Healing and the Hope Cycle

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eighth

May 1, 2019

I have struggled to write since my last post; it’s been the longest hiatus since I began the blog.

It’s not due to lack of activity or material as much as there have been many seeds coming up all over the place with no finished concepts maturing into a blog that would share a complete thought.

Once finding a new level of soft in myself and with Khaleesi more connection continued on our relationship. It seems each time I find a new level of connection and communication and wonder if I’ve arrived somewhere I find that no (to my delight!) there are deeper layers to go.

I continue to find more conversation in our interactions and encourage everyone with a horse to earnestly seek to hear what your horse is saying.

I think it speaks to our humanness that we desire to be or meet horse-whisperers not horse-listeners. It’s easy to whisper, it’s very difficult to listen to the whisper. If you wish your horse would respond to your whisper, then go first and listen to what she whispers. You’ll learn so much more that way.

It is slow and takes a lot of practice and you’ll get it wrong at times. It’s much harder than force and tools. But it’s worth everything.

I have dedicated much of this winter to helping my friend with her first as an adult mare. The horse is lovely and perfect for her.

She is committed to the gradual, patient process of unraveling the mare’s layers of physical balance and mental protection; allowing her to bloom in her own physical-mental-emotional systems. The process is going well but is time consuming requring time, consistency and growth in both of them.

I have seen God at work directing things and when you see him involved everything moves faster. Truly HE is able to do things much faster than our human brains and bodies can keep up with. Sometimes I hear Him laughing (uh, with us right) as we race to keep up with all the growth and change.

I have enjoyed helping the pair grow together even more than putting in hours of lonely miles on long trails.

I’m learning from their process as well.

While I have been shown in most cases the necessity of beginning with the mental system of the horse; this mare had physical system issues that blocked her ability to work in a balanced way in the mental and emotional systems.

Not being able to balance her body properly meant that in riding she couldn’t connect with her mental system and her emotional system would take over and she would rush into a haywire state of panic.

That’s a whole other blog I won’t write because she isn’t my horse- however it’s been beautiful positive change in all the systems in a short time and I’ve spent a lot of time riding along with them to help in any way Khlaleesi and I can.

This has meant Khaleesi and I had to slow down and lower my mileage, however, the miles have been focused on form and quality. The lesser mileage and pulling back on speed for the purpose of helping them also worked to force Khaleesi and me to slow down our training and do a lot of rider form and connection.

One of our favorite places to work is the Jackson River Scenic Trail. It is flat with great footing and one can trot endlessly even if there was a week of rain previously. And it rides along the Jackson River with pretty views.

We do trotting intervals and the new mare seems to thrive here on the flat because it’s easier to balance than on the mountain trails with obstacles.

Now that I have my saddle set up working great, and Khaleesi has developed a strong topline she has begun to ask me for connection to ride more balanced in front on the bit. I purposely use the word connection because it’s a conversation we have. I don’t force her into contact. I don’t use the cycle of aids, and I don’t use ANY leg to push her to move onto the bit.

Now that my riding has gotten to a level of helping her more than hindering her she has begun to experiment. When she wants me to shorten the reins she dips her head. When she wants me to release them she shakes (it’s taken some trial and error to sort that out).

So riding along she began to ask me for more support…

She dipped again. More.

I shortened more. This seems like a lot of pressure.

She dipped again. MORE.

I was certain I misunderstood her and released some rein. Too much?

She shook her head. NO, that’s not what I’m asking. We’ve already established how I ask for more.

I don’t believe her. I begin to give up. This is all in my head. I can’t understand.

She dips her head. Take up the reins. More.

I take up a little more. 

She is happy for a few feet. Then dips her head. More. Take up more.

We continue this as I struggle, and my friend watches as I try to understand if I’m missing something. Human is confused.

Khaleesi is getting frustrated- I am not listening. I just can’t believe she wants that short of rein. But she’s very communicative and she’s annoyed. She begins working the bit in her mouth and her ears are flicking. She insists.

MORE!

So I take up more… more… until I am holding a 1200 pound freight train in my hands.

My friend watches and her eyes grow big as SOMETHING happens.

Khaleesi lifts up and begins to float above the ground, I stop moving in the saddle as I rose up 6 inches farther from the ground. She feels like a flying horse- not fast, just floating above the ground effortlessly. Magic.

After a short time of this we relax back down and we walk and then stop for a moment and she spends about 2 minutes yawning, shaking her entire neck and mane and licking and chewing in pleasure.

She was racking.

And she offered it up on her own without expert training and without me trying to get her to do it. It was beautiful. Organic!

She is certainly bred to be able to rack. She is saddlebred, rackinghorse and walking horse with 1/4 Arabian. So this little gift isn’t completely shocking. I’ve had people suggest I should get her in the hands of someone who could bring that gait out of her. While that isn’t bad advice because I have no experience teaching a horse to rack, anyone who knows me knows I am not likely to entrust Khaleesi to anyone to train her. And getting a racking gear though would be absolutely wonderful for us, I wouldn’t entrust her to just about anyone to get it.

Just one betrayal of her trust would ruin the years it’s taken me to earn it. No physical advantage would ever be worth it.

Due to the limited miles I’ve ridden this winter I made the call to enter the 30 instead of the 55 at the No Frills ride in April.

Friday morning of the race came and I strapped on her plain old scoot boots and Balance Saddle (with their pads) to hit the trail.

It was a fantastic day. We cantered many of the rolling grass roads, she climbed the mountains average difficulty recovering well each time, and she took the rocks on better than ever.

No boot issues even through some wet muddy low lands – until after the official finish line walking down into the vet check- a bad downhill mud suck took off two boots that I went back for on foot.

At that point I didn’t care we were already home!

At both the vet check and finish line she pulsed in immediately at 52 and her CRIs were both 44/48 which is fantastic for us. She had great vet scores and was totally sound and not a sensitive spot on her back. Gut sounds even were strong. She was strong.

In fact, we finished for the first time top 10 and placed 8th.

Eight is a number of new beginnings.  The word for this year for me and my mare is REGROWTH and the number 8 symbolizes a new beginning.

She is strong and fit, and I have a good sense for this season.

I am intrigued by the glimpse, the preview that came for the rack and look forward to how she will unveil it in time. Just about everything I do with my horses takes longer than others would expect. In part this is because I am not particularly experienced, but also I have learned to allow the horse to have a say in the process and include them in each step.

I am learning patience each month. Good things to come to those who wait…

Photo credit Becky Pearman

Ride on 2016

January 2, 2016

Last year was my first introduction to endurance and the start of my blog. This year I know just enough to be dangerous… And still have a long learning curve to go. 

I do have a few goals for this year, and hopefully they will help me continue with sound healthy horses and good experiences for me and those on my team. 

1. Improve my body. 

Specifically- I do need to drop at least the 5 pounds I’ve picked up through last year which is 5 more than I wanted the year before that. It will be good for me and my horse. I promise not to loose enough to put me in another weight class though 🙂

More importantly this goal is about improving how I use my body and in turn helping my horse improve hers. I have been fascinated with Sally Swift’s Centered Riding and she printed some great diagrams about how our body mirror our horse’s that I’ll add here.  She has experienced that if the rider holds tension in an area it usually corresponds to an area the horse will hold tension as well. Pam worked a lot with me over the summer to engage rather than hollow out my lower back and it seems to have helped Khaleesi develop a nice top line as well. This is supported by the concepts in Centered Riding of finding your center and strength, balance and grounding come along with that practice. 

  I have been focusing on this lately as I run. I have concentrated on using my center and not allowing my lower back to hollow and breathing all the way into that center. I also think of the ‘bubbling spring’ balance/pressure point under my foot as giving me energy and I have felt stronger and a little faster in my running. 

It’s also been interesting to consider how jogging is a lateral movement (arms and legs move a lot like a trot) and to work on ‘lengthening my stride’ and imagine how my horse has to work to add speed to her own movement. I can understand better how it takes time (and patience) to really develop that.

Those are the ways I hope to improve my body and how I use it this year. 

2. Rack up some AERC miles

Specifically- Team green has joined up with a ‘green bean’ (riders with under 1000 miles) team. We are the Rockin’ Mountain Monstas and I’m looking forward to having some team support and comraderie along the journey. In an individual sport where a leading motto is “Ride your own ride” it’s nice to have friends along the way. 

My riding goal this year is to do roughly a ride a month from March-October. I hope to do as many 50s as my horse can do healthy and sound, and to have the sense to move her back to LDs if that is what she needs. 

 

3. Strength and Balance

I have a pendant I bought almost 10 years ago when I was going through a major transition in my life. I chose it because it was the one I liked. After I bought it I read about the stones and design to find the piece was created to represent freedom (the wings) with strength (purple heart stone) and balance (blue stone). 

I strive all the time to find this balance in life. Sometimes I’m good, sometimes I’m not so good, and sometimes I can’t really tell.

    In order to be truly great it takes dedication and time- however I can’t ignore my husband, home and work to ride and train full time every day. Also my horses would hate me if I didn’t give them some down time mentally- and we always hear about the dangers of over working the horses and not allowing them to rest and heal in between events.

So I work on strength to pursue my goals and fitness but also to find balance to keep a full life; engaged in my world to use my lessons from the horse world and to make the non-horse part of my world a better place.  

Of course I’ve already written here about my desire to not just be a good rider but to always grow towards being a horseman. I hope through this year and every day for the rest of my life I will chase the feel and stay a student of Equus. 

Keep the earth below my feet. Let me learn from where I have been. Keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn”

For those of you who read these words- thank you for being part of the journey. Happy New Year and ride on in 2016!     

The Cycle

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I haven’t written in a while because we’ve been doing a mainly light pleasure riding and nothing very exciting has been happening in the team green world.

We are waiting for the saddle to ship next month and whatever combination I use doesn’t seem to be all that bad but neither is it all that good (we’re getting dry spots and pressure points but they haven’t caused worse white patches or soreness).

I have a ton of work to do and it’s hunting season so we go out a couple days a week. One nice thing that’s happened this fall is I’ve had more people than usual come out to ride with me so each time I ride I’ve been able to get Faygo and Khaleesi together which is nice for all of us.

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Julia’s first ever horse ride on Faygo the Fine
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Ann enjoys her first gaited horse trail ride with us

Something that’s been gnawing at me however is inflammation in her left rear fetlock joint. About three weeks ago I noticed it was visibly swollen when I brought her in from the pasture. I did an epsom salt soak and walked and trotted her in hand- she was not visibly off. Didn’t ride her that day.

After a couple days the swelling diminished significantly. One day the other rear had swelling (compensation inflammation?) then it was back to just the left and it was not visible to me, but I could feel it. Different from the right hind, there was soft puffiness that felt like it could be fluid right above the fetlock on the back of the leg.

What to do? She is not lame… there is no heat…

Dr. Google gave the basic advice that if the horse isn’t lame or sore then it isn’t really a problem. There isn’t much to do for treatment if the horse is not lame.

Hmmmmm…. but…. there’s swelling….

Dr. Facebook (endurance green bean mentor page) said that if it’s equal in 2 or 4 legs (right and left) then it might be normal (cosmetic only). If one leg is different than the other it’s likely damage. Khaleesi is young (5 is still young- sometimes she’s so awesome I let myself forget she’s really only 5) and in her first year of work. Pay attention to it now lest it become a long term weakness in a tendon. Why not turn her out in her pasture for a couple weeks and see if it helps.

Not ride her. Um… isn’t there a better answer? I like to ride her. We still have shoes, the weather is still nice… Can I wrap it, soak it? Something other than rest it?

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Beautiful ride on Sunday in Highland with friends

Dr. B, kind enough to discuss over email from afar says… well, he says a lot of things and was really helpful. Here are some of the highlights:

… major tendons pass over the back of the hock… diagnosing without seeing .. close to impossible… Even with a radiograph sometimes it’s not clear… fortunately the potentially ‘bad’ things are almost always associated with extreme lameness…

generally we try to be conservative in our recommendations… we say take 3 weeks off….. trainers start back in 3 days.

since she isn’t lame you’d like to move on as if nothing was wrong… but… there is swelling and 6-8 mile rides won’t do it any favors.

best to back off.

but you know your horse and see her every day- you are the best judge of how she is doing and the decision to ride or not to ride has to be up to you.

And my favorite:

The best way not to have problems with your horses is not to have horses!

Yeah… I have heard that before. Probably from my husband.

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Tim a little more comfortable than most around my girls

Just yesterday I was reading my monthly Endurance News and there was a fantastic article about the cycle of “Training-Conditioning-Performing”.

It went into how the cycle works and how important it is to recognize training as the mental component of what a horse needs to do in order to be ready to perform: walk on uneven trails, be ok around other horses on trail, allow a vet to handle them, be able to camp in a new place, etc.

Then there is the conditioning which relates to training (these overlap) but conditioning is the physical capability of your horse to go the distance: aerobic, skeletal and muscular etc. These have to come before good performance which is what happens event day.

We all go through this cycle over and over and if you realize where you are in the cycle you will be more successful- also realizing when you don’t have good performance where your weakness lies. Did you get pulled because of lack of training? (your horse couldn’t be held back to a speed it could sustain and wore out too early in the ride?) or lack of conditioning? (not in shape to do the miles?). Then you go back through the cycle and increase performance with better training and better conditioning.

Ideally you begin the cycle with a sound horse who is reasonably built to do endurance. But on page two of the article the author added two new red boxes to the cycle that are inevitable for every performance horse at some point: “Injury-Rehabilitation”.

I love my Endurance News and always find a timely article in there I can use or relate to.

It appears we have now entered the pasture rest (rehabilitation) box.

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Thankfully that doesn’t mean our training has to stop. This is a good time to continue to bring her in and work more on standing still and coming to my mounting stool better… maybe sending on the trailer (she gets on but I usually have to walk her up, would be fun to work on sending her on). There are plenty of things we can do together to continue our bond and increase her training while not riding.

Always find the opportunity.

Considering I don’t have my saddle yet, it’s hunting season, and life is busy, this is the best time I could hope for to put her out of rotation and see what happens. I’ve been avoiding it because I so love to ride her, but time to face the fact that this is what’s best for her even if it’s not what I want to do.

When I asked Dr. B about a vet visit (seems too soon to me) he agreed probably not necessary right now. We’ll give it a rest and go from there.

I can still enjoy the season with my fine Faygo. She’s developed quite a fan club this fall- I hate to disappoint her friends, but I’ll be riding her for a while myself now! Her dance card will be full for a few weeks.

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Stunning views from my fall riding

Later this morning… Confirmation…

I arrived at the barn to check on my ‘invalid’ to find she had pulled a front shoe. I take it as a sign- her rest period truly is meant to be.

My farrier postponed his visit (that would have been this week) at my request as I’d planned a ride with friends in the Richmond area this weekend and wanted my shoes just long enough to get through that. My farrier told me that shouldn’t be a problem to just keep an eye for loose nails.

Since she’d lost one, the most sensible thing for a DIY horse owner was obviously grab the farrier kit and take off the other front.

If she’s going to be on rest, I’d rather her also be barefoot for the rest of the winter… starting now! I mean- he showed me how to remove a shoe in case I needed to. What better time to try?

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Well… I have always loved my farrier, but I really love him now. It took me  at least 3o minutes, two trips back to the barn for additional tools, and some help from a friend to get that shoe off!

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Success! It doesn’t look too bad even!

Meanwhile Khaleesi was amazing. She stood still for me the whole process and tied to the fence (I hadn’t planned to bring them in today). She never tried to pull her hoof or fight me. She was a great patient.

I will leave the back two on for now….

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Indian Summer

Sunday, November 8, 2015

As I said in my last post… Winter is coming.

But apparently not quite yet.

I asked my husband one particularly warm late September day… do you think this is Indian Summer?

No. This is just still summer.

Now we are in November- have had frosty cold nights, some days with highs barely reaching 50, and areas around us have had a snow flurry or two. Dogs and horses have begun to get wooly. Yet this past week we had sunny days with highs in the upper 70s.

Oh.. THIS is Indian Summer!

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After feeling too hot in long sleeves, by Friday I am back in my summer ice-fill tights and a t-shirt. If my horses weren’t struggling- unable to take their newest protective layer off it would be a joyful celebration of one last chance to feel warm in the sun. Faygo is miserable, and Khaleesi just doesn’t seem right.

We rode Tuesday and my friend’s horse hasn’t been kept in great shape this season and he is normally in shoes- but they’d been pulled for the winter so we planned to take it easy. That wasn’t hard- her horse was still leaving Khleesi behind. I found it odd that it was so hard to keep her moving at a good pace.

Levi leads the way home as we lag in the rear.
Levi leads the way home as we lag in the rear. Looks like winter, feels like summer.

Maybe she read my last post and is trying to challenge my new goals… make things just a little harder for me. Sometimes I wonder if she can read! They are hiding an iPad out there somewhere I’m sure of it!

Maybe it’s the saddle.

I chalked it up to a warm day, and that everyone is off once in a while.

We rode again Friday with temps back up in the 70s and Faygo came along too- so again- we’d planned to take it easy. Yet again Faygo with heaves and substantial winter coat growing in… Levi with no shoes and the least conditioned… were leaving us in the dust.

At one point I let her walk as the others gaited/trotted a part of trail on out of sight to see what she would do. We were on our way home (she’s not seriously barn sour, but she does pick up a little on the way home), and she doesn’t generally like the herd to get out of her sight. She continued at her walk until a few minutes later we caught up to them waiting on us wondering where we were. She was breathing the easiest and sweating the least (though she did sweat under her pad and in a few spots- so she didn’t appear to have an issue with Anhidrosis). The other two were wet entirely with sweat. She is the youngest and most conditioned this year in that trio. I then tried pushing her forward and used my leather popper to get her moving… she did… but I knew she didn’t feel it.

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Was she sick? Was it the saddle?

Back at the barn I took her temperature. Good horse owners take their horses temperature on occasion and establish a normal base line.

I had not been doing that.

The digital thermometer read 103.8F.

That’s high… I took Faygo’s 102.7F.

Not high enough for me to call a vet yet. [also I read somewhere that digital thermometers can be slightly off]. We had just come in from a hot ride. She didn’t seem lethargic in general. I decided to check in on her the next day and see if it was more normal. But also I had gone back this week to riding in her wintec saddle with better pads to help offset the hard spot. There were once again dry places on her back and she might have been uncomfortable and that’s why she was not moving well.

THE SADDLE!

In the end it became clear the choice for us was going to be the Imus (Phoenix Rising) saddle that I so love to ride Faygo in.

The owner of the company has gone above and beyond to work with me both on price as a returning customer and slight customizations to make the saddle slightly better for us. The saddle will have a lower profile pommel, english style leathers instead of the bulky fenders, and she is moving the place the leathers attach more underneath my seat for posting (the normal Imus saddle is set up for gaiting horses with your feet slightly in front of your seat). The stirrups are free swinging which is a nice feature and you can really put your legs wherever you need them- but in the Imus saddles I rode in I ended up posting into the pommel as I balanced above the stirrups too far forward. They are going to discount slightly more not to send me their standard stirrups (which are comfortable, but leather wrapped and heavier than the lightweight composite stirrups I plan to use instead).

The saddle is on order! But it will not arrive until mid-December. So for now I’m making due with whatever I can.

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Saddle with thick wool pad, protective thin line shock absorbing pad and baby pad underneath it all… Of course a bad fit can’t be fixed with pads, but our issue with this saddle isn’t a bad fit. it’s a hard spot which can be dispersed at least a bit if it isn’t too serious.

I thought with a good enough pad the wintec would be ok for some short rides, but now I’m not so sure. From some research I believe the CAIR system has failed (which can happen after some years of use- normal saddles often need to be reflocked, so it’s not out of the question to assume these panels also might need attention over time) and where the two “balloon” sections meet is right under the seat where my hard spots are. I think that seam/connection is what is causing the problem and possibly the more riding I do it in, the more deflated and pronounced the bad spot will get. I hope to get the CAIR system removed and have it wool flocked this year so I can use it for our lessons next summer. I would also consider a new CAIR system if that were cheaper/easier. I think with light use it would probably last us a while.

Saturday I brought the girls in to check them over and Khaleesi’s temperature was 99.8. A tad low, but within a normal range (horses can range from 99-101F). I plan to take it again today and see what it is.

Today the high is expected to return to the cool 50s. I am going to switch saddles and have a new riding friend coming up from the land of the hunt and eventing to ride our mountain trails. I will be curious to see if Khaleesi becomes her usual self again or if I need to dig a little deeper into why she seems to be in a funk.

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PS — Monday November 9, 2015

I had a visit yesterday from Susan who also works in my building at Washington & Lee (I teach violin and chamber music there). We had a chat on Wednesday that ended with us learning we both ride- she was intrigued about endurance riding (she hunts & does eventing and has never really gone on a trail ride in the mountains) so I invited her up Sunday. She is a really nice rider who enjoyed Faygo and what fun to introduce someone to the beauty of trail riding!

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She had never crossed a river before (we did that twice- not including all the small streams we pass). Khaleesi and I opened almost all the gates and closed them without dismounting and she was quite impressed. We went off trail for a segment that I prefer where the trail is steep and often washed out and rode through the open woods “obstacle course.” We rode the horses through two sets of cows each having young bulls romping about without incident. We took the dogs along too (of course!). She thought the woods and trails were beautiful and said she’d never done anything like it before and fell in love. She promised to come back anytime she could!

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I went back to my paragon saddle (the english style gaited trail saddle that works pretty well for her, but is harder for me to post balanced in). It was also a cooler morning. Khaleesi was much more back to herself and though the girls meandered a bit in the first mile they picked up their game and we did mostly trot/gait canter through the ride. She was comfortable at any pace even though Faygo’s saddle stirrups don’t have enough holes for shorter legs (her feet would come out when we cantered!). I actually fixed that by adding a hole when we got back in hopes she will return soon!

As for the saddle, the paragon left a few dry spots still, but I’m going to try a better pad and see if it helps. So far no soreness has developed and she seemed to move better in it. Now that I’m getting more confident in my riding I seem to do a little better in it than I did earlier in the season. I think it’s going to work as I need it to until the Phoenix arrives next month.

And for the last bit of exciting news… Team Green has officially moved into our new barn!

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barn cleaning/organizing weekend… bucket cleaning!

It’s not a big move as we spent last winter here, and have been squatting there since late summer. Most of the pictures of us around the barn, or in the field are taken from here. It is just next door to our old place and belongs to a good friend who I ride with whenever she’s here. Now we’ve made it official and are very happy in our new digs- we have our own room and love the space. It’s a beautiful barn, well equipped with anything you would need. The girls are happy there and have a run in shed and really nice field. The barn is large and provides indoor space for vet and farrier visits especially important for the cold seasons when there is inclement weather. We are grateful to call it our home base!

our new room!
our new room!

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The Seasons Change… Pacing and Barn Sour Horses

Monday, November 2, 2015

I love the change of seasons.

That doesn’t just mean I like to see the earth go through rebirth over the year-  I really love the changes of life’s pace.

Summer is not only lush and warm… humid and green… but it is full of life. The days are long and exhausting but we revel in the activity and drink up as much sunlight as we can squeeze out of each day. The woods are noisy with birds and animals. As a teacher my work slows down leaving me able to spend lots of hours outside – my heart is in the barn and the woods, but also the yard is in bloom and things grown in the garden. We stay outside into the night with friends drinking wine, or margaritas… or mojitos… and laugh easily and often. It’s also the height of ride season and next year I hope to do at least an event each month with Khaleesi through late spring to fall… summer!

Summer gets exhausting after a while. And the heat gets tiring… humidity draining… tack and boots seem to mold overnight. Our horses are always sweating and we worry about dehydration and overheating at rides and in trailers. You dream of a shower if you are camped out without one but on the other hand get sick of wondering if there will be a thunderstorm every single afternoon for the rest of your life.

Fall comes along and brings pretty colors and trails and tack begin to dry out. The woods are stunning and the cooler temps are a godsend to your exhausted horses- though they are fantastic shape right now. This is why fall riding is “the best” – in shape horses, beautiful views, dry trails and cooler temperatures.

As the days get shorter and the leaves disappear this perfect riding gives way to winter which means parties must be held indoor, thus are usually smaller and cozy. You begin to talk in depth with your friends again over scotch or bourbon and the wood stove. It gets dark earlier and you begin to ride 2 hours or less in the warmest part of the day or risk loosing a toe to frostbite. The trails are often soggy and slick and half frozen. You worry about the storm that’s predicted and promises to dump 36 inches of snow and freezing rain… do my horses have enough hay until I’ll be able to dig a path back to the pasture? Will the water freeze? To blanket or not to blanket?

Work gets busy for me, but as riding hours are fewer it’s a good time for tradeoff. Also it’s quiet, the nights are clear and the stars blaze in the darkness. The stillness is good for the soul and there are a few perfect clear days after a snow when you can ride in the powder sugar forest and see the coyote and turkey tracks as clear as your dogs can usually smell them — nothing else has come through except you.

Just as you think you will go stir crazy from being inside as much as possible and sick of slippery footing and short rides everything begins to melt and the cycle begins again with spring. Probably my least favorite time of year the trails go from frozen to slushy and refrozen ice rinks, your horse is not only covered in mud but also shedding out a thick winter coat and you look like either bigfoot or the abominable snowman every time you try to clean one up enough to ride. Raining ruins your riding plans the most in spring- and it’s usually a COLD rain. The only saving grace is those few days that are JUST RIGHT and the sun shines warming you enough through the window that 50 degrees feels like you might just pull out your tank top for this ride (then go outside to realize you actually have lost your mind through the winter).

At least in spring you know what is coming, and winter helped you rest up for the busy riding season ahead!

Now that daylight savings time has ended and November is here the writing is on the wall. As my husband reminds me often:

Winter is coming.

cutting some downs to get through on a new trail
cutting some downs to get through on a new trail

That’s ok. The woods that were ablaze last week in color are now looking sparse with a few leaves floating along on the breeze. I took Faygo out for a really nice ride and enjoyed the time with her scoping out some new trails with my GPS- this is something I don’t do often with Khaleesi as I usually have riding mileage/speed goals with her and have been enjoying that process. Faygo however continues to struggle with hard riding so this was a great way to enjoy the first November afternoon of riding together.

Also since I have been able to dial back my riding program without feeling guilty this year (a rest season is good for the horses too!), I’ve been able to spend some time helping friends with their equine life as well.  I’ve been given a lot in my horse journey and if I can pass anything along and give some of my time to other people it’s the least I can do. My girlfriend lost her horse recently and had already been looking for another for the family so she ended up taking on two rescue walking horses to see how they’ll do this fall.

the two rescues on their trail trail ride
the two rescues on their trail trail ride

They are nice horses but will be projects to refresh their training and get them on the trails again. They have good foundations and I think have good potential and are not beyond the capability of my friend and her family, but it will take some work, and nothing is guaranteed. I found this year there is a difference when you have to put some work into your horse than if you get one fully trained and ready to go by someone else- it’s a good process to undertake, and for her teenage son who wants to ride one of these geldings I believe having to invest some time into the horse is important to understanding it’s an animal and not a motorcycle. I hope to help them out in any way I can along the journey.

An issue they will be dealing with in one horse is “barn sour”. This is something I’ve had to work through with Faygo since I began riding her. It’s gone through many phases from minor and slightly annoying to, at it’s worst (brought on by the lymes and back pain) downright dangerous and scary. We took out both geldings to see if they were even worth considering, and traded horses on the way back so we could get the experience of riding both. We did the switch after barn sour gelding started his push for home. I was glad to see when my friend dismounted and I got on he stood quietly even though he wanted to go. I believe is somewhere mid range on the barn sour scale but certainly needing improvement for a rider to enjoy him. He was never dangerous or out of control but he was pushy and hard to hold back.

[Also good to remember this was their first ride in …. who knows how long. They haven’t even been handled much by people recently. They are rescue horses without a lot of known history. They both really did fantastic for the circumstances, and the other horse- the paint horse wasn’t phased by Mr. Barn Sour and he walked calmly even when left behind at times by Mr. Barn Sour.]

Nice exploring ride with trail dogs getting a quick drink in the woods
Nice exploring ride with trail dogs getting a quick drink in the woods

Today I found Faygo to be more pushy than usual (she goes in cycles and we hadn’t ridden alone in a while); since I knew I’d be helping my friend I was very thoughtful in our training as we headed home.

Through the years I went through lots of trial and error with her from a harsher bit to jerking her and trying to slow her down by force to finally realizing I was not going to ever force that horse to do anything. I had to get to her mind. When she was at her worst is when I was forced to be at my best and I got serious about the barn sour habit.

I don’t know if you can ever make a horse NOT barn sour at all (though I won’t argue this point, anything is possible). Most horses to some extent like to hurry home- but you CAN have a horse that respects you and doesn’t become dangerous, out of control, or pulls your shoulders out of joint. For Faygo I tried lots of approaches- once I followed advice to make the work harder… circle your horse and get her to see that it’s much harder to push home than to walk nicely. In our case (and I believe most horses) this only made the energy go UP UP UP and she got more fired up the more circles I did. I had to get off her to lunge her without feeling like we were in the rodeo then get back on… It was more dangerous because now she was barn sour, intent to run home, and adrenaline UP.

I thought this over and decided in her case we needed to bring the energy down. Instead I began to turn her around- one rein U turn (not facing home) and then ask her to side pass.. back up… forward two steps… anything I could ask that wasn’t walk home but that made her think about what I wanted her to do and get her focus off of running me home. If she was bad enough I’d get off and do groundwork right there. Calm deliberate groundwork, not fast animated circles.

This helped. She’s naturally a hot headed horse though over time I find her to be softening more and more. I am always interested in keeping her adrenaline down when we’re working through something.

Over time I came up with a new game: the tree maze. This is what I used today as we got closer to home and she was pushing me. In the tree maze- every time she went from her fast walk (which I allow) to a foxtrot gait (too fast) I would practice going off the path and winding through and around trees. I work on our communication – I look first where I want to go, then use my shoulders and eventually rein if she doesn’t “hear” me. For us this works great and connects our communication better as well. She is so good that eventually the softest ‘voice’ of just looking through random trees will snake us around the woods on a diverted path home.

I could feel her dial her pace back just a touch to avoid having to go off trail without a rein cue from me. To top it off, she is so smart that she would only start to push into a gait when the sides of the trail were either so dense or so steep she KNEW I wouldn’t make her do it. Then immediately pull back a few steps later when the trail opened back up again.

Love this horse, she always ups my game

Again I had to outsmart her- so I decided in those sections I would just turn her around and do side passes and back ups then turn back around and continue. Eventually she realized this and we walked home. Loose rein. Granted we walked fast- but my rule was as long as it’s a walk I’ll take it.

I always start by asking myself what I am doing to contribute to the problem. I believe all great riders start here and hopefully it’s the easiest thing to change first (our own behavior or energy)! I think many of us are just a step ahead of our horses. We anticipate what they have done in the past and I wondered if I might be telegraphing her speeding up in places she’s done it before to basically create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As we ride the familiar trail home I know I think to myself “here is where she always speeds up that little hill…” or “this is the spot she always tries to run past where the other trail meets” and in doing so am I creating some of this energy? Like another friend who has occasional trailer loading issues… does she sometimes worry to herself “I know he’s not going to load” and send out that energy to the horse who feels there must be a reason to be worried about this? How about another friend who has been working on getting her horse to not drag on the lead and move with her when she jogs out- she said her horse is starting to jog sideways with it’s hind end out to the side… we figured out she had gotten too used to popping the lead rope behind her to ask him to move out without even giving him the chance to move correctly (or incorrectly) first.

I tried to get control of my brain and really think the slower footfall rhythm and energy and using my Jedi training assume she would NOT try to speed up in those known areas, but instead keep my energy down and the rhythm and energy dialed back. I believe it made a difference. In riding this way more and more there are moments when I can feel her energy in a split second ask my energy a question “can we canter up this hill please?” or “I’m tired and hope to slow down.. can we?” and often my energy answers with a “yes lets go!” or “I was just thinking we should slow down for a bit”. And I’m working on stopping my horse without rein if at all possible- and not really with my seat either, but as Pam and I talked about I try putting my energy to “Zero”. I have literally stopped saying “Whoa” sometimes and actually say out loud (though it’s mostly to myself to try to help my energy as much as possible since I’m not a Jedi quite yet) “zero”. When we did make it home and were approaching the  barn I did this and bam. “zero.” She stopped.

At some point in riding Faygo, I decided that I will not pull on her face to get her to listen- I expect her to go the speed I ask and not faster (or slower) until I change the speed, and hopefully someday stop when my energy says “zero” every time. This isn’t easy- with Faygo going home the challenge was to keep her from trotting me in, and we did it today.

the go-go-Faygo
the go-go-Faygo

With Khaleesi it’s mainly keeping her moving – my energy needs work too. I have found that sometimes I’m asking her to move forward, but I haven’t changed my own energy into a trot. When I do it’s more effective. Also I’ve ridden in a group where the energy is forward and away we go- 6mph easy with a forward friend, but in a group with a lower energy level I might put her out front and try to set a slow trot and it’s pulling teeth- the other horses are lagging behind and she feels the group energy stronger than mine. She can speed up or slow down without me asking- and most of us as casual riders let the horse choose the speed often. I’d like us to be more fine tuned than that. The one thing that I don’t like about group riding (more than 3 people) is that I find the speed changes ALL THE TIME. A horse gets in front and goes out a few steps, then lags back to a walk- then fast walk- then slow walk-trot/gait a short distance…  the pace never seems to find a groove (except sometimes in the case of walking along for stretches).

I have ideas for barn sour Faygo, but I tried to think about how to encourage Khaleesi to keep moving. In the arena when she’d slow down in a corner I’d use a dressage whip (just a tap) to answer the question for her “Can I slow down now?” I may experiment riding her alone on the trail and work on my energy forward and bring the dressage whip as a tool to help us communicate without me having to kick and push her from my legs- I want her to be more responsive and not dull there.

I know she can move out, and she’s in plenty good enough shape. It’s kind of nice to know I have a horse in her that is capable of a mellow ride and a fast one depending on what we’re doing. Ironically with Faygo, who needs to mellow out due to breathing limitations, is always pushing on hot and fast. Dialing her back is always a struggle.

All of this seems to come back to energy and pace to me the more I think about them. Faygo needs to slow down sometimes, and Khaleesi needs to keep moving at a steady trot. Both of these we work on more effectively alone- then hope our work and energy translates into group riding.

That is one of my winter goals- to find some groove in our pace… and to help my friend’s new barn sour rescue learn to walk in under control.

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Mountaintop Riding

Tuesday, October 26, 2015

The white patches and sore spots on Khaleesi were a nightmare when they were happening, but now I am thankful they pushed me to reevaluate our saddle situation. This is a good time to get on top of that and if our saddle had been working ok, I may not have bothered addressing it until we were in the middle of next season and then it becomes a frantic scramble for anything that works.

Trying the Synergist again
Trying the Synergist again

I rode in the Synergist for the second time on an alone ride last week and though I still loved it, the honeymoon was over and the real test was starting. She was not as naturally forward without buddies to ride with and we went through tougher terrain- through berry briars I had to reach down and cut from in saddle, and my “mountain laurel” trail is beautiful but thick with laurel that I always clip as much as possible on the walk up the mountain. She did great as I climbed around her back like a monkey at times trying to do as much as I could without getting off her. The saddle still held me in place and didn’t move around on her back either.

I mentioned in my last blog that the only thing that concerned me was a slight discomfort in one knee when I got off. As soon as we started out I began to feel that same knee was bothering me. I shifted my weight wondering if I wasn’t riding centered- one leg longer, more weighted than the other. Nothing seemed to quite fix it so I got off and checked. Sure enough one stirrup was longer than the other. Once I corrected this my knee immediately felt better and we were good to go.

I hadn’t ridden in this area since the “run through the jungle” post as you have to cross the clearing that had grown up with briars and that is where we saw the rattlesnake in the summer. Since this is mid-Fall I decided to take a chance: the snakes should have gone away as we’ve had some frosts overnight and the jungle should have died back at least enough to manage.

It was as stunning- the colors are gorgeous and the weather was perfect. Once we climbed to the top of the mountain and got on the ridge trail I asked Khaleesi to move it on out and she chose a collected canter that was really nice.

Beautiful ridge road on top of the mountain
Beautiful ridge road on top of the mountain

On the way back down the roads are wide and easy to ride but we slowed down due to the downhill incline. There was a mess of downed trees along the path at one point that we couldn’t get through. Of course this is the one spot where the woods were very steep on either side of the road and I got off to see if I could pick our way through and maybe cut a branch or two. No way. It was a thick mess and some of the branches were too high to walk over.

I look up one side.

Way too steep. Big boulders.

Down?

Um… I think that’s do-able. (I hope……..)

This area is rocky, and the rocks are piled on each side of the road. The footing was loose and leaves made it tough to know for sure what we were getting into, but this was the way home.

Definitely safer on the horse than off, so I get back on.

Ok… let’s do this. [point horse down the hill off the road]

Khaleesi: Nope. That is a bad idea. Let’s just turn around here and go back the way we came.

Me: That’s like 10 miles back instead of 4 miles home. We can do this!

Khaleesi: I don’t really want to go down there. It’s steep… Cut the trees with your saw!

Me: We’d be here all night. I KNOW you can do this girl. I believe in you. [kicks harder]

Khaleesi: Ok, but for the record, I don’t agree with this option.

She steps off and we slide down the 4 feet or so on her hind end, my feet could be on the ground if I  let them and she handles it like a champ until we find some decent footing. It’s rocky under the leaves but we can walk it slow and pick our way through along the side of the hill… now getting back up is harder. It’s only about 4 feet up- of loose ground with rocks and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to scale it- but we need to be back up on the road. Before I can think too hard about the best place to try for she makes the call and starts to scramble up. I help her as much as I can staying balanced and holding onto her mane and say a little prayer we don’t slide back down the mountain together and she miraculously gets us up onto the road on solid ground and all I can do is rub her neck and tell her she’s the best mountain horse I could hope for… I make much of her.

She says “alright already- can we get back to going HOME now?

Part of the rocky lined road- we came up on some downed trees ahead.
Part of the rocky lined road- we came up on some downed trees ahead- the incline on both sides was steeper there.

I was glad to be in that saddle and not a little english wintec for that detour, but also for the trail clipping and offroading. I like the wintec, but the more I’m trying other saddles the more convinced I am that a more substantial saddle is going to be good for both of us on long rides and off-trail rides.

As for the Synergist- it is still a leading choice. I have been in contact with the owners of the company (CJ) and after a wither tracing she told me the saddle I’ve been borrowing is built on a medium tree and we would be better suited to a wide. This makes sense because the fit is decent, but I thought there were a couple almost dry spots after riding. Not big patches, but enough to think it might not be perfect.

Imus 4beat saddle: getting tacked up near the airport
Imus 4beat saddle: getting tacked up near the airport

The next saddle on the list was an IMUS or Gaits of Gold or Phoenix Rising depending on when you got it and what you call those products. Brenda Imus is the person behind the line of bits and saddles, she has since passed and her daughter Jamie Evan is running the company and it is better than ever. The customer service is phenomenal and the products are high quality. I settled on a Phoenix Rising saddle for Faygo and absolutely love it. But would it work for Khaleesi- totally different horse with totally different movement?

I sent pictures to Jamie and a whither tracing and we decided that the standard tree is most likely the best choice for her. (Faygo has the wide tree- so her saddle wouldn’t fit as well). My friend Carrington is the one who first introduced me to the saddles and she happens to have an extra standard tree that I could ride with her in (it is one of her other horses’ saddles). We met to do a test run… and I do mean run.

We had been talking for a long time about doing a fast/flat ride with her Saddlebred (Ned) who loves to go go go and just hadn’t gotten serious about setting a date and making it happen. In fact- we hadn’t ridden just the two of us in over a year except for an hour or so during a camping trip at the end of a group ride (we went back out after the group ride for a few more miles). So we finally got serious and made a date to meet up at the local airport on top of the mountain and ride across and back, we figured it would be about 20 miles.

Pretty views from another ridge trail
Pretty views from another ridge trail

I brought a saddle of my own just in case, but the older Imus fit her perfectly and we were good to go. I wasn’t sure where the stirrups would be best and the first 2 miles they were too long and I felt uncomfortable and unable to balance. I stopped to shorten them and voila, it was perfect. Funny how stirrup length can make or break your knees, legs, and experience. Once I had myself adjusted the saddle was incredibly comfortable to ride and easy to balance in. The seat was slightly larger than mine, but didn’t bother me at all. The free swinging stirrups could go wherever I needed and posting was no problem.

We kept up an average moving speed close to 6mph and the horses seemed to have a great day. Ned really moves out and if he was in his fast rack Khaleesi does her collected canter to stay with him. She moved great in the saddle and trotted smooth and easy for me.

We tied off the horses for a short break and hiked up to the local look-out gazebo.

Horses tied as we climbed the last few feet up some rock stairs to the overlook gazebo.
Horses tied as we climbed the last few feet up some rock stairs to the overlook gazebo.

It has been years since I’d gone up there (used to hike it on foot every summer I visited) and it was as beautiful as ever. When I spent summers playing violin at Garth Newel Music Center, Flag Rock was a special place for me and the last year I came for that program I sat on that rock once and was certain I would never see that view or come back to Warm Springs again. I was at a pivotal place in my life and took me 4 years to return and climb out there once again- in 2007 it was as time a full time resident who doesn’t intend to move away any time soon. It was nice to spend a few minutes there- the first time I’d ridden a horse there.

Flag Rock- I've sat and looked out over the gaps many times over the years, more in the past than recently.
Flag Rock- I’ve sat and looked out over the gaps many times over the years, more in the past than recently.

On the ride home we found a few places that were just right and let the horses all out canter. One really pretty stretch we raced them and trusty 18 year old Ned pulled away from Khaleesi even as she tucked her head, bared down, and reached for her biggest stride. She was trying, but that Saddlebred kept his lead and we laughed out loud from the fun of a good run.

Khaleesi had a crazy off kilter canter when we first started riding (we don’t canter a lot) and I’ve felt her grow into the stride as we keep riding together. It was never very fast but recently once in a while, especially following Faygo up a little hill, or a pretty stretch heading toward home and she gets excited, I feel another gear engage and her nice collected canter downshifts for some extra speed. At first it was a mix of joy and fear…

hey there, this is new… is she out of control right now, could we stop!?

But she’s never run away with me and when I ask her to back down she always does.

I have been feeling her gaits change and grow as she develops her muscles and tendons and we balance together. I think her canter has taken some time to sort itself out with a rider up there and will continue to develop. I’ve also heard endurance riders talk about her trot gaining speed and efficiency slowly with practice and time. I believe she may eventually have a rack or running walk develop as well, but we are not in a hurry- it takes time to really build those muscles.

on the trail
on the trail

We enjoyed the ride, did almost 20 miles in about 3 1/2 hours and saw some beautiful views.

As for the saddle. I am not certain I will bother with a specialized trial. I have found two great options in Synergist and Imus and still have the Ansur to borrow next week. For now the top two have their pros and cons:

Synergist:

pros– love the customization (not just fitting the horse, but the options I can choose or forego to make it streamlined or build up anything I want), know I can have it refitted if the horse changes- or I change horses someday. Small company. Great customer service. Good potential for used saddles to pop up and good records of each saddle’s specifics- the owners of the company can tell me if it’s a decent fit for me and my horse or not from the serial #. I Like the English style rigging at an angle that pulls from the center of the saddle not just the front. Saddle holds me more in place making the ride easy on me, which is good for my horse. I like their look.

cons– if a used one doesn’t pop up- they are pricey. Saddle holds me in place, that is in both pro and con section because I’m not sure how I feel about it it. I like it but it doesn’t give me much room for my own balance/adjustment. Maybe a larger seat would change that.

Imus/Phoenix Rising 4beat:

pros– love the one I already have. Every time I ride in it I love it more. Small company. Amazing customer service. Comfortable balanced ride without holding me too much in place. I like the design that is not a flex tree but allows for lots of back movement and muscle development. I already have a relationship with the company and owner and they have been fantastic at every turn. Saddles are not cheap, but very reasonable and cost less than other options I’m considering. Might be better suited to her movement if she eventually picks up a rack or other smooth gait.

cons– bulky. The cantle is more substantial that I like and the stirrup fenders are more than I want. Even the light version is not truly lightweight. I’ve contacted the company to ask if there IS any room for adjustment in what they do to streamline it… the good news is there are a few custom things they can do for me to make the saddle closer to what I’m looking for (that might be back to a “pro”). There are almost never used ones for sale… I suppose that can be a pro too- it says people keep them.

As for riding… Training and the rest of it…

Something I’ve noticed that’s changed in my thinking about riding is how I quantify a ride. It used to be hours of a ride… a 3 hour ride… a 4 hour ride… an 8 hour ride… but now I tend to think in terms of miles. I don’t mind a slower ride for a short distance (5-8 miles), but now if I’m going to do 15 or 20 miles I’d prefer to move out and cover some ground.

I am fine to spend 8 hours in the saddle, but if I can cover the same territory and see the same things in 5 hours, and moving out keeps my blood flowing and muscles moving so I’m less tired I find that more fun. In the future if I do 8-10 hours in the saddle I hope that means I’m on a 50 mile ride.

Since this season of our first LD (25-30 miles) rides I’ve noticed I’m less tired and feel better after 30 miles of moving at a faster pace than 15 miles of mostly walking with occasional spurts of trotting/gaiting.

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Carrington’s horses (both Ned and Abaco) are great training partners for Khaleesi. In riding only 2 of us there is less of a group dynamic to sort out and we can just get side-by-side and keep a steady pace which is really helpful for me in training. One thing I want to improve is sticking with a pace longer and getting into a rhythm.

I’ve read a lot about conditioning LSD (Long Slow Distance) but when you get into the specifics, “Slow” means 5-6mph. For my neck of the woods most trail rides are in the 3-4mph range if you’re in a group who will keep along- and they are considered the gaited horse- faster moving riders. The quarter horse folks are under 3mph as they walk along enjoying a stroll (nothing wrong with that if you enjoy it!). I don’t find it hard to enjoy the view at 5mph- and it encourages me to keep my eyes UP as we ride and not worrying the footing (she does great when I let her to it- I am so much better at NOT looking down anymore). It’s harder to get my solo horse to really focus on moving along at 6mph on our own for consistent stretches, but with Ned or Abaco she will perk up her ears and they get to business.

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I don’t worry about this. When I started ponying her last winter I called her the “anchor” and when I started riding her I thought she would fall over from lack inertia she walked so slow. In the spring she would move into the lead horse position and just stop altogether. This weekend she took the lead regularly and trotted along in front of Ned at a good clip as well as riding side-by-side and behind. I think she will continue to develop the discipline of riding longer stretches on her own at a faster pace and we will enjoy a good walk with friends sometimes as well. As winter approaches footing and weather make for slower and shorter riding but hopefully as spring emerges next year we can find a ride with Carrington here and there to help me and Khaleesi get back into stride for starting 50s this year. Who knows… maybe Carrington and Ned (or Abaco) will decide to join us at a ride for fun one day!

Mountain top ridge riding, river valleys, the slow and the fast, with friends and gone solo: enjoy the ride.

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