No Hoof No Horse

Friday, January 23, 2014

In my early research about going the distance on a horse, one thing that seems pretty obvious is that hoof care and protection is not only of vital importance, but also might pose new issues that I haven’t seen in my past trail riding habits. Our riding circle here is pretty dedicated; “in season” (when the weather is nice enough to be out more than a few hours) we often put in mulitple long rides each week in some rough terrain and we all stay on a regular farrier schedule. [equine-speak translation: a farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care that combines some blacksmith and veterinary skills to properly care for horses feet]. I like my farrier (let’s call him BW) and trust his experience and ask him for advice on just about everything “horse” related. There is no way we can succeed without help and advice from my farrier.

Flashback: Early August, 2014

BW first met Khlaleesi when I’d had her just over a week. He was doing a trim and shoe appointment for Faygo and I asked him to come see the new girl. Not to work on her (I could hardly groom at tie her at the time) but just to meet her and give me advice on what he would like me to be doing with her to prepare her to be safe for him to work on in the future. I went to collect her from the field and of course instead of coming over to me she ran away, and when I did bring her around, she reared up on the lead rope, shied away from him, and acted like a complete nutcase. I was completely embarrassed. Like a professional, BW walked around calmly, did a couple minutes of groundwork with her and handed her lead back to me. He couldn’t touch her- or even come close. He shook his head and asked me what was her breeding again? (The Quarter Horse guy is not a big fan of those buggy-eyed wild Saddlebreds). When I ticked off her heritage (Racking Horse, Saddlebred, TN Walker, Arabian) I will never forget what he said to me. “She’s probably going to be a handful. If you’re lucky the TN Walker will help add some calm to her personality. The Arabian will be tough at first, but once she become your horse, she’ll be the most loyal horse you ever had. She will do anything for you….” and then he continued on to suggest some things to help get her used to having her feet worked on and wished me luck.

His next visit later in the fall I had worked hard on picking up her feet, cleaning and filing them myself and all her basic manners. I crossed my fingers that she wouldn’t be such a monster and was delighted when he not only could pick up her feet, but he did a “baby” trim on them – not a full work up, but more than I’d hoped for. When he finished I beamed when he asked me “are you sure this is the same horse?”

Present Day Again

Khaleesi Stands for the farrier
Khaleesi Stands for the farrier

On this, Khaleesi’s third farrier visit she had a complete trim and only once did we have to “school” her for trying to pull her hoof away. Of course it is the left rear- we found that one to be the resistant one the time before as well. She stood quietly while we talked as well.

I said “I know you’ll call me crazy, but I’ve made a goal to do a 100 mile endurance ride with this horse… I’d like some input on how that might change how we trim and shoe her going forward, probably not right away, but eventually.” Not surprising, but I was glad to find that BW not only did have some insight, but shoes for a serious competitor in long distance endurance rides- a vet with what he considered “An amazing Arabian”.

He had worked a 100 mile race and of course found “those people” to be slightly crazy, “you should see them come in to the checkpoints with people dumping water on them and the horse to cool it off before vet check, some of them demanding new shoes in the next 5 minutes and i look at the horse’s feet and want to say ‘you’d be better off walking the rest of the way yourself than ride THAT’… sometimes they DQ (pull/disqualify) even if the horse is in good shape because the people aren’t fit to finish… it’s hard… i’ve seen them take a fall (horse and rider) flying over some bad footing, roll off, get the horse up and hop back on in motion and keep on cantering down the trail… crazy these people… i tell you what….but- it’s good to have goals Jaime, it’s what keeps us off the couch eating bon-bons. Good for you.”

We talked about the issue of training and wearing through shoes faster, of lightweight shoes, carrying hoof boots for back up, of the angle of the hoof that helps the rear end “power through” more easily for better speed. In the end we’ll have to see what her gaits are like to know what she needs, but for now the pressing question was: how are her feet doing with the small amount of winter riding with no protection? Do I need to get boots on her now, or is she doing ok. So far he said her feet look good: they are hard feet and are holding up well.

Before he left, he gave me a phone number; told me that this woman in Northern VA would be the one to bring me in as a volunteer in the OD (Old Dominion) race (tell her I gave you her number)- they always need volunteers, and there’s no better way to learn about that event than to be at one and see it for yourself.

Water break along the trail
Water break selfie along the trail

After the trimmings were all cleaned up we saddled up Faygo and hit the trail before the bad weather came in. It was snowing when we headed out, but a pretty snow and I knew once again it wouldn’t be a long ride and we could deal with a little chill.

We took the same exact 4.5 mile track as the last ride. My hope was to shave some time off not by moving faster, but by dilly-dallying less. We did about the same exact ride in the same exact time so not any improvement, but we got out there, and considering the weather and my schedule has us only riding a few hours a week right now- just going out and doing it is what counts the most.

We just might have done a little better had I not lost her for a few minutes. Occasionally she decides to stop and Faygo doesn’t get the memo until it’s JUST too late and I loose the rope. I have been experimenting with girth tension with Faygo recently- ever since her issue with Lymes disease last year her top line has seemed to widen a bit, and feel like I’ve found a good tension that I don’t have to pull so tight she pins her ears and fights me, yet the saddle doesn’t slip along the ride. The only issue is if I don’t have some height getting on and off, the saddle pulls off center and it’ just a pain; if I don’t absolutely have to get off I try not to. Thus I try grabbing the lead rope without getting off balance in the saddle which is a little tricky if she is being evasive. Faygo is amazing and I can put her exactly where I want her to be- but still it’s hard to get my hands on that rope if Khaleesi won’t bring her head up. At one point I tried to just move along to see if she would trot on up to go with us. You can see in the picture to the right how well that worked out for us… She stood rummaging through the dead leaves for something interesting to munch on and we ended up having to go back for her. I didn’t have to get off in the end and was able to grab the rope at just the right moment when she came up and we moved on along.

Khaleesi in no hurry to catch up to us
Khaleesi in no hurry to catch up to us

I try to remind myself that she has never been asked to walk steady on for over an hour and just doing it is the important part. Faygo has years of doing this and is ready to power walk through and get there and back so she can chill by the hay bale again. Each pony walk is a struggle between “fast Faygo” and our anchor “Khaleesi” who seems to be wondering where on earth are we going when this place right here seems really nice. Why don’t we stop and graze, hang out, relax more often? Sometimes Khaleesi DOES get a little burst and she trots up and we get a nice pace going for a spell. With the cold weather, the strange “wound” on her face last week (which looks all healed and good now) and shortage of time I haven’t been doing much work on her back recently. I think getting her to understand drive from being on her will help her to start to move out more on our walks as time goes on. She has a beautiful trot and I’ve seen her run across the field when she wants to. Her walk isn’t as big as Faygo’s, but it’s not slow either. As a training partner- Faygo is a powerhouse and going to really challenge her, and it’s a challenge for me to keep Faygo from dragging her through the woods at too fast a pace. I don’t want to discourage Khaleesi or make her hate going out on our walks early on.

Faygo and Linus at the water break

You may be wondering at this point: why am I not training Faygo, my trusted powerhouse trail companion, to do this 100 mile race?

It’s a valid question, and the answer has been changing even as I write.

The first answer is that she is older (16 this year) and though that is a prime year for a horse in good health who has been ridden regularly, she has a few drawbacks: she has Heaves (kind of like COPD in people, it’s a breathing issue that would make it very hard for her to do well and pass vet checkpoints. Her recovery time would likely be an issue) and she also had a battle with Lymes disease last year that was hard on her and though with chiropractic work and a fantastic holistic vet she is doing great now, I believe that her joints will deteriorate faster than other healthy `horses and that the residual effects of that will make it harder to do longer and longer miles as she ages.

Because she’s such a smart horse, I’ve begun doing ACTHA (American Competitive Trail Horse Association) events and last fall at her first event we won second place in our (beginner) class. She seemed to really shine at that event and enjoy the challenge, at the moment my plan is to enjoy challenging her mind with obstacles in ACTHA and work on Khaleesi as my distance horse.

However. Faygo is entirely capable of doing a LD (Limited Distance) ride of 25 miles or less and the more I’ve been thinking about this very topic, the more I’ve begun to consider registering as an AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference) member and doing some early LD rides on Faygo to begin to get the hang of it and get some experience on a horse as solid as Faygo is.

So my next job is to join AERC and register Faygo as my horse for now and find a goal ride that’s 25 miles or less to enter with Faygo. I have already placed a call to my farrier’s contact to talk about volunteering at the OD ride in June. Small goals are how you get to the big goals- and the journey along the way is the reward!

Khaleesi gets a drink
Khaleesi gets a drink in the snowy afternoon ride…

Fedders Just Born Foal

Prologue: July 2014

Blanket apology to those who have followed my story since last summer, but in order to tell it here, I’m going to do some recap. I’ll try to call my “historical” posts Prologues so you can see when there is truly new content in the future.

Now to begin at the beginning. From my Facebook page on July 19, 2014:

“I’m picking up a young mare to start working with tomorrow (I’m going in to Equus school as I’m sure she’ll teach me more than I’ll teach her), and last night I talked to a woman who happened to be on the farm the day she was born and took video (Thanks Diane Ray). The mama is ‘Feta’ but she said it sounded like the farm hands were saying ‘Fedder’. Before deciding to call her Ireland they thought of naming her Shamrock (thus the captions at the end of the short video).”

I have to include this because it’s not that often you get video footage of your horses first hours!

July 20 Ireland comes to her new home and I settle her in by herself to the smallest cow pen area we have and spend time with her every day just sitting in her space, drinking my morning coffee and reading a Pat Parelli book ignoring her as much as possible and just letting her get used to me. I still have basically no idea what I’m doing, but know I have to learn for myself from as many resources as possible. My biggest inspiration is Monty Roberts and I sign up to see his training videos and watch as many as possible to get a feel for what will help me get started. Eventually she starts to hang out and eat her hay close to me and eventually I get a rope halter on her and can rub her neck and whithers, but I don’t ask her for anything and I mostly ignore her. Occasionally she turns her butt towards me to see what I’ll do- it’s a bit rude, but I try not to overreact and instead ask her to go away when she does that. Kind of like: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

After the first week she seems to look forward to my visits waiting at the gate for me and when I walk around her slightly enlarged area picking up her poops she follows me to where I’m working to eat or watch me. I can easily catch her halter and rub her all over her body and even tie her briefly. This earns her an upgrade to the larger “barnyard” field with shelter and the creek (still by herself). When I come to visit now she first runs as far away from me as she can get and actually puts her head over the fence nose away from me across the creek. I completely ignore her and pick up some poop piles and within 2 minutes she steals a glance, sees that I don’t care (I’m not going to chase you), then trots up to greet me and see what I’m doing then follows me around the field while I’m there. Mostly I try to rub her as much as I can and then walk away and she follows me wanting more attention.

The most exciting part of week two is when my vet and I weren’t able to communicate and she left me the vaccinations to give myself! With moral support of Nancy & Carrington I was able to stick her with the first one before she knew what was coming, but the second one not so easy and she reared up like the black stallion still tied to the post with the needle still in her neck (not my greatest moment) and we had to get her to calm down so I could get the plunger in! What I learned about her is that she might panic, but she is able to calm down before she kills herself in the panic (some horses seem to only escalate and would have ended up wrapped up in the rope on the grown thrashing because they can’t think of anything except life and death). She seems to be able to think about the panic enough to relax before getting to that point- which to me is a very important trait.

At the end of week two we head into my garden “arena” and try to do “join up”. (Equine speak translation: Join Up is a method of helping the horse learn in a non-violent way that you are it’s friend and a place of safety and rest. A successful join up sends the horse ‘away’ from you to run in large circles something close to the normal flight distance of a horse, watching for signs that the horse doesn’t want to continue to have to ‘flee’ but wants to consider making friends instead and letting you be the leader. It’s all about body language on both the human and the horse and I was amazed how it happened just like the videos showed it would. There really is an equus language and she did exactly what she was predicted to.) I had decided that Join Up was going to be the first priority of our work together. If I couldn’t get her in the mindset that I was in charge, but also fair and worthy of her trust, I didn’t think I had much chance of doing any real training with her. Considering how green I am at this it was not elegant, but we do make progress and I kept the saddle and saddle pad in the center of the space so she would get used to seeing it and sniffing it well before any attempt to put it on her! I keep her running the perimeter and when she is ready to come in to me and we join up, I would hand graze her around the saddle tack so she would see it’s not scary- she sniffs it then walks right onto the pad- so she doesn’t seem afraid of it…

By the end of July I’ve worked on rubbing the saddle pad all over her and even walked her around with the pad on her back, I can tie her up and rub her, groom her and pick up her front feet. When I come into her field she comes over to me and follows me around eating nearby while I do things… pick up poop, read, walk around- whatever is non-threatening. We are slowly becoming friends and I continue to ask her what her “barn” name should be. I am convinced she’ll tell me when she’s ready.

Stay tuned for August……..

A few pictures from our first few weeks:

Ireland comes to her new home.
Ireland comes to her new home.
Ireland checks out her tack
Ireland checks out her tack

Snow-an introduction

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hello,

I decided two things in January of 2015: to take seriously the thought that I could complete a 100 mile equine endurance race and to write about my journey in a blog.

I’ve thought about writing down my experiences since moving to the rural Virginia mountains in 2007, but never sat down to do it. Though I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom (shout out to mom… always my biggest fan!) will want to read this blog- I decided to give it a try.

Like any good story, let’s begin in the middle.

This afternoon I rode my trusted trail horse Faygo (Gray, middle aged MO Foxtrotter mare) and ponied along my green horse (for anyone that doesn’t speak equine I’ll translate in some of these early posts: she isn’t actually a green horse though she was born on St. Patricks Day… green means with very little training- opposite of Faygo my trusted trail partner), Khaleesi, for our first training ride. It was cold, and late in the day to get started, but though there were pretty sunny patches of blue skies, there were occasional gusts of wind, and it had rained a bit on and off so I had procrastinated as long as I could. I might have just not bothered, except I had just made the decision in my mind that Khaleesi and I were going to do the 100- so even though it was cold, an hour from dark, a bit windy, and threatened to rain on us, we saddled up around 4pm.

We crossed the highway with trail dogs in tow (Linus and Peggy-Sue) for our first ride with intent on the goal. Even though I knew what our route would be and had no concern of getting lost, I had my GPS to begin tracking our distance and speed. As we walked along (1.8mph- Faygo, this is not going to get us to the finish line…) a big gust blew the tops of the trees and the dark clouds began to move from the Southwest again. I stopped the girls and pulled up my hood and put on my gloves. I can handle a little rain, we’ll only be out here an hour.

This wasn’t the beginning of the journey. That is a bit more vague… was it in July, right after my birthday, when I went to pick up a young horse that I had no idea if I would be able to train? Maybe it was a couple years ago when I signed an agreement to lease-to-own my first horse (Faygo) from one of my best friends and equine mentor? Was it in the years before that when I begged anyone with horses to take me riding and logged in some miles on a rock solid quarter horse mare of another friend? (those were some great adventures!) It might have been during childhood when no vacation was complete without trying to visit a trail riding stable and paying for an hour on a trail horse with a guide… or maybe it goes all the way back to when I was 6-years old, living in a subdivision in Las Vegas- looking up ads in the newspaper for horses for sale and having my mother dismiss my begging with “If you can find someone to sell you a horse that can live in our backyard then sure you can have one.” I did make some phone calls. I can’t even imagine what the people on the other end of the line though of a 6 year old girl asking questions about buying and keeping a horse in her backyard.

For the purpose of this story, we will start with Khaleesi.

Born Ireland on March 17, 2010 at Apple Horse Farm, her mother is a gray TN Walker X Arabian and her daddy is a black and white paint Racking Horse X American Saddlebred. I call her an American Rackarabian Walker. She is dark but not black- lets call her a black bay with one white ankle sock. As my trusted mare Faygo (Faygo my first equine love… Faygo the fine… Faygo the fantastic…) is passing middle-age and had a battle with lymes disease last winter, I decided I would like to find a young horse (a 2 or 3-year old) that I could bring home, get to know, and gradually spend time bringing her along so when the long miles our riding friends enjoy get too hard on Faygo, I’d have another horse coming up to take over some of the work. I decided summer was ideal for me to take this on at first as I had more free time than during the school year when teaching gets busy.

I called a girlfriend whose brother breeds (gaited) horses and asked if she could find out if he might have one to suit me. I wasn’t too concerned about a specific breed or color, I wanted a young mare who would ideally gait, and be well suited for the kind of hard-core trail riding we do. She called me shortly after and said there was one that seemed like the right pick and I went to see her.

Apple Horse Farm has some of the most stunning horses- beautiful paints, reds and grays and there is a lot of Saddlebred in the genetics there- so high heads and alert ears and beautiful bones. Then there was Ireland, in a pen by herself looking dark and plain and not striking in any particular way. But she was a pretty mare and though she didn’t seem fearful, she would not come over and say hello and let me touch her over the fence. She didn’t come over and say “take me home with you…” She was curious but held her distance. She seemed intelligent and alert without being spooky. She turned out to be 4, but after some handling around age 2 she had lived on the acres in the horse herd and was entirely green.

Inner voice: you have no idea how to train a horse… what on earth are you thinking?

Outer voice: Yes. I’ll take her.

So here we are, 6 months later (almost to the day). I am riding through the woods on a cold January late afternoon checking my GPS to see if I have any concept of how fast we are walking and looking at the dark clouds that threaten to soak us in a cold stinging rain imagining that someday I might have to ride at night, in miserable rain after riding 15 hours already remembering a day in January when the same horse wasn’t even ready for a rider on the trail.

And I feel a sense of joy when instead of a pelting rain, large fluffy snowflakes begin to swirl around us as if dancing along in the breeze. It was the first snow this winter I’d been riding in and it was everything winter should be, quiet, beautiful, and still. We walked along in the forested snow globe to do 4.5 miles at an average speed of 3mph. That includes stopping, so it might be a bit higher. Faygo does have a faster walk, but Khaleesi has been an anchor on our pony rides- I’m hoping this is just her getting used to working out and not a sign that she will always be a slow poke! Will she make an endurance horse? Does she have what it takes? When I looked around for answers to what horse makes a good first endurance horse, the answer I got every time was “The horse you have now” and that every sound/healthy horse can finish a long distance race with the right conditioning.

On my conditioning chart, the average horse is supposed to walk at 3.5 – 4mph so we are not setting any records here. Still, it’s January, and my endurance horse isn’t even ready to carry a rider on the trail. So we’re setting a baseline and starting slow conditioning. Basically, we are not even at zero yet. The starting point I’ve read suggests riding your horse about 3 days a week for the first month at an average of 5mph (slow trot) mostly on the flat (that’s a challenge here).

Today: Ponied Khaleesi with Faygo at about 3mph for 90 minutes.

It’s a start… and everyone has to start somewhere.

I promise to mix in a bit of the past six months as well as the journey going forward is as we go. And most of the entries won’t be this long.

I hope you see you here again, and I hope some of my experiences will entertain you enough to read on….

Till soon-

Jaime

Snow
Khaleesi as the snow started, day 1.