Thursday, November 20, 2014

Go-Everywhere, Ride Camp Dog

By now, you're all familiar with my husky Kenai. He's my go-everywhere dog. Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, hiking, speed boats, road trips, trail rides, endurance ride camp, and even on the ski lift at the resort when I'm working ski patrol (he is the unofficial mascot). When my friend Chris and I traveled to Acadia Nat'l Park in 2010, Kenai accompanied us. He's also been to the outskirts of the Great Smoky Nat'l Park (dogs are not permitted within the park) for my Leave No Trace Master Educator and pack courses in 2012.

At every endurance ride I've done these past 2 years, he's been present and accounted for at each. And thus far, he has no transgressions to his name for his time spent in ride camp. He has never been "jailed" for being loose, or had a negative word spoken about his antics that I am aware of. I've worked hard with him to be a well-behaved dog, and it seems I've succeeded in some capacity.

I thought it might be helpful for other dog owners who haven't yet taken their dog to an endurance ride camp or other adventure to have a comprehensive list of skills/characteristics that help in having a well-behaved dog at endurance events or on nearly any other adventurous pursuit.

Patience

Observe Kenai in the lower left corner sleeping while the humans do things
High on the list of good traits for a well-behaved dog is patience. In ride camp more than anything, there is a lot of down time between exciting events. A dog with patience who is content to watch goings-on quietly, or take a nap, or entertain themselves in a quiet manner is priceless.

At rides this year, Kenai had Carlos to keep him company - they're best friends - while Saiph and I were out riding. At other rides, he's had Carlos and Mike. And at others still, he's on his own - it's just he and I. In these situations where we're solo, Kenai goes into the back of the horse trailer where I provide him with a flake of hay to create a bed, food, and water. He is content in the trailer until I either have arrived back in camp for a hold, or until the day is over and I return to camp for the finish (at rides with away holds).

At holds in-camp, or away holds that Kenai has accompanied someone else to, he is content to sit and observe everyone and everything going on around him. From sponging of horses, to feeding of horses and humans, to untacking and retacking and heading back out. He loves to receive an initial greeting from "his people" and then he will find an out-of-the-way place to observe us all as we bustle about. His patience in these times is such an amazing thing.

Manners on leash

Paramount to any dog's training regime is leash training and manners when on leash. A dog on leash shouldn't: pull excessively, feel that they're allowed to take off after prey items, or bark at approaching people or animals. And that's just the short list!

At most rides, it is a requirement to have your dog on leash at all times (except RBTR) - hell, in most places you're required to have dogs on leash period. Teaching manners on leash is critical to being able to have your dog in social settings.

While Kenai isn't as stellar on leash as he is off leash, he is still leaps and bounds ahead of many other dogs with his skill set. He knows to not rush off and pull you down, doesn't lunge after things, and he never loses it barking at dogs or people or horses or otherwise.

                                                 Manners off leash

A very happy off leash
dog following along
on a trail ride.
Let's face it though, we don't always keep our dogs on leash all the time, rules or not. For me, with such an active breed of dog, it's hard to give him the exercise he truly needs without letting him off leash! I need to be able to count on Kenai listening to me and behaving off leash as much or more than when he is on leash.

When off leash, I can trust that Kenai will return when I call (though perhaps not IMMEDIATELY), will not seek out trouble for himself or others, will greet people politely or move past them without bothering, won't chase off after prey items, will behave within a group of off-leash dogs, and will stay within my sight. It's definitely a task to reach that level of trust with a dog, but the time and effort put into working toward that kind of freedom is 110% worth it.

At our ride here in WV (RBTR), we don't have a leash requirement for dogs in ride camp. We request that they be contained while the ride is going on, but beyond that, it's a free for all! I know many reading this may totally and completely disagree with this, and you're entitled to your opinion. Not everyone at RBTR let's their dog off leash, and that is okay! For most of us however, we know we can trust our dogs' off leash manners and not worry about them. It's a great time for Kenai, as he's able to socialize and truly Be A Dog with other dogs. They gallivant, smell ALL THE THINGS, swim, and interact with folks.

Recall

I think this is one of the most important skills to teach and ingrain into a dog. And if I can teach my  Siberian husky to recall, anyone should be able to teach their dog to recall! Huskies are known far and wide for not listening and "running away". Kenai is living proof that it doesn't have to be that way!

It took a solid 18-24 months of training to reach a point where I could trust Kenai to recall well off leash, but the time and effort have served me well ever since. There are still moments where I experience something akin to PTSD when Kenai doesn't return *Immediately* and I panic a bit, however, this is just a part of his independent husky nature. He will return and he will return within a few minutes time at MOST - he just doesn't always return when my agenda dictates he should.

And yes!, I can prevent my dog from chasing off after a prey item with a verbal command. I no longer have to worry about him taking off after things he shouldn't, something that is very freeing.

The freedom gained from a dog who will recall well has lent itself to so many situations and has opened up a whole new world for Kenai! He is able to explore more and smell more off leash than he is on leash. When hiking, he will traverse forward, backward, and side to side to investigate the landscape and take everything in. He's able to travel 1.5x or greater the distance I'm hiking to do all of the investigating he desires. This lends itself to a nice, tired dog later - the best kind of dog! Additionally, Kenai is able to accompany me on trail rides, a favorite pastime.

Polite around horses

Cleaning up Griffin's mess while Griffin
nuzzles Kenai's back
This is absolutely critical in ride camp! No dog should ever rush, over-excited up to a horse barking and get in their space. It could cause the horse to spook or kick out and if someone is riding the horse, they could be injured.

The best way to train and prepare your dog to be polite around horses is to provide them with opportunities to be around horses. This isn't always easy, I recognize, but it is an important thing to try to do when you're able.

Kenai has been around horses since he was a pup. He's learned to keep his distance the hard way (he's been trampled once or twice), but it only took one time to really cement in his mind that these big hooved "dogs" aren't to be trifled with and one should keep their distance!

Nowadays, Kenai coexists happily with my horses and other horses. He's able to sense (for the most part) when a horse doesn't like dogs and he keeps a buffer between himself and that horse. My horses are okay enough with Kenai that they'll share their mashes with him! (Caution though, this does result in a dirty dog!)

Good in small, shared spaces

At ride camp, and in other situations, I've had to share my tent or car with Kenai through extended periods (typically sleep, but sometimes other times due to inclement weather).

While other traits listed already help with this skill, it is still worth noting that your dog should be okay with being confined to a small space with you without being a complete dingbat about it. Kenai's default behavior in a tent or my car is to find "his" corner and plop down to wait and rest.

Crate trained

Similar to the above, and certainly helpful with situations where you should be in a small, shared space with your dog, it is great to have a dog who knows the ins and outs of crate training! They know their space, know it's safe to be there, and helps provide a refuge from goings-on while also keeping them out of trouble.

Dogs evolved from wolves, which tend to utilize small spaces (similar to what a crate provides) for denning and whelping. As a result, your dog should have some instinct (however far back it may be!) to be content in a small area like a crate. My best advice is to start young with crate training! Set your dog up for success later in life.

Quiet

I think this trait/skill may not be important for some - and may be impossible for some dogs, but I hate a noisy, barking or whining dog! Encouraging your dog from a young age to be quiet while crated or on leash can be very important. It helps set them up to not be the bane of every one else's existence when you're in a closed-quarters situation like ride camp or a campground (or a shuttle bus that allows dogs like those on Mt. Desert Island where Acadia Nat'l Park is located).

It gives me peace of mind to know that when I leave Kenai in the horse trailer for hours on end while I'm riding that he isn't annoying the hell out of everyone in camp. In fact, most times when I fetch Kenai from the trailer (or the car if the weather was such to allow him to be comfortable in there all day [he gets the whole trunk area of my 4Runner; it's like another crate to him for half the year]) folks express their surprise that he was even in there! He remains so quiet. Impressive considering huskies really like to talk. ;-)

People-loving

Or perhaps, people-tolerant. Kenai doesn't love all people, but he is tolerant of all people. As a husky, he is a bit stand-offish in regards to many people, but once he has established a person as "okay", he will greet them.

To help Kenai be prepared for the unexpected (kids being grabby in particular), I've always done things to screw with him and keep him on his toes since he was a puppy. Randomly bopping him, pulling his hair, pushing him when he wasn't expecting it, making fast, unexpected moves, and being loud. It is beneficial and gives me peace of mind to know that my dog will be courteous and polite to people he interacts with. It is hard to predict what any one person - especially kids - will do around a new dog, so I'm happy I've taken the time to prepare my dog as best I'm able for these unexpected things.

: : : : :

It's taken a lot of time and dedication to work with Kenai to get him to the point where he is so behaved, but it has been beyond worth it. Kenai goes everywhere with me; I need to be able to count accompany my life will be expected to also conform to good behaviors. I share my life more intimately with my dog(s) than I do any other animal. I believe that my dog appreciates the added richness and adventure that is present in his life as a result of being a Go Everywhere dog.
on him to be polite and behave in the myriad of situations he's exposed to. All future dogs that

The list of traits/characteristics above is a definite plus in any Go Everywhere or Ride Camp dog. Ultimately though, you'll need to assess your dog as an individual and put him or her in situations that are best suited to them. Not every dog can be a Go Everywhere dog, and it is unfair to assume so or to put them in a position to fail and end up injured or punished for something they didn't understand from the beginning .I hope other dog owners are able to enjoy the level of trust I have with Kenai with a dog at some point in their life. It is a truly wonderful thing that makes adventures much more
                                                         entertaining and enjoyable.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Without a Saddle

Last Tuesday was a tough day mentally for me. I'd made a big decision on some life choices the day prior and was still mulling things over in my head.

From past experience, I've found this mulling process to be aided immensely by time spent with horses. And so that is what I did.

My goal upon arrival at the barn was to strike out on a trail ride with Griffin. I figured I would spend as long out on the trail as he could stand and see where it got us. Distance wasn't really a concern so much as TIME. I needed that time. And conveniently enough, the Universe was smiling upon my plans this day and had gifted me with blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s. Rare for a mid-November day in the heart of the mountains of West Virginia.

However, life being what it is, Griffin managed to rub a bit too hard against what wouldn't usually be construed as a "sharp" area of the stall door as he entered the stall to eat his mash and earned himself a nice superficial cut on his side. This superficial cut? RIGHT where the saddle pad/girth area is. Sigh.

I hung my head a little, sighed a lot, and trudged to the tack room to get my clippers, betadine, and a sterile gauze pad to clean it up. Griffin hardly batted an eye or flicked an ear at me while I cleaned the area up. If it had been anywhere else on his barrel (you know, not near the saddle area), I'd likely not done a damn thing to it. It was the kind of superficial cut that is scabbed over nicely within 24 hours and healed entirely in less than a week.

I looked across the barn aisle at Q in her stall and rolled the idea of just riding her around in my head for a moment. No, I decided, she's earned her time off and I told her she could have it. Besides, my head really can't handle the possibility of her spookiness on this day.

I set the saddle and pad on Griffin Just To See. Curses. The cut was RIGHT below the pad by about an inch. It would DEFINITELY be rubbed by the girth. I didn't really care to risk making the cut worse or inciting a pain response from my horse while riding as I don't care to hit the dirt as a result. (And it wouldn't be fair to him.) And so I trudged the saddle back into the tack room.

I stood for a moment in the tack room pondering the thought of simply just not riding. I could just go home and continue sitting on the couch doing nothing. Except that this day was some sort of serious gift from the Universe and I couldn't possibly waste it sitting on the couch! And so my eyes wandered slowly to my tack locker and the bareback pad within. Just maybe...

Sure enough, the thick pony pad coupled with the bareback pad sat no where near the cut on Griffin's side. Added bonus, the girth for the pad was set much more forward than it had been on the saddle and would not interfere with the cut at all! The only thing that would touch it would be my lower leg, and that touch would happen sparingly. Huzzah!

It was a fantastic ride. Kenai came, too.

I'd let Griffin pick up the pace for the ups, always going slow on the downs (because bareback), and it was a toss up what we did on the in betweens.

We'd flat out gallop on some of the ups, returning to a moseying walk immediately after with no fighting. Griffin was outstanding. It's not every horse you can let open up like that and trust to return to a calm walk immediately after.

After each gallop set, I'd ask Griffin to halt and wait so Kenai could catch up. Each time, Griffin was beyond behaved as he stood quietly waiting, sometimes turning to nuzzle my foot to let me know he understood why we were waiting. One time, when Kenai was taking an exceptionally long time to reappear, I even asked Griffin to backtrack to find him. This backtracking involved turning away from home (where we were returning), and despite it, Griffin struck off down the trail with eagerness and confidence, nonplussed about the change in direction from home. GOOD BOY. (Kenai found something that smelled good and had been tracking it, which caused the delay.)

After multiple times where Griffin proved he head his head screwed on very straight by exhibiting the above, I chose to just let him pick the pace through the ups and the in betweens. Downs would still be strictly walking, because bareback. He'd pick up a trot for a bit, then walk some, the canter for a bit, then walk some, then gallop, and then walk.

It took a bit of time for me to realize what he was doing, but for the fifth or six "speed up" moment since allowing Griffin to move out as he wanted, I realized he wasn't choosing his moments at random. He was timing them with my mental processes (which very likely were correlated in my muscles in the rest of my body). Right as I would lose focus on the present and start to dive deep into my head mulling things over, Griffin would pick up the pace so I would be pulled back into the present moment.

Upon realizing what he was doing, I couldn't help but smile and laugh. Such a good, sweet boy this horse is!

The two times we galloped on the way home I dropped my reins, spread my arms wide like a bird taking flight and just let the wind hit me full in the face as Griffin charged up the trail. It was a beautiful thing to be riding without a saddle and to be able to drop the reins for a full out gallop like that.

And that's how I ended up riding 7.5 miles without a saddle.

No stirrup November, amirite?



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Set Backs: Mental game

Yesterday I noted setbacks and alluded to some backward steps I've taken/am taking with Griffin and Q in regards to the Universe cutting me off at the pass and screaming, "Halt. You shall not pass," and slamming its staff down a la Gandalf in the mines of Moria.

Then, Gail commented and asked about those backward steps and I wrote this huge comment and realized, uh, I should just make this a post. So here we are! Or at least the first installment of posts on backwards steps, as there will be more, I'm sure, because the Universe is Highly Amused in watching me fall on my ass as I stumble through my Lessons Learned.

Mental pauses: Griffin

Both horses have exhibited signs of needing mental breaks this year. Griffin's was notably at RBTR where his first LD proved too much for his head to handle. Gross oversight on my part. Bad human. UnFortunately for me, the Universe wasted no great time in letting me know of my error so I would address it better. Gee, thanks, Universe. Problem noted.

So realizing Griffin would need more time for his head and need more exercises to develop his mental game, I started hypothesizing. But in true form, slow human was slow (and stubborn!!) about making changes. So then, Universe presented me with an awesome (not) day where Griffin lost his shit (he *was* rude, for the record, but he (and the Universe) needed to get the point across to me, obvi) and we had a huge argument (read: emergency dismount followed by Griffin rampaging around the farm to avoid me) for nigh on two hours by the time all was said and done and we were on good-ish terms again.

And so, finally getting the point (thanks, Universe), I back pedaled reeaaall fast. Our schedule proceeded as follows from that point:
  •  Ground sessions on the lunge to reinforce listening and reinforce the fact that pressure on his mouth/the bit is not a reason to pitch a shit fit. We were mostly over this and doing well, but as with all things, one step forward, two steps back. Side reins returned and Griffin's head was reset to the Good Place.
  • Double long-lining was introduced to supplement the lunging sessions. Griffin took to this like a champ. Bravo, little horse, bravo.
  • Ground driving was tackled in full. Harness was acquired as was cart. The race was on to do all the ground driving to best prepare him for when I might finally have the cart restored. Race resembled the Space race in that one side would race forward with leaps and bounds only to stall out long enough for the other side to steadily catch up and surpass the first side. (The restoration progress would jump and leap then stall out while Griffin's progress was slow, steady, and predictable.)
  • Ground driving continued.
  • Cart was finished and we began work with it. Hurrah! There were small setbacks with it, but I did a pretty good job jumping not two, but three steps back as things came up because I wanted him to be nice and calm and not, you know, wreck. We were doing well, I thought! His calm demeanor the majority of the time let me know that it really was going well.
  • But, and there is always a but, we still had a wreck. And I knew it wasn't my fault and it wasn't his fault and the same thing probably would have happened even if he'd been doing this for a longer period of time. It was just a freak thing. And the thing that stands out most about it that shocked me the most then and shocks me the most now is HOW FORTUNATE WE WERE. No injuries to living, breathing beings occurred. SO FORTUNATE. I don't fault him. I don't fault myself. It is what it is and it happened and we learned from it. But also, we were forced to break from driving because I would need to make repairs to the harness and the cart. That's okay. We needed to take that time - or at least I did!
  • The Universe seemed to be pleased with itself for that wreck and the pause it put on us driving. I'd been avoiding riding Griffin but was now lured back into riding. And Griffin was SO READY for riding again. He excelled ride after ride. (After ride, after ride, after ride.)
  • Rides began at 20-30 minutes and stayed there. They were also occurring 2-4 times a week.
  • Then by coincidence and mostly accident (the Universe again), we had a 60 minute session one day! And Griffin, as politely as he could (occasional head shaking in protest instead of the former crow-hop or bucking), let me know his patience was waning, and I listened. I heard it was best to stop on a good note or something with horses? Huh. Go figure. ;-)
  • After that surprise hour-long session, our sessions more frequently extended into the 45-60 minute range and that's where we are now - with exception of two trail rides with one other horse and one solo trail ride, all of which far exceeded an hour's time.

Overall, these backward steps aren't very drastic or surprising. They're mostly as a result of luck and karma and whatsuch. They were necessary and wonderful and while slow human was slow, and stubborn redhead was stubborn, I've reformed and seem to be reaping tiny rewards from this progress. And I have small, fluid future goals in mind, but I'm not sharing them just yet. =)

Mental pauses: Q

Now, more drastic, semi-surprising backward steps! These belong to the mareface.

Q's confidence on trail has spiraled downward since the herd dynamic was altered in August of 2013. The introduction of TWO very, very studdy geldings followed by two more mares (who behave just fine, but introduce more estrogen than previously existed) to the herd sent Q into a tizzy. Fortunately, the geldings have both moved on. With the departure of the first, Q began to get a little better. With the departure of the second, she improved a little more.

However, the damage had been done. She and I were in a wicked place in comparison to where we once had been. A bad pattern between us in regards to her spooks was present and definitely didn't help her path to improvement. Her confidence was shot. My trust in her was shot. And so we battled back and forth time and time again.

I'm SO hard on myself in regards to working with this horse. I'm also exceedingly stubborn in a whole new way with her in comparison to other horses I've worked with at length! I'm a redhead, ergo I'm prone to stubbornness and being fiesty, but when I'm paired with Q it's exceptionally noticeable!

I'm very aware of this, and despite all of my setbacks and frustrations with this horse, I CANNOT for the LIFE of me figure out why I am still SO DETERMINED to make things work with her (and I mean work on a general scale here, not a specific discipline of riding)? My day dreaming often wanders to wonder Just What It Is about this mare that leaves me so stubbornly pursuing her? Is it because she rejects me like a middle school boy that leaves me trying SO hard for her affections and to get her to work with me as a team? In part. Maybe. Is it the pure challenge? In part. Maybe. Is it the knowledge that she'd likely end up at slaughter if I quit on her (because who would put up with her shit? I'm excessively tolerable of her shenanigans and my horse friends (mostly non-Arab) are continually impressed that I march onward with her)? In part. Maybe.

There is Just Something About Her that keeps me hooked. And even though I can't peg it on the head, I also can't shake the line that draws me to her. I have a feeling it's the Universe again. I think the Universe has a sense of humor and really likes to test me and watch me struggle as I slowly figure things out. I mean, hell, I'd laugh at me, too, if I could watch my struggles from afar. I bet it is quite comical! But seriously, there must be some Larger Purpose to my draw to this horse, because with other horses that pulled some of her crap I quit REAL fast and never looked back.

So...because I'm no fool (HAHAHA), and I'm picking up what the Universe is laying down, I started to pick up on Q's mental issues at the same time I was noting Griffin's. And, because I'm no fool (HAHA), I started hypothesizing things to help remedy Q's confidence and mental blocks before she and I had to dance our way through another cart-wreck incident of our own.

She's better about spooking that she was, but gah, it's still so much worse than it was for the first year and a half of our time together. And thus:

  • Q is getting a whole month off post-FV. This ends on the 24th of this month. 
  • Then for another month, or more, we will do ground driving (we've done it at random before, so I know she knows how). I'm setting the bar at a minimum of 20 sessions. These sessions will start around the *familiar* farm, and then into the back field, and then into the woods on the trails. I want to get her out there LEADING AND ALONE (no horse buddies) and see how spooky she is without me riding. We're going to get our confidence back (well, she's going to get her confidence back and I'm going to build my trust in her to not dump me so often back...because WE USED TO BE GREAT).
  • I'll gauge where she is after at least 20 sessions. We'll then either do more, or add riding back.
  • We'll also add more dressage work into our lives once her vacation from riding is over. She needs to get off the f*cking forehand. I'm sick of it and it's my fault she's there so often because I haven't done much to encourage correction. 
  • And then, we're going to spend more time walking on the trails than we did before. We'll rocket up the steeps, and relax on the flats and downs. She rarely if EVER spooks on an good incline because she's focused on the increased work and her job. 
  • Setting her up for success by only moving out on the ups initially should hopefully correlate to slowly moving out more on the flats and downs where she currently lacks confidence. We'll gain confidence doing the things that keep her calm, then extrapolate the good into her trouble areas as time goes on.
We'll see where this plan gets us by spring. I like this plan and am very, very cautiously optimistic that it will help us. You heard me, Universe, I'm very cautiously optimistic and guarding my rear end against another stumble where I land on my ass! My ride plans next year are tentative and fluid, and - as with Griffin's future goals - I'll share the goals I have for Q at a later time.

Universe, I see what you've done here. It's pretty good work. Sorry I was so slow and stubborn to catch on. I'm hard headed like that, you know, being a redhead and all. But I'm trying to learn from my mistakes! Truly. All the same, I'm sure I'll land on my ass again soon enough. I'll try to do it with a little more grace though.  ;-)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Set Backs

(Two posts in one day, what is this strange voodoo?!)

Aarene at Haiku Farm wrote a great post recently that was just what I needed to read in regards to mental calendars with horses.

I nodded along with the whole post, and smiled as she noted her own lessons learned.

The whole thing was right on line with my own thoughts lately for my two and my plans for the future. These plans involve some serious backward steps that are happening or will be happening through the coming months. I will share these things as time allows in coming posts.

My comment to Aarene's post is below. In addition to my initial rambling, she asked three questions which I have italicized:

As a lover of lists and a chronic planner of all things, horses continually humble me. I WILL DO THIS! I declare. YOU WILL PRESS PAUSE! The horses echo. I may one day learn and stop this cycle, but that time is far in the future, I fear. Though there is hope; I am getting better about having very broad, fluid plans. This is helping a great amount so far.

What events and situations move you and your horse off-calendar? - Mental break-downs from both parties have been large culprits this year. I am forced to take steps backwards and be more creative in my methodology to battle mental hurdles and break them down into small steps. Hard realization to reach, but critical for any hope at success. Physical break downs the year prior helped prevent mental break downs for a time, but because my ways did not change greatly enough, the time has come that I must learn from my errors. Thanks, Universe.

Is it easy to re-form your goals? - It is easy when I have accepted the fact that I was the reason for the errors. Acceptance is everything for me. Once I can admit my short-comings, the path forward becomes much clearer and I become very excited about backing up and re-starting. I like a challenge, I just don't like being humbled so often. (Who does? It's a hard lesson to learn, IMHO, and those who can tackle it with grace are those I admire the most.) However, I'm learning, and that is so, so valuable. I'm not apt to make the same mistake more than once!

What helps you? - What helps is the community of horse folks who are ever supporting of my efforts. Who bolster me when I'm down. The drive and passion I have for my horses coupled with my desire to do right by them spurs me ever forward...and reins me in with a wicked one rein stop every time I get too excited and big for my britches! Reading posts like this one and seeing the success of your journey helps immensely.

Thank you (again) so much for this post. It is something I needed to read right now as I'm struggling mentally with my own demons.

All In A Week

It seems my blog life has been relegated to these photo posts for a bit. I'll craft up better content soon.















1. Cannibalistic chickens - they were all eating an egg one of them laid that burst open....  2. Griffin instigating play-fights. I finally drove up in the middle of a huge one - it's no wonder he's in such good shape, he really books it around that field!  3. Begging for attention.  4. So, it's been snowing here. Winter is here.  5. <3 Thanks guys.  6. The greatest Asian Market I've been to yet! Will definitely be returning when I'm back in the area.  7. Fish to veggie ratio in the *cheap!* sushi from that market was superb. Definitely #winning.  8. Kenai LOVING our 6.5 mile ride the other day!  9. We love each other!  10. We hate each other.  11. The cats have claimed this dog bed. Apparently that position is comfortable?  12. Innocent? He's fully in his role of "couch dog" here. I have decided to permit this behavior after 4.5 years. *sigh*

Thursday, November 6, 2014

All In A Week















1. Work never tasted so good.  2. The russets of late autumn are in full swing.  3. Dog nuzzles.  4. Pumpkin Reserve @ 6.9%  5. Blankets for the first time this year for a 48 hour period of freezing rain (they do not have shelter).  6. Fiona and Shrek for Halloween.  7. A properly soiled horse.  8. Griffin led a 6.7 mile trail ride like a boss.  9. A wonderful new book.  10. Ralphie, our office iguana, was a doucher the other day during a conference call as he proceeded to knock EVERYTHING POSSIBLE off ALL of my shelves.  11. Night riding on the grey horse; two big spooks at Kenai in a bush, but I'll give those to him. I almost came unseated each time! Fortunately, Q has me trained.  12. You will do my bidding, human!  13. Atticus on July 2013 vs. November 2014 - he is in the SAME cage.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Transformation Tuesday

July 10 on top. October 30 on bottom. And yes, his mane is in a sorry in-between state right now. That one section just REFUSES to stand up though. Hay feeders being what they are and all...


Monday, November 3, 2014

Thankful

After handling a horse that wasn't my own yesterday for a brief minute, I realized how thankful I am to have horses that:
  • Have ground manners
  • Lead politely
  • Stand when tied
  • Are polite about being tacked up (both saddle and bridle)
  • Are respectful about my space
  • Know how to lunge
  • Know verbal commands
  • Stand for mounting (at least 85% of the time anyway, haha)
  • Stand for dismounting
  • Listen to leg aids
  • Listen to seat aids
  • Are not demanding/manic about feeding time
  • Are very polite for the handling of their feet and trimming
  • Are polite about taking oral supplements/medications/electrolytes
  • Aren't dicks for the vet
  • Load/unload from the trailer with minimal issue
  • Have a "whoa" button installed
  • Transition nicely between gaits (up and down)
  • Are relatively game for many bizarre things I request of them

It has taken a lot of time to get these critters to be so well behaved, but wow. So worth it. So thankful.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Okay, I'm Ready To Share

A month ago I had a post all ready to share with y'all about what I'd been doing with Griffin since his first LD attempt where his greenie brain emerged in a whole new way at the beginning of August. Because if you didn't notice, he kind of dropped out of the picture for a long time there.

Here's what that post entailed --

: : : : :

So I've been holding back on sharing this bit of news with social media for well over a month. I wanted to work through the training, restore the cart, and get him going before I whispered a word to social media about it.

Let's back up - last year I got a bug up my butt to drive Griffin. I floundered around the internet for a time researching it, did some of the ground driving work with him, searched for tack, gawked at the cost, and then ultimately got caught up in Q's training and forgot about driving altogether for awhile. Occasionally, I'd peruse equipment again, but the cost of it always threw me off.

And then Mike entered the picture and riding two horses was a lot easier so Griffin's work US began anew in January. (I really struggle to ride BOTH horses on the same trails all the time. It's one thing to go out and do a workout with one of them, but to have to do double that? Gah. I don't like seeing the same thing again and again and again. With Mike's butt to borrow, riding both of them and getting workouts in became SO much easier.) With advances in riding, I forgot about the driving for awhile more.

As summer dragged on and riding both horses fell almost solely back into my hands (and my butt) due to Mike's work schedule, I began to dream again about driving Griffin for cross training. (And Griffin was chosen instead of Q because Q and a cart...HAHAHAHAHA. That's a fun joke. Spooky horse who hates things near her hiney with a cart...HAHA.) I had a new idea as far as pursuing equipment went that might lead me to a cheaper route, one I could afford.

Finding the Harness

I queried Alison for help with what to look for and found some equipment for a reasonable price on Craigslist. I then sent photos of these leads to my neighbors to verify as I knew they'd been involved in driving their Belgian mules once upon a time. Well, lo and behold, they fired back a response along the lines of, "Looks good, but don't buy anything yet. We have a light horse harness you can borrow that will probably work for Griffin. Come out and we'll check it out this week."

*ding ding ding* We have a winner.

I went out to see this harness the week following Griffin's failed first go at an LD. We found all of the pieces to it, I cleaned it up, and hustled out to the barn to fit it to the grey horse. Definitely would work!

Finding the Cart

The cart and I. I was excited.
Around the same week the harness was locked in, I found a cart option on Craigslist - I actually found several within 4 hours driving distance, but this one was the closest and it was the cheapest. I forwarded it along to my neighbors to glean their opinion of it.

They thought it definitely had potential, but noted we'd need to see it in person. The best time for them to go was the weekend I'd planned to be visiting Nicole and Carlos though, so it was decided that they would go and look anyway, and if it was good, they'd bring it home.

My neighbor texted me while I was standing in the barn post-ride with Nicole on one of the days of my visit to say that it was in great shape beyond needing a new paint job and tires, so they got it! Sweet!

She also told me the following story about it: 

The guy who owned it used to drive it around with a friend ages ago, but it had mostly been hanging in his barn for 35 years gathering dust - hence wanting to sell it. The gentleman is in his early 70s now, hospice care was at his home as his wife was dying (sadface). He's an old Italian guy though, and apparently looked absolutely AMAZING for his age. 

He asked about what they wanted to do with the cart when they agreed they'd take it. My neighbors noted that they were picking it up for a friend, a girl named Liz. Well, upon hearing my name the old guy teared up. It turns out, the friend he used to drive the cart all over with was named Liz. He and she drove it all over town back in the day. When her father passed, she gave it to this Italian gentleman to remember she and her father. He was so thrilled to be passing it along to another young lady named Liz. 

And so, the cart became mine. I'll attribute it to kismet.

It truly did need new tires and paint, but those were simple and easy. One trip to WalMart led to having tires that Mike put on for me, and one trip to Sherwin Williams afforded the necessary primer and paint. Now all that was left was prepping the damn thing for painting! Fortunately, Mike is quite the handy man and has had oodles of painting gigs, so he had everything I needed to prep and strip the cart for painting.

And so I prepped and stripped and chipped and sanded on and off for a week or so. And right when I was ready to paint, super humid weather settled in for a week or more. Not good for painting! And so I waited for a week or more, and then was finally able to paint the cart over a 3 day period of good weather with the help of a friend towards the end.

Training

From the moment I realized I wanted to do this for REAL this time, I started pursuing training ideas and methods re: ground driving.

Fortunately, Andrea and O had just begun their journey into driving, so I had her blog to spur my idea train.

Additionally, Griffin's newly surfaced issues US lent themselves to pursuing more ground
driving-type activities in an attempt to resolve the problems. More fate playing a hand at this driving thing? Mayhaps.

And so we did double long lining, which Griffin excelled at and took with stride as if he'd been doing it all his life. And then we did ground driving, something we'd pursued in the past, but hadn't touched in ages. And Griffin excelled at that too, remaining completely unbothered with whatever I requested. He demonstrated some small issues with halting and remaining so, but with one solid day's session focused on Halt Means Halt, we had it.

The day Mike replaced the tires on the cart (Sept. 1), we took the cart to the barn to be absolutely certain it would fit with everything (horse, harness, etc.) prior to further work prepping it to paint. I'd made no plans to actually drive Griffin that day, but hey, you give a mouse a cookie....

Leading and watching him for any sign of stress or concern. He was totally fine!
I walked him all around the cart for a time for him to see it and sniff it. Then Mike pulled the cart around and Griffin and I walked with him, behind him, in front of him, and around him as he did so. And then Mike held Griffin and talked to him as I hooked the cart up.

Mike and I were totally more concerned about the whole thing than Griffin was at this point. He was all, "Guyssss, what's the big deal?"

And so, with everything seemingly fitted appropriately, we backed Griffin up with the cart attached so we could turn to walk around the barnyard (because hooking him up so we could just attain forward movement first thing wasn't really in our brains). We proceeded to lead him around the barnyard pulling the cart, talking to him telling him how good he was, which led to me driving him from the ground behind the cart while Mike led him, which led to Mike taking a more passive leading role while I drove from behind, which led to me getting in the cart with Mike in an active leading role, which led to me driving with Mike in a passive leading role, which finally led to me just driving him with Mike walking alongside - no lead rope attached.

No helmet, but So Totally Unplanned.
Griffin was totally unperturbed by the entire thing. His ears swiveled taking everything in, but he never took a false step. Mike even had a moment to step away from his walk-alongside role to snap some photos!

A very exciting teaser for me as I would continue to focus on prepping and painting the cart for another several weeks!

And then last week, I finally got the cart out to the barn to stay. (An epic journey that involved me driving Mike's big truck (a standard) all on my own (I've never drove a standard in that capacity ever!), and to top it off, getting the cart loaded and unloaded from the truck ON MY OWN.)

I still have a few things to tweak with the shaft horns on the cart, but they aren't the kind of thing that limits our use of it too much. I am still able to spend time hooking Griffin up to the cart, leading him with the cart, ground driving him from behind the cart, and even sitting in the cart and driving.

It depends on the day and how he's acting as to what we do. I'm trying to be slow and give him opportunities to succeed, y'know? I have loose plans when I arrive each day, but nothing in stone. I try to go with the flow and how Griffin is acting/feeling.

It's so incredibly fun though! I can't wait to share more as we proceed with our journey. I have these picturesque scenes in my mind of driving down the one lane country roads that few cars are ever on along the river with fall foliage in its peak. It's far-reaching, I know, but it's a really awesome picture in my head, and a really fun goal to slowly work towards.




: : : : :

I was so ready to share and so excited to share. I even went so far as to share photos about him driving to Facebook! But I wanted to wait for just a few more sessions so I could give even more updates and provide more  photos for y'all. 

But then something really horrible happened.

A cart wreck.

On September 29 I went out to drive Griffin around sans cart first, and then had plans to hook the cart up and just lead him around with it. 

You see, he'd been kind of wiggy lately about things and I didn't want him to have to think too much on things that night. I just wanted him to focus on walking around with me while having the cart hooked up. I figured if it went really well, maybe I'd continue the ground driving I started the night with but while walking behind the cart. 

Best laid plans, eh?

To rehash what happened exactly, I'm going to share what I wrote to Hannah from The Longest Format. She was [un]fortunate enough to have dropped me a check-in message on Facebook the morning after. I was finally coming out of the shock of the whole thing enough that I spewed the following to her --

: : : : :

Last night was really bad and it's still weighing on me though and I'm not sure when I'll be able to write about it or anything.

The whole month has been kind of off. I don't know what it is. It's no one thing. I just feel like I have no direction - especially with the horses. I'm proceeding with endurance with Q because it makes sense. And it's pretty good, really. The whole chronic scratches thing was really trying, but we're moving on and that is really good. We had a really thrilling ride Sunday that gave me hope and really put me in a great place mentally - better place than I'd been all month.

Then last night I went out and finally finished the cart I've been using with my driving pursuits with Griffin. (The restoration process has been slow and there were some very minor things I had left to complete for it to truly be *done*.) 

And after some premptive driving around sans cart, I hooked it up. He was so good - as usual. I had a goal to lead him around with it on and then drive from the ground behind the cart - no more. He'd had some sticky spots the last time we drove and I just wanted to give him some positive experiences to deal with, y'know?

But then as I led him around the side of the barn with the cart I turned to look at him as he walked right behind my shoulder and noticed a second before it happened that he was too close to the barn and the cart would probably clip it....it did.

The sound and the jarring of the cart scared him - as it would most horses. And he TOOK OFF. I just dodged out of the way, helpless. I watched him and the cart careening around the barnyard in terror. He went around the other side and out of sight while I realized I may need to find cover and I made moves to slip in the back door of the barn. As I was doing so he reappeared.....sans cart....still scared...pieces of harness flapping everywhere.

I knew he wouldn't calm down immediately, so I let him run the fenceline where the other horses were while I walked to the far side of the barn to see what had become of the cart and the rest of the harness.

The arm of one of the shafts was snapped in two. The pieces of harness that weren't on Griffin were attached to the cart in various places.

Griffin had calmed down in the moments it took me to get a visual of the cart. I walked to him, murmuring things softly. Telling him it was okay and it wasn't his fault. I managed to undo the rest of the harness while he stood shaking. I led him to the barn and tied him to stand while I went back to gather the cart pieces and harness pieces.

He was resting one hind foot when I got back to him, significantly calmer, too. I made him move out on a circle in both directions to double check for any injury, fearful. He was fine.

Everything is okay. And I can probably fix the cart and the harness - though it will take a lot more time.

It was the raw force of the incident though. It was terrifying. And now I have this horrible fear in my gut unlike anything I've experienced in a long time and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it.

 : : : : :

And so. Here we are. A month after I sent that message. A month and a day after the wreck. 
     
And I'm ready to share it with you guys. 

So there it is.

Obviously, Griffin is okay. Obviously, I've moved forward with him in the interim and had some really great rides.

And the harness still isn't completely fixed - but it's in progress. And the cart is still lying at the barn in pieces - but the men have devised multiple plans to fix it and promise they will do it as soon as I give the word. And Griffin walks around and by the cart without fear or apprehension. 

But he will eventually have to wear the harness again; we'll confront his potential demons with that then. And when potential demons have been conquered, we'll confront the next set of demons that may come with the cart. And it may be long and slow, but we'll get through it. 

Sure, I don't have to introduce him back to any of it. But I was having such fun with it! And he really seemed to be, too! So we'll take things slow, and we'll see how it goes. And we may never drive outside of a fenced area due to fears, but that's okay. We were having fun with what we were doing and I'd like to get that back if possible.

Please be kind in the comments. This has been a really huge hurdle for me to work through mentally. I wanted to write it all up in a concise place though. I wanted to share for those on Facebook who knew we were driving but never saw another mention of it after a month's time. I wanted the few who knew how hard it was for me, those I reached out to, to see that things are getting better and brighter.

Just another hiccup in this journey. Just another hiccup. We're moving on. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All In A Week

















1. Kenai is ever persistent for attention when you're eating dinner.  2. Atticus the Shitten is rather cute when he is alseep.  3. Tire issues pre-race travels.  4. Having a BLAST on the final loop of the race.  5. Team Nimo!!  6. My ever watchful mare as we hand walked into the final check after the finish.  7. Q letting her main boyfriend lick mash remnants from her face; safe to say she is in *heat*.  8. Peach/apple crates that Mike thrifted for me this week. I am in LOVE with them.  9. Sleeping cats lie.  10. Enjoying one of two final days of sun and warmth and beauty before the weather takes a plunge into the cold.  11. Griffin begging for peppermint treats after our third day in a row of riding.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mulling Things Over Post-Fort Valley

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
-Theodore Roosevelt


24 hours post ride: Q looked 90% improved on the night before. Still lingering sensitivity around girth area and some inflammation along the tendons in her forelegs, but nothing excessive or worrisome. Her attitude is perky and spunky and that is so very telling.

48 hours post ride: Q looked 99% better. No lingering sensitivity at her girth area any more, though it feels like she developed some pretty bad galls that will peel away in coming days. Forelegs were slightly stocked up, but it is hard to say if this is due to the ride or due to her not moving around in the field prior to my arrival. Q stocks up easier than any horse I've ever been around. She's in red-hot flaming heat though!!

72 hours post ride: Q is totally back to normal physically. Skin already peeling away from the gall areas. =(

-----

Things That Didn't Work

Girth: Quite obviously! Q has developed some minor issues in the past, but they were quite hit or miss. For the future I intend to 1.) wash the damn girth and get out any socked in mud and dirt, 2.) if her hair is long, shave the girth area to keep it short as this worked very well last winter when we had no girth issues, 3.) apply body glide liberally, early, and often, and 4.) tighten the girth to it's usual tightness instead of "being nice" because clearly, loose girth on this horse with that saddle leads to a wealth of problems.

Pad: This was rather hit or miss as I've never ever had an issue with this pad before in all the miles ridden in it. Likely, the issues with the pad were a spin off from the girth problems. But all the same, I am trying a new pad out. I traded my AP Woolback with inserts that no longer was useful for my non-AP-shaped saddles for a dressage-shaped Skito with inserts. While I haven't ridden with the setup on Q yet, I have on Griffin multiple times and I have to say I am IN LOVE with this Skito pad so far! I'm much more impressed with the inserts than the Toklat or Barefoot inserts that I have used with my Woolbacks. The construction of the pad is much nicer, also, as it is less bulky than the Woolback which I really love. This relationship has lots of time to go south, certainly, but for now I remain very optimistic that I've found a great new option!
 
Raising my stirrups: Knee pain I'd been experiencing was completely alleviated. However, ankle pain was achieved. It was achieved to such a level in my right ankle that the ankle was swollen for 72 hours or so post-ride. I still need to tweak this around to see what is going to work best for me. Previous knee pain was only an in-the-saddle thing. It never lasted after. The ankle issue lingering for days after is no bueno. And the pain is centered around the same tendons that I've always had issues with since my competitive swimming days, so that's no good. More tests are needed...

Conditioning of the horse: I seriously dropped the ball with this between RBTR and FV. Or maybe you could say I was testing the theory of that whole "they keep their conditioning for X weeks/months". Either way, I only had two long rides on Q between beginning of August and end of October - an 18 mile flat ride on the rail trail and a 10 mile walk ride over the gnarly terrain of Dolly Sods. Aside from those rides, I probably rode Q only 4 or 5 additional times in the 12 week period between RBTR and FV. Those rides were short and based upon either dressage or jumping.
 
The less conditioning showed in Q through the ride. She definitely regained her spunk at the end, and her CRIs noted that she wasn't too bad off fitness-wise, but her lack of motivation for much of the second loop and parts of the first loop concerned me a lot. I need to do better by her and get her out more. And clearly, her tushy needs more hill work than it was getting if the cramp was truly what was going on at the end!

For the future, I need to get back to my conditioning program that was doing so well. 3 workouts per week: Hill sprints. 1 day cross training. 1 trail ride. Additionally, 2 long rides per month. 

To supplement the former program I want to add in MORE dressage work and work in the sand arena. I'll likely keep the number of conditioning days the same, but just jumble around what I am doing.

Q needs to learn to carry herself better than she does. Since I've begun taking lessons again, I'm realizing how on the forehand she is so much of the time. It's hard to ride and it's hard on her body and mine. She and I both need to buckle down and spend some time working on our bodies before we can be better.

Rider fitness: I dropped the ball here, too, but miraculously it didn't bite me in the ass. During the ride I was body sore ALL OVER almost like the body aches you get from the flu. It was very odd. But it didn't last past that day for whatever reason. The sorest part of me was my left calf, with my right calf being a close second. My right ankle was also swollen for up to 72 hours post-ride. Aside from that though? Other body soreness was quite discountable. I was lucky!

 For the future though, I'm going to get myself on a steady yoga regiment. I retain fitness due to my lifestyle, but I don't have much strength. Over time, yoga will lend both strength and a greater awareness of my body and balance. These will all help improve my riding for me and for my horse - which I owe to both of us. And besides - I've wanted to get back into yoga since I hurt my shoulder and was initially forced out of the practice.

Things That Worked

Eating and Drinking for the Human: I had half water/half gatorade in my bottles all day. I guzzled it. I also made a point of eating a chicken salad sandwich or a wrap with turkey/provolone at each hold in addition to some other little snacks. I like the sandwich wrap protocol because I can put it in one hand and do other things while at the check.

Homemade stirrup turners: Saiph noted that I should do a how-to post on these. And I will. But I need to tweak the design some more to be 110%. They did help me a LOT, though not entirely with the shin issues I had been having at the OD. The shin issue I got on my right leg may have been referred pain from the ankle issue this time though. More tests are needed...

Having a Buddy for the Horse and Rider: This was absolutely ESSENTIAL for Q; it kept her from wigging out over things and kept her moving down the trail when she really didn't want to be. It was also awesome for me because it kept me out of the dark places in my head where I have been a lot for the past two months. If you've noticed me not writing as much, or posting things with less text and more photos, this is why: bad headspace that leads me to not talk or want to talk to anyone, not write or want to write anything, not ride or want to be around the horses even. It's been rough, but it is getting better, and this ride and all of that time spent with Nicole and Lily really, really helped a lot. And I'm really grateful for that, and I'm pretty sure she knows it. =) And if you don't, Nicole, here's me telling you again how grateful I was for all of those hours and miles with you!

Other Thoughts and Mullings

- My internal freaking out re: Q not drinking/eating during the first loop/first hold is still in my head. The only reasoning I can come up with for why she behaved as such is that 1.) she rarely drinks during the first loop, so she was probably just being normal in those regards, 2.) she had a HUGE mash with 2+ gallons of water that she downed before we set out on the first loop, so she likely had a lot of water from this + many pounds of Triple Crown Sr. in her belly, 3.) the water we'd given the girls through the night had been nailed pretty hard so she was likely drinking through the evening + eating hay, 4.) she peed at the check (YAY! big deal for the horse who used to hold it around people all the time) and was pooping fine all day. All in all, a pretty good situation. Still, despite those facts, any time she's not being a complete pig about food or drinking to the utmost degree I'm likely to worry.

I need to be able to calm myself down about things though and focus on the facts. My worrying during the hold and my constant urging for her to eat something of anything (she ate some peppermint treats here and there, mouthfuls of alfalfa here and there, a bit or two of grain here and there) completely barred my mind from the obvious awesome answer of, "LET HER GRAZE!" After she'd peed and right as we were about to head out, she finally had an opportunity to graze a little and she took FULL advantage of it. I was all D'OH about my idiocy of not letting her do this before because I know how good grass can be for them at these times. Silly, human. Lesson learned.

- My horse isn't a leader. Or at least not yet. But really, I'm not sure she will ever be. She's wiggy about things and she's got a nasty spooking habit despite my best efforts with her - many chronicled here.

She's so incredibly LOOKY at EVERYTHING she encounters! I joked with Nicole that she'd make a great ski patroller because we're expected to have our heads on a swivel at all times - and that is EXACTLY how Q is!

I think the most I can do is continue to get out with her as much as I can and just expose her to many things and often; maybe she'll relax one day? I will also do my best to continue working on myself and being calm as much as possible. I'm getting a lot better. I'm calmer and unbothered by 85% of her spooks now. It's just those big ones that occur for reasons I cannot figure out that still irk me. Her horse instincts and the way she FLIES into retreat mode with NO CARE for the rider on her back sends me into a fury. She simply sees red for a short time and cares not for me at all.

It's confusing to have her see red in these moments after she's tackled numerous other things that obviously worried her with relative good grace - a lofty trot, a concerned ear, a stink eye look, and maybe a few hesitant steps. To deal with 6 things like that and then the 7th monster-object have her EXPLODE with a crazy spook is so irritating to me on a level I can't explain. I know it shouldn't be. I know she is a horse and she's just reacting, but it is so very challenging to remain calm with her when she loses her marbles like that. I'm practicing calm and meditation and mindfulness as often as I can to improve myself so I can be there for her and continue to be a supporting partner/leader/rider/whathaveyou; it's just hard sometimes. :-\

And because it is hard and because it is frustrating, it lends itself to me not wanting to ride her in certain situations. It isn't fun to have to be SO on guard about things. To have to be SO ready to potentially fly off at any moment.

Sorry, just having a whine-fest over this issue.

Bottom line is I'm still trying so hard to make it better and I'm not giving up yet.

- Q *was* in heat for this ride. So a lot of the troubles and weirdness re: eating, drinking, spooking may very well have been attributed to this. She's a lot better with many things since we have begun SmartMare Harmony and magnesium, but she can still be an idiot about things when she is in heat. All the same, it's worth noting that she was in heat for me to read back on later when I have concerns about future issues.

- I think some of the soreness she experienced may have been due to shitty riding on my part. I haven't been riding much at all in the past two months. I can't two point for very long at all right now vs. before I could two point for 30 minutes and more. I'm weak. I'm sloppy. I need to fix this. Yoga and telemark skiing this winter should put me back in a solid state of fitness. Add lots of hopeful riding, and by spring I should be good again. Shame on Liz.

Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 Fort Valley 50

The Short: 

Amazing ride. Loved the trails (again). Q was pretty stellar all day as long as she wasn't leading. Pulled at the finish due to a cramp in her rear end. She was fine within a few hours - body sore, but fine.


The Long:

Thursday

The weather at home had been a steady mist - not rain or fog but mist - for days. It had been cold and froggy, too, the kind of weather that makes you want to do nothing more than sit indoors curled up doing nothing. The kind of weather that makes it hard to do anything on time out-of-doors. As such,  I was running a bit behind my scheduled departure time.

I made it to the barn about 30 minutes later than planned. Fortunately, the trailer was packed because I'd done that on a whim on Monday night. All I needed to do was bring the mare in, dust off most of the mud, hook up the trailer, put her on the trailer, check all tires on the way out of the driveway (garage with air compressor is on my way out), and be off!

So much easier said than done...

- Hooked up the trailer on the first attempt. See evidence below:




- Fetched horse from field and dusted off most of the mud with relative success. No evidence to show.

- Because I was without help to load the horse, I tried to get her to self-load. I had half-success with this. No evidence to show.

- As you know, you cannot close the trailer door and take your horse anywhere with half-success. So I walked her on as I'd do if someone was there to close the door behind us, hooked her to the pre-existing lead rope that is always tied in the trailer, stepped out the escape door, and held my breath.

You see, Q will lead on and load like a dream if someone is there to close the door behind her. Her vice is that she makes attempts to back immediately off if no one is there to guarantee otherwise. And on this day I had no one to close said door. So I relied on the rope halter and lead to keep her efforts to leave at bay and prayed she didn't hurt herself in the process.

So I stood, bated breath, and watched and waited while my mare made a scrabbling attempt to unload herself from the trailer after I'd hooked her up and stepped out. She backed up, hit the end of the line, and proceeded to have a 5 second knock-down-drag-out tug-o-war fight with the lead and her head. I thought to myself, Welp, I'll either have a horse to take to this ride or I won't. Here's hoping... and just stood by.

She settled after a few moments, and I closed the door. And we were off.

- I stopped at the garage to check air on all tires, knowing I had my one tire on the vehicle that would need air as it has had a pesky slow leak for more than a month now. And so I filled all tires that needed it - including that pesky tire. Except when I filled that tire this time, I could hear the air whizzing out from somewhere. Well shit.

- I trucked upstairs to get BO's hubby to help me with my dilemma. Long story short, we ended up pulling out a 3" wire/nail that was boogered into my tire pretty good. We then put a plug in the tire. However, uncertain about the plug, I then set off for the tire place to see what they thought after marking the shit out of my tire with the same livestock marker I use to put a # on Q's rear for rides. They were very busy with a reputed 2 hour wait, but the owner took pity on me (what with my trailer hooked up and horse inside and all), and took the tire off immediately to take it inside and check things out. Evidence pictured:

Note the green mark...

BAI!


- He pronounced it right as rain with no air leaking anywhere he could tell. And so, nearly 2 hours after my desired departure time, I was off! (And so ends the bulleted list of things that should have been easy to accomplish but was not.)

A friend's fingers crossed after my request for
luck and crossing of all things that the tire
would make it.


About 30 minutes out of town I was halted again at the base of the only mountain I needed to traverse with the trailer on a 2-lane highway. Pilot vehicles were flagging people down to wait while they offloaded two 22' wide equipment loads on flatbed trucks from the mountain. I was halted right at the beginning of what we call a "Come to Jesus" turn - a 20 mph switchback on an otherwise 55 mph road that comes off a big mountain called Backbone. The equipment had been in operation on a stretch of highway under construction in the direction I was headed and was being decommissioned from one site to be brought to another.

And so I waited:

It's an equipment parade!

Kind of...


Once that hurdle was accomplished, I continued to plug my way up the mountain. One of the pilot cars had warned it was very foggy up there. I'd nodded to him, figuring Great, just another obstacle for my day. HA.

You know the dashed lines down the center of roads? Yeah? Okay, well the fog was SO DENSE that I could only see TWO of those at a time. That's like 25'-30'. Now, add in some *surprise* 25 mph, 30 mph, and 35 mph turns on that mostly 55 mph road with shitty visibility, and presto! you get what I was dealing with. Except, oh wait, added degree of difficulty! I'm hauling my precious horse in the trailer and really don't want to toss her around too much.

I amped up my music to distract my increasingly freaking-out mind and drove on. Slow but steady at an average 30 mph. And surprisingly? The GIANT line of cars behind me disappeared except for 1 guy. Usually through fog banks like that you want a leader, be they slow or otherwise. Having those red tail lights to follow is a big help. But for whatever reason the 20+ vehicles behind me disappeared and it ended up just being me and a white sedan. I decided at the time that the fog monsters must have eaten the rest of them.

Good news at this point? I wasn't worried about the tire anymore! HA.

The fog plagued me for awhile longer until I reached a point (after *surprise* NEW detours on the stretch of highway under construction that contained TWO 15 mph turns) where I dropped off the high elevation plateau into the lower farmlands. As I descended the highway below the edge of the plateau I was able to observe the wall of the fog bank held behind an imaginary line along the ridge. Have to admit, I was happy to see it gone and welcome the sun and blue skies which had been absent in my world for 3 days!

To the left: all fog. To the right? Blue skies, sun, and some fluffy clouds.


Fortunately, the remainder of the drive was uneventful and I pulled into ridecamp about 3.5 hours after I departed home.

I found Nicole and Carlos nearly immediately upon pulling into ridecamp thanks to their red trailer (hurrah bright colors!). Sadly, the location was far from the vet check, but there was plenty of room to set the corral up for the girls.

The three of us made quick work of the electric corral and overall camp setup before strolling over to registration. After registration, we vetted in.

Q pulsed in at 36 or something (shame on me, but I just don't remember because...) and received a B on gait. The vet was the same vet from the Old Dominion who just never liked Q's gait. I even noted, as cheerily as I could, "She's got a swinging gait through her hind end. It's normal for her." As my vet had instructed when I'd discussed things with her. Yet still the vet said Q was striding short on her right hind she thought, and that there was a subtle head bob. Both Nicole and I were astounded. Nicole has a GREAT eye for seeing subtle off-ness in a horse, and she couldn't see it. She said Q looked the same she always did. (Something I would check in with her often about over the next two days to always receive the response of, "She's moving the way she always moves!" from Nicole.)

 After the vet in the day proceeded rather par for the course:

  • Nicole and I did a 3.5 mile tune-up ride along a short section of trail
  • We indulged in dinner
  • The ride meeting noted of only a few minor changes in trail from the previous year

After dinner, I set to replacing cables in 3 Vipers. 2 of mine and 1 of Nicole's.

Other Renegade folks, how often are you getting frayed cables in the below manner?






I've never had cables fray like this before. It seems odd to me that they would fray here? These boots were only used twice: at the Old Dominion 50 and the Ride Between the Rivers 50. I had very minimal issue with the boots at these rides and they were soaked and washed after. I didn't even notice the fraying until arriving at Fort Valley and almost wonder if it was something that happened while they sat idle?! So bizarre and beyond frustrating!!!

Once I had all of the boots fixed, I quickly packed my saddle bags for the following day and changed into my clothing for the morning so that I wouldn't have to be nearly naked in the freezing morning temperatures.

I was sleeping in my car for this ride, so I settled happily into my sleeping bag and was asleep fast. Snug as a bug in a rug.

Unfortunately, my stomach has been on the fritz lately. This night was one of the unlucky ones; it seemed something at dinner was Not Okay and I woke with that horrible gut pain indicative to my GI tract vehemently rejecting something I'd consumed. This story is more and more common in my life lately, and it is to the point where I'm forced to assume a limited diet to try to alleviate the pain, much to my chagrin. The last week alone afforded me with no fewer than 3 incidents, one of which was by and large the worst I've ever encountered that caused me to nearly pass out from the pain - I'd put it on a solid 8 out of 10 on the pain scale and I'm not one to poo-poo that scale as I often underestimate my pain vs. over estimate it.

Fortunately, the GI Tract Gods smiled down on me this evening and I escaped relatively unscathed after only an hour or so of hell. I even fell fast asleep again after. So fast and deep asleep that when my alarm went off the next morning I had to press snooze twice. *grumble grumble*


Friday

I pulled Q from the pen and fed her a huge wet mash to start her day off right. She really loves these sloppy mashes lately, and I love them, too, for the fact that they trick her into consuming a solid gallon and a half of water at a minimum (often two gallons). To start the day with that much water before heading out on the first 18 mile loop was fabulous.

Now, to summarize the ride I'll continue the rest of this post with bullets because my own memory is fleeting at best so far as each of the loops go. Memorable moments exist, which I will note, but it is hard for me to narrate each moment.

Loop 1 (18 miles)

  • The start was controlled due to the short stretch of pavement we had to traverse to reach the gravel road that would then lead to the trail. We walked most of this and had no issues. Hurrah for booted feet instead of slippery steel shoes!
  • Within the first half mile, Q's front left viper came apart. I clearly hadn't tightened the cables as much as I thought I had the night before. *sadness* I pulled a size 1 Rennie off her hind and slapped it on that front and wrapped her bare hind with Mueller tape and slapped an EasyBoot on. We wouldn't have any more boot trouble during this ride.
  • I dismounted to lead Q down the first tricky rocky section for both of our benefits. She's sloppy with her footing when she's got boots on and makes me nervous over very tricky terrain; it's partly PTSD from No Frills 2013 where she tripped and had that freak accident getting cut. It's easy to just dismount and both of us choose our own path.
  • As we descended the mountain the drag riders appeared behind us informing us to "pick it up". Can I just say how much it infuriates me to be pushed along like this? At the START of a ride?! I knew for a fact that we would have PLENTY of time to keep moving out during this ride. The slow pace we kept to traverse the first tricky few miles would be long forgotten. There was NO NEED to feel rushed that soon!
  • We made GREAT time and even caught and passed several people as soon as we got off the tricky section of trail. Never saw those drag riders again, in fact!
  • Dismounted for the mini stallion who terrorized us last year. I was REALLY happy I could anticipate him this year. All the same, Q FREAKED OUT and Nicole and I had a VERY SCARY MOMENT where we nearly lost both mares due to the freaking out. That mini is a holy terror and I hate him to the strongest sense of the word. He grunts like a pig and hustles along in a manner than is both comical and terrifying. Q didn't come off her Seeing Red bit for a long time afterward.
  • Only one opportunity for water on this loop which both mares refused.
  • Q led for a few miles during our mountain climb and the subsequent section along the ridgeline. Some horses were somewhat distant in front of us which gave her something more to focus on than impending monsters and doom around her. All the same, she still shied and spooked at multiple things. The most obnoxious of which was a log...which we trotted the full length of...and she was okay with until the end which she spooked at. -_-
  • Overall, a really, really awesome loop that I really enjoyed riding with Nicole. Lily led a lot of it which was really awesome for my Q-mare who just IS NOT a leader.


The Shenandoah River in the valley below; we rode along it for many miles

Typical OD trail

Note the drop to the right of the photo; pretty stellar trail design


First Check/Hold

  • Q wouldn't drink or eat much at this hold
  • We left tack on (optional all day) for the vetting
  • Her CRI was great at 56/52; she got a B on capillary refill, which was to be expected because she didn't drink at all.
  • She DID pee near the end of the hold which was awesome.

Second Loop (16 miles)

  • Q did NOT want to go out on this loop; between her lack of interest in food at the check, lack of drinking, and lack of forward movement down the trail I was REALLY worried.
  • Nicole and I both dismounted to walk down the first tricky section of rock. We ended up hiking the bulk of the downhill on foot.
  • Lily led again for the bulk of this loop; great because Q just can't handle it. I tried to get Q to lead a couple times, but after one particularly large spook that nearly put me on the ground I called it quits for the day. Just NOT worth the fight that ensues between me and the horse (aka - I lose my shit and scream a lot and wheel her back to the offending object until she stands by it). I was really good through the first loop when Q led for a mile or two about not getting upset about her spooks. She was being more honest about them then and I could slightly anticipate them and give her more urging to just Keep Moving Down The Trail, but the second loop? Very sporadic dishonest spooking. And HARD EVIL spooking. She legitimately SEEKS out things around her to spook at; on our tune-up ride the day before her head was on a swivel as she looked far and deep into the forest around her and got worried about things that were way far off. She is SO looky and ACTIVELY searching for things that may be dangerous. It is beyond irritating. And even Nicole noted during the ride at one point that really doesn't seem to be a pain thing. The mare just SEARCHES for danger and then REACTS without warning. And when she's predictably worried about something she might spook over you can feel her ball up under you (especially in the treeless saddle) and get tenser and tenser and her trot will get loftier and loftier and then - provided you're able to push her on by without her slamming on the breaks - she IMMEDIATELY and dramatically will relax underneath you RIGHT as she passes the thing that was worrying her. It's like she's "PANIC PANIC PANIC, oh, that's not so bad!" and then moves on like it was nothing. Someone PLEASE tell me you had a horse like this and it got better? Maybe?
  • Bottom line: Lily is a really awesome leader and without her we wouldn't have gotten through the ride - especially this loop. Gack.
  • I had to dismount and fix the saddle pad twice on this loop. It was all over the place for the first time ever. Presumably because I didn't tighten the girth enough? I don't quite know. Maybe it was the terrain? Either way, it was the first time I'd had this problem and it was odd. I'd keep an eye to see if it happens again in the future...except that I just got a Skito pad and after 1 ride with it I'm not sure I'll ever go back to the Woolback! Haha.
  • At the first mud puddle (Q's favorite) that we encountered, Q took 53 swallows of water (I counted). This helped me to calm down a considerable amount with my worrying about her.

Second Check/Hold

  • Q immediately walked to the first bucket of water she could find in the crewing area and downed it (not our bucket lol). She then walked to the first one of our buckets and finished it, as well. YAY DRINKING HORSE.
  • She also wandered to someone else's hay and started downing it, too. I let her do all of these things because frankly, if someone else's horse came in and did it to my stuff I'd be okay with that. Mary's horses always did things like this when I was riding with her and she was never too upset about it, so I'm taking a page out of her book of learning and doing the same. (A lady approached us later in the check when Q was eating yet someone else's hay and asked if I wanted her to leave it for Q because they didn't need it anymore. She double and triple checked with me that I was certain I didn't need it even when I told her no because we were going back to the trailer.)
  • I forget what Q's CRI was, but I think it was very similar to the first check. I know it wasn't in the 60s because she stayed in the 50s all day. She did get a B on gait though, presumably from a rub on her right front from the boots. Gut sounds were positive in 2 quadrants and negative in 2 - I can't remember if she got an A or B due to this.

Third loop (15 miles)

  • This loop was AMAZING. No more giant mountains to climb. Much more varied terrain that included a lot of field area to gallop and have fun on. Nicole and I, along with the mares, had SO MUCH FUN. 
  • SO MUCH FUN.
  • SO MUCH FUN.
  • SO MUCH FUN.
  • Q perked up and was super eager and forward and happy.
  • SO MUCH FUN.
  • We even rode with a group for most of this loop.
  • SO MUCH FUN.
  • Our finish was picture perfect, hand in hand, horses trotting side by side as we cheered for ourselves. No one was there to witness it except Mary and one of her friends who were doing a tune up on Mary's horses for the following day's ride. Nicole and I tied for 30th across the finish.


A sign.
(If this video doesn't play, someone please let me know.)


Final Check

  • At the previous checks I had breezed Q through the vetting immediately. The first time I did it, I'd forgotten completely that Lily would be attached to Q and not come down fast as a result. The second time I waited a little while but then just deigned to get through and wait for Lily by the vets. The third time I decided I'd just wait for her.
  • And so we waited and waited and waited. We waited until Art King - who was getting cold - urged us over.
  • Q was very UP during our waiting time. She'd seen a monster somewhere and was spazzing about it for a short time. Drgh.
  • All of her parameters were great. CRI was awesome again. 50/50 for gut sounds. Hydration parameters were back up in the As. But then at the trot out she was OFF. The vet had a second vet watch, too. Definitely OFF. They had me have the farrier check her feet for tenderness - nothing. They decided it must be a cramp in her rear end, yet they couldn't agree on where. They told me I had 30 minutes to resolve it so off I went to find Mary who's been pulled a LOT at the finish for this exact problem.
  • Catherine and Mary ended up helping Q while Gail helped me by bringing me warm clothing, bringing Q a spare cooler (haha, Nimo's clothes are SO BIG on Q), and then feeding Q to keep her calm while Mary and Catherine massaged her rear end. Mary said she couldn't find any tightness though and Q didn't react at all to any of the massaging. Mary noted that they usually react and let you know what is sore which is why it is so important to keep them calm and happy, so you can see the tiniest sign of discomfort in their body language when it arises. Still, nothing.
  • So I meandered Q back to the check, stopping and backing her every so many steps to keep her hind end warm.
  • And yet...still off at the trot. Now two of the vets were pretty certain she had a cramp in her left rear area, they showed me, but I could feel NOTHING.
  • Pulled at the finish. =( No completion. No Triple Crown.
  • Still very, very proud of my little mare.
  • VERY PROUD.
  • LOVE HER. Even despite her dirty, dirty, evil spooking habits. 

Afterword

After the pull, Dr. Bob gave me some calcium gluconate to give orally to Q. One dose that night, one dose in the morning. She also got a gram of bute to ease the soreness she'd likely feel. He talked to me about some other future ride plans and training goals prior to those rides, too, which was a nice escape for my head and the impending sadness/anger/frustration/depression/fatigue that would settle upon me until I found refuge in sleep and the inevitable reset button that results from a good night's rest.

My headspace was really shitty the rest of the evening. I needed time alone and ended up getting it fortunately. I just didn't want to be around anyone or talk about anything.

Checks on Q later revealed that she was still sweaty along her flanks, but dry everywhere else. I toweled her off to the best of my abilities along her flanks and received some really angry faces and ears from her. Poor mare was really sore. =( Prodding over the rest of her body afforded the same response, especially at one point on her back and all areas around the girth. She was SO sore. =(

I took her to the vet to double-check, but she wasn't greatly worried about her because all of her other stats were normal and good and she was eating, drinking, peeing, pooping. Knowing she was okay, but just sore, I put her to bed and then put myself to bed, once again falling fast asleep.

Saturday

I woke, my head in a fog on Saturday morning to the loudspeaker calling, "RIDE TIME IS SEVEN TWENTY!" and realized, Oh, ugh. drgh, I should be up. I should really be up. Gail. Gail and Nimo. Awake. Drgh.  And I mustered up the strength to drag myself from my warm bed and stumble over to Gail and Nimo, "How can I help?"

I held her reins while she finished getting ready.  Nicole showed up at some point, too. We did what we could to help Gail before bidding her adieu at the starting line as she and Nimo set out on their first LD.

With Gail and Nimo successfully on trail, Nicole and I fumbled back to camp where we had many failed conversations and other failed interactions as our minds simply wouldn't cooperate. It was highly comical actually.

We did eventually get things accomplished that we needed to do, but damn did it take awhile! Poor tired, addled brains and bodies!

Q was significantly improved re: body soreness by morning. She was still pissy about her girth area (I clearly should have tightened it up more instead of trying to "be nice"; lesson learned), but the other areas were greatly improved: she reacted not at all to palpation and rubbing of her flanks and it took significant pressure to gain a response from her at the point on her back that had been tender. YAY. I mean, not yay that she had to be sore, but yay that it resolved so soon. I was body sore in certain areas the night before that I wasn't the morning after, too, so I'll chalk it up to both of us just being banged up from the mileage.

I also had a moment of clarity at some point during my assessment of the mare this morning when I realized, Oh, you know, if I'd vetted STRAIGHT away last night Q might have passed because she wouldn't have cooled down and that cramp wouldn't have been so bad? I mean, yay that I know something happened so I can prepare against it in the future, but boo about getting pulled. Hmm. Noted for future. Vet straight through! It merits more thought, but it's something. And honestly, don't know for sure if it was a cramp the night before. Everyone was so hit or miss about telling me what it really was. The final "call" on getting pulled was "There was a definite head bob!" Okay? But please tell me more about what is going on so I can help her? And yes, two of them insisted there was soreness and tightness in her left butt area, but the others wouldn't volunteer any confirmation of this and the facial expressions on several just made me really concerned for some reason. They all seemed rather split on the decision? I don't know. I understand it can be hard to diagnose, but the inconsistency and uncertainty worried me a lot more than the actual getting pulled part; I wanted to help my little girl and I wanted to do it right. I'm still mulling over things in my head even now. Bottom line, however is that I will prepare her better for the future!

Team Nimo!
Gail came back into camp right around when she told us she would. We were able to meet her and pull Nimo's tack and walk with them into the check. I won't spoil that story for you though, so check her blog.

We did continue to help her after the vetting though. I was really happy to be able to be there for her after she was such a great morale booster for me earlier this year at No Frills and Old Dominion. =)

After helping Gail, Nicole and Carlos and I finished packing up. We loaded our horses, said our goodbyes and got on the road.

I, fortunately, had a very uneventful drive home.

Q managed to wiggle out of her halter on the way home, and I just left her naked as she unloaded herself and continued to prance across the barnyard to "her" boys. She teased them over the fence for a time, then rolled and rolled and got all muddy, then pranced and teased the boys some more, and then settled into grazing around the barnyard (better grass) while I unloaded the trailer.

I think she wasn't too bad for the wear all things considered!

Overall, I had a really great weekend. I loved seeing my blogging/endurance friends. I loved riding so many miles with Nicole and Lily. I loved the trail even despite the EVIL MINI and getting pulled at the end.

I don't know what my ride schedule for next year will entail just yet, but I'm excited at the prospect.

In the mean time, Q will be getting some well-deserved time off followed by a lot of dressage work before we fall back into a conditioning schedule.

Thanks for carrying my ass so many miles this season, Little Girl. I appreciate it.