Down Time

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Khaleesi is now on a full week of rest. It seems like a really long time to me. It’s been actually one week plus one day.

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This is what Khaleesi’s rest break looks like… a lot of me riding Faygo!

She is now completely barefoot. The first missing shoe was that corroboration I felt (coincidence, depending on your worldview) the next shoe was my first experience in pulling a shoe that was never meant to come off without a professional (I did pretty well… with some help!) The last back two came off Sunday morning with a neighbor friend (D) who shoes his own horses and had the right tools and some experience (and a lot of patience).

We did it in the field and Khaleesi was good for the first back shoe- before she realized what we were doing. The last remaining shoe was another story. She decided she did NOT trust that guy and was not letting her near her white foot. She reared up on the line, pushed into me and acted like a monster.

I did not accept this behavior- but I’ve been doing my best to train her with calm energy and never to assume she’s “being bad”- but that this is something she is struggling with for whatever reason, and we will get through it. The bad behavior was not going to make us go away (until the job was done) but I have also made a commitment not to lose my temper in the process.

I backed her, called her in to me, worked her feet and then would put her back in place. It seemed like she knew it was wrong but she’d walk into me anyway to get away from D.

Repeat process. As many times as it takes.

My neighbor has lots of horse sense, I don’t believe he has bad horse energy- he’s not afraid or a high adrenaline kind of guy. Calm and matter of fact. Old school but also respectful. He was kind to keep patience with me for this favor. He would rub her on her front end and gave her time to accept him going back around to the foot. Worked slowly with her.

It’s cold today Jaime… they get all amped up when it’s cold… Maybe she’s not used to being worked on in the field… maybe she doesn’t trust me… there’s always one leg they don’t like- maybe that’s her leg…

It was nice he was looking for reasons. There was probably one somewhere- but I told him in the end it didn’t matter the reason.

Honestly I don’t really care.

The shoe is coming off, and we’re doing it in the field on the bad leg she doesn’t like when it’s cold. And she’ll have to learn she will also live through this.

Sometimes I think as humans we want to explain things and put too much energy into finding reasons for behavior (animal and human). Occasionally it helps because we can find a better angle to work through if we understand a problem. But sometimes that thinking can get in the way and put up road blocks instead of solutions. Often I believe letting go of the reasons helps open up the flow for the change in behavior.

He wondered if tying her to the post would be more effective? (It wasn’t – I was willing to try) Other options were leave the shoe and the work he already did to cut the nailheads would make it likely to come off on its own [I don’t like that one] or we could also basically hog-tie her to get it done. [Nope, we weren’t doing that either]

Gotta be smarter than the problem… wasn’t it Einstein that said imagination is more important than knowledge? We needed to outsmart the issue not force it. If this didn’t work the failure would be mine- not hers. She’s just a horse acting like a horse. Use that somehow.

I was curious- could I pick up and work with that back foot?

I asked D to hold her lead and I walked around her and picked up the “good” back foot, thumped the tools on it, set it down. No problem.

Walked around to the white foot. Picked it up, she pulled it in a little- but gave it to me. I grabbed the shoe tool and played with the shoe (it wasn’t ready to come off- he still had one nail really holding on) but she let me.

I don’t think you’re gonna be strong enough to pull that shoe Jaime…

I knew that, but I needed to see if it was the leg, the process, the tools or the person.

D (still holding the lead) came over and we traded- I took the lead, he took the foot. She stayed put. I walked slowly in front of her and he got to work.

How much is that dooggggy in the window….. the one with the waggin’ tail…….. how much is that doooooooogy in the window….. I sure hope that doggie’s for sale….

I sang that tune about 25 times. I don’t know where that song came from, but when I had my first puppy I’d sing that little song around the house to my little doggie (it was a rescue pit bull, so we didn’t buy her and she wasn’t in a pet store window, but it’s a catchy tune). It has become my go-to song when I don’t have more time to be creative.

[James Taylor songs tend to be the ones when I’m riding and not sure what my horse is going to do about something in our environment or they are acting squirrely. Fire and Rain is the standard there.]

I always sing when I may not be controlling my physiological stress response well. I don’t want my energy to make her worries worse- and that happens SO fast with a sensitive horse. The singing regulates my breathing and heart rate, and distracts us both.

I also gently grabbed a bit of skin on her shoulder- not hard, but if she began to dance while D was getting that shoe off- and had the potential to hurt him with nails and tools in a bad spot, I would have grabbed harder in hopes of distracting her brain from choosing badly to buy him enough time to finish or get out of the way.

I didn’t need to. She stood for the time he needed to finish clipping off a tough nail end and pulling off the shoe.

Success.

I rubbed her head and told her that was all we needed today and she was a good girl to let us finish. D rubbed her and told her she was a good horse and I untied her halter. She walked off, bucked around and danced for us to show us she was still a little wild and she was probably happy to be barefoot again- but she quickly calmed down and grazed next to us and I rubbed her neck.

Monty Roberts says you can see how your work is going with your horse by how they act when you release them in the field. If they run away from you right off it is not a good sign. Considering how she was uncomfortable with what we asked her to do just minutes earlier I was glad to see her stay close and relax around us as we picked up the tools and chatted a few more minutes there. I think that means we ended positive.

Her leg already felt much better before we started the shoe removal Sunday (almost one week of rest). D had felt her leg on a visit through the barn over a week ago when it was worse and he said now there was no sign of swelling. I still felt a small bit but maybe that’s because I’m looking for it.

I have some pictures to share of Khaleesi on pasture rest… As you can see they are of me riding Faygo who seems to enjoy being the chosen one again for a while.

 

 

Faygo and I on a visit to Pocahontas State Park with friends

With cold temperatures Faygo has been doing well. She still has a harder time breathing than other horses we are with, but she recovers better now. I love riding her and I love her personality. I took her to the Richmond area to have some easy quick riding with friends in the “flat-lands” Faygo’s specialty- no mountains to climb. She loves to go and go-go we did.

This week is Thanksgiving so they are both on a break now until I get back from some family time.

The more I am exposed to the endurance community the more I learn about horses, riding, and conditioning and the more I’ve been hearing about the importance of rest.

I also heard a podcast tip from an eventer who talked about how important it is for athletic horses to have time off. Not just physical rest, but mental rest as well. He suggested ideally 4-6 weeks between seasons for a horse in hard work.

 

Endurance folks also talk about young horses needing time for their tendons and skeletal structure to harden. She is 5 years old- but only really started in work this year. Thankfully she came from a life where she roamed hundreds of acres in a horse herd- so she had been developing some of that base before she came to me. I certainly don’t want her to be over-ridden early on to put us in danger of stress injuries too young in her career.

If you are interested in what others say on the subject- I enjoyed this article: Down Time for the Sport Horse. I have seen the cycle of time off turn a horse that was getting sour on too much work improve our time together.

There was a time I wouldn’t have gotten a second horse except that Faygo was just not going to be able to handle the workload physically much longer- now I am very glad to have two great horses to share my love for riding because Faygo is much happier not being ridden so hard so often, and Khaleesi really needs some breaks especially as she’s still young and developing physically AND mentally. I hope they both WANT to work for me for years to come. Sharing the load is a big component in that process.

I am certain I will not put Khaleesi out to pasture for 4-6 weeks (unless injury mandated), but I can say that this winter is our off season and we will be walking around the mountains at a slower pace in mud and snow for shorter rides and she will have many more days off than in good weather.

So as I close our latest blog: Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

In the spirit of the season I’ve thought about things I am thankful for and one big thing is you- my blog family! I am often touched and surprised to find how many people enjoy keeping up with our story and I love that our journey is fun for others to share.

Thank you for reading!

Faygo and Tex… enjoying a ride in the marshes in evening light

 

 

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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Post Season

Monday, October 19, 2015

Our first season is now behind us and it’s a mix between the letdown of anticipation and activity and a more relaxed feeling of enjoying the ride without training goals in the forefront. I sometimes just go to the barn to bring apples and love and the girls must know because they come to me at the gate faster than they used to (though none of them are hard to catch).

Madison and I were fortunate to get one last ride in and get the girls to stretch their legs a bit before they headed back to FL. It was a lovely ride and we were in no hurry. The leaves are finally starting to change and drop and when fall gets serious it happens quickly.

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I am ok with our temporary saddle solution, but this winter I will have a goal to sort out a more long term answer to my saddle puzzle. For the moment I plan to borrow and ride her in as many saddles that are a “decent” fit as possible and see if I can discern how she moves in them and how I move in them. Yes- I have to start with the horse because that is the most important part, but as Garnet reminded me: If the saddle doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work. You won’t be balanced and ride comfortably, and you can’t do endurance miles like that.

I started with a Freeform that a friend loaned me. I’m not generally a fan (for myself) of treeless saddles as I don’t think I’m either a light enough or good enough rider to make it work for my horse without a better system to distribute my weight without pressure points on her back. But still for some shorter rides, it’s not bad to try it and see how we feel. The one bonus of treeless is the movement in the back it affords the horse. [side note, this saddle is for sale if you’re looking for a freeform send me a message and I’ll connect you to her]

Khaleesi in the freeform
Khaleesi in the freeform

The feel as a rider in a treeless saddle is a little uncomfortable for me because of the wider feel in my legs around the horse. It made posting a little different- and not particularly better or worse. I felt she moved pretty well in the saddle and honestly I wasn’t able to tell a big difference in her. I hope as I use more different saddles through the fall as I’m able I might start to notice things more.

One thing I did was try a few from the barn on her on a day I didn’t ride recently. One didn’t fit particularly well and she pinned her ears and a few times tried to nip at me while we were feeling under it. I got the message.

NOT THAT ONE!

Then we tried another one and she was already more relaxed and though she was still turning her head asking what we were doing she was not as intense about the message.

Also this winter our goals are to continue to work on our communication and relationship. I would like to improve riding intentionally and move her with my energy more and less with physical cues. When I ride alone we are already better at this and we move into the trot often without my legs but from a joint energy push. Transitioning down is getting better as well and we are smoother going back to a walk than we used to be. I start with eyes and shoulders for turns and going around trees and often she follows without much rein aid at all now.

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When we ride with others we are both more distracted- she by what the other horses are doing (speed up slow down as a herd) and me as well- chatting and enjoying the company of other humans takes some of my energy focus away. I think it’s ok. It’s a different ride and I enjoy them all.

It has made my solo riding more meaningful than it used to be. I used to enjoy a ride alone, but after a while get tired of my own company and wish for some friends on the trail. Now I find that if I ride with others too often I wish for the focus and connection of a solo ride. This is good because winter means lots of solo riding as we start to stay closer to home and trailer around less.

Around the barn I also hope to deepen our relationship and communication. This is tough to do with a ride schedule. My last ride with Khaleesi I spent more time at my stool asking her to stand quietly than I would have been comfortable had someone been waiting on me. She wants to walk off when I get on her- at least a step or two. With no agenda or anyone waiting on me I took the time she needed to come where I wanted her at the stool (the stool is smaller than a mounting block and I find it harder for us to coordinate). When we got that to my satisfaction I got on and she took a step. I got off and we started again- the whole process. Second time it was better. Still a work in progress here.

The following day I brought her in ONLY to work on standing at the stool with me. I think she was feeling obstinate because it took over 30 minutes to get her in position and standing quietly with lots of starting over when she’d push her butt out and stand facing me as if to say “I’d rather do this“. I planned to work on mounting her bareback and getting the whole stand still down- but we quit at standing in the right place at the stool as I didn’t have another hour to hope to get the next step successfully (be flexible in training what you can that day, and always end on a good note).

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I find this to be a fun challenge- problem solving. How can I communicate better what I want her to do in a way she’ll understand, and how can I be a little smarter than her when she doesn’t understand or tries to evade what I’m asking. In the words of Monty Roberts I heard in an interview recently:

When you do your work correctly, repetition is your best friend. When you do your work incorrectly, repetition is your worst enemy.

If something isn’t working- my challenge is to figure out a better way to ask. Horses do not lie, and they are not “false”. They may resist something, but there is always a reason. Horses want peace and comfort – my job is to show them the way and if I do it right they will choose the right answer.

Monty made a point to say one of the biggest mistakes in working with horses is not controlling our own emotional state (internally). If a horse isn’t doing what we ask we often have an elevated heart rate (due to either fear or frustration). Not being in control of our own heart rate and internal energy is one of the main factors in his opinion that hinder our work- that kind of repetition is our greatest enemy. They are so sensitive that I may look patient and calm to a human, but the horse senses heart rate change and energy change in an instant. So all these boring things like standing still, coming to the mounting block and leading properly (maybe this winter sending on the trailer?) turn into personal growth for me- can I control not only my outer reaction, but my inner emotional one?

Can I not get upset when she swings her butt out away from me when I want her to stand next to me at the stool?

Can I keep my heart from racing when she does those little bucks at the start of a race?

Can I not have a reaction when my work colleague does something that would normally make my head want to explode?

Can I slow down my emotional reaction when my husband makes the comment that needles me in just the right spot?

Is it possible that student is not just slow or refusing to try- but that it’s my responsibility to find a better way to approach the problem that allows them to open up and learn?

That is the Jedi training I started this year and I can’t say enough what kind of positive affect it’s had on my life.

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late afternoon fall light
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Favorite trails this fall

I love being on the trails in the fall, but I’ve noticed that I don’t miss a riding day as much anymore if I only have an hour or so available to bring in a horse and do a little mind work instead. It’s become a sort of addiction actually- hopefully a positive one!

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Fall on the farm

Part 2: What it’s all about

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ride time for the open 25 mile was much later than I’d liked (9:30am) because that puts us riding in the warmest part of the day. It had been cool for the past week and our final training in the rainy chill had been great. It was Faygo I was thinking of most.

On the flip side it did provide us some sleeping in time and an easy morning getting ready to go. We had a new neighbor arrive the evening before and offered her coffee and sat down to chat a few minutes. Turns out it was the rider who won the 100 mile ride in June and we enjoyed hearing about her journey (which was very different from mine) and she assured us that the 25 mile course doesn’t live up the the “big bad beast of the east” reputation the 50 and 100 mile rides have. Most of the really hard terrain is after Bird Haven, so you guys will be fine!

Madison braids Faygo's thick mane to keep it off her neck.
Madison braids Faygo’s thick mane to keep it off her neck.

We spent a long time feeding the girls and grooming them, making much of them as my British Manual of Good Horsemanship from the 1950s suggests is good to do. It was great to have crew mom helping grab a towel, or the braiding bands, or the making crayon to darken our numbers and to start tossing things into the crew bag for later and going through the checklist with us. At this point I’m wondering how I have done this completely on my own in the past (I’ll try not to get spoiled!).

We discussed layers (it was already getting warm enough to shed a sweatshirt) and raincoats- last time I checked the real rain wasn’t expected until after 3pm, so we tossed our raincoats in the crew bag for later.

Khaleesi tacked up and last preparations...
Khaleesi tacked up and last preparations…

We made sure to ride Faygo today with her heart rate monitor and that takes a little time to put in place while tacking up. Also used the borrowed Cloud9 pad on Khaleesi and we were ready to start a little warm up ride around camp and to check in at the start.

putting the heart rate monitor on together
putting the heart rate monitor on together

The horses were excited with all the activity… the buzz was almost tangible around us and riders were trotting up and down the road on their fresh horses. We took a loop up to the start line to check in and Khaleesi at one point got so excited with all the horses going every which way around her she even did some little buck jumps that I think were intended for me to understand we needed to get up there FASTER! They weren’t enough to worry me though she (again- like the bucks on the trot out) has never done that before. I’m not sure if she’s starting to figure these events out and gets excited or if I was just excited and she felt it from me and my excitement came out her rear end!

I like to think she has fun in endurance rides, enjoys running along the trails and can’t help herself from a little jump of joy… thankfully it was the only one that day!

Girls are ready to roll, crew mom is all packed up!
Girls are ready to roll, crew mom is all packed up!

We checked in and headed back to camp to avoid the running start that was likely to ensue. We did a loop back toward our rig and then walked the horses back around and up to the start to begin around the back of the pack. There were 35 riders today and some great horses up there but our job was to take it easy and keep our eye on Faygo.

Unfortunately she started out already excited and though she’s completely in control and not scary- she wants to GET UP THERE and be in front of everyone else. Right from the start line Madison had to manage her and I’ve learned there is a balance between slowing her down and making her so frustrated she fights you exhausting her energy and letting her choose a way too fast speed that will also exhaust her energy. We managed as best we could, Khaleesi at a nice slow trot and Faygo at an easy gait and smiles ear to ear for us.

The first part of the trail is really lovely. Good footing, very gentle uphill grade that is often pretty flat. I put Khaleesi in front to hold our speed to a manageable slow trot. It took a long time to get Faygo relaxed and not trying to catch up to the horses she KNEW were just ahead of us somewhere. I’d ask Madison on occasion: What’s her heart rate? [Madison]: about 115… [Me]: ok… great. We’ll keep this pace up for a bit.

Not long into the ride I saw the sign for “ride photographer ahead- please spread out”. Funny thing was I was trying to focus on my horse who two rides ago did a dance when she noticed the camera and I didn’t even realize she was there until we’d almost passed her. No horse dancing this time- and makes me wonder if it was her or me in the first place. Becky as usual got a great shot of us! I love seeing the ride photos develop, I am almost starting to look like a “real” rider.

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I asked Madison what she learned in the ride meeting about the trail itself. Not much she said, only one thing: about 5 miles in there is a climb that were were told “not to underestimate”. 

Me, to myself: Ok, if that’s all we need to know, I assume its significant.

A few miles in we stopped at a water crossing and it was early for a drink but we waited a moment to take a breather. Faygo was breathing harder than I’d like for that amount of trail (and more than I’d have expected at home) and I think it was the excitement of the morning more than the workload. She was less “feisty” now that we’d been riding alone for a while so we decided to jump down and encourage them to take a bite of grass, maybe drink and just relax a bit. We offered the girls an apple or to in order to encourage them to realize this was a snack break and we each had a granola bar. We hand walked them for a bit and when all was a little more calm we got back on and rode easy for a while.

one of our early water stops
one of our early water stops

I kept watching my GPS to give me an idea of our pace and mileage (waiting for that mountain at mile 5) and our pace was pretty good, it was averaging around 6mph and as far as training with Faygo that’s a solid do-able pace usually that doesn’t work her too hard. She can gait for miles around 9 mph if it’s not steep without much trouble. We climbed a short steep hill just before mile 5 and Madison wondered if that might have been it?

She is from FLAT FLA!

No I told her. That is not a hill any ride manager would warn you about 🙂

We kept on and true to their word, around mile 5 the incline began. We slowed our pace and started to climb. And we kept climbing.

Climbing.

Yes Madison- this is the mountain not to underestimate.

It went on for miles. It started to rain on us (so much for the weather report). I checked the radar (we had pretty good service this high up the mountain!) and it looked like a small but heavy rain was going to pass over us and then clear up. At least it would cool us down a little up this climb.

Around mile 6.5 we had a nice view and I snapped a pictures to send to Sarah letting her know we were not making good time, but were ok.

After mile 7 we turned a corner and saw the incline kept going and the rain had lessened to a misty sprinkle so we dismounted and hand walked them for about a mile. We finally got to a plateau (not completely the top, but a nice flat section) and checked in together. How is everyone doing?

Khaleesi is fine.

Faygo is ok but breathing pretty hard. 

Beautiful ridge trail as the ran was moving out
Beautiful ridge trail as the ran was moving out

We hand walked a little while longer to give her a chance to recover a bit then hopped up and walked on. We were in a rocky ridge trail area and we put Faygo in front to set the pace. She has a fantastic fast walk that covers ground and she’s a technical trail wonder. She can fast walk through the worst footing without tripping and without hurting herself. She set a decent walk through the first of the rocks as we finished the more gradual climb to the top.

The hill had taken our moving pace down significantly and we were not as far as I’d have liked to see for the amount of time we were out. I was concerned, but knew we were doing our best. We stopped at the top to enjoy the view and let the horses get a snack and drink at the water trough. The sun had come back out and it was absolutely gorgeous!

Beautiful view at the top of the mountain.
Beautiful view at the top of the mountain.
Madison and Faygo start to head down the mountain.
Madison and Faygo start to head down the mountain.

Now we head down into the vet check. If Bird Haven is indeed 15 miles, we had a ways to go. This is another place Faygo excels, she has a great downhill! We picked up the pace and kept monitoring her. We did our best to find the balance of getting us there with making sure she was doing ok.

We pushed the downhill as much as we felt comfortable. Faygo bopping along in a nice gait with Madison sitting comfortably in the saddle, and Khaleesi and I trotting down the hill on a gravel road with me doing my best to find good balance along the way. Thankfully there was only one moment of WAIT!! STOP!! I’VE LOST BOTH MY STIRRUPS!! Otherwise we worked a lot on how to move the downhills without me falling all over the place on my first non-gaited horse.

Faygo seemed to be doing ok with the downhill and we made up some speed.

We entered the woods again and came to two streams where both girls stopped to drink and even took a few bites of grass. Check in with Faygo: heart rate was still doing fine, breathing was harder than Khaleesi – but then it always is. We were about a mile out of Bird Haven according to the signs on the trail.

One of the last creek stops before Bird Haven.
One of the last creek stops before Bird Haven.

I send a text to Sarah to let her know- we’re still fine, getting close!

When we got close to the vet check, there is another stream crossing and you can see the field that I’ve watched riders go in and out of as a volunteer and it was so exciting to know we were coming into Bird Haven finally as riders! Again the girls stood in the stream to get a drink and I reached for my phone to let Sarah know we were here. I was wearing my light gloves and didn’t quite have a good hold of the phone and it went slow motion tumbling right into the creek as I jumped right down after it, I snatched it up just as it fell into the water and in a panic I turned it off as fast as I could and dried it on my T-shirt. SHOOT.

I got back on and we walked into the vet check arriving at just about 1pm. Not great, but I had no idea really what the mileage to the finish was. We could be ok, but it was borderline.

Sarah was there to help us drop saddles and get the girls ready for pulse down. The heart rate monitor (probably shifted) stopped reading in about the last mile, so we didn’t know where Faygo was going in. She doesn’t pulse down as fast as Khaleesi, but there wasn’t a line at the P&R box (we were the last to show up and most riders had already left the check anyway) so we walked over to see how close we were. Khaleesi was at 44 and the pulse taker asked if I was sure she had done the first loop at all.  Faygo was fine at 64 and we moved to the vets.

P&R box
P&R box

I went to the first available vet and Dr. Birks came over to check out Faygo and Madison. Of course Khaleesi was in good shape, no soreness still (yeah!) and except for an A- on her capillary refill she was good to go. We trotted out without Faygo this time and except for a little hop as we turned around she was pretty good, (at least we’ve fixed the impulsion issue!).

I turned to Faygo and team and heard Dr. Birks tell Madison that he was not going to pull them, but he wanted to hold her rider card and let Faygo relax through the check and see how she was doing. Basically she was fine by the criteria they check for but her shallow breathing was something to note and he wanted to see her saddled up before we went back on the trail.

P&R box

We went back to our crew area and I tried to keep Khaleesi from eating everything in sight hers or not! We traded holding the horses and using the bathroom and sponged them down a bit to keep the sweat at bay. It had gotten warm- the high ended up being in the upper 70s which was the warmest day of the month so far. (Just our luck).

Sarah was such a good sport dragging our stuff from the crew parking over to the vet check in three trips, in the end she said she only brought one chair. That was ok, because I sat in it for an entire 2 minutes to eat my wrap (my average sitting in the 45 minute vet holds is about 2 minutes) and we really never have much time in the end. After walking the girls back to the water troughs and Khaleesi drinking more (Faygo played in the water a minute) it was time to start tacking up again.

Khaleesi wasn’t done eating and squirming and not standing still and I am embarrassed to say I lost my patience with her- as she danced her rear end to the side one more time I swung my lead rope right at her butt GET BACK OVER THERE AND STAND STILL!

Sarah was helping Madison get squared away and some nice onlooker who realized I was struggling came over and offered a hand- Would you like me to hold her for you?

Actually, that would be great… thanks

I could have used to have ridden that horse a little harder!!

We got the girls saddled up and Ric came over with her vet card to see how we were doing. Faygo’s breathing was still shallow. We had a conference.

He explained that if we were front runners in the ride no one would have thought twice about her breathing and it’s not officially a parameter they check for. However he knows us, and knows Faygo has an issue and wanted to talk it over before we headed out. He wasn’t going to pull Faygo out, but our choices were pretty plain:

#1 – We take Faygo out (rider option) and Khalessi likely could make the shorter run back to camp in time to complete.

#2 – We ride together home, but staying at a slow pace that wasn’t likely to get us there in time.

We didn’t know the course home, but heard it was basically downhill back to camp, and only 5-6 more miles. I asked Madison how she felt about it. We discussed earlier in the day that this weekend Faygo was HER horse, and that she needed to be comfortable with how we rode and took care of her. Madison felt Faygo would be ok to ride in, and she said that I could just go ahead and leave her on the trail… which I let her know was not an option! I wasn’t going to leave them in the woods on a strange trail when I was sponsoring her as a junior rider. That is not what this week was about!

I knew Khaleesi could do this ride- I didn’t need to prove that to any number cruncher. What I wanted was for Madison who had given her time to volunteer and help me on team green to get the experience to RIDE at least one time, and Faygo was the only horse I had to offer her. This ride was about that- not about racking up LD miles for Khaleesi.

We decided to ride home together, and take care of Faygo best we could.

In my heart I knew that Faygo was reaching a semi-retirement and I’ve known it long enough to have sought another horse to begin to take the workload over a year ago. It was still sad to be confronted with the fact that the horse I love the most is not going to have as long a career as most healthy horses do. At 16 she is in good bodily shape and her heart rate and conditioning is solid, but this breathing issue is going to cut her use as time goes on and probably her life shorter than a normal horse. Knowing it in your heart doesn’t make it easier when the facts are put so plainly.

Slightly teary, we all hugged and got back on the trail to finish what we started.

We had just over 90 minutes to go 6 miles. Normally- that is doable, Faygo can walk 4mph when she wants to. So we set out knowing we might not complete, but we would do our best to keep moving and stay at a good walk to come in with healthy horses.

We made small talk and laughed and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon but there was a heavier feel to the final leg of our ride hanging over us. We talked about our horses, and how pretty fall was and anything else that came to mind. Eventually we came to a confusing turn. Well- it wasn’t exactly confusing, the red ribbons indicated a turn to the left. It was clear as it could be, but when we turned that way we saw a “W” sign on a tree that said “WRONG” underneath.

Hmmm.

We second guessed ourselves and went back to the trail and walked up it a few feet.

Thankfully Madison HAD brought the ride map that usually is not in enough detail to be helpful. It had gotten a little soggy in the rain but was still readable and I pulled out my GPS.

If we have to climb back over that mountain ahead of us to return to camp, we are going to find the shortest trail home instead because Faygo can’t do that.

But on the map it appeared that the loop home cuts over a slightly new trail, then returns to the finish along the first 4 or 5 miles before the mountain climb.

The map and my GPS saved us because I could tell we were supposed to be on a new trail we had not previously been on for a while, and going the way the red ribbons told us, even through the WRONG sign was there appeared to be the only correct option. If we continued up the climb, we’d be backtracking the entire mountain which on the map we were not supposed to do.

We took the “WRONG” way that was apparently the “RIGHT” way according to the turn ribbons and headed toward home.

Apparently some other riders also had this discussion and opted for the long route and ended up with a close to 30 mile ride instead. That GPS can sure come in handy!

One thing was certain, I will always remember my first shot at the Old Dominion 25 being in the Fall. Generally this is the June course so I thought often how special it was to have a chance to see these trails in fall. Though the ride wasn’t going as easy as we could have hoped, the scenery was absolutely beautiful!

Pretty fall trails at the OD
Pretty fall trails at the OD

Since we were basically walking (Faygo’s walk sometimes meant Khaleesi had to trot-trot-trot to catch back up) I kept my GPS in hand. I was constantly checking the mileage, the time… once we returned to our original trail I could watch us close in on the finish slowly and I knew we would not be far off from finishing.

As we got nearer to the final dirt road that leads in and out of camp (probably 1/3 mile from the trail to the finish on the road) we talked over a plan. If we were still ahead of 3:30 (official end time), Madison would dismount on the road and walk Faygo in, I would see if Khlaeesi would run in to get a finish time. It was iffy but we both felt confident that it was worth a try.

I knew that Madison could hold her own, and that Faygo might be annoyed but never dangerous. I also believed Khaleesi had a shot at pulsing down quick enough to make it worth a try. No- the day would not be made or lost in one last ditch effort. If we didn’t make it, I still wouldn’t change a thing, but if we had the shot to finish and record our miles, we decided for team green it was worth a chance.

We continued to walk fast down the last hill to the road and right as we got there Madison jumped off.

GO!

I gave Khaleesi some leg and she (with plenty of energy to spare) trotted off at a good clip. It was 3:18.

She went happily for a minute then slowed a bit- Oh, hey… um, we left Faygo…

Go baby girl… it’s ok… they’re coming…

Ok.. this is fun! ….. wait- is that a house on the road? Was that there before? Hey, is Faygo coming?

Go girl, keep moving, you can do this!

Ok… whee- we finally get to run! How fun is that… Hey… more horses coming our way- are they going the wrong direction?

KHALESSI baby… just keep going… FOCUS!

We get to the finish and there are no pulse takers there. The pulse takers are down in camp at the vet station. Of course.

In Timer: Do you have your rider card?

(Palm to forehead… wasting time because I didn’t think to pull that out faster)

Here it is…

He hands the card back: Finish arrival time 3:27.

Of course in an LD ride you don’t finish until you pulse down. Why are there no pulse takers at the finish line 😦 ?

So we get the card and hot foot it toward the vet check. 3 minutes to go. I almost gave up and went back to find Madison. 3 minutes to get down there, get someone to take her pulse. Doesn’t seem likely. Don’t give up yet!

Golf cart heading slowly our way.

Khaleesi: Hey… is that a golf cart? What is that doing here?

Me: KHALESSI – I need you to FOCUS for 3 more minutes… THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU RIGHT NOW… For the next 3 minutes this is all about me. It’s selfish and I know it doesn’t matter a bit to you if we finish at 3:30 or 3:35 but I DO CARE SO PAY ATTENTION! 

As we got to the camp entrance and more activity just had her more distracted I jumped off her and we jogged together down the hill. Sarah sees us and asks WHERE’S MADISON?

She’s just up the road, they are fine, walking in…

Gracefully one of us (not even sure who) tripped and we stumbled together me almost falling on my face as we crashed into the P&R box.

I need a pulse.

Frantic goes to immediate calm breathing and quiet.

A young volunteer rushes over to us: Do you want me to trot her out for you?

Me: no no no… um, shhhh… not now ok…. thanks though…

Pulse taker: she’s at 64we should take the saddle off…

[we don’t have time for that]

Ok, my pack makes it hard to get the breast collar off quickly so she’s helping pull the pack off but it’s “stuck” … yes, hold on the breast collar is attached…

We get the saddle pulled off as calmly as possible…

Ok…. shhhhhh….

TIME ON L37

I am certain we have missed it…

We didn’t do it.

Well. That’s ok- we tried! Still we had a great ride, now lets walk back up to find Faygo and Madison, no rush to vet until we’re all here together now.

All I could think of now was finding the rest of the team. We walked up and met Madison and Faygo just arriving at the finish line, the horses glad to be reunited. Did I do the right thing? In the end it was all for naught anyway… did I abandon my team? Or did we work together to strive to get at least on of us a [Capital] “C”. I know Madison would have killed me if we hadnt at least tried. We walked down together to get water and munch a few bites of grass while we pulled saddles to go in to the vet area.

Again we took the first available vet who looked over Khaleesi and gave her pretty high marks on her card- our trot out was decent though as we got back Madison left with Faygo down the line before I could turn Khaleesi around and all she knew was Faygo was running off without her so she lept into the air thankfully not hurting anyone walking around her to see where Faygo was going while I was already saying “Hey, we need to face her toward Faygo sorry!

Again, I could have used to run her harder that day!

I heard the vet tell her scribe what to write in each area and then kept our card. It was over.

Dr. Birks had again taken Faygo and Madison and did a good check on her. She was ok. Heart rate fine, recovery fine, hind end a little tight, slightly dehydrated but not terribly so. But her breathing still shallow. We talked a little more about her future- and that she was likely going to be slowing down- shorter rides to keep her in some shape, and more rides in cool months. It seems likely that she’ll be good for shorter rides with friends who like to take it a little slower on the trails, and she’ll probably have some time off in the summer season warm months when Khaleesi and I are on a more serious ride calendar.

It was a bittersweet day.

It was incredibly helpful to have a vet see Faygo in action and help me understand what is going on with her and how to monitor it and how to understand it in relation to other factors which are all showing that she’s healthy and doing well. I wouldn’t have changed one thing. For a short time I regretted that Madison’s first “endurance” ride was on a horse we had to monitor so closely and ride with such attention- move here, slower here, now Faygo in front on the technical stuff, now Faygo behind to keep her from rushing, what is her heart rate?, let’s get off and walk the last part of the mountain… it was not an easy ride for her. But the more I thought it over, the more I am so proud of how she handled the day, herself and her horse- she rode with maturity and confidence and love. Faygo started my “endurance” experiences with a solid No Frills 30, and she ended our season as well. I can think of no one I’d rather have on Faygo’s last AERC ride than Madison, and we learned so much more from this ride than we would have on two racing Arabs that easily ran the course. That is what it’s all about.

It was ok that we didn’t complete. We know what we did, and we were proud to have been there and tried. We had two fabulous horses and a fantastic team! That is what it’s all about.

We headed back to camp to pack up. I had a concert that weekend and we had to get home that night.

The girls munched hay and drank in their pens, Faygos breathing did return to normal and they were happy and healthy horses. That is what it’s all about.

Sarah had picked up a to-go snack and we ate quickly as it started to rain. We had to get packed up soon or we’d be doing it in a downpour. As we were loading they began the 25 award ceremony under the tent. You could hear the announcements on the camp speakers and they announced that 35 horses started today and 29 completed. Awards always begin with the turtle award. The rider/horse team that came in last.

In 29th place the turtle award goes to Jaime McArdle riding Ireland’s Khaleesi.

We froze in place. Did she call my name? We looked at each other… did we all hear the same thing?

For the third time today we all started to get teary eyes again…

GO!

This time it wasn’t to run to the finish line- but to the tent to pick up my turtle.

I was certain we hadn’t made the time but in all the activity I hadn’t even really looked at our rider card. Somehow we had finished! Khaleesi would get her last 25 LD miles for the season, and that turtle award – the last place award – that could be for some people a signal of loss (last place, right?) was as dear to me as if we’d have won best condition.

It is a rock! And how appropriate because the OD, the Beast of the East is known for it’s rocks. Old Dominion Rocks.

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We packed up camp and headed home- an emotional day of both joy and disappointment.

What is it all about?

I reflected on the drive home to myself that some people have talked about endurance riding as for people who are ‘competitive’ and I’d taken that on and thought “sure, I am a bit competitive, that makes sense” but the more I thought it over I began to disagree with that simple of an assessment.

I would never have had that experience if I wouldn’t have tried to push our limits (mine and my horses). Doing endurance is actually not at all about being competitive for me. I haven’t cared once this year if we came in top ten, and yesterday I would have still enjoyed the ride had neither of us gotten a completion.

What it is about for me is trying something that will challenge me beyond where I am today and my comfort zone. What endurance riding is for me is stretching to do something that I could not do today. Taking a journey that will force me to grow and learn, and that will show me what my horses are made of. Even with Faygo not completing the ride (though to be fair the girl came within about 10 minutes and that is pretty darn close!) she showed me once again how huge her heart is and how solid she took care of Madison on the trail and what an amazing horse she is. Sometimes it’s about finding your limits and realizing you didn’t make your goal- but if you reach for the sun you may at least land on a star once in a while.

I deepened my relationships with good friends through our trials and that wouldn’t have happened in the same way on a pleasure trail ride. I had to make tougher decisions than if we were on a pleasure trail ride. Being put to a test is a way to see what you are capable of. That is what endurance riding means to me. Enduring the circumstances and making the most of all you can. You have to take the weather you get, cold rain or heat and humidity. You have to ride the trail you get- sometimes they are rocky and rough. You have ride smart- take care of yourself and your animal while still paying attention to a time limit. You have to get your tack right, your supplies… don’t carry so much it weighs you down, don’t carry so little you are not prepared.

Being better tomorrow than I am today.

That is what it’s about for me.

The turtle symbolizes that and I will treasure it always.

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Team green to 100!

Part 1: Base camp, volunteering, and saddle fit

Sunday, October 11, 2015

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We arrived in base camp Wednesday afternoon and unloaded camp. It was great to have all 3 of us to handle horses, gear, hauling water and throwing hay and we were set up pretty quickly. Just as we sat down for a drink and snack an unfamiliar guy pulls over in a car and walks toward us Jaime McArdle? he asks and I stand up and walk over- it was Garnet who I’d contacted to help me with saddle fit.

We pulled Khaleesi out and indeed she had back soreness. He looked at my saddle and said the fit wasn’t bad, but there were two spots about where the soreness was that were uneven and putting pressure into her back. The reason the only pad that seemed to help at all was my thicker felt pad was probably because it gave more support to the whole saddle and helped distribute those pressure points. We decided to reconvene the next day with some trial saddles to see what might work and what might not, and some generous AERC friends had offered to bring saddles either for sale or just to borrow for Friday to help us out.

By the time we finished we had to pick up our volunteer and ride packets and head to the volunteer meeting… then dinner… then make sure our sleeping areas were set up before it was too dark and we headed for the volunteer showers to freshen up before we landed in our hammocks completely exhausted.

Camp!

One thing about camping at these ride events, I find there is little time for relaxing around with friends. Between set up and organizing gear and vetting in and organizing your crew bag and making sure your my horse has it’s soaked beet pulp or electrolytes, mash, etc… and ride meetings it always seems like sitting down to relax a minute is a short lived luxury. Probably that is why I find it more fun than just regular camping when there seems to be maybe too much down time…

The night was cool but we were snug in our cocoons. I slept ok. I love the aluminum corral, and I like to use the hay bags because they make less waste and keep the hay out of the poop and pee in the small area they are in- however… at night the clanging of the fence panels when the horses pull the hay out is magnified by a million and woke me up more than once. Madison and I had tried to zip tie the bags to the fence so they wouldn’t fling out and slam the fence, but this just meant with each bite the whole fence got pulled a little and clanged back against the other joining panels and I was sure I was keeping the entire camp awake.

one hammock per stall, the little trailer works great for 2!
one hammock per stall, the little trailer works great for 2!

I pulled the hay bags, checked the water, and went back to bed. Of course they spread the hay and still had some grass right outside the corral so sometimes they’d still hit the fence and it would clang, but I tried to ignore it and went back to sleep. I never sleep so well the first night anyway…

Thursday morning: 5am

GOOOD MORNING BASE CAMP… OFFICIAL RIDE TIME IS 5AM…. TWO HOURS TO START… they played a trumpet call of Reveille and a few minutes later some crazy goofy instrumental that I had to laugh out loud which is what woke Madison up.

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We hunkered into our cocoons a bit longer, then got up and started the coffee and got ready for the day. Mornings might be my favorite time in camp, if you get up early enough (which is not that hard when you are excited) you get a few quiet moments with the horses and your coffee. Khaleesi was way more interested in my oatmeal than her beet pulp and grain applesauce mash…

We met the vets under the tent at 7:30 just after the ride start to volunteer for the day at bird haven.

The start of the 50 mile viewed from our camp.
The start of the 50 mile viewed from our camp.

We had a great day at VC1 for the 50 mile riders. I really like Bird Haven because we get to see the horses come in to their first stop, and we are also their last stop going home. Sarah, Madison and I were all stationed together the whole day and have begun to get to know some of the vets and we learn a ton from listening to them chat in between horses coming through. Also we see things in other horses and are able to ask follow up questions that they are generous to try to explain in more plain english.

Bird Haven in the Fall
Bird Haven in the Fall

The riders came in fast that morning- it was particularly cool and this was a National Championship ride. In fact the first rider was in before we were ‘officially’ open (though we were ready!) which means she came in before they estimated any rider would be able to make the first loop. Most riders felt really good about their first loop and we had no pulls that morning.

Sarah and I took off in our lunch break while the 50 milers were out on trail for a few hours and we walked the girls around base camp hand grazing them to stretch their legs and get some good green grass. Then we stopped for lunch together at a little cafe and enjoyed some down time!

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We saw many riders start to slow down for the afternoon as the weather heated up and they had ridden hard (maybe some a little too hard?) in the morning with the excitement and coolness… We had a few pulls, quite a lot of holding the card and wanted to recheck horses that were a bit borderline at the last stop.

Cute goat hanging out at bird haven!
Cute goat hanging out at bird haven!

After most of the second wave of horses were through some of us left for base camp to vet in our horses for the Friday ride.

Madison and I caught a ride back with another vet and we groomed and prepared our girls for vetting in. Khaleesi’s back had been continuing to improve and I was a little curious if it would be a problem but felt if we had a solution to not continue the damage then she would be fine to ride.

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We headed over to vet and both girls got As (she didn’t exhibit any soreness) and were cleared to go.

Standing still (kind of) for the vet.
Standing still (kind of) for the vet.

On the trot out, I thought it would be better if we trotted them together… maybe I was wrong. As we headed down the lane we were ok, then in turning to head back Khaleesi did a rearing, bucking dancing move that I think was excitement… she was not only ok to trot out, she was excited and ready to canter back at full speed. We collected ourselves and started back and she did more dancing on the line. This is new. I hadn’t expected this, but once again after our training and work and I think we get somewhere, she keeps me humble as she reminds me Hey, I’m still only 5… don’t get comfortable yet!

Trotting out- before the pony on a string episode.
Trotting out- before the pony on a string episode.

I asked the vet if he wanted us to go again and he laughed and said no, we were good to go.

Just again as we were going to get comfortable for a bit Garnet found us as did some friends with saddles and we proceeded to do a saddle fit/analysis as best we could in camp. I am always astounded by the AERC community and though I thought I had 3 saddles lined up, as Kate, Aimee and Madison helped bring them over from various other people they kept accumulating and we ended up with probably 10 possible saddles to look at from ortho-flex to an old Stonewall to some streamlined South African saddle and lots in between- some for sale, some who would let us use it for the ride Friday, and some that were just to see how the fit was. We felt them all together and Khaleesi was very good at just standing still while we experimented for at least an hour.

I got to feel them as well and he’d ask what I thought/felt. It was good to see all the possibilities, many were too narrow on her spine, some were pinching in front by her shoulders, some bridged a little and we talked about how in some cases a little bit of bridging can help a horse move into that space and develop a nice topline. I was able to see many different fits and gratified to learn I wasn’t crazy in thinking the Wintec was pretty good.

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In fact the Wintec was the best fit of the ones we looked at. Two issues to consider that were not ideal: #1 the CAIR panels were possibly not working properly in the middle and creating a pressure point (someone suggested there are 3 sections and the middle section might have malfunctioned). #2 the Wintec and many English style saddles have more narrow panels that don’t distribute the weight as well as an endurance (or western though I’m not going that heavy!) style saddle does.

We discussed the possibility of reflocking or having the panels fixed and using a pad that will help distribute the saddle pressure better in the future as a possible solutions. We also discussed trailering over to their place to use his pressure sensing pad to really sort out fit and options. Garnet has been riding endurance in a Cloud 9 pad for years and says they really do make a difference and he highly recommends them. He generously agreed to lend me a new pad to see if it made a difference. We tacked up and rode out and back up the road a few times and she seemed to move just fine in it. We had a plan for Friday.

At this point we’d missed the ride meeting (though I sent Madison to get information) half of dinner and still had things to do so we decided to get our work done while we still had some light and then go back to the cafe to eat, then shower once again to regain some feeling of humanity and get a good night’s sleep for the ride the next day.

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With a light headache (lots on my mind and maybe not enough water though I try to stay hydrated) I took a Tylenol PM this time and threw as much hay as I thought they could eat in the middle of the pen and climbed in to bed. I only woke up once to some light clanging, realized I really had to pee and got up to do a check/bathroom run and otherwise slept MUCH better night 2.

stay tuned for ride day…. the rest of the story…

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Needs improvement.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Our official grade at the end of the Iron Mountain ride was an “A-“. I am so pleased that Khaleesi and I completed the ride, finished in time, healthy, and in good spirits even if we were close to the back of the pack. I took a few days to just bask in the accomplishment of a solid first run with my young equine partner. The fact that we are learning together and she’s the first horse I’ve trained from zero makes it all the more special.

Cue happy music… butterflies… slow motion shots of Khaleesi and I cantering through the open rangelands…

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Ok enough of that. Now we move on.

The “A-” was generous.

If I were getting a grade on more than taking care of my horse’s hydration and soundness it would have been lower. I don’t want to guess at letter; for simplicity we’ll use the old elementary school mark of “N” or Needs Improvement.

I love the starting point of the LD rides to be able to make mistakes without doing too much damage. I want to use these rides as a learning opportunity. When we move to 50 milers (and longer) small mistakes can cost a lot more.

Today is for reflecting back at what I learned, what I didn’t do so well, and what we can do better. We can do better.

Away vet-check/hold basics: I have a fantastic huge waterproof crew bag. I did ok at packing necessities I’d need in it especially for my horse, next time I will also include a camp chair for me. I will appreciate being able to sit down a moment even more when our ride is double the length and I have two holds to wait out.

On the trail: Stop looking down. Just don’t do it anymore. From now on and forever.

I noticed myself way too often watching the footing right in front of us. I don’t do this when I work in the arena (sand footing). Some part of me is certain I need to guide my horse through crevices and rocky areas. Who am I kidding? She is responsible for her feet and completely capable. My energy focusing down is only creating a front-hand heavy horse and stopping her forward energy.

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When I reflect on my favorite part of the ride… following a group of quick 50 mile riders, I was watching them up ahead of me, not the ground.

Snacks?: I’m not thrilled with her low gut sounds at the final vet-check. For a 30 mile ride with no other metabolic issues it was not a serious issue. Moving forward she needs to keep something going into her system more often. Besides stopping for a bite of grass once in a while, I am considering carrying some alfalfa cubes or small apples… something to encourage her to eat while we move through the ride. Betsy, who I rode with, slowed up and gave her mare a snack on occasion. Worth a try.

Ride faster: Seems simple and obvious, but we are going to need to pick up the pace. I believe she will do so willingly, and I need to let her. This is connected to…

Ride better: Also obvious, but not nearly as simple. If I continue to improve my riding skills she will have an easier time moving faster. This is one of the improvements I can use outside help. So today we paid another visit to Pam.

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I have been learning- contrary to what I would have thought- that once conditioned, a horse in endurance needs more rest than we think to stay healthy. One of my biggest concerns is that she love endurance riding and I don’t burn her out with too heavy a workload, yet she needs to be in enough shape to complete.

My plan with her this fall is to aim for a long ride (10-15miles) and a fast ride (less than 10 miles) per week, with a “lesson” session in addition, or even instead of one of those if we can fit one in. This should also help me work on a little more conditioning with Faygo.

Khaleesi has been on a break since we returned home Saturday night. I visited only to check on her, feed and give apples and give her a little positive attention and turn her back out to be a horse again. She had four full days of rest and today we loaded up to play a bit (learn together). This would be more mental work than physical.

I had a feeling now was when it was going to get harder for me. The good news is that I have significantly improved my balance and posture at a walk and we are getting on the same page with our energy and transitions. We have also improved our trot a lot, but still have a long way to go.

Today was to get serious about improving our trot. As usual, we struggled to stay on the rail at a trot and once we started moving Khaleesi was wandering all around the arena. If I wanted to stay balanced I had no control over her, if I used my legs or hands to move her back to the rail I was flying all over the place. Thankfully our rides are on trails and not wandering around arenas!

We went back to leg signals and asked her to move OVER with my leg. I am getting more clear with this, but she was still not sure what I was asking of her. She was totally guessing… faster?… turn?… go the opposite way?

We went back to a walk and asked her as loud and clear as possible MOVE OVER NOW… NOW… NOW… NOW… and after a few tries

YES! We did it!

Then we did it again… and celebrated!

Once we got it, it was there. It was exciting… like “that button works now”.

Then we did the other side. Took a few times, but again WE GOT IT!

More celebrating, licking & chewing (for her) and deep thinking, a little break for her to mull it over.

Now at the trot.

Improvement. Let’s just get a steady trot, stay along the rails, and be in control. Simple, right?

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After a few times around, after stopping once or twice to be more clear MOVE OVER TO THE RAIL! We got it.

Steady trot, decent balance from me, basically on the rails (because I asked her to move over and SHE DID).

It felt amazing- we were getting this. HUGE.

We ended the arena work on that great note. Just celebrating her (and us) standing next to the rail we used to push away from. It was hot so we walked up to rinse off. This leads me to another improvement we worked on both before and after riding today.

Impulsion: We got a “B” on impulsion on the final vet check. I am certain she was not tired (not enough to create her to drag) and she did not have a bad attitude, but she sometimes DOES have low impulsion if I go to lead her quickly (trot out). This is something we can improve.

We talked about pushing instead of pulling her, and expecting her to stand when I ask her to, and move when and how I ask her to. She was dragging for Pam early on and we worked on being more clear with my energy and direction- and added a pop with the end of the lead to drive her from behind if she wasn’t moving with enough impulsion with me.

It took her a few times to understand why that lady was swinging the rope behind her, but again- once she got it, she got better. Fast. We went from her lagging behind me to jogging exactly beside me, at exactly my speed and stopping on a dime with me.

How FUN is that!?

Then we worked on standing. I needed to tighten her girth and she would fidget, take a step, try to eat. We put her right back clearly where I’d asked her to stand and in just a few minutes I could walk around her on either side and adjust and tighten and she wouldn’t move a foot.

** a little life lesson reminder for me here. I tend to want to stay in front of her actions and keep her from making the mistake, but you have to let a horse do the wrong thing and immediately correct the choice. You can’t correct something before it happens, and it would do me some good to remember that in life too. Horses don’t live in the past, and they don’t live in the future. They live in the NOW.

I am ok with not living in the past, but I do sometimes find myself living in the future- anticipating things instead of watching them actually play out. Anticipating can be helpful, but sometimes it is a bit like assuming. It is a good reminder to stay more in the present and not always be thinking too far ahead of what is actually going on. With my horse, and in life.

I thought “Wow, I could have such a well trained and mannered horse.”

And then I realized “Wow, I DO have a well trained and mannered horse, it’s that I don’t ask it of her.” It only takes her 3 times to learn anything we teach her, just a few minutes to “get it”.

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When we walked her up to rinse her off she began to fidget. She’s not afraid of the water. She’s just fidgeting.

Pam took over and in less than one minute Khaleesi stood still in place (and relaxed, ears forward, not stressed at all) while Pam rinsed her off from every angle. Then she slowly did her upper neck and head to see if she would be ok with washing her face. She was pretty fine with that too.

Next time, together, we are going to tackle the fly spray!

We had gotten to the point I could “ground tie” her and drop the line to go pick up my bridle/saddle and she would wait patiently until I asked her to walk with me.

My mind was turning around (human licking and chewing…) and I thought back to how much ground work we had done early on. She was better then, but she was pretty good right now. I had been ok with pretty good. It wouldn’t be very difficult to go from pretty good to amazing with this horse. I had lowered my expectations for expediency.

She had been ‘pretty good’ for the farrier for her first shoeing, but he told me often it’s the second time that is worse because it’s not a new experience anymore. At our vet checks she stood ‘pretty good’ to get looked at, but she fidgeted a bit…

It would be so much better if she knew I expected her to stand still and in place without moving a leg until I asked her to for all of those professionals that look at her. Yet I can’t expect this on one day and not do it a little bit every other day.

You are either training or untraining a pattern in every interaction with your horse…..

Khaleesi stands in place with the lead rope on the ground.
Khaleesi stands in place with the lead rope on the ground.

Then we loaded her on the trailer by sending her on instead of me leading her in. It took a minute for her to understand what we were asking- I’ve always “pulled” her slightly onto the trailer. She is a great loader, but until recently I’ve always walked her in. This time we “drove” her instead (gently and easily) and when the light bulb clicked she walked right on in front of us like she’d done it all her life.

What I appreciate most about our visits with Pam is that she is generous with her time to allow Khaleesi to learn at her pace. We take a lot of time when she gets something right to allow her to lick and chew and think and we just rub her and chat and wait.

I would be inclined to say “Ok we got that! What’s next?

Pam says “Hold on, she’s thinking about what you just did- never interrupt that.

I feel good about where we’ve been and where we’re going. So we are planning to enter the Big South Fork ride next weekend in TN. It will be another 30 mile ride and we’re going alone to focus on our game. Small steps- small improvements… incremental learning…. another shot.

8 feet on the ground

From Friday, August 28, 2015

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With everything loaded in we hit the road on Thursday and though my poor truck was loaded down, we made it to Ivanhoe mid-afternoon to set up camp on the New River. It was the first big weekend for my new trailer which is so nice to have! My truck heaved and hoed a little bit on the hills of I-81, but it got us there pulling two horses and all our gear (including aluminum racks piled on top!).

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It was really nice to have Kate in camp to help set up the corral and help wrangle the horses- and just to have a buddy… company… is also nice. The camp was along the New River and run by the local fire department. There was a ton of grass and big water troughs nearby with tons of scattered ports-potties as well as (HUGE bonus!) SHOWERS.

New River
New River

It was a pretty big ride with roughly one hundred horses participating each day (a few less on Friday, a few over on Saturday). Base camp is a busy place like a little town with a tack shop, vet stations, registration, ‘mess tent’, even an ice cream stand and people and horses are milling about. Lots of trucks, trailers, dogs barking, horses calling out, kids running around… until 10pm (quiet time) it’s a noisy bustling place.

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We got set up and went together to vet-in Faygo who got all A’s on her scorecard. I like having a vet look at my horse more than the once a year or so I have my vaccines and teeth done. They checked her back and the vet asked if I have trouble with her saddle rolling (yes, sometimes)- she said she’s almost “mutton withers” shaped, so kind of flat backed. Her back is healthy, no soreness (YEAH for the Imus saddle!) and she even gave her a body condition of 5 (which is ideal) though I still think she’s closer to a 6 compared to how she looked in peak shape this spring.

Headed to vet-in
Headed to vet-in

We hit the dinner & ride meeting and learned that the trail is marked with very clear signs, arrows, flags and red plates with Xs if you should NOT go that way; you’d pretty much have to be an idiot (I think that was almost verbatim) to mess up this trail. In recent memory they haven’t had anyone get lost.

We had a mellow early night though I never sleep that great when my horses are with me as I wake up at 2am… 3am… 4am…

What was that noise? Did Khaleesi get her hoof stuck in that fence? Oh no, she’s going to pull a shoe before the ride tomorrow… Are they out of water? Did they eat all the hay?

There were no issues however, and all was well in the morning.

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Kate and I headed toward the start after 8am (the 30 mile riders went out at 8, the ride & tie start was 8:15). Faygo was a handful – way out of the ordinary- and I was glad I suggested I’d ride first (the opening of the course was flatter and since I’d kind of roped Kate into this, I thought it would be nice to give her the easier run to start… I would do the infamous switchbacks everyone was talking about).

Faygo and Khaleesi were calling to each other and Faygo was determined to go back and get her:

Faygo: She can run along with us, she doesn’t NEED a rider you know! Actually- you guys ride her and let me just come along!

Me: No Way. We are not even discussing this, turn back around we’re going that way in just a minute.

Faygo: She’s gonna be mad. I’m going to tell her it’s your fault. You don’t have to be in that little pen with her all night!

Me: Ok, I know. Aren’t you glad to get a little space from her!? PAY ATTENTION you almost ran that lady over backing up like that!

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

There were only 6 or 7 teams running the ride & tie. So we all assembled at the starting line, riders and horses milling about waiting for the “go” when back toward us from the course came a galloping riderless horse at full speed. As we watched in horror frozen in place not knowing what that horse would do and which way to go, the front handful of riders at the start began to have their horses start a stampede. In that instant I wondered which way should we go (though also glad not to be on foot if there really was a stampede coming)- Faygo was already a bit wound up and this was NOT GOOD- when a woman jumped out in front stretched out her arms wide and said WHOA! And as that horse barreled right at her she grabbed his reins and he stopped.

Crisis averted… for us at least. The horse had red and green ribbons in his tail (green means “green”, like inexperienced; red means watch out, I could kick you) and I thought (oh- just like Khaleesi tomorrow!).

Thus we began the race – all just a tad more amped up than usual, and the other horses ran out at a canter. I heard myself talking to Kate the night before when we had our ‘strategerie’ meeting.

Kate: Ok, so what’s the plan, we know she likes to go- but keep her to gaiting? And how long should we go between ties? Maybe we should do time instead of mileage?

Me: That’s not a bad idea- just keep her from cantering and she should do ok. She’ll have to walk the big hills, just make her stick to her gaits and she’ll do better. Just don’t let her canter.

Race Day Reality: Right from the start line I was cantering along behind the other R&T horses trying to slow her without fighting and wasting all her energy.

Me (to myself): In an endurance ride I know better than to go with the first group- what was I thinking… just because there are only like 7 horses here- we should have held back and gone our own pace. 

Thankfully a short distance in, the rider in front of me asked to pass another rider who seemed to want to hold back a bit. As I then approached her I asked:

Are you trying to slow up a bit?

Yes, actually- you can go by if you want

Nope- I’d love to slow down and get a little control, want to ride together a bit?

That would be great.

That started a new friendship with Faygo & Miles, Kate & Cindy (who had a similar experience with the running crew), and Alison & me. We ended up riding the entire 15 miles buddied up and enjoyed the day!

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First tie up on the switchbacks

The trail was beautiful, but basically we ran from the New River up to Iron Mountain, so it was mostly uphill. The grade varied, and there were some beautiful ridge trails that were mostly flat- occasionally a downhill into the vet check (which was our finish line), but poor Faygo did a hard 15 that day.

Sometimes we all walked together up the hills (we’ll say it was for Faygo, but I was grateful not to have to try to keep up running those things! Alison is a good uphill runner!) Sometimes we did get some distance and tie off, but we were never very far from each other. I’m still amazed after trying this sport out that horses and people are not so far off from basic speeds.

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Somewhere around mile 11 or 12 we got the idea that we might have taken a wrong turn. The course was like a lollypop shape. The first 9 miles in and out of camp is one trail, then there’s a right turn that takes you into the vet check through the “rangelands” gorgeous cow fields, once you leave the vet check you go up the mountain trail to then meet up with the 9 mile in and out. We knew that the distance was about the same either way, so decided to continue on and deal with it later. When we saw the ride & tie ride manager coming toward us a couple miles out of base camp – she was headed back to camp on the 30 mile trail- we knew we were backward.

She was worried about us but we assured her we’d had a great run, and ended up sticking together- and that we’d all missed the turn. Considering at the ride meeting we were told only a complete idiot could have missed it, we did feel bad. But in our case no true harm was done because we’d still do 15 miles, and still end up at the vet-check finish line. She agreed that it was fine and we went on.

just a mile to go!
just a mile to go!

Once at the finish the AERC ride manager was more concerned because they’d been looking for us (there are radio spotters, and we’d of course never gotten to the one between the turn off and the vet check). So they were glad we were fine, but she asked us exasperatedly “Did you not see all the signs by the water trough to turn? How could you miss that?”

We told her we were sorry, and that we can’t say the signs weren’t there, but that indeed we did miss them. Thinking back- not far from that spot was a guy on a little bob-cat tractor pushing dirt around near the trail. Our horses were annoyed but not that bothered (they are used to tractors), but the runners said they tried to let the man know that horses were coming through and he was a bit rude to them and seemed to get more in the way of the trail. We have no way of knowing if these things are connected, but we did find out later that some of the signs HAD been intentionally removed, and that a rumor (that has no specific proof) is that there is a political argument going on internally with a local back country horseman chapter and some of those disgruntled members were the suspect of the ride sabotage.

Thankfully we are not complete idiots, and that turn was leaving the Alleghany Highlands trail down a dirt road that we would never have seen without signs. The following day they had volunteers at the important turns to be sure the signs were not taken down again.

End of the ride! All happy!
End of the ride! All happy!

Faygo took about 5 minutes to pulse down at the finish which isn’t terrible for jogging in the last couple of flatter miles, and then the vet-check is up on a hill, so we had to walk up to pulse in. We pulled off her tack and let her get a good drink. She hadn’t eaten much on the trail, and though she was hydrated her gut sounds were minimal. The vet said that isn’t abnormal and that he wasn’t concerned- just make sure she eats and let them know if she doesn’t seem to want to graze (that was not a problem at all). Her back wasn’t sore, but it was a little tight as was her hind. Again- not cause for concern, but just something to note. It was a tough uphill course and it had been a challenge for her. She was tired but not overworked. The 15 was a good distance for her- especially for the elevation we covered.

It was a great thing to do with her, and as I have been focused on making sure Khaleesi was ready for her first 30, Faygo just didn’t get the hard training she’d had in the spring. Now that the weather is cooling down and Khaleesi is in good shape, I will probably put more time into getting her ready to do the LD at the national championship ride. It’s only 25, and we will plan to “turtle” the ride and just finish. I am sure she is capable of that as she did a solid 30 in the spring at the No Frills.

Faygo & Miles
Faygo & Miles

After relaxing a few minutes up at the vet-check, we hitched a ride home in the “ambulance” trailer (it’s there in case horses are pulled and need a ride home). Faygo was looking good and got to ride with her new friend (Miles, Alison’s horse, who is a Rocky Mountain- so they were both gaited and made a great pair).

A few things I learned: 1) “Leaves of three, find another tree!” (don’t tie your horse to a tree covered in poison ivy.. I didn’t do this, but will try to remember the saying in the future, it’s good advice). 2) When/where to tie? Don’t stress too hard about this. It will become obvious at the time. You can practice (I’m glad we did), but in the end you will know the right distances on race day.

Unfortunately Kate had to leave that afternoon. I missed having her there, but don’t mind alone time either. I had plenty to do getting Khaleesi ready for the next day, checked in and vetted as well.

A walk to the New River after the ride with both horses
A walk to the New River after the ride with both horses

I was slightly concerned about Khaleesi as I hadn’t ridden her since Tuesday night and we were in a strange bustling place with lots of distractions. I wasn’t sure how she would be race day morning, and considering how hot-headed my solid mare had been I wanted to at least ride Khaleesi around camp a few times and be sure I had some control. Also, it couldn’t hurt to make sure my tack was all in place and working before I had to ride out in the morning.

I tacked her up, hopped on and took a walk around camp. The ENTIRE time Khaleesi and Faygo called to each other. By the way, Khaleesi is a SUPER LOUD MOUTH. She will likely be remembered by people as that really loud horse. Not kidding.

As we made one loop around Faygo was pacing and pawing in the corral. I decided to take one more loop- see if they could figure out that they weren’t going to die. It got worse. Khaleesi was ok, a little distracted, but not dangerous, but Faygo was a hot mess. I felt bad for her.

My neighbor said to me “Boy, she hasn’t been happy since you left.” It was Khaleesi I was worried about leaving in camp. But to all accounts, once we left that morning, she just settled in and ate her hay all day. I had visions of Faygo running the corral, pawing and pacing and screaming all day. Then my neighbor continued “Once a very experienced ride told me you should really never consider bringing two horses to a ride. Unless the world is coming to an end.”

That seemed a bit extreme, but I was concerned and felt a little off the rest of the afternoon. I put Khaleesi back- her tack was fine, she was safe to ride, and it wasn’t worth the stress to just ride her around a few loops. I decided to get an ice cream cone and take a walk. This was the self-doubt walk.

What are you doing here? Do you know how much work this takes to get a horse ready to do this? Your life is busy enough- you hardly have time to think straight lately with your actual work, keeping your family responsibilities together around the house, and then devoting all this time to your riding- to keep two horses fit to participate. And now you tried to juggle it all, and the horse you want to be able to include- because she’s your first love, is stressed out and going to have a breakdown tomorrow when you leave her with your new horse that you are having so much fun with. Do you think that’s fair to her? How selfish are you? And here you are alone- overwhelmed with two horses in camp who need attention and your big day is tomorrow and you just feeling like packing up the trailer and going home… 

I didn’t pack up the trailer to go home. Completely out of cell service and not able to call mom or even my husband for a pep-talk or just to talk to someone, I walked along the highlands trail above camp a bit and tried to ask myself why I felt so defeated. We’d had a good day. Faygo was sound and had a good ride, we’d made new friends… I still don’t know really why I had such a crash there, but I put my mind to working around camp. First I took a shower (that helped a lot), then organizing my ride/crew stuff for the next day, and made a plan for Faygo. She was going to have to be ok. I also said a little prayer for her- that she wouldn’t be so stressed out. After all, God loves her as one of his creatures- I suggested maybe he could give her a little comfort while we were gone.

I decided that I would take down the corral the next morning and give her a smaller enclosure connected to the trailer (for added security) with hay and water so at least she couldn’t get too much pacing, running, or hopefully trying to jump out/escape. If I knew her, she might fret a bit, but after we were out of earshot, I knew deep down she was settle down.

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Exhausted, I called it an early night. My new digs are a nice improvement over my first event weekend in the old rusty trailer. My hammock is comfortable and knowing the horses made it through the previous night with no drama, I slept a little better. I also set my alarm earlier because I always seem to run short on time, and the next morning I also had to take down and re-set my corral… alone… before riding out.

The moon was beautiful. The horses were content. It was going to be ok.

moon over the horses
moon over the horses

to be continued……..