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

She’s Got a Ticket to Ride

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

IMG_9036Riding in my first LD event was a big step for team green to 100. With more reflection I am glad we participated in the ride instead of only volunteering because I learned a lot about what my horses need in their conditioning and home riding to be prepared for future AERC events and I don’t think I would have gained that by only volunteering. I am very excited to be volunteering with good friends at the ‘big’ Old Dominion in June. Now that I have some basic understanding of how to ride my horse, it will be good to see the other end, and how people make it through a 100 mile ride which is a big step up in every level.

IMG_9037Now that Faygo is in pretty prime shape and has taken me safely through the 30, it’s time to get back to Khaleesi (ms. green) and start focusing on what she needs to be ready to do an LD ride in the Fall. My good friend Kate, who is a really nice rider, came yesterday to help! She rode Faygo (who needs to stay in great shape!) while I rode Khaleesi on a nice 8 mile trek on a beautiful (if not a bit warm for the horses) day.

IMG_9093Khaleesi is a bit of a mess in the first 20 minutes. She wants to eat, wants to turn around, doesn’t stand still to mount, doesn’t have great steering, walks S-L-O-W… but after some insistence on my part she pulls herself together and by the second half of the ride seems like a “real” horse. Faygo of course was walking out nicely and though she was a good mover before- now she is used to keeping up good speeds and she and Kate were often a ways ahead. That is ok with me, Khaleesi needs to learn to walk out and keep up, or be left behind a bit. She doesn’t panic when she isn’t close to Faygo which I like about her, and on the way home she seemed to be able to walk faster with no trouble- so I don’t feel bad for her just “not being able to” keep up. I know better.

By the middle of the ride Khaleesi would go in front, of course Faygo doesn’t like that, but she and Kate were good sports- and I made her keep moving (none of this going in front and then slowing down the pace!). Once we were warmed up and on good footing we did a lot of gaiting and trotting in intervals, then slowing to a walk for recovery. We have a lovely gradual hill that I told Kate to GO GO GO as it’s a great spot for Faygo’s fast canter and that is like a week of therapy in about 20 seconds. Khaleesi and I followed and it’s the only spot of the ride I let her canter. It was great fun!

 Once we returned to the barn we cleaned up and Kate headed to work. I tied up Faygo in the shade, grabbed a magazine and bottle of water and took Khaleesi over to the trailer. Today we were getting on- no excuses- and we weren’t leaving until all 4 feet got on that trailer. I was prepared for hours of standing around in there if need be. I never got frustrated or angry (my expectations were pretty low- that helped me stay relaxed), and I let her stand outside on the ground as long as she wanted and almost never held pressure on the line. We were parked on dirt (not grass) so there was no chance of eating, and she had to at least keep her head in the trailer.

IMG_9071She would put a foot on, stomp on the floor, sometimes two feet…

Two feet on… that means I can take a break… right… isn’t that how we do this?

No. It WAS how we did it last fall when you were 4 and didn’t trust me. Now you are 5, and I think I’ve earned your trust. Get up here.

She stuck her head in… through the side window… smelled the floor… tried to chew on the metal… she licked her lips…

IMG_9065I just stayed inside, kept my body language welcoming (did not stand square on to her, did not look her in the eyes), and encouraged her to come in and join me. I sometimes read my magazine… 15 minutes… 30 minutes… 45 minutes… 50minutes… Maybe I can’t do this… Maybe I need to ask someone for help…  No… it’s YOUR horse- you have to do this. You can’t expect anyone else to save you.

I sometimes pressured her more, I sometimes ignored her.

Then I grabbed a little bit of leftover hay from the weekend that was up front and she got interested. I held it where she’d have to at least get two feet on, but she could see/smell it. She stepped up two feet again and I gave her the couple strands of hay. She was paying attention now. We repeated. I could get two feet up for a few strands of hay.

IMG_9066 I’m STARVING… I haven’t eating in  over 45 minutes… You’re trying to kill me…

Ok, so look at this little hay pile.. it’s yours if you come up here and get it!

Oh…. death by trailer or death by starvation? 

She stepped back up two feet on and REACHED her neck to eat some more of the hay all the way in. (This is a start!)

IMG_9067They I’d push the hay just a little farther… She’d REACH in so her back feet were just off the back step. (I need something more tempting than hay! I tie her so she has to keep her head inside (all four feet outside) and get a few handfuls of grain.

I make a show of dropping half the grain at the front where the hay was and she can’t help herself. She gets three feet on in order to reach the grain better and then steps off.

That was good- and I didn’t get eaten by the trailer. Maybe I won’t die.

IMG_9082I dump some more grain and she climbs right on- all four feet to eat some. Then backs off. PERFECT!

I dump some more grain, now this is a fun game. All four feet on… eat some grain… back off. We do this a few times in a row. She is willingly stepping right up for her grain, and doing a great job of stepping back off as well.

SUCCESS!

IMG_9094I didn’t close the door, and I didn’t take her anywhere. But soon… now “bad horsey” is mobile! We can’t do an AERC ride if we can’t get in the trailer! So this is another big step. I’ll have to keep working on it to be sure she loads well, but it’s exciting to know I can start taking her places to ride with friends now!

The New Trail and the Canter

Monday, April 6, 2015

After our big ride, I gave Faygo (and myself) a lazy day to relax. Monday Judy came back to ride so I could get Khaleesi back on the trail. We took a ride Khaleesi had never been ponied on to see how she’d handle new scenery.

IMG_8475The ride began by crossing a wooden bridge (for cars, so not narrow or “too” scary) and I had to get off and lead her across, but she was fine once we got started. She looked around more on the new trail, but took the lead and didn’t seem to lack for confidence. We also had to walk through a trail that had turned into run-off stream with the wet weather and she occasionally tried to move us off the trail onto higher (but rockier) ground; as I insisted we stay in the wet area she finally got the message and stayed on the trail.

I was so pleased with her! We rode about 5 miles and though I still have tons of fine-tuning to do, we have good confidence together and I liked how she seemed to want to stay out front of Faygo (who didn’t seem to mind as I think she was still tired!).

IMG_8491Our loop took us by a beautiful spot in the Jackson River Valley with a gorgeous view. It was a beautiful day as well and was a wonderful ride. I’ve decided that though we’ll still do some arena work, I’d like to focus on “training on the trail” with this horse as it’s more interesting for me, and will be really good for her since that will be her job (endurance trail riding). I worked on trying to get her to take to the bit and possibly start to set her head, but on the “snaffle” rings I just didn’t feel like she was getting it. I decided the next step will be to add a curb chain and connect to the curb rings on the bit to add some poll (top of her head) pressure to see if that encourages her to begin to tuck her head and get “on” the bit more with somewhat a headset. Due to my inexperience we may have to resort to a martingale or professional help at some point, but for now we’re still experimenting and I’m ok with the process. I spent some time holding her back from the trot, sitting back on her and trying to get her to fast walk, but our signals aren’t quite clear yet, so we do a little of that, and yes- I do let her do some trotting too.

Khaleesi dealing well with lots of water on the trail.
Khaleesi dealing well with lots of water on the trail.

The most exciting thing for the day was that on the return part of the trip, slightly uphill, Faygo took off with a canter- I knew Judy was enjoying that lovely silk canter of Faygos and could hardly blame her for leaving us behind. I held on and asked Khaleesi what she was going to do? We can walk easy and lag behind (no big deal) or go ahead and catch up if you want! And we did! We cantered for a good couple minutes up the incline and it was our first real cantering! She felt so different in how she moves than Faygo does… but it was FUN!

I have done more reading and research and it seems like really successful endurance riders don’t ride their horses nearly the amount of miles once they’re in shape as I’d thought they must. Many say 2-3 times a week and not often over 12-15 miles is routine for a horse that can do LD up to 50 miles. That makes me feel good about splitting up ride time between the girls this summer and also realizing that the rest in between is as important as the miles we get in- so it’s good to have two horses to trade off as the season ramps up and we find ourselves wanting to ride more often. I’m looking forward to taking Khaleesi out more and more- and eventually alone. Not ready for that today- but I feel it won’t be too long!

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Still in love with my young mare!

Gaiting Speed Graphics

Friday March 27 & Sunday, March 29, 2015

This weekend brought particularly cold weather back, snow and wind. I had planned a big ride with Faygo on Friday where my friend Nancy would ride half the distance with me on her fiery little paso. The morning ended up in a very cold rain, so we decided to be flexible and met at the barn in the afternoon for a shorter ride and some fun in the obstacle course training. It was a good chance to spend a few minutes with Khaleesi, see how her shoulder did after light work, then with Faygo, a little easier riding with a friend for a change.

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Nancy and Mireyah cross the tarp

Khaleesi is great with the tarps, platforms etc. in fact she is so laid back she is lazy about picking her feet up over the pipes on the ground. We opted for a slight challenge by moving the tarp- at first following behind it. It was windy, so that was a tricky, but everyone improved. Her shoulder seemed no worse for use.

Sunday I thought I would do a short(ish) fast moving ride and I let the dogs come along. I don’t have the mileage mapped over the mountain (this is the mountain East of the river) into Little Valley and back, I guessed it would be a good 7 or 8 miles. The ride is steep to the top ridge trail, then it’s down or somewhat flat to come back through the valley so it was a nice ride to open up and work on some gaiting.

When I got home and checked the GPS I was a little off. The ride was about 11 miles, very similar to the ride we took last weekend! I was especially surprised since we did the ride in about 2.5 hours. Sorry dogs- I didn’t realize I was going to drag you 11 miles at a good moving speed. But they hung in there like the fantastic trail dogs they are!

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Tired dogs after running at least 11 miles with us!

Double Click to see enlarged view
Double Click to see enlarged view

I am happy to say the incline was even more than our last ridge ride (on the CCC road – the mountain West of the river), yet our speed was better. I started counting and tracking her breathing and recording the data with her heart rate at the time. I also am discovering that letting her haul up a ways then stop to breathe seems to work better for her than controlled walking the steep inclines. I realize people may say that the slow walking will build stamina, but I don’t know if I believe that for her case. And if so, then we’ll continue to train that way sometimes, but in trying to see what we can do, pushing through then resting in spurts seems to work better.

The ridge trail is so pretty- and this time of year you can see more through the trees than in summer. I love the rock formations up on top of the mountains, and the shapes of the trees are more interesting as well. I took a little video when we crested the top.

We dropped off the mountain through the backyard of good friends Lee & Linda. They were outside so we stopped to say hello and got a picture by their “little” house. It’s the original house from the property and now used as a guest house. Entire families lived in the tiny place! (pictured at top of post)

Rock Cairn marking the trail up the mountain that during summer can be tricky to find.
Rock Cairn marking the trail up the mountain that during summer can be tricky to find.

From this point we had some flat terrain on the road and we settled into a gait and finally I felt like we dialed it in. She didn’t try to go faster or slower, I found a great seat and balance, and we hit our stride – that sweet spot in gaiting – and really held it for over a mile… that’s the longest stretch like that for us ever. In looking over my graphics I saw a nice difference between the rides. Our last weekend 11 miles on the CCC road is very jagged, this ride to Little Valley is slightly less so. We have a couple miles of between 8 and 10mph which is when we had that nice gait experience. Unfortunately when we hit the trail again with it’s various inclines and footings she went back to pushing me to canter more and to see how things went I often let her (you want to go? ok… me too!) Only she would wear herself out and then have to slow way down to recover on great ground we should have been covering faster. Lesson learned from that: convince her to stay in a gait for more of the ride even if she promises she has the canter in her. I have to be the brains of the operations… Lend me your hooves… lets work together!

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Bolar Ridge Loop is most recent (shown as top graphic). CCC road loop (shown as bottom graphic) is from the previous ride.

So what I’d like to start seeing on my GPS graphics is a decrease in those peaks and to begin to have a more stable average speed in our training. That is the goal as much as it’s possible to do so (terrain dictates much of our options).

As for my “mother of dragons” (Khaleesi), she had to hang in the stall because in the evening we had a visitor. The man I bought her from and his wife came to see her and have dinner with us. I was excited to have him see how nicely she is growing up. He said she looked great and that I was doing a good job with her. We went in to the arena and when I began to walk her around the course she picked right up and trot-trot-trotted around like a little peacock. She hardly ever moves at more than a walk unless I force her, so I was a bit surprised. Who are you and what have you done to slightly lazy, mild mannered Khaleesi!? She did all I asked of her (though still a little rough around the edges), and then we turned the girls out in pasture. Instead of her usual stand around, hang her head over the gate “where ya goin’ mom?” she danced off across the field and then with her tail up pranced around, kicked up, bucked, ran around, trotted, cantered and all ducked her head and hauled ass at pretty good speed in little bursts. I was tickled to see it. As soon as she’d stop a moment she’d pick up and go again, at least for or 5 times. I believe she remembered her past family and was doing a little show off for them.

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Thankfully the next day proved that all the crazy acrobatics had no effect on her past injury and she is sill looking sound. So, the girls is ready to get back to work! Will she gait? Can I make that happen alone? Or will I need help? Stay tuned as we figure it out together!

Over the river and through the woods

Friday, March 13, 2015

Today was another farrier day. Faygo now has front shoes on for the season and is looking good. Khaleesi got a trim and her feet are also in good shape. The bruise from 6 weeks ago has hardened and healed up and with the hoof trim you can’t tell it happened now.

Judy on Faygo
Judy on Faygo ahead on the trail

Judy came out again today and rode Faygo so I could ride Khaleesi on her second trail ride. She was great! Still moves slower than Faygo at a walk, but I try to remember it’s only her second time and the footing was muddy and slippery.

I talked with my Farrier again about our riding goals and how to move forward on hoof care. He also recommended a local rider to get to know who has time and miles in the AERC and is successful in finishing 100s. I think I’ll be able to meet her in April.

IMG_8212I have also been doing some research on gaited horses, saddle fit, bits, and how to help them gait. I believe that Khaleesi will have either a rack or a running walk and I hope to help her find that without frustrating her with unnatural aids (like a martingale to make her hold her head in place… or a bit that would use pain avoidance to force her to collect herself in form… or weighted front shoes to encourage her to pull her front feet up higher).

I ordered her a gaited horse bit that is identical to the one I use on Faygo and I’m going to at least try to start working on getting a gait from her a more “natural” way first and see if I can get somewhere before going the “old school” way of forcing her into it. The research I’ve seen tells me that if you have the right IMG_8205equipment and the horse is comfortable then you can ride the horse at a walk to it’s “breaking point”, meaning the horse wants to “break” into a trot at that speed, but continue to hold the horse in a walk- then you will start to get it’s natural gait to appear. I’d like to at least give that a try with her first.

We rode an easy 5.5 mile trail and both girls were great. I think Khaleesi and I are ready now to ride with other horses and not only Faygo. Here is video of her crossing a little stream.

We had a blast… I couldn’t be happier with how well she’s doing!

LOVE this girl!
LOVE this girl!