Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Snow Ponies

Apologies for any formatting errors - I have received countless errors from Google in my attempts to post this all week...

There is no purpose to this post beyond sharing several photos of the horses having fun in the snow earlier last week. Looks like we may see another dusting of snow sometime this weekend - fingers crossed that we get more than that! I miss the winters of my childhood.

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He's simply the handsomest
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Wishing he had a play buddy to romp with
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Rushing to her stall because she was "missing" dinnertime. Why was she missing it? Because she was too beside herself being upset that she was missing out to realize that oh, hey, the stupid human OPENED THE GATE FOR HER TO WALK INTO THE DRY LOT AND HAVE STALL ACCESS. Sigh. She stood for a solid 5 minutes on the other side of the fence throwing a tantrum and was too into her tantrum to notice the open gate.
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Stanley galloping to his dinnertime.
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Gotta get those hind legs UP to get them out of the snow drift area!
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A majestic Staniel excited for his dinner.
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The sweetest face
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Engage: zoomies.
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The boys. And, uh, well, also the photo debut of Griffins Very Horrible Clip Job. I got some new-to-me clippers and should have gotten accustomed to them on Stan or Q before trying Grif... So now I have two horses and one part-zebra. Thank god hair grows back!!! It's already looking MUCH better this week. 
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And she's off...
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But not without a sassy head toss
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I'd turned them out about 30 minutes before taking this photo. The cold, misty air wasted no time in adding frosty tips to each horse!
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Snow-encrusted barn and house. One day, the barn will be the same grey-ish tone as the house when the white oak exterior weathers more.
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Grif telling Q how it is... And with good reason. She's a witch to him most days in the dry lot!
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In sync
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Q's tell tale "I hate this cold wind in my face" posture
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Stan herding everyone down past the barn
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Angry Staniel ears and irritated Q ears in response. Griffin is just a lemming following along.
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Oh hai, boys!
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And they're off again, this time with Q bossing Griffin...
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LOOK at that angry mare!
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Fortunately, Grif is becoming adept at escaping her attempts...
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It's a horrible clip job, but he's a majestic fellow. Also, note Taiga in the window lol!
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Snow Ponies of Starlight Lane album cover
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Q's frosty mane
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His clip job may suck, but his tail is pretty clean these days now that he doesn't have iron-rich mud to wallow in!
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This old man <3
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Heading down to the barn... Those trees tho!
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The barn nestled in for the winter

Monday, January 6, 2020

2020 Foresight | Goals & Intentions

I always reflect on the past year when I sit down to set my intentions and goals for the new year. After all, you've got to know where you've been to decide where you want to go.

Last year ended with the fruition of my lifelong goal of having my horses at home. Having accomplished such a big dream, I admittedly had a hard time coming up with goals for 2020.

As I sat and thought about what I wanted to manifest in 2020, one word kept coming to mind: balance. My life saw so much change in the last decade. I really feel like I've arrived firmly in a new chapter now: new home, marriage, horses, property, and [same] job in a new location. I'm so overwhelmingly grateful and happy with my life. I just want to find better balance between all of the things I love this year.

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My happy place

Griffin

- Work off my seat and legs with more precision
- Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
- Establish a very solid "forward" button so I don't have to nag
- Take some lessons
- Cement "long and low" stretching
- School over novice height jumps, both stadium and XC (probably at home)
+ Make it to a schooling show of some kind
+ Cutting

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Floating over the snow drift yesterday afternoon

I've maintained the majority of 2019 goals for Grif to take forward into 2020. I think these goals will be more achievable this year. And I honestly need to check off each of these things before I can think about pushing beyond. With the exception of the two stretch goals, these are all process goals. There isn't a set "end" for most of them. They're all things that can be achieved in a multitude of ways and have various degrees of "success" embedded within. I love this because I have something to work toward and also haven't placed too tight of restrictions on myself to find that success - which leaves lots of room to have FUN along the way. And having fun is really important to me.

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Done with my BS  as I tried to get him to play for photos

The biggest thing I hope to achieve through pursuing each of these items is a fun, fit version of Grif who is game and ready for any adventure I can throw him into. And that's all I really want from my equine partners. That said, I really hope that by piecing these things together, I have a really incredible athlete that I can take places and do really cool things with (i.e., competitions) in the nearish future.

Q

- Work off my seat and legs with more precision
- Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
- Take some lessons
- Complete at least one endurance competition
+ Ride 400 non-competition miles this year
+ Go to a dressage schooling show

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Eager to play with me

As with Grif, I've brought most of 2019's goals forward into 2020 for Miss Q. With one exception: I knocked "build confidence" off the list!

This little mare is the most confident, happy version of herself that I've witnessed since bringing her home in 2012. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing to behold. (I seriously cannot remember the last time she spooked!)

Q is a much more willing partner than she's ever been and it is SO COOL. I'm finding that everything people say about mares trying and working for you once you have mutual trust is so true. I never really doubted those words, it just wasn't my experience until very recently. Same with hearing about horses who want their own person. Bringing Q home has made me realize how much she is one of those horses. Now that I'm her sole caregiver and everything, she's so much more settled and happy.

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Mist/clouds moved across the ridge yesterday afternoon making for interesting photo conditions

And so, I hope that this year we can push former boundaries now that our relationship has improved so much. What will this look like exactly? I don't know. But I do know that I'm going to enjoy every minute of this journey more than ever before.

Endurance is still on the table. But I'm less married to the idea of the sport than I've been in the past. After last year, I have decided that I simply have no space in my life for things that cause me undue anxiety. Increasingly, trot-outs at endurance ride checks/holds are often a source of undue anxiety because of Q's natural way of going. While, I'm not throwing in the towel yet, if the homework the Biltmore vets gave me last year doesn't change things during trot outs (i.e., I have to re-present Q at every check),  I won't lose sleep over giving up endurance as a competitive endeavor. There are too many other fun things to pursue!

Stan

- Rack up some trail miles and have a ton of fun
- Ride 150 miles this year
- Improve his caudal hoof and make him happier barefoot

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Romping around having a good time

As I said last year, these goals are going to be the same for Stan forevermore. He's coming 19 in April and he owes me nothing. I just want to keep him happy, healthy, and having fun. He's always adored the trail, so lots of trail miles seem like just the ticket.

I did change the mileage to a set goal instead of a stretch goal for this year. Stan did 91 miles in 2019 without me even trying (he was only ridden 29 times). Now that he's home, it shouldn't be a stretch at all to put in another 60 miles annually. In fact, he'll probably be better for it. Gotta keep those old joints moving to keep them happy.

I also haven't written much about it on the blog yet, but I'm really hunkering down and focusing on getting Stan comfortable barefoot now that he's home. He has spent nearly his whole life in front shoes and parts of it in hind shoes. His hinds fare pretty well barefoot, but he has always struggled with his fronts. With the addition of California Trace Plus to his diet and getting him out of the mud and into the dry lot, his feet are improving lots. In fact, when Dave and I took him a little ways into the Sods a few weeks ago, he trod comfortably up a very rocky trail completely barefoot. He was slow and methodical with his movements and definitely won't be breaking any speed records, but he was COMFORTABLE. I was absolutely beside myself watching him. It's a damn good thing Q doesn't need my constant emotional support now because I was turned around ogling at Stan for most of that stretch of trail! And so, hopefully 2020 is the year that I get Stanley's hooves to a better place than they've ever been. Another thing that will only benefit him as he enters his senior years.

Kenai

- Maintain mobility through lots of steady exercise
- Keep happy!

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Last night's sunset dog walk

Kenai will be 10 this year. *sobs* 2019 was a bit of a pivotal year for changes in his former routine as he really slowed down. He's still more active than a lot of dogs his age, but he can't go-go-go as he once did. And that's totally fine! Or, it is now, haha. I did have a hard time embracing it at first. But seeing how much he thrived with less exercise and more sleep helped me come to terms with having an older dog who needs a change of pace.

I expect Kenai's 2020 is going to be a lot of 1-3 mile adventures, ample napping, car rides with me, and front porch sitting where he can survey his little kingdom. Whatever I can do to keep him happy and mobile is all that matters.

Taiga

- Adventure often and continue socializing in many situations


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I love the snow kicking up behind her

While I've tossed the therapy goal out the window due to the time commitment it takes to maintain the cert, I still want to make an effort to get this little dog out into different environments as much as possible. Kenai was fortunate that he entered my life when I was still in college, so he has run amok to countless places in a short period. It helped make him the dog he is today.

Taiga entered my life when it was much more settled - as I anticipate all future dogs will. It's not as easy to give her the experiences Kenai had. That said, hopefully we can get her out in the canoe a couple times this year and get her to the climbing crag lots more. Oh, and mountain biking! Both Dave and I hope to do more of that this year. Taiga is already pretty savvy around bikes, so this will only increase her aptitude. So long as she's getting lots of exercise, not much else matters. #huskylife

Myself

- Find balance through time management/scheduling
- Maintain good mental health and physical fitness
- Be financially cognizant and boost my savings
- Minimize my social media usage; become more purposeful when I do use it
- Organize and streamline my photography hustle
- Work towards being able to do a handstand
- Climb more
- Bike often

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Roaring 20s party for NYE

2019 was a huge year for me. I achieved a lifelong goal of bringing the horses home. Now, early in 2020, my office will be moving "home", too. That will bring more (super awesome!) change to my life and will (re)introduce extra hours to my life 4 days a week (I work four 10-hour days).

Bringing the horses home has already reintroduced some ease back into my time management. The lack of commute will introduce even more. And so, for the first time in my adult life, I hope to find a comfortable balance with my time management and not overbook every minute of my days.

As a part of tackling my anxiety to improve my mental health in 2019, I began scheduling "me-time" in my calendar. It helped keep me from booking things every. single. weekend. It also taught me that I am a much happier person when I have days to myself where I can choose to sit still reading a book, work on house/yard chores, or pursue things on my to-do list that fell by the wayside. I often still do things with friends on these days, but those plans are always spontaneous. Having unscheduled time for myself is critical for me, my health, and my relationships with others.

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Their new album cover

Another big, new thing I hope to do in 2020 is to limit my social media usage. In the latter half of 2019, I picked up a habit of scrolling mindlessly through social media in a way I hadn't really done before. It is absolutely ridiculous, and I'm going to cease the habit this year. I won't get rid of social media completely, I'm not that naive, but I do hope to train myself to use it much more purposefully this year and not waste so much mindless time in front of a screen. This includes working to plan and schedule posts for my photography side hustle so that I don't spend so much time spinning my wheels trying to come up with content.

Hopefully being more purposeful in this part of life will also lend itself to being more purposeful with putting money into my personal savings. I've done a crap job at that in recent years and would really like to resolve that now that so much of my life has settled. While I doubt I will travel too crazily this year, I really would like to start pursuing more travel in coming years and in order to do that, I need to boost my personal savings!

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Psyched to finally have a few shots of me skiing, sad to learn that my form goes to pot when I concentrate on smiling for the camera lol!

And finally, with regard to my multiple active pursuits, I hope I can enjoy each of them more this year. This is a big part of my "balance" theme for the year.

When I last lived in the same town as my job and horses, making time for these multiple passions was much simpler. Regaining a short work commute this year should enable me to be able to ride more, bike more, and climb more. I don't have to drive far to do any of these things and am planning to take off early from work when the weather is good so that Dave and I can get a couple of pitches in at Seneca Rocks before the sun sets on week days when the crowds are nonexistent. On the same thread, I hope to make the weekly locals bike ride on Thursday evenings with a greater frequency. I also hope get out on my bike from the house more often now that a sweet new trail has been completed in the state park across the road from us.

And finally, I really want to fulfill my silly desire to be able to do a handstand this year. Since I was a child, I've dreamed of being able to do a handstand. So now I'm going to do my best to put a focused effort into working toward that goal. Because why not?

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I am really excited for 2020 and cannot wait to see what fun things come my way this year, this decade. This new chapter holds so much promise. I'll do my best to continue documenting things on this blog as I've done for the past 10 (!) years. Thanks for being a part of it. ❤

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 in Review

As I anticipated at the beginning of this year, it was a transition year with the horses. I didn't train or compete much. Instead, I focused almost solely on getting Starlight Lane Farm built and bringing the horses home. Achieving that life dream/goal at 30 years old is something I never thought possible.

While outings with the horses and outdoors adventures/trips were minimal this year compared to last, it was still an incredibly fulfilling year. The trade off of these things in order to bring the horses home is more than worth it!

So, let's see how things ended up with the goals and intentions I placed at the beginning of the year...

Griffin

✘ Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
✘ Take consistent lessons with LC
✘ Establish a very solid "forward" button so I don't have to nag
✘ Cement "long and low" stretching
✔ School over novice height jumps, both stadium and XC (probably at home)
✘ (+) Make it to a schooling show of some kind
✘ (+) Cutting

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Ultimately, my rides weren't super focused on the nitty-gritty within any discipline this year. Nor did my finances allow for lessons once the barn project was truly underway. When I have ridden, I've focused instead on simply keeping each horse at a base-level of fitness by utilizing the terrain and not schooling discrete movements. As a result, I really didn't hone in any of the skills I'd hoped to work on with Griffin.

That said, Grif's topline is finally returning for the first time in ages! There is something to be said for getting out for regular hacks, marching up countless hills and mountains, occasionally jumping things, requesting leg yields around trail obstacles/debris, and high stepping through deep snow. In fact, with Grif's fitness finally back at a solid place, I've begun introducing regular lateral work into our hacks. On one particular section of perfectly groomed grassy trail, I now have him leg yield at the trot for the duration of the trail segment. It's a lot of fun and Griffin really seems to enjoy the extra concentration/work. I'm really looking forward to continuing to incorporate this type of thing into our rides going forward.

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I'm still sussing out what next year will bring for Grif and I. At a minimum though, I will keep developing and honing his fitness level to bring us back to a level I feel we can compete. I'd really love to get back into the swing of things with competitions!

Q

✔✔ Continue to build confidence
✘ Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
✘ Take consistent lessons with LC
✔ Complete at least one endurance competition
✘ (+) Ride 400 non-competition miles this year

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I can confidently, with 110% certainty, say that this little mare's confidence is FIRMLY in place after this year. Bringing her home and having her in my sole care has been The Best Thing for Q. My relationship with her and our mutual understanding of one another is at an all-time high. She is firmly settled and happy, which lends to ample confidence in so many other aspects of life. I really, truly enjoy riding her for the first time in years.

Beyond confidence, this year was huge in another way for Q: She successfully completed her first endurance competition since her torn suspensory in 2016. And the Biltmore was no gimme! I'm so grateful she healed so well that we are able to return to competition.

Q's gait for the vetting still proves to be problematic, however. While she isn't "lame" per se, she simply doesn't display a "normalcy" in her movement that vets are looking for at these competitions. Fortunately, the team of vets at Biltmore were beyond generous with their time and their knowledge and really went the extra mile to help me understand Q better and devise a few strategies for the future. My current plan is to [continue to] implement the homework they gave me and give endurance competition one more go in 2020. If vettings continue to be an anxiety-ridden piece of the puzzle, I'm going to throw in the competition towel on endurance and take my time/money elsewhere. I love this horse more than I love the sport and would rather put my time and competition finances into something that doesn't leave me riddled with anxiety. I can rack up trail miles on my own for free after all.

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I'm ending the year about 100 miles short of our 400 conditioning miles goal. But I'm completely fine with this. Like Grif, Q is finally putting a nice topline back on for the first time in ages. Between all three horses, I rode more miles this year than I have since moving to Canaan in 2017 (and when you consider I only had one endurance competition this year (compared with 3+ from previous competition years) my mileage this year is really awesome). I cannot tell you how good that feels! In fact, it shouldn't be a stretch to fit in more annual miles than I ever have in 2020.

Stan

✔ Rack up some trail miles and have a ton of fun
✔ Don't become a total asshole once moved home
✘ (+) Ride 150 miles this year

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Can we all just pause for a moment and thank the heavens that I've been able to properly mitigate for Stan not becoming a complete douchecanoe since moving home?! Because I'm really excited about this. Don't get me wrong, his level of asshole has definitely increased, but Grif and Q haven't had horrible cuts or bite/kick marks in months now - something to be truly psyched about. It's definitely been a learning process and a bit of an experiment figuring out the dry lot dynamics to reach this point, but we've fortunately come to a pretty happy medium.

Beyond successful management of behavior, Stan has had a pretty great year. He's racked up just shy of 100 miles under saddle on the trail and has continued to be The Very Best Boy for me and countless others who have ridden him this year. He is more than worth his weight in gold.

Kenai

✔ Train to the invisible fence
✔ Maintain mobility through lots of steady exercise

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Oh, my old man. Kenai turned 9 this year. After a suite of stifle surgeries early in his life plus the continuing mystery of his skin issues since 2015, it's amazing he's doing as well as he is.

Mobility-wise, the old guy continues to do well. This year has had some marked changes though. Kenai no longer accompanies me for fast horseback rides (anything greater than a trot) or long hikes/bikes/rides (anything greater than 3 miles). If he has to go fast or go for more than 3 miles, he struggles to keep up and is really sore the following days. While I know he misses me when I head out on adventures with Taiga, the stress of leaving him behind is worth it to know that I'm helping to guarantee that he has a greater quality of life for more of his senior years.

Kenai continues to have issues with his skin/coat. Local vet practices all seem to be stumped by his symptoms and I'm nearing my wits-end with it all. I'm currently implementing the only thing I haven't done so far in the 3+ years of dealing with his skin and treating things holistically. There have definitely been some major attitude improvements since doing this, but his skin/coat problems are persisting. I've set a deadline of January to see if anything resolves or improves further before I will schlep my way over to northern Virginia to seek further opinions from new vets. Fingers crossed that we can finally put an end to this skin saga in 2020!

Taiga

✔ Get out in crowded places more often to minimize her over-stimulation in these environments
✘ Take local course to fulfill therapy training

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Taiga continues to be a complete joy to have around. She is the definition of "sweet", and we absolutely adore her.

Since bringing the horses home, Taiga has had a very consistent exercise schedule. She accompanies me on most of my trail rides and is such a perfect little partner. While she wanders a bit, she's quite content to keep me in her sights most of the time and paces beautifully with the horses. Being able to exercise both her and the horses simultaneously is so fantastic! Taiga couldn't agree more, and has developed quite the little cavorting happy dance when she sees me with a tacked-up horse in hand.

While I certainly didn't get Taiga around and about in crowded places as much as I'd originally envisioned, I did get her out a fair bit this year and she is improving [slowly] with the over-stimulation of such environments. That said, this goal was initially placed with the intent of improving her behavior so that she could pursue/pass training to be a therapy dog. Having learned more about that program and the requirements in place for her to maintain the certification once she passes the test, I've dropped it as a goal. I simply do not have the time available to achieve the number of annual visits required.

Myself

✔ Bring the horses home
✔ Maintain fitness level
✔ Be financially cognizant throughout the year
✔ Purge, purge, purge
✘ Continue my yoga practice
✔&✘ Complete GRUSK 53-mile bike race (opted instead to do the 32-mile race)
✘ Climb more
✘ Bike often
✔ Maintain and build my photography side hustle

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Many of my personal goals in disciplines outside of horses were put on the back-burner this year. Barn building took far more of my mental and physical time than I ever would have imagined! But it was more than worth the sacrifices in other areas of my life to fulfill the dream of having the horses at home.

Mental and Physical Health
In the process of all of the barn-building chaos, I really hunkered down and focused on improving my fitness and mental health this year. Both are at a higher place than they've been in a very long time coming to the close of this year. Not surprisingly, improving both has gone hand-in-hand. Firstly, I finally tackled my anxiety this year in a big way. Balancing the mental-health/anxiety side of the equation has allowed me so much more energy to put toward other aspects of life like setting healthy boundaries, enabling me to hold space for others so that I can be a better friend/wife/daughter/etc., and it has allowed me more time to put toward my physical fitness.

In the past, my physical fitness has relied purely on my active multi-sport lifestyle. This year it has been more centered around "functional" fitness. Barn construction and the subsequent barn chores have helped me build a lovely baseline fitness I haven't had in quite some time. From building fence to cutting, splitting, transporting, and stacking 3-4 years worth of firewood to mucking 2x daily to hauling/stacking hay bales to riding the horses 4+ days a week. I find myself feeling stronger with every passing week, and I'm very much looking forward to having available time in the new year to pick back up yoga/climbing/biking with a bit more frequency.

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Finances & Purging
Knowing that Starlight Lane Farm was going to become a reality in 2019, I vowed from the get-go to be as financially cognizant as I could throughout the year. While I'll always wish I was better in this facet of my life, I have to admit that I did a pretty damn good job this year. It wasn't without numerous strange looks or snide remarks from people along the way, but c'est la vie. This is my life and in order to be financially responsible, I opt to budget pretty strictly. It doesn't have to sit right with everyone to be the right call for me personally.

I am so pleased to report that nearly every single thing on my "purge" list for the year has been successfully purged. The handful (seriously, less than 5) of items that have not moved on are those that I refuse to simply donate/give away because I know, with patience, I can sell them and reap a little bit of benefit from passing them along.

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Photography
And finally, my photography side hustle continued to do well this year. Even with the choice to shutdown my website domain in favor of exclusively using free outlets like Instagram and Facebook, I continued to gain bookings.

I really feel like I began to find my own "style" this year with my work. With every shoot, I was over-the-moon with the results. I've also reversed my problems of overshooting and having a hard time sorting/purging shoots. Now I feel like I'm shooting just enough to get what I want and not too much excess so that when it comes time to sort/purge photos for final editing, I don't spend an exorbitant amount of time on that step.

But most of all? I'm having a freaking blast with my shoots these days. The impostor syndrome that has plagued me from the get-go is really starting to fade and that is a really good feeling.

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All in all, while a bit of a transition year from what has been my past norm, this year was absolutely outstanding. Buying land, building the barn and fences, and bringing the horses home has been the most wonderful dream come true. It still feels surreal most days. My gratitude for being able to fulfill this dream is a predominant feeling with every day that has passed since completing the project.

I am so excited for 2020 and what it may bring. It will be my first year of having the horses home and will become the first year that I have my "old" life back so far as time management goes because, *drum roll*, come February my 40-minute one-way commute will become a 7-minute commute with the collocation of my office with CVNWR. This was not something I ever expected when I chose to move here in 2017 and is one of the greatest gifts the Universe could have ever bestowed on me. Regaining nearly 90 minutes of my daily life will mean more time for horses, biking, climbing, and skiing. I. Am. Psyched.

Thanks for reading along this year, and I wish each of you the very best in 2020!