Healing and the Hope Cycle

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I recently heard Holly Furtick talk about the Hope Cycle. She was inspired by an ancient letter written to people in Rome by a guy named Paul who suggested that we should be glad when we get to suffer… because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope… and hope does not disappoint us.

Holly saw this as a circle beginning with suffering. Not only can we assume that life will bring these complications, but we are supposed to happy about them – he suggests we should BE GLAD in the onset of a struggle.

I also recently heard a Ted Talk about resilience especially in young adults today. Opposite of expecting and appreciating the role of struggle- many young adults today are the product of the concept that struggle, pain and discomfort is best avoided at all cost; a generation of parents that had the ability to do that for their children motivated by a great love for them… yet the unintended consequence has been a generation of young people who have not built resilience through having to overcome difficulty and are now facing the very serious problem of learned helplessness.

People who have been given as problem-free life as possible it turns out are not better off. In fact they struggle to cope with any small problem that arises.

As a third point to triangulate this topic- on a recent flight across the country I was reminded how important expectations play into all of this. 

I don’t love flying and I really don’t love turbulence, but while still on the ground, the pilot informed everyone in advance that there is weather through the middle of the country and we will have a bumpy flight.

He was right: at one point my half empty (or half full) coffee sloshed all over my tray table as we bounced up and down in midair. Because the pilot told me to expect turbulence, it now felt expected and normal instead of frightening and precarious. If I expect a pain free life, or even if I think that is the goal, then the suffering is much worse than if I have been assured that I should expect the life turbulence but more importantly even to appreciate it because it will create a life of endurance, strength and HOPE.

The Hope Cycle is constantly playing out in multiple layers in our lives. We know when our worlds are rocked by a big cycle… these feel like a cyclone.  The health diagnosis. The death. The job loss. The accident. The divorce. The loved one “lost” into drugs or other destructive life choices. Insert your worst nightmare here. These cycles put us into years of pain, turmoil and suffering.

Meanwhile we have all manner of other Hope Cycles going on simultaneously. Medium sized ones like passing a hard class; a difficult job assignment; a friendship drama; the terrible twos; setbacks that are tough but more temporary. Then there are the small but mighty ones: running my knee into the coffee table, stepping in cat puke on my way to get coffee first thing in the morning, the email you sent to the wrong person with the same first name (hopefully that doesn’t lead to the cyclone level of job loss!!), the particularly long day when nothing seems to go right, the burned Thanksgiving Turkey….

We get something out of all of these cycles, and the small ones build resilience and strength into the larger ones. In each, something valuable is produced into the character phase of the cycle. The value of a heartfelt apology in a relationship drama… learning to slow down moving through the house to not run into things… or though the pain smarts for a few minutes it will pass… humility and compassion when others make mistakes like sending an email to the wrong address and other mistakes…  stepping in cat puke does not HAVE to ruin my day (I can overcome!) and each of these cycles prove we CAN continue to put one foot in front of the other even through challenges and when we face the cyclone level issue those smaller challenges feed into our strength facing whatever comes at us.

Those are the concepts that I was pondering while riding with my friend and her “new” horse that I mentioned in my last blog.

I made the somewhat irrational decision 5 years ago to take a half feral unstarted young mare who was barely handled and see if I could turn her into my endurance partner. As I look back I’ve been through countless “Hope Cycles” in the process.

When I first brought her home I couldn’t even touch her. Then the day where I could actually put a saddle on her… sit on her?! For a while I couldn’t imagine riding her outside of a safe fenced in zone… Then wondering how she would do out in the big wide world of the trail… and of course the phase when she kept trying to turn around on the trail… each of those challenges took patience and problem solving to overcome.  Each week, each month something improved and I learned about her, about horses, and gained character and strength as a horse leader.

I learned that if you stick with it week to week and put in the time and the problem solving power (and that includes being open minded enough to learn what really works vs. what you’ve always done before or been told your whole life….) you can move forward and each phase will pass away into a new one.

There have been times in the past 6 months that my friend has felt discouraged. Each time a situation has been difficult or has felt like failure, I’ve reassured her that this is normal. The process takes the time it takes and you’re doing great! It will get better.

I have hope… I have gone through the Hope Cycle enough with my horse and watched a few cycles with her and her horse to know that it will improve. Also, she is doing all the right things to continue through and not get stuck!

As an endurance rider the applications of this are obvious to most of us. We often joke (not really joking) about how the biggest challenge is to get to the start of a ride. We are dealing with animals who have varying gifts of injuring themselves in mysterious ways when we aren’t present on top of the fact that we push their physical limits to a level that they can be more likely to cross a line into injury even when we try our best to take care of them.

Our experience and knowledge base as we go through these “Hope Cycles” grow and help us to do less harm to our honored partners in time.  There is room for common sense and asking more experienced riders in order to avoid major pitfulls, but for most of things, the way to learn how to manage an individual horse’s preparation for an endurance ride is to do it and see how it goes. Learn from what doesn’t work as well as what does.

The only way to become a good rider is to spend some time in the saddle being a bad one.

[one of my favorite pictures to see how far I’ve come… Khaleesi’s first official ride and first time spotting Becky Pearman with her camera in mid canter heading up the grassy hill. You could use this photo to show just about every what not to do as a rider!!]

Anyone in the endurance sport for more than 5 minutes has dealt with at least one and often all questions of lameness, ulcers, saddle fit, tight muscles, joint and tendon issues, dehydration, weight management & nutrition, barefoot vs. metal shoes, what kind of bit or no bit at all, overheating, and there are the behavior training issues of speed control, form, kicking, bucking, buddy sour, barn sour… and many more.

On the other hand anyone in the sport long enough has gone through various levels of the cycle to know that most things can be overcome with education, the right help, patience, and time. We won’t even get into the human and equipment elements like the flu on race day or flat tires half way to ride camp!

All of those cycles play into the miles you and your horse are riding alone because your pace doesn’t match anyone around you or your buddy got pulled at the last vet check. Maybe you’re walking one hoof at a time in the dark on a slow 100 knowing that in the past you’ve overcome saddle fit, hoof management, race brain, and a pulled (your own) leg muscle… so just keep going one step at a time and you HOPE this too will come out the to another cycle of Hope.

This kind of hope isn’t like: I hope it doesn’t rain on my wedding day next year… it’s a living breathing hope that is growing inside you each time you go through another Hope Cycle.

Because even if the night is dark, you know it won’t last forever. There is a finish line or another vet check where you’ll get something to eat and a little rest or a buckle!

Holly also discussed how not to stay longer in the struggle and suffering than necessary. While many things are out of our control, and take the time they take, we can make it harder on ourselves and get stuck in the struggle with some key factors:

Complaining. While it’s important to talk and share with the right people, complaining and focusing too much and too long on the problem will drag us down and make it hard to keep moving toward hope each day. Fix your eyes on where you’re headed, not where you are!

Blame. It helps sometimes – if possible- to figure out why something is happening if it will help not to repeat the same cycle going forward.  However, obsessing about blame either of yourself or others (victim mentality) will keep you stuck longer than necessary. Learn quickly what can be controlled and changed and begin to make the changes where applicable!

The wrong voices. Be intentional what input you seek going through your struggle. Spending time with people who aren’t constructive, supportive and honest with you or who have no experience in going through their own hope cycles well are not be the best companions. Find people who are compassionate about suffering yet don’t encourage you to wallow in complaining and blaming, get high on drama, or encourage too much mindless distraction.

Horses can be excellent companions to include in the process of the Hope Cycle but be careful about turning your horse into your therapist which isn’t helpful for either horse or human and can damage the relationship.

Horses are incredibly sensitive beings and each unique. Some horses are more inclined toward being involved in pain and suffering than others. While it is true that focusing more on the present and on your horse is a good rule of thumb, it’s important to be honest and not try to lie to your horse that you are more “together” than you are either. They sense lies a mile away. I’ve cried tears over my horse’s neck and she’s stood quietly and patiently while I’ve sorted out something hard in my life, but there seems to come a time when she demands we begin to “move our feet” so to speak and not get stuck wallowing.

One of my favorite verses when Jesus knows he is about to move into his trial, crucifixion and death is: Arise, let us go from here. Sometimes I think my horse helps me to realize it’s time to arise and get busy. Stay present and unless you are truly too broken to function that day (if that happens it is likely not a good riding day!), put one foot in front of the other and get to work at something you love with your best equine buddy.

Be aware if going through a big (or shorter but intense) trial for some red flags: has your horse become harder to catch when you go to the barn? Has your horse begun to develop behavioral quirks, especially in grooming or tacking up (more fidgety, tail swishing, nipping). Notice behaviors out of ordinary- Horses can take a lot of real emotion and even help release it, but they can become overwhelmed when the human refuses to move through the process. Notice if your horse seems to engage in your struggle or try to move away from you.

Sometimes an emotional struggle is so big it helps to call in a friend in the healing process. To end I’ll share a remarkable story.

I was struggling through some intense personal emotional questions and needed to process some thoughts with my girl friend at the barn. I arrived as she was doing some basic ground work with her horse and we began to talk.

We stood right in the barn aisle and her horse stood quietly next to her facing me as I began to share what I had gone through and in so doing releasing the power some of the wounds had on my spirit.

Her horse did not move away, fidget or rest with a foot cocked. She stood quietly but engaged in the process. At one point she began to move and we paused to watch as she stiffened every muscle in her body and her head gradually went high into the air. Her poll arched over like a beautiful statue — ears forward and alert and she began to shake her entire body starting at the head and neck and all the way through to her hind end as her muscles tightened and released in a wave from head to tail ending with her left hind leg pointing out toward the back wall as if to release every last emotional weight into the atmosphere.

This was the closest example I could find to how she raised her neck and bent at the poll but her mouth was closed. It was stunning.

… then she licked and chewed and yawned and took up her listening position again for us to continue. There was more, so I did continue. Releasing and sharing more of my story and the deep things I had been sorting through that week. After a while the mare did the exact same thing. It felt to both of us like she had taken the painful things I’d been processing and releasing from me and then distributing them out into the air as harmless energy….

I felt lighter from being able to talk to a friend and her horse! And all of us felt a special warmth and healing in the space.

I could not have set that up and had it be effective. It was planned by someone greater than myself that day and put into place for us to participate in. For those details beyond me I am always grateful.

I believe it was a good thing that my friend’s mare was there that day- and that my mare was not. Not every relationship is meant for every burden. As much as I love them… there are things I may choose not to talk about with my mother, or my husband, or my sister because they are not a burden that relationship should carry.

In this case my friend’s mare was able to help me in a way that I’m glad not to have put on my equine partner. And there may come times when my mare may help others in a way their own horse may not be the best choice for.

Horses do have a special place in healing- but not every horse is interested or gifted in the process, and not every relationship is the right one to carry the burden. This may help you to be sensitive in how horses are used to help us through our Hope Cycles- and how we may also help them!

And each time I do begin to see the promise of a struggle and almost begin to rejoice … though I’m not quite there yet.

Better than I deserve

Monday, October 22, 2018

Home from the last ride of 2018 I’m pleased and a little surprised to say we had a fantastic day. Better than expected and truly better than I deserved.

The abrupt drop in temps made for a great morning for Khaleesi who has a full on winter fuzz coat that I refused to clip this year.

As I wrote in my last entry- and it continued until the morning I was loading up- I flip flopped daily on going to the ride or not.

Arriving at base camp with left hind scratches that were flared up again which meant a horse that was avoiding me and kicking at me as I continued to treat them; also a larger bare patch from the rain rot spot near the wither under the saddle — I wasn’t certain we would even pass the pre-ride vet.

That’s ok I decided mentally because maybe I’m really here to support C…

One of the friends I’d been helping out this season get started in endurance riding had come to do her first 30 mile as well. Maybe in the end this ride was about her and I could crew and cheer her on.

Maybe it’s an opportunity for me to take the back seat and enjoy someone else’s success?

I’m ok with that… I have my completion for this season to stay on track for a decade team… I don’t have to ride this one.

But we passed the vet-in with a flying trot out (she does get excited sometimes) and flying colors on our vet card.

One step at a time I just kept on toward the ride half expecting each one to fail.

As I prepped the night before I still had doubts. I laid in my hammock as the temps dropped into the 30s (thanks Noel T for the heater!!) I was certain I’d go to put the rear boots on and she’d be lame from the painful scabs where the boot sits on the back of the foot.

But in the morning the previously inflamed warm scabs were not warm to the touch and she seemed ok with the boot.

She looked at me obviously annoyed as I went to saddle her:

I don’t think she wants to run today

I told her it’s just her job so let’s give it our best. She knew what was coming- it’s always a long day when we go to a ride and she works hard… but she is a horse and it is her job. We all have to work sometimes. She doesn’t hate it once we get out there.

In the cold morning I hand walked her a good 10 minutes before even getting on… back and forth to check-in, drop some extra supplies at the crew bag and just wander warming up joints. I got on and she was ready but not hyped up as she sometimes gets with the pre ride energy in camp.

Once trail was open we stayed toward the rear as usual but got right to business and began the immediate 2 miles straight up hill that begins both the first and second loop. I allowed her to trot and walk in intervals and we made our way through the group.

A couple times I wondered if she was ‘off’… was it that back foot?

Maybe I should just turn back right now… what was I thinking. This is a bad idea. Is it just for my ego… to do what I planned… me being inflexible and not listening to my horse?

Yet she evened out and seemed ok. So. One more step at a time we just kept moving.

In fact I was pleased to see her maneuvering through the rocks with no trouble and the ScootBoots were fantastic.

I often allow her to move along the first loop because it’s the coolest part of the day and not having an arab it makes a big difference for us. Her trot ranging through the rocky single track trails was way faster than I’d anticipated but she was asking to go and I said absolutely. On the grassy roads we cantered more than usual as well. Riding mostly alone she was really picking up the trail!

First and second loops head the same basic direction and include a steep climb/drop in and out. The way back to camp includes what I call fondly the trail of tears and it’s steep and rocky after 15 or so miles of hard riding. It’s a challenging ride for sure and we do it twice.

Khaleesi led a group up the mountain and just kept going one step at a time without lag and I was very proud of her.

By the time we returned to the 2 mile steep road now returning to camp at the end of the first 17 mile loop and I jumped off (I jog her down on foot as it’s just a brutal steep gravel road and we can move faster safely if I’m on the ground) I was shocked to find riders usually way ahead of me coming up from behind.

Turns out we were solidly in the middle of the pack.

After trotting into the check and pulsing at 52 before I even had the saddle off, I held my breath knowing Khaleesi often gets questioned on her gait but we got through the vet check without a hitch. Even hydration and gut sounds were As though she hadn’t eaten a thing on the first loop. (She drank often)

Turns out we’d arrived in 2 minutes behind my friend A so we decided to hit the second loop together.

The second loop went much like the first. This loop has a long out and back along a gravel road and we cantered most of it in a small group of friends. It ended at a pretty stop along the Shenandoah River with lots of grass for a quick snack.

She began to drag on and off as we turned back to camp but I think it was post snack break coma and eventually she picked back up and began to hit her stride.

By the time we returned from the second loop (also hand jogging in the last 2 miles down the road) the temps had climbed into the 60s and it took K a few extra minutes to pulse but still in the 50s in no time and again a great report to head out onto the last loop.

My goal was to finish before dark and it appeared at this point we just might do that.

The last loop is the shortest and doesn’t include the insane 2 mile climb out and the trail of tears climb back to camp but it’s no joke and includes two good hills and comes at the warmest part of the day and after 35 tough miles before.

That 14 miles always feels longer than the 17+ mile loops before!

In the heat of the later afternoon she began to tire. We stopped trotting or cantering the climbs and began walking them. A’s horse was also beginning to lag.

I know my mare always gives me what she can- and I continued to encourage her. There is something about miles 36-45 that always seem hard for them. And without fail as we get closer to 50 an amazing burst comes and as I would tell her how strong and great she is she took on a small hill at the fastest center of the day passing As horse who’d often gotten just ahead enough of us to be out of sight from time to time.

The burst was contagious and As horse raced to catch up and we were off again with more cantering and faster trot speeds again.

I sometimes wonder why I’m compelled to do this crazy sport and mile 45 feeling my horse come back alive underneath me and begin to reach for a new layer of strength is so inspiring there’s not much like it to remind us the true spirit of endurance!

It reminds me to keep going when I feel tired. When I want to say I’ve given enough. Tried hard enough to love someone who is hard to love… don’t want to give anymore… feel like I can’t. Somehow there is always more.

We haven’t come to the point of sweating blood…

The last few miles thankfully were mostly pasture fields and the mares continued leap frogging for the lead and we all encouraged each other on.

We raced off to the finish line hollering like a pack of coyotes. It was fitting that we came in 12th to As 11th – her horse had truly inspired K to keep up a better pace than we would have alone.

With a ride time of 9 hours and 2 minutes it might be one of the best rides of our career. Technically our first 55 at the Biltmore in 2016 was faster but that terrain was much easier and not nearly the elevation. Same with the Blackwater ride in 2017- that was under 8 hours which is amazing for us but it was in tidewater and not any hills in sight and no rocks.

Certainly as I mentioned last entry I have not put in the distance or speed this season in training as I’ve been sharing trail with friends who aren’t at that point more than I have in the past. I suppose I feel that her coming to life this ride beyond my expectations is a gift for investing in others. It wasn’t really due to my own amazing conditioning program this year.

Either way I will gladly accept the grace that was extended us for the unexpected strength and speed to share trail with a good friend and her amazing horse! And the gift from them to not leave us behind although as I reminded her often they certainly could have! We are ok alone… but we are better together.

I am also very pleased to say my other friend C and her lovely mare also finished 12th in the 30 mile distance. I’m very proud of her accomplishments as it’s a tough first ride!

I look back to the many many many doubts I had about this ride and learn that though it’s important to listen to the voices of reason when things look not so great… still we can take one step at a time to see how far we can go. And in that way sometimes we get much farther than we’d ever hoped.

Ride the trail in front of you…. that’s all you get sometimes!

Fly into the turbulence

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I often wake up in the dark on race day and get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and wonder what I’m doing here. Why do I do this?

Fear.

Yes. I do feel fear.

Thursday morning my biggest fear was that my Scootboots would fail me.

What was I thinking coming to ride a 50 with just my training strap on Boots? It’s against the odds to use strap on boots on a tough 50 mile endurance ride. Most people know better… I’m going to lose them… I’m going to be getting off my horse every 5 miles to fix them, a twist, falling off, lost in mud.

Is my horse really ready for this? I haven’t been able to get more that 15 miles in one day due to many assorted issues in the past 6 weeks. Sure she finished a 50 in June… but that was a lifetime ago… have I really gotten the conditioning in? Do I have what it takes? Is my horse even suited to do this- she’s not like the other horses here. What about my saddle set up- I can’t get anything to be truly consistent. Just when I get a great sweat pattern then next ride the same set up leaves dry spots. She doesn’t have any back soreness but will we run into trouble over 50 miles?

Am I failing my horse?

I’m going to throw up.

Boldness comes not from the absence of fear but from moving forward anyway. Fear will also come along with big adventures and growth potential. The choice is to do your best and walk on– willing to learn what lessons come– or get paralyzed and hide.

We’ll fly into the turbulence… no telling where we’re going to land. Isn’t that part of the adventure?

For the most part I tend not to hide. I pull up my ‘granny panties’ and get on the horse.

What’s the worst that can happen today? I fail to complete. I loose all my boots. I look foolish for trying.

But what if we fly?

So at 0-7-hundred we head out into the mist at a nice trot on the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to throw our number into the AERC National Championship 2018 50 mile ride and see what adventure brings.

It was a beautiful morning and my horse was forward and trotting beautifully passing by some other riders as we settled into a comfortable trot. With 90 riders on trail we fell in with a group that seemed to pace well and made a friend for the day (MaryAnn and her horse Princess Tessa).

The adventures began at mile 5 when Khaleesi began to fuss. Was something on her leg? In her boot? Kicks, a couple small bucks then a big buck I was tossed onto her neck not quite ready for it but still in saddle. At that point I was about to get off when I heard the too familiar

GO GO GO GO GO! BEES!!!

We were under attack and so I took my bucking bronco and said RUN GIRL desperately grateful I hadn’t gotten off but now feeling like a rodeo rider. She ran and bucked on down the trail. I am still shocked that I stayed on through all that. I have never ridden that kind of leaping and bucking in my life and at a full out run too in this little AP jump style Balance International saddle that won’t stay put on its own. It took a minute for her to level out and then we kept cantering along as we still had bees in pursuit.

Talk about flying through the turbulence!

The rest of the first loop went much better. It was cool in the morning and I allowed her to move along down the trail as much as possible knowing the heat was coming and I’d like to buy some time now.

The first loop was 15.6 miles and we came in a little under 2 1/2 hours. Khaleesi immediately pulsed in at 56 with CRI of 52 and ate like a machine the entire hold.

I am so grateful to Brandea for coming to crew for me. It was a great introduction for her to the sport and being a bit of a loaner I tend to assume I’ll be on my own but have been very lucky to have crew company on many rides. The support and company is really helpful and in part makes you feel a little less alone in the crowd.

She learned quickly about what needs to be done with the horse but even more important, she is a mom so she was adept at being sure my human water was refilled for the trail and that I’d eaten something and always knew where whatever I needed was as I’d mindlessly tossed helmet, breast collar, pads etc into piles with laser focus on my horse, cooling, pulse, and getting to vet ASAP.

The second loop was 20 miles and I knew that would be a challenge as we headed into the heat of the day. It was out the black access across the famous bridge over the French Broad River and 12 miles around the wooded trails of orange west before returning to the main estate and doing a 5 mile jag to add enough mileage then returning to camp.

It was in the high 80s and extremely humid. About half way through the loop Khaleesi began panting after climbing hills. The air was still and thick so trotting on at a controlled pace was really all we could do because at least that created some airflow. Slowing to a walk occasionally was ok but she couldn’t ever cool that way and stopping completely to recover would have killed us. We had to get air through the radiator so to speak and a slow trot through the shaded trails was the best bet even though it was insanely hot.

Still she was willing and forward. That told me we were ok- because this mare doesn’t stay willing and forward to please me. She takes excellent care of herself and will tell me when she is not doing well regardless of who leaves her behind. However the other horses we were riding with would grab some grass as we meandered along and Khaleesi was too hot even to eat. That had me concerned.

Finally when MaryAnn stopped to pick up a dropped sponge from the trail and we waited a moment in the shade, Khaleesi grew momentarily bored and began picking at the grass. That was a good sign and from then on she would snack here and there as we went.

The rest of the loop went ok though we walked on and off in the shade to keep from overheating and the riders we’d grouped with decided to stay together even though Khaleesi likely slowed the pace of the thin gray Arabs they were riding a bit.

I anticipated the heat would be a challenge and made sure I had two full bags of ice ready and Brandea had them waiting for us to cool Khaleesi at the second check while she ate like a monster (mile 35). Thankful to my lesson from Kate on my first OD 50 riding in heat- to cool that horse the entire hold with cold water to get back on trail cool to the core. That was my plan.

Unfortunately upon trot out the vet saw a potential left front issue. Not enough to call lame but a question and she held our vet card. Upon closer inspection I’d found a slight boot rub where some recent scar tissue was. [K had come in a couple weeks ago with a cut on her foot looking like a caught in a fence issue. It wasn’t serious but just enough by mile 35 to begin to irritate her.]

I tried some vet wrap but wasn’t convinced it would stay in place. We rechecked with the vet and given the all clear to take on the last 15 miles with this word of warning from Art as we walked away: don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!

Brandea had done her best to sponge and scrape K with the cold water but it was miserably humid and even so I didn’t think we’d gotten her cool as I wanted to the core. The whole thing- cooling and boot issue- made for a harried check period and I barely had time to scarf a sandwich and pee myself.

At least we were heading out later in the day (maybe beginning to lessen in heat intensity) and I had moved fast enough early on to leave about 4 hours for the last loop.

Tessa and MaryAnn had waited the extra minute or two we needed to get out of the hold and we began to ride on together. She said she liked riding with us and once she paired up with a buddy didn’t like to leave anyone behind. I thanked her and we walked onto trail together.

This is the first ride that returns to camp each loop that Khaleesi left camp willingly on all loops. Usually I have to encourage her to get back onto trail and then she’s fine. This ride she certainly didn’t take off at a canter like the front runners did as they jetted out onto each loop but I never had to insist she go out.

After around 5 miles I felt any tiny stumble or uneven step and began to worry. The vet wrap had indeed come loose and wasn’t protecting anymore.

I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have gone back out.

The doubts and fears.

I stopped as we began to lag behind the little group and silently hopped off as they went on – I didn’t want to make a big deal- they didn’t need to wait for me.

Don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!

I made a decision to pull the front boots. Our only hope was to do the last 10 miles barefoot. We had almost 3 hours. If the rub is truly the issue this might be the only chance. I can’t make it worse.

Sweet MaryAnn noticed I’d fallen out and called to me. I told her go ahead I’m fine and I heard hoofbeats as she cantered back to check.

I told her my plan and said to go ahead. I will be slowing down and I ride alone all the time! Enjoy the last few miles and see you at camp.

She frowned in thought and said she didn’t want to leave us. I assured her that I am really ok and would not accept her walking along with us at a handicap with bare front feet! Go!

She reluctantly cantered back to the other women and I hooked the front boots to the saddle and prayed her feet were continuing to improve to the point we could do 10 miles barefoot in the time allotted and still come in sound!

Ironically my biggest fear to start the day was the boots would not stay on.

Another win for Scoot Boots as not ONCE did I have to fix a boot in 50 miles. Not a twist, not a strap undone, not a mud suck. I was amazed myself!! (hind Boots stayed on all 50 miles with no issue and the pulling of the fronts I believe we’re not a boot issue as much as a scar tissue creating a rub on only the left that is abnormal for my experience.)

The biggest problem I truly faced that day was the heat and humidity. In retrospect going barefoot slowed me down in the final 10 miles and that may have saved us metabolic concerns.

Sometimes speed bumps and unexpected issues are given to help guide us toward the better direction.

More than once I considered giving up… calling someone or bailing with a shortcut back to camp and accepting this wasn’t going to work for her.

We walked anything too hard and gravel and trotting the wooded paths and grass at first she seemed to protest being barefoot but gradually she picked up confidence and was trotting beautifully on soft ground.

A pair of riders caught us on a gravel road and we rode together for some miles giving Khaleesi a mental jolt of having some company. She perked up more and began trotting faster again as we kept watch on the clock but riding as safely as we could.

Still as the evening approached and the worst of the heat gone after longer trot and canter intervals she would pant again, hot and tired yet willing to continue.

Finally we reached the water stop at mile 49. One more mile to go!

We had 22 minutes on the clock. The pair of riders we had hooked up with drank and then began out toward the finish while Khaleesi drank and stood quietly breathing hard watching them walk on and told me she absolutely was not going on yet.

I waited a moment and asked

Can we go? We’re really close girl…

No– she’d drop her head to the water and pretend to drink but she was buying time.

I waited again.

Can we go?

No.

Two more times no. Not yet.

Less than 20 minutes on the clock.

We are so close to stop now.

Finally I insisted- we must at least walk. We are not going to stop and die here. Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other girl. You can do it.

We began to walk the last mile toward home.

Thankfully as she picked up a slow trot we rounded up to the estate view hill that means the last drop down to the lagoon and then the finish one more group of 4 riders came from behind. As they approached Khaleesi began to perk up.

Newly motivated she began to trot faster and the steep hill I would usually walk down she took on a like a mountain goat hind underneath and front end light as I did everything I could to stay out of her way and balance quietly down the hill. Now it was just across the street down the wildflower path and the grass runway to the finish line.

All of us picked up speed and Khaleesi felt like she had this morning fresh and forward – on wings like eagles – as we rounded into the cornfield and cantered the last 1/8 of a mile riding on pure joy together.

We crossed the line with 2 minutes left on the clock and my horse’s spirit completely recovered as she dove into the grass to eat while I waited for my official finish time slip.

The finish is a mile from camp and I slung the rope over my shoulder loosely as we walked side by side together. As far as I could tell she was perfectly sound and though hot she was alert and walking out with good energy and bright eyes.

No matter what my horse had done the miles- now it was up to the vet to see if we’d get them on the human record.

After a 20 minute walk back to camp we took off the saddle and did a little sponging then walked straight to vet. I hadn’t even thought to check her pulse first.

She was right at 64 so we headed to trot. Moment of truth. I ran fast as I could and turned her to the right to keep weight off her left front. And then ran her as fast as I could back. And prayed.

She looks great. Nice job!

Relief flooded through me as he checked hydration, gut sounds, back soreness and muscle tension. She passed it all with As and we had officially completed the ride.

She was healthy, sound and in good spirits and looked fantastic overall.

I felt so proud of her and inspired by the magnificence of horses. I was glad I made the trip, faced the fears, keep trying through some doubts… cantering strong into the finish line high on the joy of making it through a challenging day was exhilarating and triumphant – even if we did come in completely last.

We got to the starting line, we tried our best, and out of 68 to start in our division only 50 finished successfully. That is something!

I still stand by the fact that doing difficult things that take work, dedication, focus and are risky at times can result in learning what you are capable of, seeing what your horse is capable of as you press into the limits of possibility, and grow us together as well.

(Photo Becky Pearman)

I have pondered recently how some people seem to believe that pushing limits and struggling through things means it must not be right, not meant to be, or a sign one should turn back.

The concept of emotional fitness.

Bob Goff tells a story of renting a plane to fly to a work engagement that was farther than he wanted to drive but close enough to fly himself as he had a pilots license. He would cross a few mountain ranges and charted his course to take off, get high enough to fly over the mountains and the drop back down and land safely without drama to his destination.

Upon landing he overheard some Air Force pilots who had just flown the same territory chosen because of the mountain ranges. They instead charted courses that took them lower and flew through the canyons because it challenged them to be better pilots. They didn’t choose the safe route- they chose the challenge. They were deepening skills before the emergency situation called for them.

We work on physical fitness and certainly mental fitness- but what do we do to improve our emotional fitness.

In conversations with friends over this question most of the answers came in the form of what to do when emotional trials come, but no one really seemed to consider how to work a little each day on improving emotional fitness before you are faced with a traumatic event.

If we live as best we can always choosing the higher, smoother route above the difficulties of challenging friendships that are good for us in the long run (a harsh word from a friend is worth more than the kiss of an enemy) or uncomfortable but real conversations, or keeping the peace at the expense of being real with others, choosing forgiveness when it’s undeserved, not always choosing the easy path or the happy one if a more difficult one that will pay off in deeper relationships or more strength are the longer term payout.

If we don’t face our own fears on smaller levels we will have a much harder time facing them when devastating things beyond our control enter our airspace.

It’s a concept I’ve come to think of as trying to live wholehearted. For the joys and for the sorrows- the mountains and the valleys.

A song I love by For King and Country echos often in my heart:

Look how far we’ve come. Look where we started from. Best thing about it is you know we’ve only just begun
They say life’s a dance– 10 percent circumstance but What great adventure ever plays out just the way you’ve planned it
We’ll fly into the turbulence. No telling where we’re gonna land. Isn’t that just part of this romance?
So when I’m stuck out in the cold- Let me be warm-hearted
When it weighs too much to hold- Let me be light-hearted
When all I have is not enough-Won’t be broken hearted
you taught me how to love, to live to learn
To live whole hearted
Should we take the easy life? Should we take the smoother ride? No need to ask, I see the answer written in your eyes
So sail the ship onto the sand. No telling where we’re gonna land. Oh that’s just part of the romance.
On and on and on we’ll go… to our lives through the unknown
On and on and on we’ll fly… Write the legend of our lives
On and on and on we’ll fly… For every day and every night
The greatest stories ever told
Were written with a heart that’s
Whole

I’m with you.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I spent a couple days riding and camping with a close friend in West Virginia this week. The riding was stunning and the friendships rich.

One of my favorite things about the trip was meeting new friends. An endurance friend connected me with a guide to help us through a new and potentially dangerous territory. Some of the wilderness can be treacherous for a horse if you take a wrong turn – you can end up in some deep swamps, there are sink holes, tricky rock formations and boulders that can be leg breaking and of course some areas are more fun with more stunning views to ride through than others.

Dan was not only a great guide but a very interesting person with an eye always out to learn something from others. Humble, gracious and easy going. We took along a friend of his who had been an endurance rider in Brazil who rode a great little mustang mare, and a woman new to town who works with horses and people to help them improve their tools to connecting.

We were delighted to watch her with a green Arab that she was being asked to take on for some fundamental training. It was clear she was someone we could relate to who was working without force, from energy, and looking to create relationships and when she said you’ve lost everything the minute you get frustrated or mad at a horse we knew we’d found a kindred spirit.

In the 5 hours together (about 20 miles) we talked easily and enjoyed getting to know each other.

It was also a great training ride for Biltmore if I decide to go.

Dan set us up to camp at a barn where there was a huge field for the horses and a pretty spot for the humans overlooking the Cannan Valley floor.

The second day we rode unguided in the ‘safer’ terrain of Cannan Valley Wildlife Refuge and Blackwater State Park. We missed a turn and ended up farther than we intended for a short ride and called Dan to see if he had any advice on the easiest way back to the trailer.

He happened to have a little time right then and we’d dropped into a place accessible by vehicle so he offered to meet us and take one of us to bring back the trailer. It would save time. That was fine for us and would mean getting on the road earlier.

It may have been the 20 minutes I relaxed with the horses that turned out to be my favorite moments of the trip.

After I pulled tack on both horses I sat on the grass and to let the horses graze and walk around dragging their leads. There were no people, no traffic, and plenty of grass. If either started to leave I would redirect them back, worse case one of them would step on a lead and get themselves stopped long enough for me to catch up.

They each took a couple meandering steps and a few bites and within a minute I found myself looking up into two horse muzzles comfortably resting above me.

They weren’t doing anything… just looking down on me as I rested sitting on the ground.

I leaned back, looked up and wondered.

What is this?

I’ve spent lots of time around my horses loose. They usually graze, or walk around, or sniff me, ask for a scratch, I’ve never had them just stand looking down at me… for 20 minutes.

They shifted weight, cocked and uncocked hind feet, sometimes looked a different direction for a moment, but until the trailer rolled up they didn’t move.

As I looked up at them in peaceful contentment, and I reflected over some of the trip’s highlights, a thought resonated with me that reminded me of something Bob Goff says:

I’m with you.

Bob says that real love, it isn’t about doing things so that you can get something in return. Or in his words collect tickets like at an arcade and turn them in for a cheap trinket… or to add up your own good deeds to tip the scales somehow.

The change has to be from within the heart; the thing that creates connection and lasts is the heart that says: I’m with you.

That’s all we three were doing at that moment. Being together.

My mind floated back to earlier that morning as this idea played out in beautiful layers like gossamer threads in the fabric of life.

My friend used to have trailer loading issues with her main horse. Then she got some better tools, did a lot of personal work, more work with her horse, and found she had a reliable loading horse and built a better relationship.

Yet recently she began to see some very small signs that things weren’t quite right. He still would load but not as easily and with some of his old habits returning (like rearing up and avoiding before stepping on). She felt like she’d somehow ‘lost ground’.

That morning he did not willingly immediately load on the trailer and it created worry, fears, pressure and frustration in her and then there’s that nagging voice we all hear that tells us everyone else has it so much more together than I do.

She didn’t want to mess up my day or be the reason we were held up. She didn’t want to imagine that she’s going back to the times she didn’t know if he would load or not. None of us want to feel like a failure and most of all not in front of anyone else to watch.

Her horse is not afraid of the trailer. He wasn’t being disrespectful. He didn’t want to fight her.

He had some concerns. One of which was Khaleesi.

Is she coming?

We both knew we could load him in 30 seconds by answering that question: load the mare first.

He would have walked right on (I’m 100% certain he would have walked right on because he didn’t load right away the afternoon before after the 20 mile ride. Not wanting to take everyone else’s time at the trailhead we loaded Khaleesi first and he practically ran me over eager to get on behind her.)

However getting him to load on the trailer was NOT the thing she wanted to solve. We could trick or manipulate him into doing it but that isn’t a lasting solution.

She was working toward a relationship with him that he could trust in her to the extent that if she asked him to load up he would be confident in her. She would be capable to trust with the details.

Considering what a powerful, sensitive and highly ranked horse he is, this is not an easy job and it takes her constantly being aware of everything – because he is constantly aware of everything. You don’t earn that trust and then float on with it. You re-earn it every interaction. It has to change who you are when you have a horse like that. She has to be that good. 100% of the time.

I think she’d say he’s worth it. ❤️

And from what I know of her- she can be that person, in fact I watch her turn into that person a little more every time I ride with them.

Thankfully there are few of these kind of horses in the world. Most people have a more middle of the pack animal that isn’t quite as demanding.

What I love most is that we all get the horse we need to teach us to grow.

There are the really bad fits that need to be sold or given to a better situation of course, but for most of us, the horses we struggle with are growth opportunities if we start by looking not to the horse to change first, but look in the mirror. Then seek out and get the right tools and education to work on ourselves first.

She knows all this and I encouraged her to spend whatever time she needed that morning to tell her horse not: we’ll be ok if you just get on the damn trailer already…

but simply: I’m paying attention, I see you’re struggling here, and as you sort it out… I’m with you.

That was the other layer. She is a close friend and I cared much more about her opportunity to connect with her horse than anything else that morning.

Love doesn’t demand its own way.

I’d gladly give up doing any ride at all if that’s what was needed. For her to connect with her horse I would trailer 2 hours then spend the day trailer load and go home if that would help her. And I’d love every minute of the process doing life with her because she’s my friend.

She didn’t need to worry about loading her horse AND me getting impatient or frustrated. She didn’t need to wonder what I’d want back from her in trade for my patience. She also knew I’d never judge her journey with this horse- that I knew it was unique to the two of them and not comparable to my own or any other friend’s situation.

No matter what we were doing that day she needed to know: I’m with you.

This is not a trailer loading post. What she did is not the answer to everyones horse that doesn’t want to load. But we learned some interesting things together because I was able to be a different, outside pair of eyes as she worked with him from her limited first person perspective.

It seemed clear he knew what she wanted- and she didn’t need to continue to ask him again. He just wasn’t ready to do it. He would get comfortable part way onto the trailer and most people would ask him to continue on and load up- finish the job- but we observed that even just pointing the direction she wanted (asking again) without any pressure from the rope would send him flying back off completely to restart the process.

She’d lose everything just as he seemed ready to load that last few feet. This happened a couple times and my outside 3rd person perspective was able to see it play out and help her with the information.

I’m no smarter than her, I just had the right viewpoint.

What she was doing wasn’t wrong. It just wasn’t what he needed that morning.

He’s a really cool horse- extremely sensitive. This can work for you and against you depending.

I suggested she try something different. Just keep him focused on her inside the trailer- and she could do it with only a click of her tongue (he’s that sensitive). Don’t add any more pressure or ask him again to get on. I was certain he was under no doubt that she wanted him to load. He wasn’t confused. He just wasn’t ready to do it.

She expertly timed relaxing vs. a tongue click the moment he’d look away and get distracted. Very soft, very relaxed he would inch forward closer to her, paw the ground, sniff inside… one level at a time he continued onto the trailer.

I know it was hard sometimes as he was almost there not to ask him to take that last 6 inches and let’s get going. In human terms we’d waited long enough for a horse that is 20 years old and been riding in horse trailers almost all of his life.

Even I had a hard time not wanting to push that back foot the last two inches and close the ramp so he was trapped on.

Gotcha!!

That would have destroyed all trust immediately!

But she worked out her patience with sweat and blood – it was killing her to be so close but not force or pressure him, get excited that after 30 minutes he was almost there or even think about how close he was until he was ready to close that last gap of his own free will.

Its easy to see with horses. We humans are often making the choices for our horses. We don’t even give them the chance. We don’t let them make a mistake. It takes so much time at first to consult them for every little thing we do with them. It seems easier and faster to just push and pull them around.

What could have been done in 2 minutes with a shortcut (load the mare first) took her 45. (I was prepared to spend hours or all day!) But the end result was beautiful.

He loaded himself onto the trailer for her.

Anyone watching would wondered what was wrong. Most people would have offered help. But watching them was a gift for me of exactly what was right.

Her message to him during that time was not conditional: if you do what I want then I’ll be with you...

That’s manipulation. We humans are so good at it. We manipulate each other, we manipulate animals, we manipulate ourselves and try to manipulate God.

Her message was simply: it’s time to get on the trailer, however you need to do it today… I’m with you.

And Khaleesi and I stood quietly nearby saying: and we’re with you both too.

I look around… and in the mirror and see so much manipulation hidden deceptively in the clothing of generosity and kindness.

I’m a nice/giving/tolerant person… up to a point. But take advantage of me … or disagree with me and watch out.

My friend had a limit in her mind of what was ‘enough’ time for him to sort out getting on. At that point she would ask again [he knows how to do this!!!], add pressure. But her limit was like 35 minutes before he was ready. He needed that time that day and she got a win for their connection by giving it to him instead of demanding that after 10 minutes he was just taking advantage of her and she’d now show him!

It also looks like ticket counting when we want to trade our kindness or being with someone for something for ourselves:

If I spend today working around the house with my husband then I have saved up enough tickets to go riding all day tomorrow with my girlfriends!

Or…

I’ve saved enough ‘tickets’ that you should be more thoughtful of my needs…

There’s also the scoreboard we all seem to keep running track of:

I have gone out of my way to help you X times… the least you could do is do Y for me…

The change of heart to simply if I can I will, and because I want to be with you is enough, opens a transformation so much bigger than any act itself. And there is never anything on the other side of the equal sign. I don’t count tickets anymore. Mine or yours.

I think this is how hoses live. They do life being with each other.

I’ve had friendships along the way where if we happened to be going the same direction then it worked, but both of us were really just doing what we each wanted and basically lined up doing the same things. Sometimes it’s a surprise when you thought you had a deep friendship to find that once you did need someone to be with you… they weren’t with you… they were doing what worked for them still. Or the other way around. It happens both directions.

This isn’t necessarily bad. And we can’t do life with too many people this way. I love how Bob Goff suggests you should figure out how many people will fit around your bed so that as you’re dying you have just the right amount of deep relationships that no one is squeezed out and you don’t have too much empty space either. I think he decided its like 10 or 12 people!

But this can work with everyone you interact with in allowing yourself to be with the people you are with through your day.

Can I set myself aside whenever I’m in someones presence to be with them at that moment and really see them not just what I need from them?

There is a magic that happens when you can’t be taken advantage of because you’re actually just giving.

Maybe the most ironic part is realizing that you can’t have this heart change if it’s because you want a horse that will load on the trailer, or your spouse to be kinder to you, or because you want anything.

Because that is the heart of manipulation again.

if you can find this change in your heart then for it to be real, and to matter, it must become a way of being over your lifetime. The deep changes around you come in increments over time as you change and those who you love begin to be loved as you say…

I’m with you.

Peace

August 13, 2018

Things in the barn have been quiet lately.

No that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped going! Very funny.

After years… at least four or five or even six… of seeking a different way of relating to horses… of struggling to connect and communicate with them more effectively. Something has clicked over.

Friday I brought in both mares. I walk out to greet them even if they are at the farthest point of the field. As I approached they walked a few feet up the fence line and turned their attention to the field past the adjoining driveway. So I did as well. I stood there next to them scanning the tall grass for a moment until I heard them.

The sheep were coming. They hang out at the big oak tree just a few feet over from the mare’s favorite shady spot.

Oh- are they your friends? The sheep? Well hello sheep…. ok, are you ready to go?

Then I rub both horses a greeting and hold up khaleesi’s halter. She drops her head into the noseband letting me know she is indeed ready. (If she’s not ready she will walk out of the halter I am holding- and I allow her to. Sometimes she needs to scratch first, or show me something, or ask if I still care if she’s ready or not….)

I walk with K on lead and Wy follows. I don’t need a halter for her. Khaleesi knows which side she’s supposed to walk on depending on what hand I carry the lead rope. I don’t choose the same side all the time. Yet today she dips behind my back and changes sides then walks ‘too close’ to me with her head right in front of my shoulder.

That’s odd. She doesn’t usually do that. She knows how to walk in with me…. why would she do that?

So I stop and turn to her and find a green headed fly sucking the blood out of her neck right in my eyeline.

Can you please kill that thing!? She asks me so politely.

And I do.

She goes back to the side we agreed upon and we walk on.

I open the gate and both mares come out and we head in to the barn. I loop khaleesi’s line through loosely (she will stay there) and get the green halter for Wy as I will tie her while we’re in the barn.

Wyoming’s feet are long in the toe again. Working on her feet takes a long time commitment for me so I don’t do it as often as I would like to. I work on them every couple weeks- but I only get so far before it’s too much for her so they more need regular attention for now.

Then there is the right hind that she still cannot allow me to work at all. That one is wicked long in the toe and I hope she breaks it off herself soon.

I grab my rasp and gloves and get started. Her front feet used to be difficult but now she lifts them easily and will give me a good amount of time with them before it’s ‘too much’. For the most part I allow her to decide what she can handle. I haven’t always taken this approach- after all it’s for her own good that I get her feet trimmed.

But she is a mustang and if she’s not comfortable nothing goes right. When she first came I tried to push her comfort zone so she would see it’s all going to be fine. And it wasn’t fine for her. Which meant it wasn’t fine for any human who had to work with her.

My farrier at the time suggested she needed more fear of humans. He tried to help that process along. It cost me dearly with her and he (I’m sure to his relief) never worked on her again. This process isn’t his job anyway. It’s mine.

So a year later I am still healing the breech and honoring her spirit above the health of her hooves.

After getting a lot of hoof filed off she asked to pause and I dropped the hoof. She set it down and off she went. Deep into her mind. Vacant. Processing. It must feel so much better to get that hoof in balance.

I stood quietly (this is why it takes so long to work on her feet right now…) I couldn’t pay a trimmer or farrier enough to allow the luxury of this wild mare to process the changes both physically and emotionally. I watch and wait for her to return knowing that every time we do this she takes a big step toward being easy to trim.

This goes on for both front feet and in one of the pauses khaleesi who had been standing quietly and often also processing along with in support of Wy starts to paw her right front hoof in the ground and lift it up.

You want me to check that out for you?

So I let the mustang rest and go to Khaleesi. She holds the foot just off the ground and I see the pillars are growing in thick even though it’s not two weeks since I trimmed them. I shave a little off with my rasp and even up the heels just a touch (the medial grows longer over time). She sets her foot down and shakes her head and licks.

She’s happy with that.

Then she raises the other front hoof and I do about the same.

Moving back the the mustang she now lifts her left hind as I approach her. She is beginning to understand that what I’m doing is helping her. Yet there emotional damage that makes it hard for her to trust and let go.

This horse doesn’t need me to force her through. She needs understanding. Time.

Lifting that hind is huge for her so I pick it up and do my best to work in a way that she’s comfortable. It’s stop and start as I find an angle to work the rasp effectively and when I get it wrong she takes the hoof back uncomfortable.

Yet we sort it out and I get more done on that hind than ever before.

The other hind is a whole other layer of internal struggle for her. She wants to give it to me but but just can’t seem to be ok yet.

In the end I take my lesson of never letting what’s good for her in my mind (not having one long toed hoof left after trimming!!) get to be more important than the whole horse and what she’s capable of… just getting her to lift that hoof a tiny bit and not step over to avoid me is the best I’ll get without losing everything.

(Wyoming relaxed in thought with Khaleesi also in process mode in the background)

So I stop with trimming for the day.

I decide to put the saddle on her and she is a good sport but I sense a very low level concern building. She is ok with the saddle- she is more likely worried about what might come next.

Don’t worry about that today. This is all you need to be ok with.

I walk her in large circles through and around the barn so she can move her feet and not stand tied up and worried about what the saddle means.

Once she’s relaxed again I tie her back up and remove the saddle.

Good girl.

It took a lot of time to get this far today so I have maybe an hour to ride. Perfect to pony Wyoming which I haven’t done in a while.

It will be good for us all…

I’m in the midst of troubleshooting some very ugly rub spots on Khaleesi. Saddle woes have been from time to time part of every horse person’s life I know- at least anyone who is paying attention.

I wrote recently about my own saddle journey in my other blog drawing board. You can find it here: Saddles: constructive, destructive, defensive

https://drawingboardlessons.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/saddles-constructive-destructive-defensive/

My saddle is great. In fact that’s the problem. Her topline is muscling in continuously and I have to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve and I’m not doing a good job of adjusting with the changes. I’m behind.

As she grows in more back muscling I need to adjust how the felt shims work and in this case I believe now that the pads I was using didn’t do what I now need which is different than what I needed a year ago.

Thankfully I have a good friend who is helping me sort it out and is a bit of a pad-hoarder and has loaned me some options to work with.

After trying some set ups that made it worse I had that 4am flash of inspiration and was ready to try that today.

I began to tack up Khaleesi and in tightening the girth she scrunched her face, bared her teeth and as I didn’t really believe her (just give it a try!!) she nipped at me.

Ugh. She says no way. So much for that idea. Now what am I going to do?

As I loosened the girth I felt underneath. The 1/2″ pad was tight under my hand. Maybe the 1/4″ would do?

So I tried the thinner ‘J’ pad and she stood quiet and relaxed as I tightened the girth without even a side glance.

She approves!

It is so much better when she helps me figure out what works for her!

With Khaleesi moving comfortably and happy underneath me the shimming solution seems to be a winner (for now). And with Wyoming healing emotionally over lots of time and patience she walked exactly at my knee like a buddy.

Everything at peace. Even the two mares with each other.

Life is never without challenges so we did have a couple trials: first being two terrible big biting flies that attacked Wyoming on the hind. I couldn’t do anything to help her except stop and give her lots of lead to get them off. She twisted bucked and reared and finally spun so her butt was smashed against my leg.

Later I thought how frightening her antics would have looked to someone with less experience with her. But I knew she wasn’t being ‘bad’ she was begging for help.

It made me wonder how many people appear to be acting badly outwardly but really have a problem they can’t seem to sort out on their own. All of us I recon.

I had to finally let go of her and trust. I couldn’t get those flies and I knew they would stalk her until I did. She bounded a few steps down the trail away from me and khaleesi and I walked the opposite direction. The flies came with us and landed on Khaleesi and I killed them both.

I didn’t know what would happen next. Would Wyoming try to head for home? Would I be able to get her lead rope without having to get off and on wrangling two horses? No matter what I knew I could sort it out.

In the end it wasn’t a big deal. We walked up to her and I was able to reach out and get the lead, turn us around and continue on in peace.

On the way home as we walked along the property fence a down tree was casting strange shadows. Something terrified Wyoming and she hard-stopped then panicked in fear dashing in front of Khaleesi, getting to the end of the lead then spinning around into a tree so their heads were together and Wyoming was facing me and the downed tree. (Again… what may have looked like a ‘bad’ horse was a horse terrified for her life. I don’t think it matters if there is anything to actually fear. It’s what she believes that matters at the moment)

We just stood there a moment and khaleesi and I were calm- after a moment observation I knew there was truly nothing there to fear but the little mustang was visibly shaking.

After a moment she regained her wits and I untangled the lead from the tree, situated us right again, and we walked on relaxed and easy.

There was a time when that mustang would have not stopped to consider if she was ok until she’d put a big distance between her and the fright. I’ve watched her leap a fence from a standstill to evade a spook. That’s wonderful progress!

Last thing I noted about her- she used to struggle going down the steeper hills. This time it was easy going both up and down. No fussing or discomfort.

I maneuvered much of the ride with little aid from my hands and feet as Khaleesi responds pretty well now from my energy.

We returned to the barn with a relaxed Khaleesi and Wyoming still at my knee on a loose lead.

Everything about the day as it had been for the past few weeks. Aligned. Connected. Peaceful. In agreement.

I haven’t arrived. I am not done learning… I still haven’t finished a successful 50 this season.

In fact, this may finally be the beginning.

Whatever it is, I like it.

I will not say I love you.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I once heard it said that love is heard better as a non-verbal language.

Khaleesi carried me 35 miles over two days of (over) 17-mile training rides literally over the rivers and through the woods. And she did it with a fresh barbed wire cut on her left front.

I bandaged the cut before booting- and as fortune would have it I’d just filed her toes enough that her boots were a little loose so the bandage and vetwrap actually seemed to improve the boot fit.

She trotted and cantered miles on varied terrain in without complaint but I am certain it was at least a little uncomfortable. She had a good attitude the entire 35 miles.

Not only that but most of my closer rider-friends know the queenWILL kick a horse if she feels necessary.

Necessary to her is specifically being ‘boxed in’ she will protect her space if she cannot move forward and a horse comes into her close zone (I’m talking touching distance not a few feet).

This I do not blame her for. She doesn’t do it at random or because she’s mean. She does it not allow a horse to run her over or into another horse or a tree or human etc. Now it’s truly a last resort (it wasn’t always 😝) and it’s been at least a year since she has kicked another horse.

I work actively to protect that space and not allow this situation, but sometimes moving fast on narrow wooded trails with 4 horses things happen.

There were two times this occurred and both times I knew she was about to kick — I was able to avert the crisis by moving us offtrail to give her a way out or by turning her tightly and asking the rider who’d crowded us to remember to leave some space.

Both times no kick.

My horse is connecting with me as a leader more as I continue to become a better one. Riding despite physical discomfort is a sign of willingness and not kicking but allowing me to quickly (instantly) adjust to protect her instead are both positive growth for us.

As I get better… she gets better. 🤔☺️

This has been years of focused effort in my part to be consistent and pay a higher level of attention at ALL times I’m in EYESIGHT of my horse.

I don’t always get it right, and I may have wondered if this level of focus would be worth or.

It is.

A million percent.

This morning I went to the barn feeling much love for my mare. I could tell her I love her till my voice gives out and it will mean very little to her. (I think she’s a little like my husband in this respect!)

With a deep joy in my heart I showed it the best way I knew how instead.


My solid, trusted, strong and bold khaleesi.

I will walk the entire length of the field with my halter and bag of wound care supplies to find you in your favorite morning spot. The only place that is still shaded after the morning sun is high.

I will find you with your strong muscular neck low and your head relaxed and a hind foot cocked, with Wyoming awake and on duty to keep watch while you rest.

Wyoming will step away from you to greet me and ask my business and remind me that the queen has asked not to be disturbed unless it’s important.

I will rub her hello and assure her it’ll only take a minute.

I will greet you gently as you come half out of your nap still breathing so deeply I smell the grass and earth as I approach.

I will ask if you’d like me to check your ears for little scabs from biting midges and you will lower your head toward me to say yes please.

I will rub your neck and withers, along your back and rump and tell you I’m really grateful for your hard work the last two days.

I will notice how strong and fit you look in the height of summer and how your brown coffee coat highlighted with carmel by the sun gleams and shimmers with health.

I will take out my halter and you will drop your nose into it even though you know it could mean a walk to the barn and another 17 miles. If I ask you will go.

I will drape the lead over the fence as I pick up and unbandage your foot and check the cut. I am not ready to leave it open yet to the dirt and flies so decide to rebandage it with a clean dressing and duct tape for one more day and you never move a hoof though Wyoming curiously moves around to watch from different points to get a better view- sometimes her nose on my shoulder, sometimes on the other side from beneath.

When I finish the job and you put your foot down you will lick and chew and yawn in agreement as I remove the halter.

I will allow you to decide if you’d like to come in for breakfast now or rest in the shade a little more and eat when you’re ready.

I will walk away alone and leave you resting in the shade with peace in my heart as Wyoming goes back on watch.

I will leave some food in your bowls for later if you want a snack.

And today…

I will not say I love you,

I will let you be a horse.

The Long Dreams

Friday, July 6, 2018

Tevis season is near… the details that make my heart skip a little as I read about them.

Why?

Why on earth does this equine sport in its extreme forms appeal to some of us. I can’t explain it logically, but we are all created unique from one another, and for some the call to attempt something so challenging… with another living creature with its own personality and opinions- the partnership involved in that and the long hours on the trail- often alone- to get to the starting line…

I’ve had people suggest it’s about a competitive nature- but they misunderstand me and many of the friends I respect in the sport (yes there are unfortunate exceptions) – to us endurance is about me being better than I was yesterday.

We don’t much care about ribbons and trophies** (there aren’t any) or notoriety (this sport doesn’t provide much of an audience) or cash prizes (do some equine sports still do that?!). The motto of the governing organization AERC is “To finish is to win” and in fact sometimes the best prize of the race is the turtle (I’ve collected a few of these) for the rider who completed the ride and came in last.

**nothing against ribbons and trophies or cash prizes! And of course all competitive equine sports require discipline, skill and a relationship especially to get to the highest levels!

I recently went to hear a knowledgeable vet talk to new riders and Lani remarked:

in this sport I can’t remember who came in first last year at the Old Dominion 100, can’t tell you who was top 10 at Tevis… but I can tell you who finished 100 miles healthy and sound on a 21 year old mare, and who has been riding the same horse for 10 years without injury, and who is competing strong with a horse that is not genetically bred to make the sport easy (most non-Arabs), who has faced big challenges and overcome… those are then riders and horses we remember!

It’s captured me. It’s captured my imagination. The journey to get there has made me better.

This sport is not for the faint of heart. It’s called endurance I think now, not because it takes endurance to finish a ride- the longer I compete the more I understand: it takes endurance to get to base camp!

Once you arrive it’s one of the few sports that won’t even let you compete with out a veterinarian’s approval. And you can ride 25, 50, 100 miles in your division, come the the end and have your horse come up slightly lame, have a hind end cramp, not recover to a resting heart rate in time, or be 2 minutes past the allowed time, and not be rewarded your completion of the miles.

You have to be good. You can’t get away with much if you want to succeed over the years.

You don’t have to ride well to start- but you will damage your horse if you continue to ride badly over the thousands of miles training and competing… you have to have a well fitting saddle, a good hoof program, the right nutrition, must understand things like electrolytes and mineral loss in sweat, must be able to mitigate stress in trailering and camping in unfamiliar locations, must be mentally prepared to ride alone or in an unknown group of horses who may be sane and lovely or completely schitzoid and half out of control, must be ready to cross any kind of ditch or bridge or high river, move through any terrain from sucking mud to ridge line rocks (on the same day), meet various animals from wild turkeys to cows… even lamas or sheep and goats from time to time… I’ve encountered joggers, fisherman, hunters, cars, bikes, kayaks and seguays (thank you Biltmore); you will need to ride in the dark either for a few miles at the end of a long 50 or all through the night for a 100, and through it all watch for trail ribbons- stick with the right color for the loop you’re on, and try not to get lost in the great wilderness these rides cover.

You cannot really prepare for everything you’ll encounter. This is one reason your relationship with your horse is possibly even more vital in endurance than other disciplines where you can know more what to expect and find more consistency. I also find some people really like knowing what to expect and planing and preparing! This sport is hard on those people.

Talk about cross training!

It’s drawn my attention to a fundamental difference I’ve begun to notice in people around me. I have a view of things that if it doesn’t cost you something, if you don’t have to work for it it is not as special. (This does not include gifts! I have some very very special gifts in my life that I treasure though they came only from the love and generosity of the giver)

I’ve always wanted to experience the almost impossible. I want to explore the limits of what I’m capable of and see if the limits can go just a little farther. I want to do the things most people are just not willing to put the effort in to experience. I want to solve the puzzle and find a way to make the unlikely happen.

When I did marathon training in Northern California I ran a beautiful trail along a reservoir that had only one entrance that went for miles. On long run days I might run 10 or more miles, and gradually I would leave the families out for a walk and the casual joggers behind and eventually I’d be completely alone on trail fewer and fewer people would see. I remember one day reflecting on the reward for working so much in my running was to get to beautiful parts of the trail into the park that not many see and the gift of being in my own world out there gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Recently I’ve discovered that not everyone looks at life this way. Some people feel that if things don’t come basically easily then maybe you are on the wrong path. That things shouldn’t ‘be so hard’. While at first I thought this seemed like laziness or lack of drive- I came to realize that these other folks see it like trying to force a square peg into a round hole and that is an exercise in stupidity. Truly.

There are merits to both ways of understanding the world and it’s one thing to work hard for something and quite another to force something that shouldn’t be.

This balance is observable in endurance as people try to determine if their horse is truly a terrible fit for the sport and not likely to succeed verses the horse that needs more training and support to do well. Someone like me is more likely to continue longer than useful in coming to the realization that it’s a truly bad fit, yet someone with the opposite view very well could give up too soon on a horse that with the right help could be a successful endurance mount (for example).

No matter what, to do this sport well a solid relationship with your horse is key. And no matter what relationships take work.

Horses don’t lie- this is a lot to ask of them, they are amazingly capable creatures who will stun you to tears with their physical ability when trained well and their massive hearts to do their job for you.

My journey into the rabbit hole of endurance has made me better with my horses, it’s made me better a better writer, it’s made me better with my friends, it’s made me better with my family. Yes, over time, I think it’s even made me a better wife.

I leave you with a blog repost to the inspiration for my entry. It is written by Elizabeth Speth Mostly Beautiful Things- Tevis Volunteer. Here is a quote from the blog that stirred my heart as she shared real experiences she has gone through volunteering for the famous Western States Tevis Cup:

I will be happy to see you at one a.m. in a remote place, with the moon rising over a tree-fringed canyon, as the air is turning cold.  You have been riding nearly twenty hours, give or take.  In temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees.  You’ve had a long day.  We’ve left the light on for you, because you still have a ways to go.
I will stay with you while you throw up, wretchedly, exhaustedly, on the ground in front of your chair under the gas lamp.  Riding in the dark for hours gave you motion sickness, and your dehydration didn’t help.  You are too tired to be embarrassed, and I’m glad, because you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
I will hold your horse and look discreetly the other way while you pee on a bush not a foot away from me.
I will run five miles down a trail in my boots, in deep darkness, because your horse stumbled and you both went over a cliff.  My fellow volunteers and I will be overjoyed to find you alive, clinging to a steep hillside, seriously injured but with humor and graciousness intact.  Your horse will have made his way back to camp by then, in better shape than you.  I will sit with you for a few hours while the moon pries the black sky open, and we wait for rescue folks to arrive.
I will envy you as you pile your tired body in the saddle for the last fourteen miles, so delirious you have to ask me which way the trail lies.  I will watch you until darkness swallows you up.  I will think you are very brave.  I will think your horse is a miraculous thing of beauty.