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.

Windchill

Sunday, January 7, 2017

There isn’t a whole lot happening on the farm at the moment. Thankfully these sub-zero windchill days are dry and we don’t have feet of snow to trudge through on top of the bitter cold and wind.

For the most part my mares seem content if not a little cranky and prone to short bursts of you’re too close to my hay pile antics. If a wind gust breaks a branch in the near woods or the spooky echo creaky sounds that come from the mostly frozen pond sends them cantering and bucking a few yard then walking nonchalantly back to whatever they were doing…

The worst of the bitter sub zero days I did blanket Khaleesi but in general she still prefers her own fur warming system.

I’m trying to remember to take a period to rest myself but I’m not so good at languishing inside by the fire. I’ll always remember my grandmother telling my mom to: sit down a minute once in a while. It seems like I have the genetic keep moving disorder too.

I am still pleased at the long term changes I’m seeing in Khaleesi as she approaches 8 years this March. Her body looks muscular in the right places, her neck is powerful she has a healthier in coat and hair and her feet are going to take some time but they are improving for sure in hoof wall quality with improved nutrition, proper trimming and better blood flow. I thought back about where I am in the changes:

  • Feed/nutrition: April
  • Barefoot & better trimming: June
  • Balance saddle (build topline): July

It seems like forever but I’m not even in a whole year yet with any of them. These are long term adjustments not quick fixes. Regardless I think this is going to be a strong year for her.

I suppose the only real news is the gelding herd (at my request) has been moved over so they cannot connect with my mares over the fenceline. I wasn’t sure this pseudo-herd was really what I wanted for mine but more important was the old fencing was beginning to suffer from the abuse of random mare kicks and too much leaning and pushing on it. The fence is perfectly fine without the interaction and I don’t want to take on mending fences if I don’t need to.

At the risk of stepping over into anthropomorphizing because horses do not really share our same thoughts and feelings …. Khaleesi is in the least looking for her gelding band and stands and the worst of the fencing that seemed to be a meeting place- and watches, waiting for them to return from the distant river pastures.

I feel a little sorry for her. I stood with her there in the freezing wind yesterday and just let her know I understood. Whether it’s the call of her hormones to reproduce, the need for a larger herd to be secure, or boredom in this cold season that I spend less time there- she does know there is something missing she wants back.

I rubbed her, scratched a few of her favorite spots and she breathed deeply and at one point wrapped her neck around me.

When I walk back to leave she will often follow- at least as far as the hay piles… but lately she just stands looking out over the fence into the distant fields.

One thing I have learned from this: I do care what horses adjoin mine. Though they cannot create real herds with a fenceline between they are affected by the social interaction. I will pay closer attention to that in the future as in some neighbors past have been old horses, disinterested… but this herd that came in the late fall she had really connected at least one or two of the top geldings, and this change which I believe is for the best seems hard on her for now and I’d prefer not to do it often.

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! āœØ

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.

The skies Iā€™m under

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You may notice this blog is unusual in that I have no photos. It just happened that I didn’t have my phone on me for the ride and I didn’t do any video or photos before/after today.

Today I loaded up the mare and went to meet a friend for a short ride.

There is a message I keep finding in my world that I’m beginning to take more seriously- because if I don’t start to get it soon I feel I may be getting stuck in a loop until I learn.

I heard a woman in the fall talk about how we are always anticipating where we will be next… you know exactly what I mean: when we’re young we want to be a teen… then we wish we were on our own and didn’t have to deal with parents controlling our lives… then if we could just find that right someone to marry… then it’s (not so much for me but common) looking forward to having kids… then it’s looking forward to not having kids at home… then it’s looking forward to retirement… and… eventually we spent an entire life looking forward to the next step and never enjoying our lives where we are.

I DO make a point to look around and enjoy where I am, but I still fall into the trap more often than I’d like to admit.

Specifically in my horse world I am always wanting to be better, to do better and while that is good- to improve and grow- I can get caught up in the place I want to be instead of being ok with where I am. No matter what I try to do- it seems you just can’t rush life experience.

When I was in IL for the SET seminar I took lots of notes and one of the big points I underlined was a passing comment that others might have not even written down or spent an extra thought on (because they may not have needed to hear it the way I need to hear it)

You cannot know what you don’t know. Learn to be content with where you are in the process.

I knew that word was one I needed to take to heart and it’s something I’d been hearing all around me in the rest of my life as well.


Anyone who regularly reads this blog and is along for the ride from the small window of the internet- you’ll know I spent 2 weeks working with my mare in the field and trying to improve and understand our relationship from her perspective.

Today I continued the process to include trailer ride to connect with a friend. One might have thought that K and I would be working together like clockwork.

Nope. Not even close.

She was way more interested in the herd dynamics this morning when I brought her in than me. She was fidgety in the barn (trying to see if she could discern what was going on outside). I ended up grabbing my flag and used it to command attention and ask her to stand still while I cleaned her feet. A very simple thing she is completely capable of. (The flag worked great!!)

I did get her loaded on the trailer with no trouble but once unloaded and tacking up she was distracted by all the horses around. Having some foresight, I’d brought the flag and used it again when she was dancing around while I tried to saddle. Again this helped.

Then when I went to put in the bit she pulled her head back got free of me and the rope on her neck and roamed the yard a few minutes before I got her back on line.

Loose horse. Great way to start the ride.

šŸ™„

She danced around as I tried to tie on her lead rope to the saddle (just in case) then didn’t stand still for me to get on. Had to regroup more than once.

I truly felt like I had the circus clown horse show going on. I pray often for humility and compassion- watch what you ask for!<<
ce in the saddle we headed out and Khaleesi began to turn around in the field and question going through the creek.

No way. I circled and we went through the creek.

She wanted her own speed, her own way… I honestly had a moment where I wondered if this was the day I'd end up grateful for my helmet as my head hit a tree. Then decided not to allow those kind of thoughts any room and just rode the horse I had.<<
e was unruly in the lead (front horse)… she walked faster than ever in the back – not content to let the other horses set the pace… I just stayed loose in my body, tried not to pull on her yet not to allow her to do whatever her equine brain was thinking at the time.

This was the issue. She wanted to make the decisions. She wanted to be in control. But I need to make the decisions. I have the better brain.

So I did my best. <<
d though it wasn't always fun, it went ok. I did not allow her to control the speed and direction, I had to circle her around some trees, I had to hold her back from cantering up on the group a few times, there was head shaking and dancing but there were also some wonderful connected moments when I asked her to stay in the back, not 'tailgate' and just relax – and she did.

I made a point to not be tense, not be annoyed, and not hold it against her and to rub and tell her she was good when she did fall into a relaxed walk in the back of the pack or move my speed and direction when I asked.

I also tried not to see it as a good day or a bad day- it was just a day with my horse.

Once back at the trailer she was much more relaxed and loaded great for the return trip. Once home I spent almost an hour doing a full trim on her feet and though she was much better I also used the flag a couple times when she started fidgeting and not holding still for me. Again- the flag seems to get her attention quickly and worked great.

I turned her loose and she calmly walked out and rolled then got a drink and went to graze.


On reflecting as I cleaned up the barn it occurred to me that I would have liked to think that the time I spent working on a better relationship might have meant that voila everything would have been better today. The there would have been ‘improvement’ when in fact the opposite was true. It was a particularly challenging day.

This could have been because she’s in heat … or that the weather’s changing and she was just that mare today. Maybe the way I’ve worked with her in the last couple weeks was counterproductive to what I want with her (allowing her too much say in how I did things). Or she’s asking a lot more to see how I handle it because I’ve been more present in her world recently.

No matter what the ‘why’ is, I can only be where I am today. This path to getting better is not a straight line, it looks more like a zig zag roller coaster sometimes- and though I was challenged, it was ok. I did not get hurt, I did finish the ride, and we did basically go the speed and direction I wanted and I insisted that she follow my brain without getting upset about it.

It occurred to me I am always looking forward to the day my amazing horse wants to do exactly what I want to do and we go as one down the trail regardless of any other external factor. Even more that I don’t have to force her- she wants to work with me. I’ve become the leader she wants to choose over being alone or with any other horse.

So that day may come, but I have some time to learn how to get there, and in the meanwhile I hope I can remember to enjoy the process of learning what I need to learn, having the experiences I need to become that leader, and being glad that in the meanwhile I do have some knowledge and experience that will help me make good choices and improve with each ride.

I also try to remember that if it were that easy it probably wouldn’t be something worth investing a life into.

A familiar song echoes through my mind today:

So when you’re Hope’s on fire; and you know your desire- don’t put a glass over the flame don’t let your heart grow cold – I will call you by name I will share you road.<<
ope that I'm not a Hopeless Wanderer, because I DO have hope! And I love the endurance of keeping on with your hope and dreams even if it gets difficult. I always have that fire burning somewhere… But in the final part of the song the words I keep hearing today and this fall and winter….

I will learn. I will learn to love the skies I’m under. The skies I’m under…..

— Hopeless Wanderer, Mumford and Sons

Experiments in action

Monday, December 18, 2017

For those of you who have questioned my sanity lately you’re not alone. There have been times I’ve wondered if I’m on the right track myself.

I did not end up on a solo ride Friday. I found two mares a little stir crazy with the cold wind and spent more time in the field than I’d anticipated (based on recent days’ events.) Of course every day is different and I try to work with what I have each time.

I decided to use the bailing twine to bridge the gap between field and barn with Khaleesi and in a moment where she wanted to eat and I wanted to move forward I pushed just enough too hard that she responded in a way that meant leaving me… completely.

So she was loose in the yard yet again and that took a little more time than I’d anticipated retrieving her.

I did get the mare back and we made it into the barn where I turned her loose in the barn aisle and proceeded to take video of grooming and tacking up without a halter or lead.

This is where I feel like I should add do not attempt this at home disclaimer.

Not because it’s particularly dangerous but I can’t say if it’s actually helpful, could be frustrating if you don’t have the right mindset (frustration is never good with your horse), and could possibly end up being counterproductive in the end.

That all being said; as a process I am glad I did it- and the video was amazingly helpful: this I will recommend to ANYONE who would like to improve interacting with a horse. Just set up a tripod to video anything you are doing and you will learn more than you could probably ever pay anyone to teach you.

Watch what you do, how your horse responds to you and you will learn what is effective, what is completely ineffective (and worse) what instigates an unintended negative cycle.

It’s always humbling every time I do it.

Long story condensed, I eventually got my horse tacked up completely loose in the barn aisle (which meant getting better at asking her to come back to where we were working. Without a lead rope. I had to do it a lot because no, she did not stand still as if tied while not tied to anything.)

I decided after the almost 3 hours invested in catching, getting into the barn and then getting a saddle on without a halter or lead- and the frigid wind gusting outside being a very big factor- I took the saddle back off and walked very relaxed together (yes with the bailing twine) triumphantly in some ways… back to the field and released.

Here is one of the nice moments in the process.

Later I reflected if this is a total waste of time and if my alpha-mare is possibly looking at me wondering when I’ll get my act together and take her in, get it done and ride her for heaven’s sake.

Honestly I’m not sure if that’s too human a thought process or not in this case. This is why I’m doing these half crazy things. The only way I’m going to have a better understanding is if I take what I DO know… and see what happens when I work with it.

Saturday I had some errands out of town. I didn’t spend much time at the barn. I fed then haltered Khaleesi – did a little bit of leading in the field, released her and walked away. She followed me to the gate and along the fence with me as I left so I felt that was positive.

Sunday I went with the thought that MAYBE today could be the day I get back in the saddle. But I’ve learned not to get too set in any plan until I show up and see what is going on.

I haltered K after feeding and using the halter as I WOULD USE THE BAILING TWINE I brought her to the barn. Today I untied the halter from the lead leaving the halter in place in case I decided to use it.

I wanted to tack up again without tying but I saw some things from Friday’s video I wanted to improve and just having a halter on could help.

Specifically I wanted to be able to effectively return her to the area I was working in and discourage so much of her roaming the entire barn aisle. I also wanted to get more efficient without time pressure- just not waste so much time.

I rarely touched the halter, but the entire process improved from my perspective. The challenge was increased slightly as Wild Heart was calling like a banshee- she didn’t get Khaleesi back but did get the gelding herd to return and then was making tons of noise as she interacted with them.

šŸ™„

For anyone joining recently, Khaleesi is a pretty high level (in the herd) mare. She is in charge out there and who can say what those ridiculous stupid horses are up to without her to keep them straight. That made keeping her attention harder than otherwise.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
unday went better in some ways, struggle for me in others. Sanity again questioned. Some great moments, sometimes I was at a loss. Some hail-wintry mix sounding on the barn roof. And in the end the saddle went on and I decided this was a good day to get back up there.

So outside we went with the mounting stool.

Lots of activity in the field. Wild Heart has all kinds of action going on with the gelding herd.

My first attempt to get in the saddle she begins to walk off. I hop off and return to try again.

Second time she stands still until I get situated then she begins walking immediately without my direction toward the fields.

I know exactly what we’ll be doing today.

She walks fast to the field and I let her. When arrived at the fence line I turn her immediately around and return to the stool (where I had mounted and not asked her to leave yet.)

Check and tighten girth<
he heads back to the fields trotting this time.

It feels kinda good to trot again. I love riding my horse.<

hen return at same speed to mounting stool.

Tighten other side of girth.

…she doesn’t want to stand still- trot to the fields. I encourage her to move out. return at same speed to stool.

Relax.

Then….

Has to go back to fields.

Slow canter this time. Return same speed to stool.

Thinking. Waiting. Good.

I then ask an easy walk toward the gate (to exit property). I get most of the way there and she veers off at a quick trot to the fields again.

No prob. I understand. You think you HAVE to. I immediately turn us around again and we trot same speed back toward gate.

Rest. She pauses. Thinks.

Fidgets then heads back toward fields.

Quick trot there and immediate turn around we go back toward gate. Rest.

More relaxed. A little bit of thinking. Connection with me not the herd. Good.

I begin to walk easy back toward barn (we can end this now- good work).

En route to barn she picks up fast trot and veers back to fields. Again.

Ok not done quite yet.

Again not at all concerned (I can do this all day) I turn around and go back to exit gate.

Rest. Wait.

She relaxes. Just waits. Seems to ask what next?

Good.

After a few moments resting there i turn her back to barn and she goes quiet, willing and does not try to return to the herds.

Now we are done.

I stop in front of barn. Get off and immediately drop tack right there.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
> khaleesi doesn't move a hoof though completely untied in the yard while I remove all equipment and boots. She then does a big course of yawning and chewing.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
.. then I give her time to process what just happened.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
en I then walk her quiet at calm back to the same fields she's been trying to get to all afternoon and release her back into the herd. She walks into the field completely calm as I walk away.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
s I'm waiting near the fields watching alone, I notice something a little fascinating. The gelding herd has left my mares and made its way over to where I was standing. The last interaction I'd had with them was described roughly in my herd where I asked them to get off the fence line and give me space to work with my mares.

It seems they are at the least curious about me. You can see my mares watching in the background.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
verall it is a good day. I felt confident that today my saddle time was equally as effective at building our relationship as the ground time. And I plan to continue riding and working on trailer loading though I hope I can take the things I've seen in video and learned from the last couple weeks and improve my interactions as we get back to riding more consistently.

Rock & Roll

Friday, December 15, 2017

It’s been about two weeks since I committed to getting into my horse’s world and I’ve spent at least some time with them almost every day.

I felt pretty certain I would not ride again until I noticed a shift– at least some change in how my horse related to me. I feel good about saying that shift has begun and I’ve learned a lot in the process.

Here are some recent things that I feel good about:

Khaleesi began to come to the close corner watching for me when I arrived instead of the far corner of the field with her but toward the barn!

If Khaleesi walked off after eating, she walked slowly, not as far, and stopped after just a few steps to focus on me and invited me to approach her.

Most of the time I interact with her she is calm and quiet (not leaving me or running around connected to the other farm horses). In fact one cold day Wild Heart was super energized and took off at full gallop to the complete other end of the field – then turned around and came straight back for us. Khaleesi stayed with me at my side and watched her instead of running with or after her.

She has done a lot of processing and thinking even when I ask something simple and small- I believe what she’s processing a lot of the time is the change in me to ask her without any possibility of force (not even a halter) and how much more value I’ve put on her willing part of the process.

There have been times after working with her free, I’ve had her walking in step with me back to the gate without lead rope completely voluntarily.

The day it was going to be -6 windchill I took the blanket out to the field and allowed her complete choice over if she took the blanket and how I put it on and fastened it.

The day when I finished some ‘liberty’ ground work with Khaleesi, she followed me all the way in to the gate, then she stood a the gate while I left watching me walk to the barn.

Last, today I took my saddle out and with only a loosely draped lead rope (no halter) I saddled her completely with her cooperation for each step with great success- no fussing whatsoever- then took off the saddle and spend a few more minutes where she stayed with me, did some simple things like crossing her front over before I left with her closeby eating calmly.

So today I plan to be that tuned in to the entire process and include a short ride as a next step.

I got a message this week from a friend I haven’t ridden with in a while. A group conditioning ride for Saturday. I was very much looking forward to that so responded enthusiastically right away.

Then I thought about it.

šŸ¤”

The riders are great friends, good horse people, but I knew deep down that ride was not what I needed right now. It would be physically motivated and fit horses who would likely be moving along. I knew in my heart that the ride would mean Khaleesi disconnecting from me, connecting with a herd and just riding along ‘keeping up’ with the group.

Not to mention the time factor: needing to trailer somewhere at a certain time. I’ve been reworking my trailer loading and want to continue not having a time pressure on that for at least a few more days.

Add to that whole list the fact that they are women I enjoy and I would also be distracted by catching up with them – not giving my horse my full attention.

<<
new in my gut it would kill a lot of the good foundation I'd been recreating. That the ride was a selfish decision on my part in the moment and though there will be times that kind of ride will be perfect for us- not this week.

I had a very real sense of being tested that morning as I sent a second note explaining that I miss them and want to be there which prompted my first response but that I'm reworking a mental foundation with my horse and the timing isn't right for me. šŸ˜”

Of course they understood and I immediately had a peace about the decision. I think I passed that test and even if my horse doesn't exactly understand that- I chose her needs above my own in that case – not because she couldn't do the ride but because it wasn't the right ride for us – and it felt pretty fantastic!

So today… maybe a solo ride!

Blackwater Swamp Monster

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I just don’t do early mornings well. 

Especially dark ride mornings that are 24 degrees after half freezing in the trailer even with a heater and having to get up to switch it on or off or change propane tanks. 

Tacked up by 6:30am… that’s the goal. Ride start at 7.

Photo credit: Gayle Driver

I’m usually sending someone to check in for me and barely at the start in time and half the time have forgotten something important but not vital by the time trails open. 

Sunday I had Iva… she does do mornings, and she does cold weather. She was perfect!


I was tacked up by about 6:40 and we hand walked together to check in, start warming up the beast and last potty stop for me before mounting up. 

It was cold for a ride start for us and at the ride meeting our head vet warned that we should take getting some good warm up time in very seriously. 

Just as I handed the lead rope to Iva so I could hit the porta potty I hear

Loose horse!! Loose horses… watch out!

I switch gears as a small herd come thundering through and I turn back to grab Khaleesi back in case she forgets about Iva in the mele and poor thing who weighs about as much as a potato chip gets dragged or trampled!


K was affected by the stampede but not hard to regain control… loose horses collected and potty stop successful. 

Almost as exciting as the controlled field burn the previous evening that at one point had me wondering if we might need to pack up in a hurry… 


In the saddle at least 12 minutes to spare, nothing forgotten and doing some warm up walking around much before our usual. Maybe Iva is my good luck charm, or I’m getting better at this?

Photo credit Gayle Driver

Cold air and lots of adrenaline made for a mare paying minimal attention to me as we choose a route to walk and warm up. Already we had a few words over which way the horse herd was moving and which way I wanted to go… mixed in with her desire to eat up whatever was growing in the adjoining field. 

Warming up with Ricky and Ziggy: Photo credit Gayle Driver

Camp was small and I didn’t have a clear plan (that is always a hitch – if you don’t know where you’re going your horse probably realizes it). We were mostly circling around a small area and I happened to be right at the start at the sound of

Trails open!

The front of the herd began pouring out of camp in front of us. Usually I’m a little bit away from the front of the start – now all the excitement was right in front of us. 

So we made a circle around at least and then joined the party. 

Used to be she was nonplussed by the horses and their big hurry. People talked about their race brain horses and I would say oh, thankfully I don’t need to worry about that… if anything my girl is a little on the lazy side. 

Not today. 

I’ve created a monster!


She was ready to go. It was the first time she was that strong headed and running through my hands. Part of me would have loved to just let her run. I wasn’t afraid of her or the speed in the group- but the responsible half won out. 

We have a perfect record of completing at this point. That cannot last forever. Things happen. If you’re going to ride, you’re going to get pulled at some point. Considering you were 3-legged lame less than two weeks ago, it’s very cold (muscles and tendons) AND have never ridden in sand (muscles and tendons!) AND can’t ride at high speeds on your normal training grounds (no idea how that will affect her) you’d better take this conservatively and err on the side of caution. 

So I pulled out occasionally and circled her… did a couple figure 8s and worked on getting her brain under control again. 

Blackwater Swamp Monster needs to use her powers for good today! We have a long road ahead. 


It took a few miles to relax into her job and we fell into a more controlled trot in a large group for a while but about about mile 8 or so we ran out of the starting gate booster, found a pocket mid-pack and began to lag on our own. 

This is ok. It’s remembering that the day is long and what we’re doing here. It’s like the crash after a sugar high. I now had the job of getting her re-motivated instead of slowed down. We kept motivated into the mile 12 turn around where there was water and hay and found Ricky Stone there with Ziggy. 


My main goals for this ride after reading some mistakes of other early season riders was rump rug to keep her hips warmed up and lots of electrolytes even though it seemed cold and sweating is minimal. 

I had begun the ride with my rump rug for the first time ever (breaking rule #1 of the good endurance rider never to try any new tack or rider clothes on ride day!!) thankfully it was a small thing and she didn’t even notice it. Except getting used to how it would sometimes shift to one side and how to tie it back up- I didn’t lose it and no troubles with it. 

Here at the turn around half way through the first loop I got off and encouraged her to eat as much hay as she wanted and hopefully drink. My first electrolyte was here and I electrolyted at each of the 2 holds as well. 

I was glad that Ricky also wanted to give Ziggy some time to eat and drink and they waited for us. We rode together the rest of the day- two good bay mares in red tack until we joined Elyse not long after… a third bay mare but hers in lovely blue. 

The trails were really nice footing as promised. Not a rock in sight, sand but not deep for the most part. We hardly walked and after mile 12 all horses were settled in for the long haul and relaxed and forward. 

Quick swamp shot

The ride was smooth for all of us. Lots of water along the trail and all the horses seemed to prefer drinking from the shallow mud puddles than the actual clear clean crossings we went through. 

One issue I was concerned about was how the finite amount of trail was turned into a 50 mile course. #1 in camp vet checks mean going BACK out which she always thinks is stupid. In this case to run very similar trail (even more stupid to a horse?). #2 getting lost. I’ve been lucky enough not to be that rider who goes 5 miles off trail and either finishes last doing 60 miles instead of 50… or pulling out due to not having the time to finish after a detour. Here with colored ribbons and shared trail sections I thought my chances of wrong turns wer high. And there would be hoof tracks everywhere anyway- so no help there!


Turns out that similar trails ended up good for Khaleesi. Loop 2 was a repeat of loop 1 without an out and back extension- so though at first heading back out was not her first choice, once she got going it was like ‘ok, I know this road…’ and when we didn’t turn to add the 12 miles but kept on toward camp they got a burst of happy energy. The second loop was pretty successful due to its familiarity!

Also the trails were so well marked with pie plate X’s anywhere you might have made a wrong turn that we did not get lost (we missed a turn but that was minimal and the lack of marking made it pretty obvious). 

The ride was a mixture of the edge between farm fields and swamp woods and new single track trail built into the woods snaking through trees which is our specialty.

As we got our rhythm Elyse’s horse took lead on the field sections as she loved to canter on and we got sent into the single tracks first where Khaleesi was all business cutting her way around and through like a pro. One section was not so easy to follow the ground and you really had to watch for the ribbons and I swear that mare started looking for them on her own as we trotted through the woods. That was fun for both of us. I think she gets bored with the open field running. 

Photo credit Gayle Driver

All the vet checks went well. No gait/lameness issues. After the second loop – we’d gone pretty quick and not stopped long for hay at one of the spotter points- she had low gut sounds and the vet held our card. As she’s been voraciously trying to eat everything in the vet line I was confident she’d eat the entire hold, was indeed doing well and we’d be good to go (which was all true). 

Besides the fact that we were moving along and not eating a lot, Lynne told me that excessive cantering quiets down their guts and gave me some ideas to help with that. It’s not an issue we have much here in the mountains. 


I rode the entire day with a heart monitor and she never rose above 150bpm. Not even in long canter stretches. We generally stayed between 110-130 if we were moving and she dropped like a stone when we stopped. Cool temps and no hills made for those details. Never an issue dropping right away for the vet checks and it was cool enough that tack on was allowed which we did the first check. By the second check it was approaching 50 degrees and I thought she’d enjoy a break from the saddle. 


I was surprised we kept such a nice pace up and though all the horses hit that lull around mile 38 where they all seemed tired and we let them walk and eat a little to refuel- once the fuel hit we were strong and solid again. The last ten miles went back up at good strong pace and we cantered albeit a much more controlled canter than the start- into the finish line. 
Official ride clock time put us at 7hours 45 minutes tied for 14th place. We pulled into camp just ahead of 4:30 and thankfully still warm(ish) and light. 

Photo by Jen Coates

Khaleesi passed vet check with no issues and after Dr. Bullock gave the official capital C (completed) Kelly (our vet) came over and couldn’t help but share how excited she was:

You wouldn’t believe how lame this horse was just over a week ago!! Jaime has done an amazing job with her- she looks great!!

(I really don’t feel like I did anything actually)

Khaleesi looked the best she has after a 50 to date. Sure, this is probably in most ways the ‘easiest’ 50 we’ve done but I will also aretuibite it to learning the lesson of REST. she hadn’t been ridden in 15 days before this ride except one 2 mile test-leg stretch where we only walked to be sure the shoe was ok. 

After the finish line: photo credit Gayle Driver

She wasn’t stiff, walking nicely, good life in her eyes, hungry, happy even. 

As Amy reminded me:

She could have done another loop. You did your job well…. that 100 might be sooner than you think for her!

Three teams at the water before final vet: photo credit Gayle Driver

Me on the other hand… the constant trotting wore me out! I just am not used to it up in the mountains. And as the day wore on she began to find that big fast trot I hadn’t seen before- she started the ride offering more cantering even while others were trotting. By the end of the day Chianti was cantering and Khaleesi was trotting at speed. Be careful what you wish for- I would have loved to sit that lovely canter at that point in the day. 

50 miles of trotting though gave me a lot of time to work on my riding. Balance and diagonal changes especially. I believe my balance is improving a lot especially working with Noel T. at the gym to strengthen evenly and work on not havening a weak side has made a difference. 

However the left diagonal is still not as good and as the day wore on and we both got a little tired when I’d switch to it she would fuss at me, flip her ears back to me and try to ask me what I’m doing?! Sometimes she’d toss me back to the right, sometimes she’d pick me up into a canter. 

Our decent finish time and the fact that she looked so good were the basis for Iva and I deciding to pack it in and go home. One more sub-zero night with an early morning pack up didn’t sound nearly as good as a hot tub and bourbon drink before climbing into my warm bed. 

Team green heading back to the trailer: photo credit Gayle Driver

We got on the road before 7pm and though a little tired, adrenaline was still going. We stopped for gas and I decided to try one of those little energy drinks- when I got back in the truck and gave it a shot I grimaced and exclaimed 

Yuck! That tastes like crushed up sweet tarts!

To which Iva laughed and said –

You just made the same face Khaleesi does when you electrolyte her!

We got a good laugh. 

The energy drink must have helped because I was completely awake as I pulled into the barn at 11:30, Khaleesi dragged me to the field and cantered around bossing the herd again looking sound and happy. 

As predicted I enjoyed the hot tub and bourbon before sleeping soundly in my own warm bed. 

Next stop the No Frills.