The Tack

Friday, March 6, 2015

With another snowfall midweek, Friday came with some fresh snow, sunny skies and mild (for winter) temps in the 20s and because I wasn’t sure how the footing would be I decided to ride Faygo alone. If I’m dragging “the anchor” Khaleesi along it’s harder to maintain good balance in case we had any questionable sections of trail.

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Riding Faygo with trail dogs Linus & Peggy Sue on a gorgeous sunny afternoon.

My concerns were unfounded, it was absolutely beautiful and the footing was fine. It also occurs to me that I started this blog because I want to journal my path to a 100 mile endurance ride with Khaleesi, and for the moment she has taken the back seat to Faygo who is more of a “step one” on the journey– helping me get an introduction into the sport with a horse I know is solid. As for my green horse: our obstacle course is under a tarp and 2 feet of snow, I haven’t been able to get anyone to come up the freezing ice roads with recent snowstorms to ride Faygo so I can get on Khaleesi- so if you’re wondering, I haven’t forgotten her… she’s just on hold until we have a better environment for working her!

This post is centered on the tack… horse gear… I ordered a new saddle for Faygo.

It’s something I’ve been struggling with for over a year now since we had a kind of meltdown Fall of 2013. She became increasingly irritable and almost out of control on rides. After months of trying to sort out what was wrong, I learned that A: her saddle at the time that I’d been riding her in for a few years was now hurting her pretty severely, and B: she had contracted Lymes disease and was not herself. These things were likely related- but I haven’t spend a ton of time sorting out the chicken/egg issues with the saddle and her topline [equine speak translation: her back will change shape depending on her muscle development, how she’s using her muscles, how much and what kind of work she’s doing etc etc. The topline is what we talk about when we are looking at the shape and muscular development of her back where the saddle needs to sit].

I had to sell her (my) saddle and try to find one that wouldn’t hurt her while we worked on her overall health. We treated the Lymes with antibiotics (made an improvement) and got her some body work and I looked for saddles to borrow short term that wouldn’t cause pressure/pain. Her topline would eventually change again as she felt better, grew stronger again, moved better and used her body properly.

Saddle fit and rider position is a labyrinth of “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know” kind. There is a saying that if you ask 10 horse people about it you are bound to get 12 different opinions. I am going to clarify here that I’ve had to decide what I believe and what works for Faygo- so I don’t think my answers are necessarily THE answers for everyone.

Faygo, her back and muscling looking pretty good this winter
Faygo, her back and muscling looking pretty good this winter. She is still slightly wide-backed for her size.

We’ve gone through two temporary saddles this year as she’s changed. Now she is doing really well and her back is muscling back up. The saddle I am using now isn’t causing pressure points, but it isn’t as stable as I’d like. Our mountainous terrain is unforgiving with less than perfect tack, and when I’d take the saddle & pad off I would find “kinky” hairs which meant it was rubbing and moving too much. I tried a few different pads I had on hand, none made a significant difference, and bought her a better girth from Total Saddle Fit (LOVE THAT GIRTH!). This helped, but still, I knew we’d outgrown this saddle. I felt we had come to the time to really find the right saddle for her long-term.

The entire year I have been looking around, researching, talking to people, borrowing saddles I could try out and I kept coming back to the concepts of Gaites of Gold which is now Phoenix Rising. My friend rides in one of their saddles and I borrowed it once as a try-out and loved it. Their website has great videos and articles. The video I kept coming back to was about rider position. Their concept is that if you were to ride bareback you would be seated much differently than most saddles put the rider: both in angle and position. If you were riding bareback you have to be in the best center of gravity to balance on the horse properly. Their saddles situate you as close as possible to that bareback “sweet spot” and with your legs slightly in front of you- like you would bareback. The saddle fit video on their website is long- but there is a part in it if you’re interested where they show a bareback rider and then a rider in one of their saddles and they transpose the image back and forth and you can see how the position is almost identical.

Also in the video they have the rider in the “sweet spot” where you can ride as comfortably as possible bareback- then ask the rider to change to a more “upright” seat which is similar to most standard saddles and the horse changes it’s stride. Her ears go back (unhappy) and she stops moving forward and seems uncomfortable. The reason I bring this up is I felt this may have happened to me on our ride- only, the reverse!

(If you’re interested, it’s the “Gaited Horse Saddle Fitting and Equitation video”: http://phoenixrisingsaddles.com)

Phoenix Rising "4-beat" pad
Phoenix Rising “4-beat” pad

They were incredibly helpful. I took the pictures they requested of Faygo from different angles and she called me the next day. She told me where she would imagine a standard tree saddle would have put pressure (she was spot on) and said that Faygo is unusually wide-backed for a horse her size (this is what I’ve been struggling with). She said a wide tree should fit her just fine, and if not even though the saddle is custom built for me, they will take it back within 2 weeks if it doesn’t work. They were super easy to work with and she shipped the saddle pad immediately and I had it in one day.

Close up of the pad at the pommel, you can see it is slightly raised and is also thicker with more support than my usual pad.
Close up of the pad at the pommel, you can see it is slightly raised and is also thicker with more support than my usual pad.

The pad is heavy duty, has a thicker material in it, and is constructed in a way that you couldn’t lie it flat out- along the horses spine, the pad is slightly raised. I used it with my current saddle and was immediately impressed! The saddle was more stable and I could move the saddle more forward that I was able to without a substantial pad before. I was closer to that “sweet spot” already, and the pad gave stability to my saddle and helped take some pressure and movement out of the equation.

(As an aside- I will eventually need to figure out the best saddle for Khaleesi long term, but for now I have some options in the barn that are working, and because I haven’t really started working her, I think it’s too soon to know how her topline will look long term. Also- I need to get a feel for how I’ll be riding her, if she gaits and how she gaits so I can best decide what type of saddle we’ll be happy with.)

I noticed immediately that either Faygo was in an unusually good mood, or she felt the difference because we walked right out of the barn with a better stride and more forward motion.

I used the heart rate monitor and we had a fantastic work out! Climbing the mountain in the snow was the thing that put her heart rate up in the 80% range, but I noticed if I slowed her down just a touch we could bring her rate down easily and we started to have more control over how hard she was working. We also worked on gaiting more [Faygo is a MO Foxtrotter, so she has a 4-beat gait that is smooth to ride and faster than a walk. She likes to canter which is ‘easier’ for her, at least for a short stretch and is a 3-beat gait, but she can’t sustain that as long, so I need to get her to start really “gaiting” for longer distances. On the website there’s gaiting advice as well and I read an article about pushing the horse to it’s “breaking point” of gait. That means that I keep her in a walk but as fast as possible without letting her pick up into a canter- then she will ‘break’ into her gait instead, and that seemed to work really well yesterday.] We had some lovely canters in the snow as well. The footing as I mentioned was fine, the snow not too deep and we did our 5.5 mile loop with a significantly faster pace of 4.3mph! Her heart rate was great and was down to 71bpm when I took her saddle off in the barn. Again- we would have an easy time returning to the 60bpm required within 30 minutes.

I could feel her hind working more today as well- the snow can make them engage their hind end for more strength to “plow” through, but I believe the saddle pad and position helped- it’s enabling her to use her body more correctly because my weight and position aren’t interfering. It was a noticeable difference. Also, I have considered her “barn sour” in the past… I have to be careful she doesn’t get out of control when we’re heading home. But this ride we moved equally out and in- and I let her move at the fast pace she prefers, I rarely held her back unless I knew we were not in good terrain and it might be dangerous- but even so, we worked so much better as a team and she didn’t fight me when I asked her to slow. She seemed more happy out there than I can remember in a long time.

Sunday is supposed to be decent weather and I hope to get in a longer ride. Again- what we really need is miles. I’m looking around my maps for a solid 15 miles to see how she does. Of course I’ll keep you all posted! And as the weather breaks I have a few people lined up to come ride Faygo so I can start putting some miles on Khaleesi as well. I think she’s ready to get some more saddle time!

Spring is coming... looking forward to more miles!
Spring is coming… looking forward to more miles!

The saddle I ordered will take about a month to make. I can’t wait to see how it fits and if it helps her going forward. It’s amazing the difference the right gear makes… for me and for her!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lend me your heart…

Beginning of March, 2015
I’ve been on a blog-break and spent a week in sunny Florida where we DID take a palm tree forest trail ride to see a different kind of riding, it was just good to get on a horse in short sleeves.

Naples Trail Ride IMG_7970

Upon returning to the cold VA mountains we found almost 2 feet of snow and yet we rode, not far, not fast, but we rode.

Though FL was a fun escape, I think the warm weather was equal in need to the downtime with good friends. There was so much laughing I think I actually might have improved my abs (or at least partially offset the eating and wine)! Even so, I can’t imagine leaving the mountains behind for a FL winter.

I am not good at being uncomfortable, so it’s good for me to be forced to deal with things I would possibly avoid if given the chance. Like Winter. I think it makes me stronger.

Besides riding through clean untouched snow (which is some of the most beautiful riding ever) I love the intense quiet. I love how clear the sky is at night, and I love the break on my senses I get… less noise, less color, less options. I love making it through and seeing the rebirth of everything. I am however not giving up all the seasons for a life in Alaska or Northern Canada. I don’t love winter because I like being cold- I love the changes. Thus at this very snow end of the season, I’ve been dreaming IMG_7976of mild spring temperatures and thinking about spring activities like getting shoes and spring vet visit…. and hoping I can have Faygo ready for a 30 mile ride at the end of April- that’s next month! We need less snow now, we need better footing and more miles.

 I’ve been getting back to the gym and while running on the treadmill, looking out the window at over a foot of snow I kept my spirits up by imagining riding in our first AERC event- and not being cold. I heard this song that inspired me this morning for some thoughts during my run.
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I once read the reason people love horses so much is some of us are at heart centaurs. When you are on a horse, you are no longer just a human- but a half horse half (wo)man and both you become better beings. As a team, the horse has to give up her natural flight instinct and trust you to understand the world from a higher brain perspective… in many ways you change what the horse sees- instead of a life threat it’s just a plastic bag, a lamb, or a dark shadow crossing the stream. As a team you move together but on her legs as you trust your horse will put aside her instincts and fears and not throw you on the ground and run to safety when she sees sheep (Faygo is terrified of sheep).

Not everyone may agree, but I believe the only right way to “work” your horse is as partners. You have to both trust and give up a little of your own being to become one. But the last line of the song is what really touched me: Your soul you must keep, totally free. I want cooperation, I want a partnership, but I never want to break the spirit of my horse for my own purposes. I want her to make the choice and be willing to lend me her heart, her hooves, her eyes, but never her soul. Once again, I find that working with horses teaches me how to be my best person.

Can I practice this in my human relationships? Can I love my husband enough to partner with him in our hearts and without crushing the wildness of his spirit? Can I bend myself to be a better partner to him? Can I love my family and my friends?  The people closest to me make this hard as too often I want to mold them into my vision instead of loving their own unique souls? It’s because I care and want to align with them because I DO love them– strangers are easy to move on from. I fail at this too often but my horses teach me to remember. I can do better. They seem to believe in me, even when I fail them.

centaur
I did a couple adjustments on the lyrics to fit my horse thoughts, but here are the words that so inspired me…

Awake My Soul: Mumford & Sons
Lend me your hooves and we’ll conquer them all
Lend me your heart and I won’t let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free

For the love….

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

No electronics, today was the anti-gizmo. We rode on Tuesday after a gorgeous snowfall only for the love of riding.

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Khaleesi is slightly less of an anchor, she’s starting to move along with us.

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Faygo is more patient and I was Stacy Westfall for parts of the ride- no hands on Faygo! Well, I’m no Stacy Westfall, but I tried to channel her spirit a bit today.
Faygosnowride

Here is a short video of us trekking through the gorgeous woods in snow. Glad you could join us!

For the coldest parts of the week the girls have been eating hay and staying warm as possible. I’ve decided that single digits is just too cold to ride (and forget it with the negative temperatures!) It’s not great for their joints and muscles to have to work in that extreme cold, and hard on their lungs if they are breathing hard with such cold air. Oh- and my face might freeze off.

So we are on a break for now, and then I am taking a few days to go with the horse riding girls to Florida where it is still summer. When I get back… spring will be much closer, and we’ll have work to do!

Gizmo

Valentines Day, Saturday, February 14, 2015

It was a Faygo day. Tomorrow is supposed to be true winter storm: high winds, snowfall, and subzero temperatures. Yes, I’m dedicated to training even in less than perfect days- but I’m not doing that. So today is the last riding day I’ll have until possibly Friday if the weather is passable- then I’ll be out of town for a week. We needed to get some miles.

There were about a million reasons not to ride today from wondering if Faygo might be a touch off- or was it just really too cold? Then there was the wind that sounded like it was going to rip the barn roof off. The sky was also a bit ominous (was this dedication or stupidity? would I get caught in a white out miserable and half frozen to death in the woods 6 miles from home?)

All bundled up for a cold weather ride
All bundled up for a cold weather ride

I decided there will always be a million reasons not to ride. I geared up in my full head/face mask, helmet cover, scarf, long johns, turtleneck, winter tights, toasty toes, hand warmers in vest pockets and my 10 below riding gloves.

I earned the nickname Gizmo on our cross county ride, and it fit today. I had my GPS (data about my route, MPH and mileage) and the heart rate monitor (data about her fitness). I changed my mind as to what route we’d ride about 12 times as either the sun would peek out, or Faygo would just seem tired and I wondered again if she was 100%, the footing would be great and we’d sail along (we’ll cover tons of ground- maybe we go all the way to Poor Farm), or then we’d come to freezy spots and slide all over (we should just do a short loop and get back sooner than later).

The heart rate monitor still doesn’t seem to work until we get on the trail a few minutes, but it did work for most of the ride today and I got great data!

I learned that early on that though we mostly were walking because I wanted her to have ample time to literally warm up her muscles and joints, coming up the steep hills behind the farm houses really raised her BPM- the watch gives me a percentage of where the heart rate is for work and we got into the 200s for a bit and instead of a % reading it just blinked “HIGH”. I hear you watch… but it’s sometimes hard to slow the girl down especially because after those hills we COULD turn off and go back to her barn at Mill Run Farm.

I was able to get her heart rate down a bit as we WALKED (walk Faygo… walk walk walk walk) down into the cow fields, but I also noticed her heart rate goes up when she’s mad at me.

Faygo: Through the gate and that’s the shortest ride ever!

Jaime: No, we’re actually going for a longer ride today

Faygo: Are you KIDDING me?! Do you know how cold it is, and windy, and we’re ALONE (did you forget Khaleesi?)

Jaime: [has to bump Faygo’s side to not allow her to turn toward the gate] No, I didn’t forget her, it’s just you and me today.

Faygo: I hate you sometimes, why do you make me DO this? Ride her next time, I want to stay home and eat.

Jaime: I know… we’re working on that, but for now, it has to be you.

Faygo: I am SO mad at you.

So, during this exchange we don’t really change much in pace and are just at a walk but her heart rate is very high. Not surprising, arguments tend to raise our heart rate, right?

It’s early in the ride, we’ve hardly done anything and already she’s through the roof. I think to myself you should have known… she’s not cut out for this, she has the heart (the drive, the will once she’s on the trail), but well… not the heart (the lungs and physical capacity) for it. At least now I an resigned that we have more of an uphill battle than I thought. We can still try.

I get her to take my path off the farm up the mountain and she falls into acceptance, has a decent walk, and the monitor comes down. She settles in to somewhere around 100BPM. I’ll take it. We climb off the farm onto our logging road without stopping and head down the trail. If the footing is ok I ask her to move a little faster- mostly still a walk but if she’s willing a gait. We stay steady in easy range of 90-110 BPM (still not pushing her at all). If you look up heart rate zones for horses, we haven’t even left “Zone 1” which is very light work until you pass 140BPM.

I’m not cold, we’re doing well, so we continue to my “power line loop” which is not all the way to Poor Farm, but it’s a lot longer than I thought we’d get. It also has a gradual but significant incline for the entire power line road that is tough. I want to see how she does today.

Heading up the power line road
Heading up the power line road

She knows she’s on her way home and she takes on a big stride, sometimes gaiting, mostly a fast hard walk. I watch the numbers. She is holding steady around 120-145BPM depending on if she’s trying to push me or if it’s more of an incline. We were at about 50% workload most of this hill. I have never climbed this entire road up the mountain without stopping for her to breathe, and I did think she was working “hard” but she never tried to stop, so I didn’t encourage her to today.

We got to the top, and started heading down and hardly got to 150BPM a few times which is still considered “Light” work.

When we got back to our main road we celebrated (she celebrated that we are that much closer to home, I celebrated that she was doing so much better than I’d thought she would) and I let her pick it up (if footing was acceptable) and we gaited and cantered the forestry road until we got back to the logging trail. Never went above “Hard” at 180BPM.

The logging trail is more obstacle course than clear road, and we have to pick our way through, but I encouraged her instead of holding her back (yes, she’s barn sour- but years of making her slow down on the way home hasn’t changed that very much). Instead I asked her to think carefully about where we were going, to partner with me in finding the best path quickly, and though we moved faster- if she started to get out of control (it’s obvious when that happens and she shuts me off, lowers her head and tries to just GO) I insisted she get back in control and work with me. For the most part we were were in light to moderate work zones less than 150BPM for most of it- and never got above 180BPM.

Except for a detour my dogs took us on around mile 8, we rarely stopped, I hardly even drank my water, but we weren’t out of control and we never once went back into the “HIGH” zone. The detour screwed up our stats- because the dogs dove off the trail following some animal melee involving a bobcat that sounded much worse than it was. Peggy Sue is still too new to trust that she can “take care of herself” and from the sounds I couldn’t tell what was hurt, one of my dogs, or the thing that was being attacked… and the howling, barking and screeching was bad enough that I pointed Faygo down the side of the mountain and we went to find them. I knew I would never forgive myself for not trying IF they didn’t show back up at the barn later. Faygo is a great (though reluctant) mountain horse and we picked through some bad stuff together trying to get to the dogs. But it wasn’t at “speed” and getting back meant her climbing out of it which was hard and tricky. It took a good few minutes and some stopping to work our way through. We did get the dogs- who were a little scraped up but not much worse for wear. I thought about killing them myself for a moment- but decided against it (that would just take more time!).

We made it home with no other worries. I usually make her really slow down and walk in that last mile or so. Today I let her push at a fast walk or gait until we reached the farm gate and her heart rate was only around 90BPM. When I untacked her (and removed the monitor electrodes) she was at 71BPM and that was less than 10 minutes from reaching the barn. I am certain she would have been back at 60 or less with plenty of time to spare in the 30 minute window.

Of course, it WAS cold outside, and she was sweaty, so we spent a lot of time in the barn cooling down, brushing, towling, and I gave her a snack of soaked grain (I wanted her to have the water) as a reward for such a great job. When she was fully dry I put her blanket back on and put her out where she rolled and went for a big long drink.

I learned a lot today. Faygo has always had issues with breathing hard on hills (she has a mild case of RAO or heaves which is considered a chronic lung disease), and she pushes herself harder than I like sometimes. Now I hope I can start to get a better feel for what is good work and what is too hard where she needs to slow down and get her heart rate under control. She rarely is the one who wants to stop- I have to make her, which I am always willing to do- but I need to let her keep going more than I realized. I see today that I have been stopping her at points where monitoring her heart rate showed me she had only been at light to moderate workload. If she isn’t getting some good workout time (meaning 2-3 minutes even) of 80%-90% she isn’t getting the anaerobic work she needs to actually break through and build new capacity and stamina.

Still not fast enough, but a good start
Still not fast enough, but a good start

The other tool I used- my GPS told me that we went 10 miles (just under) and had about a 4mph pace. Not bad for February. I think sometimes my friends make fun of me and my techie tools, but I like the data, and hopefully I can learn what the heart rates feel like over time and I can get better at judging my distances and speeds as well. Hopefully I can use my tools to become better at observing the world around me more accurately.

For now- I learned today that my mare’s got game. We are in better shape than I thought!

 

The girls ready for the big storm to come
The girls ready for the big storm to come

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Three

February 13, 2015

Twenty-three degrees. Really, it wasn’t so bad. I did invest in winter riding tights and sub-zero gloves, I might as well have an occasion to use them! And it was sunny, lovely afternoon really…

Once again, without a goal in mind I might have just stayed home. I wasn’t thrilled with some of the spots that rubbed Khaleesi’s foot wearing her hoof boot for 3 days straight (her sole looks better) and Faygo had either a muscle twitch or was slightly shivering in her shoulders. Maybe you shouldn’t try to ride today…. was the little voice in my head, it was strongest when I heard a howl of wind gust blow over the barn roof. No, you need to do this. Just a short one… Don’t be a wimp!

Trying out the heart rate monitor gizmo
Trying out the heart rate monitor gizmo

My first goal today was to try out the heart rate monitor I ordered. The directions were clear as mud to me on how to attach the electrodes under saddle pad and girth… I am a visual thinker, so reading it on paper “3 inches below the top line and 6 inches away from shoulder movement” and putting the electrode on after the saddle is already in place with a loose girth took some time for me to think through. Then I slathered on the electrode gel and gave it a shot. Attatch the black cord where you would normally use the stethoscope, and then attach the velcro strap to the girth… they should have just said to attach the thing to the girth… that’s how it stays in place anyway. Then plug in to the main terminal and wrap in the velcro pouch and attach to D rings in front of the saddle.I was pretty sure I had done it wrong and would need to look up some video help at home later to sort out what I was trying to do. I put on the watch. No heart reading.

Oh well, I don’t have time to stay in the barn all day messing around with this thing- we need to just go. I’ll leave the pieces in place for now. I didn’t even bother with a saddle or bit for Khaleesi, knew I would not get on her today at all. She must have known as well because she came right up to me in the field, asked me to put her halter on, came right in to the barn for lunch.

Once we got outside, it was beautiful. Crisp blue sunny sky, some leftover snow in patches on the ground. I knew it would be a short ride so we went barefoot and the footing was fine.  The girls were in good spirits today (all three of us).

Looking for heart rate
Looking for heart rate
First reading shows up
First reading shows up
Climbing the hill
Climbing the hill

Though I had given up on the heart rate monitor, I stopped to click the watch over and see if it would give a reading- and then I decided to at least take a picture of the watch telling me I had gotten it wrong. And then a miracle happened… as I was taking a picture of the watch……. NUMBERS appeared! IT WORKED IT WORKED IT WORKED IT WORKED!! I couldn’t believe it worked.

I think she has such thick fur right now it took a little movement and a least a tiny bit of sweat to help the connection happen. The readings were pretty good most of the ride. We started out around 60 (which is the resting hear rate we’ll have 30 minutes to return to at a check point) and got up to at least 136 while climbing some of the hills. It stopped working toward the end of the ride so I don’t know what we finished at, but that’s ok. We only walked about an hour, as it was so cold I didn’t want anyone sweaty for turnout, and this wasn’t a ride for testing heart rate and fitness. I just wanted to see if I could make the thing work. Once I really know where the electrodes need to be I may cut back or shave the spots there so I can make better contact and put them in the same place every time.

wrong way girl...
wrong way girl…
Ok, almost... don't stop there
Ok, almost… don’t stop there
Yes... keep coming
Yes… keep coming

The other new thing I tried today was using a long line to pony Khaleesi. I’ve heard people say that it’s better to have enough line to allow the horse to make mistakes when ponying and when she stops to poop and Faygo keeps going with an 8 foot rope I’m usually lucky not to end up on the ground. A little extra line couldn’t hurt. I’m not sure who made more mistakes today- she or I, but we ended up with the line underneath her (if she trotted to catch up and I wasn’t fast enough reeling the extra line in and she stepped right onto it), around her head, wrong side of trees, and tangled in a mass with Faygo’s reins. It’s just about as bad as the line control i have in fly fishing (you can ask my husband!)

We survived the cold, in fact it wasn’t so bad. They say the only rides you regret are the ones you don’t take. I have found that to be true.I have been on some hairy rides very stuck in the weeds (rocks, cliffs, briars…) almost left by my horse on the mountain and praying no one gets hurt and we can get out of the mess I found on some exploration trip… and thankfully neither Faygo or I have been hurt out there… but even on those rides, I’ve never regretted getting out. Now I have marked my GPS with some places NEVER to go again, but how will you know if you don’t try?

This weekend is going to have brutally cold nights, so I went ahead and blanketed the girls before turning them out. I think Faygo was shivering when I pulled her in today, and I figured I might as well do the same for Khlaeesi. One weekend in the year can’t hurt them.

It’s supposed to be warmer on Saturday- at least by a few degrees!

Cloud Nine Ride

February 8, 2015

In thinking of a title for this post I could only come up with something to attempt to describe how pleased, happy and elated I am after today! This is the best day of 2015 (so far!).

I felt Khaleesi was ready for a trail ride, but not alone, and I had come up short today for someone with the experience to come “babysit” us and be able to keep Faygo in control. So I resigned myself to find a “Plan B” and after some thought I came up with a really fun afternoon plan of riding around the arena as an obstacle course with both my girls. It turned out that Nette was available to come “play” with us this afternoon. I was looking forward to spending some time with Nette, and psyched to do some fun activities and put off the trail ride until the circumstances were truly right.

Sometimes you have to be flexible and believe that it’s just not the right day for what you thought you had planned.

But as I so often find when I let something go- it sometimes comes back to you. In this case I got a last minute call from an experienced rider saying she would love to drive an hour up here to take a trail ride and be the one in Fagyo’s saddle so that I could get Khaleesi out on the trail.

On the most beautiful weather day this year Plan A and Plan B were coming together- splendid!

Peanut waiting to go for a ride on my newly tricked out custom altered no-horn western saddle!
Peanut waiting to go for a ride on my newly tricked out custom altered no-horn western saddle!

I have to take a moment for a shout out to my fabulous husband who helps me with everything that comes up needing a power tool! He took off Khlaeesi’s saddle horn with the sawzall (which ended up being much harder than I thought). You may notice the purple, blue and black animal print duck tape (duck tape has the coolest patterns!) on the saddle pommel where we wrapped it. Also, he helped make my jumps and a platform so I could set the course up in the first place. He is ever patient and long-suffering with my obsession- in fact I haven’t overheard him tell anyone at a cocktail party lately he wishes his wife only had a drug problem… “no… worse… it’s horses….” He is such a good sport and I am lucky to have his support in my horse crazy life, as I’m sure it’s not always easy on him.

We began with a walk-through of the home-made course – I led Khaleesi and she had no issue with any of it. Then Nette walked her through- and she was nonplussed.

For fun (my fun, not so much hers!) I rode Faygo through it. She came through a bit hot, and not nearly as clean as Khaleesi, but she did everything I asked (with a bit of expected Faygo-tude). She is a T-R-A-I-L horse, not an A-R-E-N-A jump through hoops horse you know!

Then I got on Khaleesi and we rode through the course, not perfect control, but certainly passable. It was a blast to have her do so well and not be fearful of anything there. Also, we did it in her training halter- not a bit, so I was pleased with the amount of control we did have!

Ironically, today, the first day I ever set up a little home-made obstacle course, the person who came to help ride Faygo for me, Judy, competes in evening. I tried not to be self-conscious of my jerry-rigged course as Judy came walking down to say hello. I was happy to hear that she was impressed that Khaleesi walked right onto our wooden platform on her first try as I overheard her say to Nette “Not all horses will do that you know”. (True! Even Faygo balked at me our first time over it)

After some fun in the arena, we put on our boots (the horse boots) and hit the trail. Before getting on her the nerves began…

are we really ready for this? am I moving too fast? breathe like it’s no big deal or she’ll wonder what I’m afraid of!

She walked off from my mounting stool a few times and I hoped it wasn’t a sign that she was going to be total disaster. But eventually I did get on her, and we posed for a quick picture (Thank you Nette!) and then walked off together toward the same trail we’d ridden in times past (ritualistic habituation again- start with what you know, then build from there)

Posing for a picture before hitting the trail
Posing for a picture before hitting the trail

Khaleesi was fantastic, sure-footed, under control, and she took the lead spot occasionally as well as followed easily. If we got behind a bit she didn’t fret. We went over, under around and through up there on the mountain, and no matter what she had to do we worked it out as a team. We even unlatched a gate together (though we couldn’t quite get it open ourselves). We rode over 5 miles today at a decent clip of around 3.5 mph. No, not enough to finish an endurance ride, but certainly a great starting point. And Khaleesi “the anchor” kept up much better with me riding her as opposed to dragging her along.

Ok it was just a trail ride, but I felt like we rocked the mountain! I felt like I was on top of the world.

Khaleesi and Me at the lookout
Khaleesi and Me at the lookout – on cloud nine!

Not to take anything away from Faygo the fine… she was patient, waiting for us every time Khaleesi pooped (most horses can walk and poop- Khaleesi hasn’t figured that out yet), she let us take the lead on occasion and never griped, she kept a good pace without leaving us behind entirely, and though it’s still a little slick out there (especially with front boots), she took great care of Judy (who is a lovely rider herself) and did everything exactly right. She even closed our last gate with Judy hardly having to do a thing!

Judy and Faygo at the lookout
Judy and Faygo at the lookout

I am so proud of my girls- I am beaming that they did so well — I can hardly share it in words. I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished in less than 7 months, which seems like a long time in some ways, but such a short time in others. I don’t think I’m any kind of amazing horse trainer, or that she is any more impressive than average horse. I’m sure that in some other situations people might say 7 months is a long time to take a 4 year old horse from green to on the trail- but, we’ve made our own path, we’ve done it our way, and bonded in the journey. And as the AERC folks would say- we are riding our own ride!

This is another huge step!

We are on the trail!

Watch out!

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Great moment caught before we started out on the trail- good shot Nette!

Rider Training

Friday, February 6, 2015

I have focused mostly here about training and conditioning the horses but I have been thinking hard about the fact that an endurance ride also means conditioning and training of the rider. Me. I’ve read a ton about what I need to do to get my horse ready, but I’m not completely sure what will make me most fit to finish the ride healthy. 100 miles and over 12 hours on a horse sounds exciting, but given a horse today that could do the distance- could I do the distance? What would be my weakness that I’m not aware of having never ridden that long at one time?

I ran a marathon the year I turned 30- I’m aware of the need for discipline and mental toughness. I know that a large part of preparing myself for this ride is mental; physical training helps to build mental resolve along the way. Also, I realize that many people get off and walk or jog miles of the race to give their horse a break and to move their legs, so being able to run a few miles during the day will be vital.

There is also the issue of weight. Water, fat, muscle- sure more weight in muscle means I’m more healthy than if it is fat, but in the end my horse would still prefer I lose the pounds I gained last holiday season. When I registered for AERC, I had to sign up for a weight class (Lightweight, rider and tack weight is 160 to 185 pounds). I assume I will have at least 20 pounds in saddle and tack. Right now Faygo’s saddle weighs 21 pounds alone- that doesn’t include any other tack. I’d like to get Khaleesi a lightweight saddle, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Me... running my 6 miles at the gym before barn time
Me… running 6 miles at the gym before barn time

Thus, for now I’m taking the cold mornings and heading to the gym trying to cross train (though mostly cardio types) climbing, rowing, elliptical, and treadmill make up my week hoping to lose a few pounds and also stay fit. I hope to interject some yoga when I get the opportunity to continue to work on strength and flexibility as well. Since I’ve gotten more serious again and started making better food choices and drinking more water I have lost a couple pounds but yes, even more important for now, I feel better physically.

This morning I ran 6 miles on the treadmill and when I get bored or tired I try to imagine dusk on the trail, many miles left to go and riding in some beautiful place heading into the darkness with my horse knowing we are still going strong. Cheesy, absolutely, but it keeps me going. It is important to work on mental imagery that will help me when I really am riding in the dark, tired after a lot of miles, and be my own cheerleader – remembering back when in a cold winter I ran miles on the treadmill in anticipation of the honor to ride in an endurance event.

Keep going…….

In the afternoon I went to pick up the girls.

I ran 6 miles… now your turn! Let’s GO! yeah!!!

Girls in mid-afternoon nap mode
Girls in mid-afternoon nap mode

They were laying in an old hay pile half asleep.

They were not as pumped about our goal as I was.

They did get up and come into the barn however- grain is a great motivating factor!

Khaleesi’s new hoof boots came (well they are used- gotta love ebay!) but new to us, and fit great. I’d put the boot on to continue to try to heal her sole/bruise and it was looking pretty good. Fed them, cleaned them up, saddled and now they have matching boots for the trail. The weather wasn’t too cold today, feet protected… we’re set…

Here’s a quick video of her walking with two boots for the first time- you might notice that one foot (her Left) is the one with the bruise and she’s had the boot on that foot for a couple of days already. Her Right is new to her, so the Left walks normally while the Right is a bit off at first. Of course she figures it out and is fine in a few minutes.

Let’s Go!

Though I do think Khaleesi liked the foot protection- she seemed to have a slightly better pace and didn’t have to pick so carefully through footing, she is still the anchor horse. I reminded myself that these are her first real rides, she is building muscle, working tendons, ligaments, joints, the mental ability to focus on a trail ride for over and hour. I have to remember she is still NEW to this. We basically go her pace, which is on average 3.2mph. Considering our average speed a week ago was about under 3mph this is a slight improvement! just realizing this as I write….

ok… i’ll that that… any incremental improvement is good!

We rode about 4.6 miles which isn’t terrible (not the 6 I ran that morning myself though girls… really, you have 4 legs and are meant to cover ground!) then we stopped as usual to work at the farm. I decided to take a break from our habituation pattern and we never go into the arena today- we make a change. I walk her in the big field first and then hop on. We ride in the big field, big squares [well, kind of squares, we still don’t have straight lines down so well. We do zig zags.]

Our steering is like:

Jaime: We’re going to head for that pole

Khaleesi: I want to head for the gate to visit Faygo

Jaime: Nope- the pole

Khaleesi: the gate

I put a very short video of us trot trotting back to the camera after a zig zag back from the pole. I left the end on because I like the moment where I take her back to the camera spot, I ask her to step over (AND SHE DOES!) and stands while I pick up the device and work the video setting for a moment.

All in all We have a nice ride. Still in the comfort zone, but at some point — I am not even sure what I was thinking or about to do — I was in a drift for a moment I guess……………. all of a sudden I am airborne and pop back down in the saddle- slightly brushing the horn with my thigh (that horn comes off today) and am like WHAT WAS THAT? there’s a little buck action and then we’re stopped again.

What I think happened is that Khaleesi started to slip her back feet in some mud while we were on the fence line and her back foot hit the wire fence and she did a little panic and it felt like her rear end was bucking. Or she was “done” playing with me in the field and thought she’d see if she could dump me and head for the grass. Honestly I’m not completely sure what happened it was so fast. What the end result was though- I did not fall off, and I made her walk around that area a few more times before we wrapped up – she was resistant of that area now. I wanted to be sure that if she slipped she didn’t have a phobia about that place (the footing wasn’t bad, but there were two slip marks in the grass where we were) it was a freak thing. And if she bucked me she realized that was not going to get her what she wanted either.

All in all a good day, but I need a Faygo day now. We are both a little tired of dragging the anchor horse around, and if I’m going to start AERC events with Faygo- she needs some real miles and we need to do some of them alone. Saturday is Faygo-day. I’m going to see what kind of miles on a mild winter day we can tack on and at what reasonable speed we move, and how she does, what kind of shape she’s in today. She may not be excited about it, but I am. A day with my first love….

looking over at Faygo eating grass, and Linus waiting for us to finish
looking over at Faygo eating grass, and Linus waiting for us to finish

Epilogue:

Saturday Faygo and I did take a ride together. We did 7 miles at a moving pace of about 4.3mph, total average 3.6mph (including stopped times). She walked out nicely, but she gets very hot heading home, this is fun to ride, but she’ll kill herself before she slows down. At one point at the top of a hill I had to get off her for a minute so she wouldn’t prance, dance and toss her head while heaving away. (Also I needed to check my GPS as I wasn’t exactly sure where we were). I don’t know what her heart rates are, or how her recovery is and I’m curios to see that data for her. That is my biggest concern, she has huge ‘heart’ and she would die trying to finish (get back to the trailer!). I need to work on pacing her and being sure she can clear a checkpoint. I think we can figure this out- I have a heart rate monitor on order for her.

It was a lovely afternoon just the two of us. Sunday is supposed to be gorgeous… not sure what I have in store for that day yet….