What would love require?

Monday, January 15, 2018

I heard something recently that made me pause.

wait…

I’ll take a step back and fill on the context surrounding New Years resolutions.

Most often people look for ways to improve themselves in the new year, but this talk I heard asked a different question: what will you do to make the lives around you better this year?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve myself. However especially in the Western World we sometimes get so wrapped up in self-help and self-improvement that we miss the fact that we will never truly be fulfilled seeking self fulfillment. In the words of Andy Stanley:

If you spend your life living for yourself, at the end of your life you will have nothing but yourself to show for yourself.

In the end people don’t impact us because they ate healthy, got to the gym and got out of debt.

There are people who inspire me in my life and it is because they’ve made a difference in a positive way often sacrificing their own time and money and comfort for something they believed in. And the most important facet for me is it came from a broken heart and love- not out of anger, fear or hate.

I am fascinated by the major shifts of finding the thing that breaks your heart and walking away from fun or comfortable choices to make a difference there…

But also on a day-to-day scale as a lifestyle there is something much more basic which is the thought that gave me pause this week.

I generally put my own goals and interests over others. No, I don’t go around intending to get the best of everyone in some malicious way- but my pre-engineered human nature is ‘self-preservation’ and getting what I want. This doesn’t mean I don’t do random nice things (I’m actually pretty good at that…) but my default is doing and getting what I want. A gazillion small decisions go into this machine every hour. There are tons of books written about getting what you want… Not only is this perfectly normal, but I always have perfectly good justification for when it affects someone else:

  • There are endless loopholes: the rule doesn’t exactly cover this situation right?
  • There are the world’s low expectations: well it’s how she treated me when the situation was reversed, no one could blame me…
  • Rationalization: now he’ll know how it feels. He deserves it. What goes around comes around…
  • There are the things you know no one will see or notice…
  • And then what about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? Being seen by other people as the good guy or assuming it will come back around and serve self in some way later on…
  • And of course the tally- I’ve done X amount of good things so I’m entitled to be selfish about this decision here… I’m usually a selfless giving person… most of the time….

But what would it be like to choose the more excellent way and ask not what is fair, required, expected, or seen by others but instead:

What would love require me to do?

This is still a horse centered blog (promise); I am still working one step at a time toward a 100 mile ride on this horse no one else has trained or educated but me.

So how does this look when applied to my horse?

How would this constant worldview shift affect my journey toward the goal?

When it comes to my horses, what does love require of me?

In reflection sometimes I’ve gotten this right: as in pulling out of my first 100 attempt last June because of a pulled shoe. My horse was officially not lame, and I could have had a ride farrier epoxy the nail holes and torn hoof and put on a new pad and shoe. But I knew that it wasn’t about the shoe. I had a big picture issue needing long term resolving and continuing as far as I could get until pulled by a vet would have been selfish of me. Love required stopping while ahead and going back to the drawing board (not for one ride but maybe months or a season!) to regroup on a new hoof plan and better nutrition etc.

And I’ve gotten it wrong … more than once.

Like the time two seasons back while I was still trying to sort out saddle fit and I knew her back was showing signs of soreness but breathed a sigh of relief when the vet cleared her to ride the next day. After all I’m working on it… it’s not that bad. The vets said she was fine. I knew better.

Worse still was the ride I pushed her through hard terrain without enough hoof protection and we finished but I knew I didn’t deserve that completion. My horse was not fit to continue. I got what I wanted at her expense. In that case it was mostly ignorance that hurt her but I had multiple opportunities that day to hear my horse asking for help and choose the more excellent way and I got it wrong over and over. She paid the price. I may still be working my way out of that mentally and physically with her.

Then there’s the ride I got it right by staying in and riding on- it’s not always about pulling out:

I came into the first vet check to have the vet question K’s soundness. I believed that she was fine. I had second opinions, I looked closer myself, I took her back to the vet and she was cleared by committee and we went back out. That was one of my favorite rides and she has never looked so good after a ride with as much energy and spunk as she did that night. She never showed a hint of being off.

But besides these big defining moments, I do believe that the small everyday lifestyle choices are more defining and more valuable.

I will choose to truly see my horse and her needs and remember to ask not what can I get done, force into place, shortcut or get away with… (and this doesn’t mean whatever she wants any more than one would indulge a child’s every wish all the time. It certainly includes continuing my education so that I know what my horse actually does need to be well balanced and healthy)

And in the human world when things aren’t fair, or they are trying my patience, seem unbelievable (I mean who could think that way… or say that thing…) or they don’t make sense… when people let me down… when they say unkind things… when it’s hard….

for 2018 I commit to asking…

What does love require from me?

Getting back out

Thursday, January 11, 2017

I’m grateful that the ‘snow day’ closing this week came on a day that turned out beautiful in the afternoon. And finally after weeks of bitter cold I got back out on into the Great Arena of the woods and had a really stunning ride.

I am trying a new pad in my boots from supracore. They are thin but I think will hold up longer and not difficult to cut to size. They are more expensive but if they work and last they will be well worth it.

It was refreshing to see light through the trees in 40 degree temps and little wind, with the happy dogs in tow (they have been cooped up more than usual lately too) and a horse that is following my lead so to speak more each time.

This is a quieter winter and I’m alone more but it’s been good to regroup and focus.

I have a good feeling about 2018.

The great arena

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

The bitter cold temps are setting in with a shiver.

I am less die hard this winter to keep up a conditioning schedule and am encouraging some physical rest during the coldest days working on mental and basic retooling of some simple things.

I did a full trim recently keeping up with her barefoot program and sending off pictures to my trimming mentor for a basic thumbs up with a few small tweaks. (I also did a trim on Wild Heart)

(Video of a trot out on the pavement after trim to see how she’s moving)

I also went through the tacking up routine asking Khaleesi to be more focused and still through the process. It was a good session ending with me walking her to the stool and mounting – planning to work on her standing still.

She ‘picks me up’ beautifully wherever I ask (a stool, mounting block, rock or tree trunk) and she stands great when I climb up but after I lower into the seat as I find the other stirrup and situate myself she begins taking steps.

Prepared to spend some time mounting and dismounting that afternoon I lowered myself into the saddle and waited… no movement… then found my stirrup, rubbed her… unhooked my crop … sat there a moment.

She didn’t move a hoof.

Looks like an early afternoon. Maybe it was my Christmas gift! ✨

I got down, rubbed her like the good mare she is and walked right back in the barn to take off the saddle.

The next session I began with some transition work (asking for walk vs. trot) on the ground and added some obstacles in the yard. It was fun- it was new enough work that I really had her attention.

Then tacked up easy, mounted at the stool and she stood but not long enough for me to finish my adjusting and walked off to the gelding field.

In this case I decided to let her.

When we got to the gate I put her immediately into a circle and returned exactly back to where I mounted and tightened my girth, adjusted what I needed to (taking my time) and she stayed exactly put.

I was pleased we didn’t have to repeat that conversation – she didn’t ask to return to the geldings again. I pointed her toward the gate to the woods and she went willingly at the speed I’d asked (a nice walk).

After the ride on the dragon the week before when she argued with every single decision I made I knew it was time for working alone on the trail to sort a few things out…..

… this brought reflection about some riders who have a rule about not riding alone. Though I completely understand they feel it is a risk to ride alone in the woods- I believe just as strongly that it is one of the most important things I can do to help increase my overall safety doing anything on my horse.

Let’s face it. We all know riding horses is dangerous.

Horse riding is listed in the top 10 most dangerous sports along with BASE jumping, bull riding and running with the bulls (is that a sport?!), boxing (where people expect to get beat up), and gymnastics (anyone here got a daughter who does gymnastics and rides cross country!? You’d better have a good insurance plan!).

For me- in hope of mitigating some of danger involved (because freak accidents happen in every sport or activity including getting hit by a bus riding your bike or cutting your finger off with a knife making dinner) at least if I’m going to be riding a thousand pound animal with it’s own brain- I’m going to try to find a way to work with the animal that she might not WANT to throw me into a tree ON PURPOSE.

That’s a start.

The problem is….. From the evidence I’ve seen, many equestrians have never considered what it is that a horse actually needs from us — forget about being able figuring that out (because it is very hard for humans to see things without imagining everyone and everything thinks like we do), then if you do figure it out actually making the consistent adjustments is probably the hardest part- even for those I’ve seen who are dedicated to doing it.

Thankfully horses – I believe a gift from the creator of the universe to us– are one of the most generous creatures in spirit and allow humans to do much that physically forces them, demean them (assume they are not intelligent), and misunderstand them… misunderstand what we’re doing… yet they continue to protect us and work for us regardless.

I’ve been asking myself for a while now as most of my readers know- how can I be different from what I see around me? I’m the same as all humans when it comes down to it… so how can I basically overcome my human-ness and be successful which in the end means my horse is the winner.

One thing I notice is how humans tend to sell ourselves on the truth we hope for when honest observation may show just the opposite.

I am an expert on this because I’ve done it. And I’ve watched it around me- I see it more and more as I’m aware of what it looks like.

Horses can’t do this.

They live in the moment and only in reality. They don’t lie to themselves, each other or us.

I’ve watched people overlook the observable reality for the story they prefer. Especially if it’s one that makes us feel better about ourselves.

The hardest part is that it’s always easiest to see someone else’s story and preferred reality than our own. I often ask… God open my eyes to see when I do this myself and protect me and my horses from my ignorance and selfishness…..

One way to begin paying more attention could be to always ask the question as we all consider our horsekeeping and riding decisions… all of them….

is this the best scenario for the horse, truly?

[oh of course I have to say I’ve seen beautiful examples of humans who have overcome these tendencies and have inspiring relationships with their horses… so often it seems so effortlessly! They are some of the horse-folk who’ve inspired me to seek more in my own world!]

Back to the woods…

…..riding alone is a vital part for me to connect to my horse and communicate. It doesn’t have to be on trail in the woods- it certainly can be in an arena or ring of course. But there’s something about being alone together- not another horse in the mix, and not another human to focus on either.

Since I am at heart a trail rider I hit the woods – but alone I use those trails like my own arena and every step on this ride was intentional.

I asked her for exact speed and gait. I worked on trot/walk transitions. I worked on stopping and starting, on lateral moves both stopped and in motion. I worked on a nice back up. I wound through trees and went on and off the trail. Except 12 meter circles I’d say I did just about everything useful in a good session to connect with my horse and be sure that I was clear and she understood me.

Funny thing I used to feel I could get easily bored on the same trails, but when I focus so much on really riding I could loop that 2 miles for hours and still have interest in what I’m doing.

It was a fantastic ride and when we returned to the barn and returned to the field she was relaxed and I was content.

It’s hard to be that specific when there are other people and horses- at least for me.

It’s an interesting balance to find. Of course I don’t think it’s a bad thing to go for a ride with friends and chat. I love doing that.

However she isn’t a bike. I have a smart mare who deserves for me to really ride her and not just sit on her basically assuming she’s on autopilot while I catch up with friends. Also I don’t mean staying physically balanced and have nice hands. That isn’t hard to do while chatting with friends.

I mean the mental focus of everything else that comes with riding a horse. And staying tuned in to her even the tiny things…

I do think each animal is unique. I think in the case of this horse she expects me to stay in the game or not bother. I do think she will take over if I’m checked out.

Probably all horses will- but this mare seems to get resentful if I come back in to make a decision she doesn’t approve after I’ve been checked out.

I find some evidence to back this up when I look at our competitive riding. She is connected to me at ride camp and we often ride many miles alone and because we are not in the fast group I have to pay close attention to how I ride her all the time- every section of that 50 miles matters if we’re going to finish.

I will mention that I included the steps I’d been working on before getting in the saddle – like focused tacking up and transitions on the ground and expecting more at the mounting block- because they are key in starting to have more focused riding from the moment I drive onto the property and not just when I get off the property.

Thing is, I do want a horse who I can ride in a neck string someday. A horse who goes where I point my mind and a horse that I simply imagine my leg moving and the impulse that goes down my leg is enough for her to respond before pressure is ever applied.

I’m not going to get that horse by mindlessly grabbing her from the field and then zoning out on the ride assuming she’ll just take over.

What I’ll have of course is a horse that I’ve trained to take over.

Which…..

Is kind of what I’m dealing with

I think.

Not saying I won’t be joining my friends to ride the trails… however I have to keep improving my ability to do more than one thing at a time… and to focus on my riding as well as function somewhat socially in a group of friends.

The question in the end must always come back to: is this serving the horse or is it serving me?

I hope I will choose to honor her first in everything I do. After all I do want her to put me first. That is going to also be much safer for me.

Part of your world

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Friend via email: Can you ride Friday?

Actual reply: No, sorry… I have some meetings and rehearsals and can’t get away- you guys have a great time and thanks for thinking of me!

Inside voice:if I were free I’d have had to say the slightly crazy other half of the reply ‘well I’m not exactly riding right now; I have some work to do in the field… um yeah… no…. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to come’


I’ve been wondering for a while now what is going on between me and Khaleesi. Sometimes pretty good and sometimes just passable- I just have a nagging sense our relationship could be better.

I can always catch her in the field, I can get her on the trailer reliably, I enjoy our rides (we’re not in arguments), she is sensitive to my energy so I’m not having to pull or push on her- she’s a pretty light horse overall, and it’s been a fairly long time (over a year plus) since she’s kicked a horse while I’ve been on her (yes, for a super opinionated and bossy mare this has been something I’ve had to put effort into!)

Yet…. there’s room for improvement.

She doesn’t come running to put her head in the halter when I come to get her.

She isn’t calm and relaxed when I groom her despite the things I’ve tried to pay attention to: like which hand I use or how I’m approaching her or if the softer or harder brush is preferred.

She still occasionally has ‘ugly ears’ to the perfectly nice horses we ride along with. Sure- she isn’t kicking them and I don’t allow her to cut them off, but if she were more tuned in to me would she be more willing to go where I ask at the speed I ask and sometimes to share the trail… without feeling the need to be sure the other horses know how she feels about them?

She will load reliably on the trailer, but she doesn’t do it because she wants to and makes that clear. She does it because she knows in the end I will insist so might as well get on. (And no. Every time I load her does not mean hard work. Sometimes I load her and don’t go anywhere. And there’s a ride very close to home that is pretty easy where we drive a mile and ride home she seems to like that we sometimes do.).

See it’s not about the trailer. It’s not about learning how to approach better in the field. Its not the other horses. It’s not the brush.

It’s me.

As much as that may sound terrible to some- to me it’s a good thing. Because that’s all I can really work on anyway. So this means the issue (if one can call it that since we probably look pretty successful on a surface level) is one I can do something about.

It was actually trailer loading recently (with nowhere to go that day so I had plenty of time) that gave me some insight.

I’ve been working on my mental fitness with my horses and overall in my life for well over a year now. Many things are improving. I now have a whole lot more control over how I feel about working with my horses and do not allow anger or fear to destroy what I’m working toward.

However, as I asked her to load on the trailer… and considering I’ve loaded her before I had a pretty good idea that this was not a question of her not understanding what I wanted…. she wasn’t giving.

She avoided, she sidestepped, she tried just about everything to not get on the trailer. I had no plans of driving away to meet anyone for a ride and had plenty of time. I was not angry with her and really thought about what could be going on.

Was I blocking her somehow– asking her to load but positioning my body language to tell her not to load?

Was she concerned about Wild Heart in the barn? As the herd leader not wanting us to drive away leaving her tied in the aisle?

Was she ‘testing’ me somehow- to see if my reaction would hold up? If I would stay calm even if she didn’t give me what I asked for?

Then I noticed it.

I wasn’t angry or mad at her. But there was this little hint of an underlying feeling…..

Annoyed.

Yep.

I was definitely annoyed.

You know… you’re not yelling at the child to get in the car NOW or I’ll beat your bottom (that might be angry)… more like when you’re trying to be patient when they ask if they can go back inside for one more time to check on if that stuffed animal is safely tucked into bed you’re like ‘ok‘ said with a sigh, internal eye roll and a wish the kid would just realize stuffed animals do not actually have feelings already! πŸ˜‘

As the layers get peeled back and the easy obvious issues get worked on then there are the smaller ones. I didn’t yell at her or jerk her around by the head or hit her with a stick but being honest with myself I was definitely annoyed.

And horses are a million times more sensitive than a human so she knew it too.

Equine leaders do not get annoyed.

πŸ˜–

There I was again. Acting like a human.

The horse cannot figure out how to be more human-like. We can anthropomorphise all we want. They are horses and they do not think and reason like humans do.

Yes. I followed through, got it done, and Khaleesi got on the trailer and calmly ate some hay while I worked with Wild Heart around the trailer for a few.

Then after some reflection on the afternoon I decided to get serious going forward about carving out more of the human attributes that convince my horses I cannot be completely trusted.

One thing I can see for sure is that it has got to be a real shift. You cannot lie to a horse. You cannot fool a horse (the way you can fool humans) about if the inside matches the outside. And you don’t get to play around with being that leader sometimes or if I’m having a good day or if I’m not under stress in my life or whatever. It has to be reliable and consistent because the one time I do something un-leader-like I have proven again I cannot be completely trusted.

One thing I’m not sure of because I don’t have the experience – is if my process to be a true leader to Khaleesi is more extreme (or not) that it would be with a more mid-pack or lower level horse. I have only seen Khaleesi take charge or at least make the effort to take charge of any group she has gotten to mix with. She does not lack confidence. I have never seen her (as I’ve seen Wild Heart and other geldings at the farm) look to anyone else for direction. So if my own experiences seem unusual or extreme in finding the leadership position I should mention that I’m fairly certain I have a top of herd mare who might need more proof of my worthiness than Wild Heart for example who is a mid-level mare naturally.

But in the end. This is why I have horses. To learn how to be that person. To grow and to get better. And then to have success in whatever I do with my horse because we’ve become a team and I am the brains and she is (as Buck puts it) a willing extension of my own legs. Or maybe if you prefer Tom Dorrance- I’m looking for the True Unity.

My plan is to figure out how to look more like the equine leader my mare is looking for. One she can trust to take over so she can relax and go along with me- because she has NO DOUBT: I’ve got this.

So I have made a commitment to become part of their world, learn and prove it. And I’m planning not to ride again until I make at least some noticeable headway.

I know. Many of you are certain I’ve lost my mind.

And the rest of you are not sure but wonder.

πŸ€ͺ

I have no idea how long this might take.

But I’m going to try.

Lessons.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Last post (Miracle) I went through the miracle part of my weekend– hoof boots that held up to an OD ride!

Now for the lessons…

As I trotted across the finish line under the lights at 7:25pm (with a cutoff time of 7:30) my triumphant words to the gracious volunteers that had to stick it out just because of me in the dark and cool evening were: in case there was any doubt, rider 520 is indeed alive!

Leading up to this ride was a little different than before. I think it’s due to the fact that the last ride I prepped for was a 100 and compared to the mental energy and preparation to ride 24 hours going into a 50 somehow didn’t seem so big anymore.

I packed carefully but not overly so. I didn’t worry about having every little thing I MIGHT need… it’s just a longer trail ride- I can make due.

I didn’t overthink- Dale would be proud of me!😁

The morning of the ride I did spend some dedicated quiet time asking for a little extra help: God grant me the wisdom to make wise decisions today, help me recognize if I let my goals get ahead of my horse! Keep my mare safe and healthy today. Help me to ride the trail in front of me and stay present. Also- I would like to complete the ride but if you have a greater lesson in store- I’ll take that instead. Help me do my best.

I started out of camp a couple of minutes after the controlled start left. I took my time getting tacked up and the boots took a few more extra minutes than I’d anticipated. I do tack slow and methodically. It’s just who I am.

Leaving behind the group was fine. I wanted to connect with my mare and keep us a herd of two and not running with a pack.

I insisted she take the first mile or so at a real walk and not trotting. I do believe a warm up matters to help the joints especially in the cool morning – and I hadn’t made time to do one before start.

Lesson #1: get better time management on ride mornings to get some walking in camp to warm up. I would have liked to have used some of the first mile or two of the open trail to move out but not on a ‘cold’ horse. We had enough terrain coming ahead to walk not to waste time walking the first section that was fine for trotting on a fresh horse who was motivated to go.

A note about how this also worked well for me: my own ‘controlled start’ was good for us mentally. I believe it did serve to connect her mind to me instead of wandering with the horse herd. For the long haul I do want a horse that is with me and not only willing to go with a herd or a buddy. That’s a bit of a challenge sometimes. <


it was a gorgeous morning on a beautiful trail. The sun was shimmering through the trees coming over the first mountain and we had a beautiful view of the river on the low road that reminded me of looking over the Tweed in Scotland.

<<
>she moved well through the first loop even along rocky trail (short video in the boot recap blog Miracle) and my boots stayed


we trotted a lot of the low sections and I was pleased to see her heart rate hanging between 80-110.

I got off to do the steepest of the climbs right before the ridge and as I was getting back on another rider approached from behind. She was also not pushing her horse through the rocks so she opted not to pass me and we rode the ridge together (the only part of the ride we had company for) we would trot as many steps as we had good trail then come back to a walk for the rocks.

At the end of the ridge we began to catch a few riders on the turn downhill back toward camp. Khaleesi got excited at both elements (other horses ahead, and home) so she picked up speed. I allowed her to motor down the dirt trail and she’d slow in the rocky sections (all good). On the gravel road that connects to camp road she was happy and forward and trotted that whole downhill. At some point she twisted the front boot and at the camp road I got off, fixed it and walked into the vet check on foot.

Pulled tack and pulsed immediately. I believe her cardiac recovery (CRI) was 54/54. All around she had As except the vet thought she saw evidence of lameness in left hind.

She held our rider card and told us to check her out and come back. It might be something in a boot?

I removed her boots and we checked her legs and feet. All seemed good. I trotted her barefoot and she was fine. Took her back for a vet recheck barefoot and she was ok to go.

Me & K with Lynne – my official mentor at the crew area.


I believed she was ok or I wouldn’t have taken her back out. But a seed was planted in my mind. Something to be aware of. That process cost me 10 extra minutes in the hold that put me going out last, alone, and considering I also had a nagging concern for her feet and potential lameness I didn’t push her and we stayed last and alone the remaining 32 miles.

In the second loop I noticed she was willing and happy to trot uphill but she slowed significantly on downhills. As I paid attention I believe I got my next lesson:

Lesson #2: no matter what the mare says, don’t let her go so fast on the downhill gravel road! At this point I’m pretty sure it was something she did on that gravel downhill that caused her some discomfort and made her slightly off at the trot out.

So I allowed her to walk the downhills (eek- that cost us some time!) and trotted uphills but then didn’t push on the rocky stuff. And there’s a lot of rocky stuff! This gave me a very slow loop 2 average under 5mph.


my favorite moment of loop 2 was crossing a really beautiful stream and I let her stand there in the water for a while and eat some greens at the edge. I dipped my sponge and wet her neck with the cool stream. I got off to secure a front strap on a boot (not a big deal but a good time to get off and check it) we both enjoyed an unhurried moment to cool off in the serenity of the afternoon.

Reflecting on this a couple days later- this moment was one of the joys of riding alone. I don’t know if many other riders would have wanted to wait as long there considering how far behind we were running. It may not have been ‘wise’ on the clock, but at the time it was what my horse asked for and worth it to me. I doubt we would have done that if we were not riding alone. It would have been a very sensible request from a buddy to move along sooner. <<<<<<<<<
day for fall and her coat is pretty thick already. I did a trace neck clip but still- the afternoon riding was harder due to her winter coat without question. She's thicker skinned already than the arabs and during this loop her breathing was definitely harder and her heart rate higher than the cool morning.

I felt she was basically ok on this loop but still depending on the diagonal and my riding she would sometimes trip slightly, land harder on one side… super minor things that now had my antennae up. I absolutely got paranoid in this loop and probably created small issues with my obsessing.

We passed two radio spotters and 'ambulance' trailers in that loop and both times I asked myself: are we ok? Is she better or worse? Each time I looked for a sign we should quit and get hauled back – wondered if I was taking her unsound up the mountain making a big mistake. Each time I heard that voice tell me it's ok- keep going.


I got off again on the biggest rocky climb back over the mountain at the end of the loop and then back the same dirt trail down from the ridge I rode until the gravel road. Having learned my lesson I got off and walked briskly down the road. On foot I noticed how steep it was. I had to set my own ‘hind end’ underneath myself to move without sliding on the gravel. That had to be a full mile or maybe slightly more from there into camp but i stayed on foot this time with a brisk walk on the steeps and a jog/trot when it leveled out a little.

We pulsed immediately (before pulling tack) upon return to camp as I needed an out time as fast as possible if we were going to finish. We got our pulse even with tack on right away at 3:17pm for an out time of 4:02 giving me 3 1/2 hours to finish the last 15 miles that included more grassy meadow trails with good footing. This seemed very do-able to me.

Then I returned to my area to drop tack and remove boots with my fingers crossed that she would pass the vet check.

Here is when I say a special thank you to April Dobson!


April didn’t get to ride as her horse had something questionable going on so she jumped in to help riders like me who were solo. I’ve known April on and off just at rides and always enjoyed her spirit. In fact she was in a small group I finished my very first ride (an LD on Faygo).

For a particular mare who doesn’t really like everyone, Khaleesi fell in love with April. She has a kind heart and gentle soul and was a Godsend on this day. She made everything easier for me and made Khaleesi totally at ease and relaxed. April truly made my day on Friday THANK YOU!!!


i went to vet and when he asked how it was going I said I think ok but the mare will tell us.<<<
had great hydration, gut sounds and muscle tone. Now for the trot out…..

I jogged her out and back not looking as I went and waited for the results: she looks even better than last time! Enjoy the last loop!< strong>Great news.<<<<<<<<<
d had the presence of mind to toss in a few glow sticks leftover from the 100 prep in June and you bet I put them on: heading out at 4pm meant a good chance we'd finish in the dark.

The last loop felt like a gift since I'd texted my mom and husband on a walking section of the second loop that: who knows- I feel like it’s 50/50 if we get to finish today. < em>


the late afternoon light was soft and the trails were almost all on private land an really beautiful. As the day continued to cool off Khaleesi kept picking up speed and we were in a sweet spot. It was very special to have spent all those miles and hours together on the trail just the two of us and me very focused on her, on my riding, and feeling fantastic. At this point we both felt strong and positive.

I believed we had a good chance of finishing. I thought the loop was only 12 miles for some reason and in the end my gps said it was close to 15. I believed we could finish close to 7 with a good 30 minute cushion and also not quite completely dark.

Though the last loop was my favorite here are a few things I struggled with:

The fields: we needed to stick to the edge of the fields. She wanted to wander into the fields. This is exactly the struggle I still have in insisting the mare stay on the rail in an arena. Actually we worked on steering this summer and that is going great but staying on a path in the open without drifting is a challenge. I can do it and did, but I expended way more energy than I’d have liked and just the ‘discussion’ over asking her to get over closer to the wood line.

Lesson #3: keep finding more time now that ride season is over for us and we don’t need to climb the mountain to condition I can make time to get back into the arena and work on better communication especially regarding open areas.

My riding: one thing I really appreciate about long rides alone is the ability to focus more on my riding itself. I mean physical riding specifically – not all the elements that go into riding a horse. Just how my body moves with the horse.

I am not a trained rider. I have had some tips and direction but I’m mostly at this on my own trying to sort out what works and what doesn’t. I also began my riding with gaited horses so learning to trot is still very new for me.

I believe the seeds that have been planted by the person I most want to ride like are beginning to germinate. I’d like to get it all at once, but that’s not how it works. It’s about 2 years since my first lesson and I only get them maybe 2x a year. But the information from her is of great value and I find in those nuggets I am able to get deeper layers as I work with the small and simple things I do know.

Three things clicked in better for me that I’ve been working on over more than a year in some way or other:

  1. I really thought about engaging my pinkies. There is so much feel in them and I let them float around too much- it’s in both my ride photos if you look close. It was on my mind all day but not really takin hold until the last loop. I actually felt it changed things significantly in my entire body when I engaged them and that was slightly uncomfortable for me so it took all day to play around with.
  2. As my horse got tired I thought a lot about how to help her physically. In addition to engaging my pinkies I experimented with how I might give her more support with the reins and bit without putting any pressure, pulling, or being active in her mouth. At some point on the last loop (I’d also been playing around in the second loop) I heard Buck’s voice say: I want to reach for the horse and feel the horse reach for me… and that is exactly what I felt. It gave me goosebumps as I really felt her. It was like she was taking my hand… this is a process that’s been fascinating to journey through basically alone. It came from a place on this long ride that was so different for us than doing ring work (that I do believe is valuable) but the organic way it came from me trying to fill in, support and help my horse as she worked so tirelessly through the day was very fulfilling and became less (for me) an exercise in ‘collection’ and more of a labor of love.
  3. I felt more and more as the day progressed moments where her back really rose up underneath me. It happened most often at a forward walk on the last loop and I literally felt myself rise up a couple of inches. I felt noticeably higher off the ground. It was inspiring as she was moving with such strength that I encouraged her to continue to walk a little more than was probably prudent for the timeline we had. But this mattered more to me than the “C” at the finish line. This whole connection we were finding was worth everything to me at the moment.


we rode on through the last loop feeling pretty free and easy with time to spare – Khaleesi continued to get more energy trotting and cantering along the gentle trails until it began getting dusky and I checked my watch and gps wondering why we didn’t seem closer- it must be right around the next hill or wooded section…

Eventually it got downright dark and I kept thinking we must be right there…. as I wondered I was also pleased at how great Khaleesi was the darker it got. She wasn’t spooky, she kept up a slow trot wherever we could and I trusted her while I kept my eyes peeled for hanging ribbons to tell me we were at least on the right track.

At one point in a field area along a wood line I stopped seeing ribbons and had to take out my flashlight and backtrack. I believe we’d gone off course. There are A LOT of twists and turns in the final few miles.

We got back on and kept trucking. Things began to look all the same and were so twisty and turney I wondered if we were going in circles in the piney/meadows in the dark.

I chose not to worry.

Finishing was a bonus today remember.<<<<<<<<<
e kept up her energy and we forged on in the dark toward the finish line. At a certain point she even picked up more steam and began to beeline taking me exactly as if we were on rails. This leads to my last official lesson:

Lesson #4: always do a tack check ride the day before- and definitely ride the finish line backward as far as makes sense so your horse really knows the trail when she’s close to finish.

I am so grateful I did this because she and I both knew we were close and it really gave the last 1/2 mile a pick up of spirits and energy! Which brings us to….

….my triumphant words to the gracious volunteers that had to stick it out just because of me in the dark and cool evening: in case there was any doubt, rider 520 is indeed alive!< em>


Khaleesi was peppy and full of energy. I was in good spirits and we even had fellow greenbean ‘monstas’ Kristen and Dan come out to make sure we were ok and might need help the last 1/4 mile from the finish into camp. Dr. Birks met us at the vet check and we all worked together in the dark to drop tack and get a fleece on her to keep her from getting cramped in the chilly evening.

< em>with Dr. Birks at vet in Thursday<<<<<<<<<
he final check was 48/48 (our best ever) and her trot out was completely fine. I'm amazed at how perfect her back is after 50 tough miles in the Balance Saddle – it's the first endurance ride I've ridden in it and she was perfect at the finish and perfect the next day!

We got everything we could have asked for. Great connection riding almost 12 hours alone together, healthy horse and human (I've never felt so good after a ride myself!), a little practice riding in the dark, and even a completion making it in on time.

Thank you God for guiding us through!<<<<<<<<<
grateful that Pete still had some chili left as the ride meeting was in session and dinner was almost cleaned up.


I was there to get my turtle award and even though I wasn’t able to get my ride photos Pam Stoneburner saw them the next day and got them for me… it’s the little thoughtful things (that were happening all over the place) that make me so thankful for how I’m always taken care of no matter where I go and how special the endurance family is.


It was a fantastic ‘come back’!

Miracle.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The last post Against the odds I said I was looking forward to a miracle or a lesson. In fact I got both. The lessons can wait a day or so until I collect my thoughts but a shorter review on the big question of the hoof boots seemed like a great post to get up right away.

The boots worked 100%.

I am blown away actually. I didn’t lose one boot the entire 50 miles.

The were two separate incidents of a front twist – both times the left front. The first at mile 18 coming into the first vet check. It was a long gravel downhill then pavement. Not certain when it happened but it wasn’t twisted long. It was so close to the vet check I walked the rest of the way in once I got off to fix. The second around mile 42 on grass between some trotting and cantering. I felt something off and began to panic no no not lame now!!!! And looked down to see the boot had twisted. Hopped off to fix and back in business.

The fronts I used the Scoot Boots that have been working for us since spring.

The rear ended up a combination. I began with the Scoot Slims and they stayed on the entire first loop as well. When I vetted in there was very slight questionable gait issue. The vet held the card and suggested we come back in a few- this isn’t unusual for a something questionable in a check.

I pulled the boots and a couple of us checked her feet and legs- all looked fine. I trotted her barefoot for a ‘wandering’ vet who knows us — actually he’s the first vet I met at my very first endurance ride when I vetted in Faygo… and asked an informal opinion. He checked her over and thought she was sound.

Went back barefoot and trotted her again for a re-check and the vets decided it was a little ‘odd’ but not truly ‘off’.

I’m not afraid to bail on a ride if it’s best for my horse but my gut told me to keep going. I also thought: if something is wrong I need to see it to help fix it. Mystery potential lameness doesn’t give me much to work with. I’d either see her do fine or I’d make it worse to help me pinpoint what’s going wrong.

Also- her heart rate was stellar which told me that she wasn’t likely in pain. When I pulled at the OD her heart rate was running high and this was before she was lame (in fact she never went lame because I didn’t continue with a pulled shoe and a boot rub from an incorrect pad).

This didn’t seem like that. No heat, no elevated heart rate, she was eating and drinking like mad… to me she seemed fine.

However: as the original vet first thought it was a hind that was off I decided to try going back to the renegades on the hind just to be safe. I had three loops so could rotate between hind boots with whatever worked best

The Scoot Slims didn’t cause an issue that I’m aware of- I just haven’t had the time with them to really put them to the test. They are too new as they just released the slims weeks ago.

As the next vet check Khaleesi looked sound without question so I opted to stick with the renegades on hind for the third loop.

I never had a hind boot issue on trail in either boot style. Not with twisting and never coming off- we navigated some rough terrain and went in every speed and gait through the almost 12 hours.

So I took on some pretty long odds and I feel got the miracle I’d hoped for.

Quick disclaimer– I finished very last on Friday with only about 5 minutes to spare. This tells you the speeds I was traveling overall were very conservative comparatively. Early in the day she was ‘flying’ (for us) through the rocks like I’ve never seen- but that changed over the day as the rocky trail continued there is fatigue and also some sensitivity that can build up. Still she moved through the rocks better than she has in the past without question.

I don’t push her anymore on rough trail. I learned my lesson once when I just about destroyed her feet in my ignorance at Iron Mountain 2016. I would rather not finish than put her there again. I only ask that she keep moving and she does.

A a few things I’ve learned in my boot journey:

  1. Trim is vital, key, and necessary. Without a good barefoot trim you cannot keep boots on reliably. People used to say this to me and I did not really understand. For some reason farriers are leaving a lot of toe on horses. I’m not saying they’re wrong but I am saying I don’t really understand it now that I’ve learned what I know now. When you look at a balanced foot having a midpoint and then half the foot in front and half behind it should be somewhat clear where the toe is supposed to be. I had x-rays in the winter after spending some time filing her toes back myself over weeks – and the x ray showed still a LOT of toe left out in front. Boots are not simple with a good trim but they are about impossible in varied gaits/terrain without one. If someone with an experienced eye tells you your heels are too high and your toes are too long they are probably right if you want to use boots.
  2. Nutrition is imperative. I’m not saying go for every hoof supplement (I am in a less is more approach) but try to feed smart. Grass is great but it can also be the enemy if it’s too rich and creating sub-clinical hoof issues. In my case we also had a hind gut absorption issue that I think probiotics helped fix. It’s very individual and also takes some trial and error. Shocks to the system can screw up healthy hoof growth from vaccines to chemical wormers to periods where the gras is too rich. Just be aware.
  3. Find the boots whose design you like and start there. I’ve seen that not every horse works every boot style. Trying them out can be expensive and takes time. If one doesn’t work consider trying another. I think it’s worth it.
  4. Your horse might need some time to figure out how to move in them. If you have a ride where a canter or some hard terrain pulls them off- consider a few more rides in them to see if your horse might get better at moving better in the boots.
  5. Modifications are awesome. They can take a good thing and tweak it so it works even better for your needs. Small things like a pad, layer of vet wrap or athletic tape on the hoof, custom fitting with adhere in a too wide boot or in my case the duct tape collar on the boot can be just the touch to go from mostly good to true success. Check in with groups who are hoof boot savvy for creative ideas.
  6. If you ride on trail do SOMETHING to make the boots HIGHLY visible. Spray paint, bright duct tape, anything. This makes it very quick to see if the boots are on while riding and if one comes off you’d be shocked at how sometimes you KNOW it’s RIGHT AROUND HERE- but you sill can’t find that black boot in the leaves. The process to get started is already costly- it’s more expensive when you lose them!
  7. When you find what works get a spare or two. Always carry at least one along – laws of life say if you’re prepared you won’t need it. 😁

Making boots work takes patience and some ‘longsuffering’. I had given up on the process already once before when it just wasn’t working for me and was frustrating enough to just ask for metal shoes to make life easier.

<<<
only reason I really dedicated myself to this was from necessity. I knew my horse's feet were not doing well in metal shoes and they continued to decline. This horse has been great for letting me know what doesn't work. She does not suffer quietly. That's a good thing- it may take me some time to sort out what makes her comfortable, but I'd rather learn that than get by and have her just fill in and work through it only to have her break down later on.

Also though initially it can be costly to try and lose boots, in the end it's getting less expensive for me: I now maintain my own trimming every couple of weeks doing a little here and there instead of waiting a whole cycle then making big changes to the hoof. My knowledge will save me money on trim visits and only have my trim mentor come out at certain intervals to check how they look. Also metal shoes and pads can get expensive too. If my boots hold up and I don't lose them they are more cost effective.

This is the long range view and have a decade plus horse for me. And though some have been smart to find a horse bred or naturally suited to this sport, I've got a genetic mutant that I think can be a solid endurance horse and will eventually get through a 100 safe and sane but she needs some extra attention to detail that others may not. I love everything about her but she's not tearing up the rock mountain trails on rock crusher hooves. Yet…..

I am thrilled (and a little surprised) that my boots are becoming truly viable especially for training miles and even in competition.

I love my Scoot Boots and though I may play around with renegades on the hind at the moment as I sort out if she needs a little more heel protection on the hinds on the worst of terrain- I'm still going with the Scoots to see if they end up doing the job just as well as they are a simpler boot and I love the no Velcro and no wires.

I cannot see the future yet and it's possible I may end up using shoes on some of the hardest rides then pulling them right after.

I saw a few metal shoes out there on the trail discarded on the rocky passes. One thing I really appreciate is that I was able to make a change on this ride without a farrier. It's much easier to throw on a replacement boot than get a new shoe at a vet check or especially on trail. I don't think metal on 3 and a boot on 1 is going to end up good for the horse over long miles so I appreciate the ability to have control with a strap on boot.

If that system can get working well it's actually a big advantage.

Thanks Scoot Boots! It's really changed the options for me and my mare. The blog they put out has very interesting information about going and staying barefoot along with hoof health insights. It was a blog entry by a thoroughbred owner who’d been told her horse would never be sound barefoot that truly inspired me to try something very different and I love how great her feet are looking now!

Against the odds

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Early registration and deposit for the Fort Valley 50 next Friday in mail: check.

Last 26 mile ride to be sure my girl is still holding up: check.

Tack cleaning and pre-packing started: check check.

At the moment I am on target to head out in less than a week for the last ride of the season and the first ride for us since early June.

The last long (26 mile) ride was postponed later than I’d planned but at least it was rescheduled for a beautiful fall day and I was able to relay the ride between two friends (each did half) for company. My trusted endurance buddy Susan rode the morning 13 with Levi who is healthy, sound and also doing great now barefoot in boots! (For the record it wasn’t THAT long ago that I passed on the sentiment I’d believed based on my experience: that horse will never be able to go barefoot…… he used to tear hoof up just living in the pasture if he wasn’t shoed… live and learn!)

Then Claudia met me for the afternoon 13 with her lovely mare Willow. Willow is gaining miles and fitness and won ‘miss suitability’ in a local multi-day high mileage ride last year. I am pleased to say I think she’ll make it out to an LD next season and I suspect Claudia might be an endurance rider at heart ❀️she may come to the dark side sooner than one might think…

Willow finished the afternoon still strong with plenty of horse left. I have no doubt she could have made the whole 26 if Claudia hadn’t been tied up with work in the morning.

Fall riding is my favorite- everything about fall is my favorite actually!


It was good to see Khaleesi finish the 26 with plenty of horse left as well. The mare is pretty fit for a minimal riding summer and I believe ready to come back finally for a slow 50.

So the mare is good to go….

…however my hoof protection plan is going to need some supernatural intervention!

I am heading into another technical rough & rocky Old Dominion ride like the one that cost me a metal shoe in mile 4 last June… this time with hoof boots. 😬 And I’m not even glueing them on.

Any number of experienced people whose opinion I trust completely would unquestionably tell me to come up with a better plan for success.

They aren’t wrong.

But this is where I am – so I’ll go with it.

We do the best we can- and either get a miracle or a lesson. Those are the kind of adventures I hope define my life.

Though my plan is against the odds, I have at least a few things going for me.

First I’ve heard Karen Chaton talk (she has an endurance blog and co-hosts the endurance day podcast at horses in the morning) and she rides many endurance rides including Tevis with her boots successfully and not glued. I’m hoping to have some of her luck.

Second, one benefit to ‘strap on’ boots is that as long as I have spares I can put a boot back on and go- no need for farrier and hopefully (no nails and no glue) still have an intact hoof!

I have a bucketful of magic boots coming along on this trip! Third and hopefully the most important: my front Scoot Boots have a solid training track record.

They have stayed on for over 100 training miles at this point and though I have occasionally lost one it’s been obvious (a mud sink, a rock slide) and I knew it immediately and they are quick to replace. Even those moments are rare and my Scoots just survived the full 26 mile ride with 100% success. I’m not expecting to get 50 rough miles without having to hop off and replace a boot- but my hope is that it will be rare and these Scoots will hold up to the terrain.

My rear boots are unfortunately still in ‘beta’ testing mode and this is because the slims took so long to release I haven’t had the time I need to play with options over miles.

The slims fit great on her bare hoof but I’m using sole padding and wrapping mostly due to the extreme nature of the mileage and terrain.

I used the thinnest sole padding and a pretty thick collar wrap on the 26 mile ride and they stayed on perfectly – however at the end of the day there was a very slight spot on the side of the coronet on the back half of the hoof that had rubbed. It wasn’t sensitive for her and I don’t think it is a true problem (completely normal by the next day) but it’s enough to make me pull the padded endurance gaiters off the slims and do a much thinner vet-wrap & tape modification for the collar.


I won’t have the ability to try it out over miles before ride day but I will put them on to see how they’re fitting.

I may be better in a regular size 2 with a more padded collar to help keep the foot snug without being too tight. I could have a thicker pad in a regular size 2 as well. I’ll have this option available in my kit as well if I begin to see rubbing at the band over the 50.

Last- before the slims came I was having decent luck with my old renegades on the hind feet. They stayed on pretty reliably but they won’t hold a pad which isn’t preferable. (I have learned through this process that using a boot without a pad keeps the hoof from being able to be supported fully on giving surfaces like grass, soft trail or mud. The 1000 pound horse sinks into these surfaces enough to distribute the weight/pressure over more of the hoof. If the boot doesn’t allow this over a ride it’s in essence like staying on a hard surface (concrete, hard pack, asphalt) the entire ride with all the pressure/impact on the outside contact surfaces only (hoof wall and laminae). It’s harder on their joints and their feet this way). It’s true that the hinds seem to tolerate this better than the front feet- but I want my horse to power from her hinds not pull heavy on her front legs so getting padding back there so she is comfortable seems like the best practice if possible.

Regardless I have 3 possible hind boot scenarios if one or two fail.

The other part of the plan is to ride alone. I may need to stop and deal with a boot and I don’t want to feel pressure of holding anyone up as I do what I need to do- conversely there may be places I can make up time that may be different from needs other horses have (this has happened to me on past rides where K was super slow on rocky places but had plenty in the tank to canter on the good footing- but the team we’d hooked up with ‘didn’t canter’ … it ended up ok but made me nervous with the clock...)

One thing I have begun to notice is that Khaleesi is moving through rocky sections easier than ever before since I’ve been riding her! It’s been so subtle a change over time I almost didn’t notice until this week when she kept moving in places she used to slow WAY down to navigate rocky sections. This is huge. It will be interesting to see how she does on a really rocky trail compared to metal shoes and pads at the No Frills ride in April.

The more I learn the more it makes sense that we saw some evidence of impact damage in X-rays last winter in the right foot (coffin bone) – foremost I’m naturally super-right sided and likely weighted to that side more heavily over time- but secondly I was either in metal shoes, then with impact pads that wouldn’t have allowed surfaces to help support the hoof- or boots without pads which also didn’t really support the whole hoof over hard riding.

<


I’ve been working as constantly as I can to on getting more balanced OUT of the saddle to help me get more balanced IN the saddle to minimize one-sided damage I’m causing in my horse.

I’ve asked my fantastic gym coach to forgo some of the muscle building work for balance and feel exercises. He’s always trying to understand what I’m doing and work on new routines to help me improve what I’m lacking. Since I have somewhat odd requests, he does research each week to come up with new ways to help me improve.

Now hopefully the hoof solutions will lessen impact and make a difference as well.

Yet after the 26 miles I think I found I am the one in worse riding shape! You can jog, squat and work out but nothing duplicates spending an entire day in the saddle. My legs were tired and my body stiff from that ‘easy’ ride as I haven’t been out on the trail long distances this year.

Hopefully I’ll hold up as well as my horse!


A betting person would be smart to pick another team this ride- but I’ll take my long odds, my barefoot horse in strap on boots and a little prayer to the staring line and see what we can do!