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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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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