier says it’s not uncommon but it’s something I’m curious about and keeping an eye on. It’s the same on both of the fronts.  

Here the hoof though not ‘pretty’ is doing ‘its thing’. It is developing callouses and getting tougher. I’ll have my farrier back soon but for the moment I’d like the hoof to have a chance to develop on its own then work with what it needs help with. 

The rear hoof just after the pad and shoe removed. The quality of the underside of the hoof is not at all like the fronts. 


The only way I’d consider trying this barefoot route again is if I had boots I believed in and thankfully the Scoot Boots are still going strong. I now have tried them on her back feet and so far so good. It was a short ride but included all of walk-trot-canter and didn’t lose one yet. They also have glue on shells that I may try in the future depending on my ride needs. 


I am convinced that the horse’s movement and hoof shape all play into how well boots work. I’ve heard at least someone who absolutely loves every different kind of boot on the market.

I am grateful that these boots are the ones that have worked for K because I love them. If you are looking for a boot I highly recommend them- that being said they won’t work for everyone. I’ve heard of some who have had them come off during a ride. C’est la vie! Every horse is unique- that is the fun part right?

This brings me back to

I’ve tried that- it doesn’t work. 

I’ve heard it from other riders and I’ve said it myself. But one thing I’ve learned about horses is the dumb small detail I missed that seems so unimportant is the difference between total failure and success. Sometimes trying again in a slightly different way can bring different results. 

Ok- sometimes it’s a big detail. 

On the OD100 I added a pad not intended to be used in a boot to my Scoot boot. It caused a rub that when I found it later in the day was pretty ugly. It was the only time I’ve lost a Scoot boot. 

I wonder now how likely it could be that Khaleesi dumped that boot as best she could on purpose. It was already not fitting quite right. It may not have been hard to do. How often did a boot not feel right, rub at the heel or twist a little and she torqued just right to get it off?

I have no idea. 

But that mare has opinions.  And the longer I try to find out what they are the more she tells me.

This is a pandora’s box! Sometimes it would be easier not to know…

Getting shoes on- I work to keep her compliant and still. She behaves but she doesn’t like it. 

Getting those two back shoes pulled I could have left her ground tied and walked away. She didn’t twitch for a fly landing on her. She was perfect. 

Coincidence?

Maybe. 

When do the coincidences add up enough to being intent?

Fly mask is another example. 

Why don’t you use a fly mask? Look at all the flies on her?

She hates them. The last time I put a fly mask on her she came to the metal gate I’d just gone through and BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG with her hoof. 

I have never seen her do that before or since.

I took the fly mask off and she walked off calmly to eat. 

I’ve tried it – doesn’t work. 

How about this new fly mask that doesn’t poke their eyes and sit on their face?


Ok… sure I’ll give it a try. She hung out quietly and didn’t seem to mind it. 

Now if she stands and helps me put it on next time I’ll know she has a different opinion of this fly mask and if she walks off she probably still hates it. Or maybe just doesn’t want it at that time. 

But the spaceman like hoop that keeps it off her face just might be the detail that changes the story. (You can easily see from the picture it’s a Rambo product 🙂 )

It’s a much more interesting journey when I’m able to include her in the decisions of her own care and tack. To stop looking at her behaviors as training issues and first ask what she is saying. 

I’m astounded by the layers she’ll communicate if I am willing to listen. Then if I need her to help me out (training issue) I can ask, and show her what I need, and she is more willing to help.  

It’s such a better process for us both. 

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!

The land of unicorns

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I’m just back from Scotland which I learned adopted the unicorn as its national animal in the 1300s. Apparently much of the Western world believed them to be real until ‘disproven’ in the 1800s. (We all laugh at this now but we are more civilized and modern than that… of course they are real!)

What I loved was the reason the unicorn was so important to the Scots: first it was said to be the only real enemy to the lion which was the adopted symbol of England (and everyone knows the Scots have little love for England). 


Even more importantly the unicorn was known to use its power to protect and provide resources for the other animals. The horn was known to be an antidote to most poisons and the legend has it a snake would cause trouble poisoning local water sources but the unicorn would dip her horn into the water and purify it again. 

One thing I noticed was the unicorn was always depicted in chains to a royal neck ring. While there isn’t one answer to why that is today- I speculate that all men want to tame the untameable and because men ruled for so long (yes, there is the occasional queen but men still had the power) they wanted to show symbolically their ability to rule. I think the pure virgins whom it was said the unicorns would submit to and become tame would have depicted them free and allow the unicorns to chose to serve the good humans with their powers. 

Either way, the unicorn is always depicted as a creature of nobility and purity. 🦄

While I had a fantastic trip back in history, visited the home of Sir Walter Scott and even met the Duke and Dutchess of Sutherland and was given a private tour of their home and gardens bordering the Tweed River, it was nice to come home to my own unicorns. 


Don’t tell anyone else though, we try to keep them on the down low!

Upon arriving home it was like Christmas in July… and it’s not even my birthday yet!

My new (used) Balance saddle had arrived with mohair girth and a Mattes shim pad I found for a great deal on eBay. 



You can see the build of this saddle really leaves room for the horse to move!



Coincidentally I’ve been contacted by both Scoot Boot folks in AU and Jackie from Two Horse tack about trying some products and I am geared up with my Scoot program which I’m hoping will give me a better ‘hoof up’ in trying for barefoot again as well as a timely new English style breastplate for my new saddle!



So it was wonderful to reconnect with my horse buddies (human and equine) and get a short re-entry ride in. 

I’m embarking on some exciting adjustments that have been in planning stages for a while now including the Balance saddle and trying the Scoot products that so far have stayed on 100% (when used as suggested!) to see if Khaleesi might do better barefoot. 

For the saddle, I’ll be having Dee Janelle from Simple Equine Teaching help me tweak the pad set up and my riding balance and abilities next month. Meanwhile I’ll be experiementing on my own to see what works and how I feel. 

I also connected with endurance rider Traci Falcone who rides in Balance and rope halter or neck string (depending on the horse) for some advice from her experiences. 

When I saw this picture of her going over cougar rock I was so inspired. She seems to be doing what few riders are able to do – and I hope to be able to someday! I contacted the folks at Balance and asked if they would contact her and if she would be open to me picking her brain. Generously she did respond and gave me some ideas to work with.  (Photo credit Hughes Photography)


For my first ride in the Felix GPJ I have to say I was very comfortable and had no sliping or shifting at all in any direction. The saddle helps encourage me into a position that gets my pelvis/sacrum underneath me (as opposed to a hollow back) and will allow my horse to round her back as well- and with a saddle that won’t inhibit that lift and development of muscles. 


It is different though and like anything takes some getting used to. Riding that way did make my back a little tired though not sore. I believe I’ll get stronger and more accustomed to it – and so will she. 

I didn’t have the time to both check the fit of my new Scoot pads and glue them in (24 hour cure period) so I rode with just the boots and she was fine but we took the rocky trail and I still think she’s a little slow on rocks. However she was not much better in shoes and pads so I don’t think this program so far is any worse than the shoes were. 


One thing I noticed: her feet are beginning to look harder and get some callousing around the edges. It seems they are growing faster- I know change of season affects that but she’s generally not grown hoof very fast in the past even in summer so I think it’s improving. 


Between her diet change (no more filler grains or GMO products, she’s on California Trace and Bug Check Field Formula for minerals) and going barefoot for a month on her fronts I think she’s growing some nice hoof and starting to harden up. 


They aren’t pretty, but it’s definitely improving! Her back shoes are still on but will come off soon. I will be curious to see how they look under the shoes and pads in comparison. 

Tomorrow we have a visit with a cranial sacral practitioner for all the mares. She comes very highly recommended and I am curious to see what she finds in each horse and if she gives me anything to work with that makes a difference. 

Of course I’ll keep you posted!

A few more unicorn spottings…






Now what?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Since pulling out of the OD100 on my first try a couple weeks back I find my life to be surprisingly normal (slight sarcasm). No long term disappointment holding on… just back to life as usual! No regrets. 

My farrier came out. He looked at the bare hoof and wondered why I didn’t put on the spare shoe. I was prepared for this. He made sure of that. It is true that in the moment I thought the foot was more torn up than it was. It might have held the shoe. But maybe not. It was a gut thing. I assured him many times over I didn’t think an ounce of blame was his these things happen to the best. 

I asked him to pull the other front shoe for me so it would be done clean with no damage. Leave the hinds for now- they look great!

What’s that you say readers? Barefoot front feet in mid summer!? The middle of conditioning? What am I thinking? Madness…

Well I’ve been kicking around my hoof program continually and yes yes yes. I know.

IknowIknowIknow Iknow Iknow. I know I know.

I know

Shoes and pads were working for the most part. 

But

I just have this gut feeling that says I can do better. 

Gut feeling can get me into trouble, but also could be that little voice in the right direction. I’ve listened to that gut feeling little voice before and it’s taken me on a different path I know is right for me and my horses. 

Because it’s shown results. 

I wasn’t willing to make a change before the OD ride, but now I don’t have an event on the calendar until September (unless my schedule opens up)- it seems like an opportunity to expirament. 

I’m not thrilled keeping her padded all the time. It’s been a damp spring and even though the pads drain, they have to keep some moisture in there. I also don’t like how the heels begin to seemingly compress over time riding especially with the pads. Then there are all the people who swear that having nails and steel shoes keep the blood from flowing as well through the leg over time…… 

Added all up it makes me wonder if the pad & shoe program is building her up for the long term or tearing her down for some protection in the here and now. 

There’s one way to find out…

I had my farrier take off the other front, and leave the hinds. The hind feet shoes are staying on and I am not as happy with my boot program on the narrow hind feet for the moment so I’ll take this on in parts. 

The Scoot Boots are still working. With the one exception of when I tried to add a pad 16 miles into my first 100 

Lesson learned here by the way: rule #1 is never ever even think of trying something untested on ride day – especially a 100. How many times have I heard that is one of the most common rookie mistakes?

So with that exception the boots are staying on 100%. I am now noticing some rubbing as I haven’t been using the gaiters- and one of the gaiters has a broken snap. So I have two issues to sort out now that the most important one (boot staying on) is settled:

  1. Are they protective enough for sensitive soles?
  2. Rubbing.

I called my USA Scoot representitive in Vermont and went all through my concerns. Scoot now makes pads for their boots- I assumed I’d need to invest in the next size boot up… more $ 😤😝… and add the pads. 


Turns out she doesn’t believe I will need to go up a size. She thought the pad I added likely didn’t stay put- and shifted toward the heel in movement pushed her heel up and caused the rubbing. 


They also have new endurance gaiters that are more protective and more durable. She believed that my current boot size with the pad they manufacture to go in the boot is going to be just fine- and when they arrive I will take a picture for her to see for sure. Once certain the fit is good, it gets glued in and stays put. 

Then we start training in boots and pads with the protective gaiters and see how she does. If they seem to be working then I move to the hind feet- in August (hopefully) they will have come out with the narrow version (in development and slated to release in June but not quite ready yet). 

I’m willing to try. The worst case scenario is I’m back in steel shoes at the end of the season – and that certainly could happen!

Meanwhile I have been doing some digging into the concept of the Balance saddle. It was recommend to me at the clinic in April as a way to improve on something that was working ‘ok’. My saddle fits (in the traditional sense) and my horse is doing well in it. She is not back sore ever since I switched to the wide tree last year and the beautiful design of the Phoenix Rising gives lots of shoulder movement and some ability for the back muscles to work underneath it. 

All in all she has a nicely muscled back. But there may be the start of some atrophied muscling right behind the withers- which I understand becomes pretty normal in most horses ridden in traditional (English, western or endurance) saddles. 

The Balance system builds a saddle in an upside down ‘U’ shape (yes- this is similar to the hoop tree concept, but I understand the Balance founders began this design originally) instead of the normal ‘V’ shape. Even if your horse isn’t currently that rounded- that if you use a saddle that allows for proper movement in their back instead of fitting the saddle to the static back then they are able to develop those muscles in work, have a stronger back and move better. This has proven true in at least two people I know personally who are using Balance. 


Standard jumping saddle v shaped 

Balance GPJ saddle in super extra 8x width I just ordered
Balance saddle I just ordered U shaped. 

I like it. 

The gut thing again. 

The concept that intrigues me is that almost the worst thing one could do is custom mold a saddle to a horse’s back (even worse while standing as they are in motion while you ride in the saddle). Pressure points are only a small part of the bigger issue- that I want my horse’s topline to improve and build muscle over time and a saddle sitting on the muscles and nerves especially behind the withers will not allow for that. 

Treeless seems to at least have more give however having no tree to distribute the pressure at all is also not good – at least that’s what I believe. Some riders swear by them and compete healthy backed horses many years. I wouldn’t want to argue with one of you- it’s just not the direction for me!

My friend Pam has a Balance saddle and I asked her to bring it to VA for the summer so I could test run it. I loved it- and Khaleesi really loved it. I could feel her lift more underneath me and she was more forward than usual. In good spirits.  



So I happened upon a used one that was exactly what I’d need in size and style – it even had added D rings from the manufacturer so… I made the jump. I’ll sell my second Phoenix Rising and the price is about equal so it ended up being easier than I’d thought it would be!

I will keep my saddle and have both for now. I don’t think the Phoenix is a bad fit and it’s working. I do think this could be even better but we’ll see how it goes in riding it. 


One thing about the Balance saddle concept: it demands the rider take on more responsibility in actively riding in a balanced position. Because the saddle doesn’t perch exactly to the shape of the horse it can move if you’re not doing your job. 

I did not find this to be a problem for me in the 12 miles I rode in the saddle. In fact I didn’t have a breast collar on hand that fit and I worried it might slip back in the Mountains.  

It didn’t. It wasn’t nearly as ‘comfortable’ as the Phoenix for the rider’s butt – but it was fine- probably occasional riding in a bareback pad helps with my balance too! 

However I do wonder if going through a 100 and getting tired I may find myself needing to have both options as the night wears on. It would be nice to be able to change it up for both of us to do our best. 

So I will share how these experiments in upping our game go!

Meanwhile what next?


We ride!

I have had a wonderful time riding with some friends close to home with no particular goals but to enjoy the trails and get some miles in keeping fit!


Life is good!