Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Sweetest Mare

I was going to make this post a "wordless Wednesday", but I just couldn't resist saying a few words of praise about Q.

I've been giving lessons to a 4 year old since February. When we began, she was scared and timid with all interactions around the horses and wouldn't let her dad not hold onto her when she was riding (once we finally convinced her that sitting on the horse was okay!). She's built a ton of confidence in the time since, and she is very comfortable riding now...for the most part.

A few weeks ago she did fall off for the first time. It was no one's fault and couldn't have happened in a safer situation under any better circumstances! She was riding Q in the indoor and Q stopped and shook, a frequent occurrence since late March when she began shedding. She's itchy! Because the little girl is so tiny, the shaking unsettled her and she toppled right off the side! Her dad snatched her right up - less than a second before she hit the ground! Q side stepped away from all of the fast movement, confused and startled. With coaxing, kind words, and carefully designed activities, we had the little girl back on Q in mere minutes and had her riding on her own again by the end of the lesson.

However, she still is hanging onto the fear a little bit, as one does. She knows she will be okay, but it is the unknown and the uncertainty of what *could* or *might* happen that worries her. I'm creative with lesson design, as riding for her right now is more about being comfortable and confident than being "proper". She's a very small girl on a very big-to-her animal! Q may only be 14.1hh and a small horse by all intents and purposes, but not to a 35-pound kid.

Q is SO ATTENTIVE to this little girl. I've never seen her so aware of such a person before. Q adores baby horses, and I think that mothering instinct transfers in some form to this little girl. Q always has an ear on her and is so stoic about things when the girl is riding.

The bareback pad is where my student is most comfortable, she settles down into it and the rough leather finish is "sticky" helping her stay solid and seated, and it allows Q to feel her leg aids better. The little girl has begun "steering" all by herself and being able to tell the horse to "go" is key!

Q is so compliant of the micro aids this little girl applies. She moves with the utmost of care when she is packing the little girl around. I am so completely blown away every time I watch Q with her. Q is more relaxed and calm than I have EVER seen her when she is working with this little girl. Such a sweet, sweet mare.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kenai Updates

First of all, I'd like to state for posterity's sake that my experience with the Virginia Tech teaching hospital was absolutely OUTSTANDING. Everyone I met while I was there was amazing, incredibly helpful, kind, compassionate, and empathetic. They loved on Kenai as if he was their own, called me 2x a day with not only updates on him medically, but fun anecdotes about him - the photo above of the shredded pee pad is a prime example! The student who was my main point of contact said he was just SO happy to have gotten to shred something. Everyone who met Kenai also shared with me not only how great of a dog he was, but how exceptional a husky he was. <3

We're now 6 days post op and Kenai is doing well.

He's in his crate or locked in a bathroom nearly all day except for his bathroom breaks. He's perkier every day and quite happy being a 3-legged dog. Leash walks began yesterday at 5 min 3x a day. Today is 6 min, tomorrow 7 and so on. The hospital gave us post-op instructions for the first 7 weeks. We'll get radiographs retaken the second week in June to see where the healing is at. From there, we'll start some sessions with a canine rehabilitation specialist. 

The goal is slow introduction back into life. Doggy dressage - gotta get that hind end built back up! I'm a part of a really neat Facebook group about canine body conditioning and body awareness that looks to be a very wonderful tool in helping Kenai really build strength. I'm eager to see where the journey will take us!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Treatments and Another Surgery

I've been sitting on this for awhile, waiting for all the pieces to fall into pace before sharing...

I'm sure the erratic nature of my posting the past few months has not been lost on some of you who know my posting to be more regular. Additionally, I'm sure the concise nature of my posts lately has also spiked some radars.

Things have been a bit up and down in these parts with regards to Q and Kenai.


At the horses' annual vet exam last month, Q didn't look great. Neither of my horses came out of winter very well despite being blanketed nearly the whole time to help them keep their calories for weight instead of shivering them off. (There is currently no shed or shelter.) I think it had something to do with the hay quality this year - none of the horses liked it. Q, despite being the resident piggy always at the hay no matter what, especially looked lackluster. Even my vet noted the difference and said something at the exam. 

Q's coat was dull, her attitude was muted, she had a slight cough, and overall, she didn't seem completely herself. She received an injection of Excede at the appointment and I ordered Safe Guard Power Dose that night to administer over five consecutive days. As if that wasn't enough, the eye exam showed some irregularities to her left eye. Further investigations led to the conclusion that she has uveitis in this eye. My vet noted that the cyclical nature of uveitis is likely why, despite multiple observances last year, we didn't notice it; it will flare up for a time and then fade away and show no symptoms. During flare ups, my vet said horses may experience a kind of migraine-like pain. While sad to find out, it is good to have the last piece of the spooking puzzle in place to explain Q's behavior over the past year.

Fast forward several weeks to now: Q is doing 110% better. The power dose and excede did their job and she looks brighter, happier, and heftier by the day. The spring grass doesn't hurt either! Additionally, her eye is looking better than it has in ages, too, the slight inflammation is gone and the little bit of drainage  from the corner is gone, as well. I shared about the absolutely outstanding ride I had on my girl a week or so back; that was post treatment from all of the above. I am happy to finally be doing so right by her and moving in a great direction.


Kenai hasn't been quite right since November 2014. I thought he'd retorn his groin on his right side and put him into limited activity status. I've been through so much lameness with him that my first reaction is to just limit his activity and keep him quiet. I figure most vets would recommend as much as a first shot at fixing the "problem". He certainly wouldn't get any worse doing next to nothing.

I tried time and again to slowly bring him back into some exercise, but each time, he didn't make it past a week or two before regressing. By January, I threw in the towel and decided it was time to head to the vet.

At the vet's, x-rays were taken and Kenai was diagnosed with a fractured fabella - a small sesamoid-like bone behind his knee. It is surrounded by soft tissue (ligaments/tendons) and is where the lateral suture from his knee surgery was blindly anchored 18 months prior. It seems he somehow exerted enough pressure to pull the suture through the fabella? My vet had never seen it and had to call other professionals to consult. I was very against surgery at this point though and really wanted to see if I could keep his activity super limited. So I picked up medications for the pup and headed into two months of nearly no activity.

Unfortunately, at the horse's annual exam (Kenai and Griffin and Q all see the same vet), my vet was not pleased with Kenai's progress at all. There was some swelling and fluid in the joint she told me, upon palpation of the area. She wanted him to come in for digital x-rays later in the week. He shouldn't be this lame after so much time doing nothing.

Digital x-rays a few days later showed that the fabella didn't seem to be fractured. Or, if it had been fractured, it had healed. If the bone had been fractured, it likely wouldn't have been in its proper place, but there it was. Kenai's knee, as a whole, was very unstable though. Additionally, there was more arthritis in the knee than there had been previously. Through discussion with orthopedic specialists about the digital x-rays, Kenai was diagnosed with what was very likely a meniscal tear, and perhaps failure of the lateral suture from the first procedure.

The only answer to help Kenai now is surgery.

And so, Kenai is scheduled to go to Virginia Tech next week to be operated on by an orthopedic specialist. Ultimately, it is hard to say what they will find until they open the knee up.

I'm discouraged and heart broken for my guy. Two (kind of three considering his first surgery was on the cruicate ligament in BOTH legs in 2013) major surgeries in as many years. It is incredibly unfortunate and uncommon to see such things in such a young dog.

To try to be able to afford this surgery, I've completely scratched my ride season - it was the biggest thing I had planned for myself this year as I don't have any major vacations out of state planned. I simply cannot afford to take Q to rides and pay for Kenai's surgery. No endurance for Liz - at least on my own horses driving my own rig. If I ride at all, it will be catch rides on others horses and only if the entry fee is covered and the ride is a short drive away.

Unfortunately, the sacrifice to scratch all of my ride season plans only frees up about a third of the money I need for this surgery. The remainder? Well, I'm having to put pride aside and ask for help.

Kenai gets more likes on social media than anything else I ever post. Others seem to adore my adventure partner as much as I do. Kenai is definitely a lucky pup. He hit the doggy life lottery with me - he's got a rich life of adventure at the climbing crags, on the ski slopes, traveling the east coast from Atlanta, GA to the Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park, NC/TN to Bar Harbor, ME, and hiking along with me through the Appalachians of West Virginia whether I'm on foot or on horseback.

Long time readers are sure to have seen many a post about this pup in the past many years that I've blogged, and many others have been able to follow along on Kenai's various adventures since. Kenai has been with me from the very beginning of the blog - Q, Griffin, and the cats came long after.

Saiph has generously set up a GoFundMe page for Kenai HERE

If you're so inclined to donate, please know that I am forever grateful and thankful. Any little bit helps. I dearly want to get my adventure buddy back on the trail, at the crag, and on the ski slopes with me.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Jumping Grey

When I pondered where I would ride and what I would do yesterday, I simply could not fathom the idea of doing the same trails yet another day. None of the options I could come up with for the evening sounded appealing. I needed a change of pace.

I pulled both horses from the pasture and grained them and sent their hair a-flying (hurrah for full-blown shedding and spring!), and then set Q free to graze about the barnyard and tacked Griffin up for a change. I don't think the grey horse has been out on a solo ride yet this year!

Griffin was a bit concerned about how the landscape around the creek crossing has changed recently, so I ended up having to dismount and lead him past, remounting in the creek proper. Fortunately, he was a solid citizen after!

I ground tied him in the back field (good pony) while I rearranged my jumps. I set them up like the below, with the cavaletti at the 18" setting and the standards as ground poles.

Brown cavaletti; blue standards as ground poles

I worked with Griffin at the walk for a time, circling left and right, doing figure 8s, serpentines, and combinations thereof. Once I had his attention, we began walking over all of the ground poles, looping around to do them again and again in various combinations. Happy with my calm and focused horse, we repeated this at the trot for a time.

Griffin was such a star. My only goal was to give him a good ride with praise and set him up for as much success as possible. I didn't know what to expect from him as we hadn't done much work yet this year! He definitely blew my socks off.

Finally, we trotted the 18" cavaletti for a time. I even took a few moments to set up my cell phone to capture some proof. Pictures or it didn't happen, right?

Griffin loves jumping so much. I'm really looking forward to more exercises with it through the warmer months!

I absolutely adore him. And his dirty, dirty face!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Absolutely Outstanding

I need to write this down now so I can remember it forever more.

I had the most amazing ride on Q last night.

Absolutely outstanding.

I was hesitant that it would be so, as she'd been a bit weird around the barn as we tacked up. You know, a bit higher on alert than typical, a bit bothered about the world.

It was very windy last night though. Very windy. Not overly strong winds, but a steady 15-20 mph. Enough to make the world active and more unpredictable than usual.

We set out nonetheless, a goal to get in some true trail time, no more field mileage. I settled on an oldie but goodie, Relient K, as my music selection for the evening, and, singing, mounted Q and departed.

As we trotted out of the barnyard and down the farm drive to cross the creek and head across the back field to the woods, the other horses spooked and did their best "idiot runs", as I call them, away from us. Each of them practicing a spazzy strung out gallop that started with purpose and finished with the pure joy of movement.

I carried the dressage whip, a new norm, as we set out. I intermittently tapped Q's shoulders, side, neck, and flank with it to keep her attention focused on me and not so much on her surroundings. Additionally, I "hugged" her with my legs and tapped my heels against her through areas she was showing a little more concern about.  It must have worked, as she was more confident moving past "monsters" than ever before!

From the get go, that little mare BLASTED up the hills last night. Absolutely ate them up. All of them. We climbed >1,600 feet according to my GPS, and she trotted and cantered 95% of that.

We walked the steepest steeps (of which there are very few) and the slicker spots. We trotted or cantered everything else - even the downs. Q was so forward and eager when allowed to canter some of the downslopes (the footing is impeccable and the incline is not great at all). She took such care with her body and her rider through these sections. I took care to keep myself as centered and balanced as possible to help her. It was terrific.

Her ears were up and eager the entire ride. She was focused down the trail and around the bend. Our shadow that danced along the uphill embankment of the haul road on our return showed a classic silhouette of a lithe, Arabian-style horse and its rider. A true endurance pony.

No fewer than a dozen deer ran from us and one grouse flushed. Only one deer caused her to really show concern and slow down, one of her hind feet slipped on it's island of softer ground which led us into quite the graceless stop. I comforted her and told her it was okay, turning to observe a 3' skid on the ground before her foot met back with the dirt/rock that composed most of the trail. A prouder moment however, was the grouse. It flushed up from behind a particularly suspicious log and other than a tiny shudder through her body, her step (trotting) never faltered and she marched ever on. 

I praised her and patted her and told her how proud of her I was and how wonderful she was doing, so far. I always have to add the "so far" or "today" or "right now" or "on this ride" when I tell her (or any horse) things. I just don't trust circumstance to continue forever on the path its on, so I set myself up a bit of an escape door as to not jinx it all.

The only spook of the entire day was in the field on our return. Some suspicious blades of grass amongst more grass. She did a dodgy flying lead change. It was easy to ride and likely would have looked like a wiggly athletic leap to an onlooker. I slowed her (from a canter) and turned her to traverse back past the spot once before turning home (again) for good. Nonissue.

It was just the ride I needed, but didn't know I wanted and never even dared to hope for. It's beyond thrilling to see this mare behave in such a manner traveling down the trail. It gives me hope.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Altered Goals

A calm mare post-ride
Sundays are almost always riding days for me. It's been this way for a few years now. Riding is my "church". Time on the back of a horse is good for the soul, after all.

Last night, with dwindling daylight, I hoped to put in a brief 3 or 3.5 miles on Q on the short loop. No goals other than completion of that loop. However, as we crossed the creek (at a walk), Q spooked at a new log. (The creek is forever in flux. Poor upstream management has led to an always-changing downstream streambed. Flood events move the channel around and often introduce new logs and debris.) As we climbed up the bank on the far side, she saw a small scrap of 2x4 that had fallen off the tractor and spooked again (at a walk).

In the past, I'd have scolded her verbally and struck out on the trails all the same, determined to meet my daily goal. But not so much any more.

Taking stock of my little mare's mindset last evening, I altered our plans to instead pursue easy mileage by traveling around the perimeter of the back field - something we've been doing a lot of lately. Q's become quite comfortable with this activity. She really knows her job in that field and rarely spooks. I've had some outstanding trot and canter work from her - some of the best canter work ever, in fact.

And so, plans altered, we had a great little 3 mile jaunt full of praise for the mare.

She still spooked (at a walk) at the 2x4 scrap on the way back, but I'll excuse her for that. Silly horse.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Running with Q and Griffin

In an effort to mix things up for the horses and also keep myself at the fitness level I have achieved through skiing all winter, I've been running with the horses lately. Well, rather, I've been running and I've taken each of the horses once so far. (My other runs tend to be from my doorstep instead of from the barn.)

Running in front.
Griffin seems to be a much better partner than Q on first impression, granted the running environments for both horses was quite different.

I did a 2 mile run with Griffin on the road by the farm a week or so ago. He was a GREAT running partner! Demanding in the best of ways by keeping the pace going. His ears were up and he was alert for the whole thing, too - he seemed to enjoy himself quite a bit.

Griffin chose to run beside me and even in front of me (we did some tailing), but never behind. There were several times when I just put my hand on his neck or withers and let him help my legs into an even faster pace. I had fun throughout the run trying to pace my feet to his front feet hitting the ground. It was fun having such a game partner who kept me motivated to push myself.

Q and I did a 3.5 mile run on the trails earlier this week. Leaving the farm, she weaved very shallow serpentines behind me, clearly confused about what her job was when the human was running where she would typically ride! We walked up the first STEEP hill into the woods, and then I took off running again...only to have Q apply the brakes and refuse to move out. As she is typically prone to be sticky through this short section of trail when we ride anyway, and as it is the muddiest of all the trail we'd be on, I hopped up on her and rode her about 0.2 mile to better footing for me. (Avoiding excess mud in my shoes early on seemed wise.)

In which the human runs and the horse wonders, "What fresh hell is this?!"
Once on better footing, I dismounted and off we went. Q followed the whole time. Our run away from home was all slightly uphill. On the steeper of the uphills (still not very steep!) Q would slow to a walk, forcing me in my already out-of-breathness to cluck and kiss and encourage her to move out again. Come ON, mare! Perhaps she thought my heavy breathing indicated I should take a break or else I would die, Strange running human might die. Must make strange running human stop. However, once we turned for home (backtracking), Q was more apt to keep pace. Running on a slight decline and in the home direction likely aided in this.

I ended up having to ride Q for about 0.4 mile as I had *something* in my shoe that wouldn't come out and was causing quite a bit of pain in my foot. I dismounted in the creek to rinse off my feet and legs, but the pain didn't subside. I would discover afterwards that with the help of mud and debris in my shoes (it was a muddy, wet trail in places) I'd managed to get a freak blister on the arch of my foot...and then burst said blister. OW. At least I had Q there to carry me for a time so it wasn't any worse!

I look forward to more runs with the horses both on the road for self-trimming and on the trail for cross training!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

March in Photos

L-R top: A barred owl on a transmission line. Patrol friend posing with the flooded lift ramp. A cropped version of our posed Last Supper photo that models da Vinci's Last Supper painting. Sunrise in Canaan.
L-R second: St. Louis arch from my hotel room. Ball pit for adults at the St. Louis City Museum Playground. PPG Palace in Pittsburgh. Great friends.
L-R third: Fun times at Sharp Edge in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh at night. Flooding at the apartment. Live staking to restore a streambank.
L-R bottom: Riding Miss Q. Griffin gets lighter every year. Q begging for treats. Q receiving treats.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Another Season Passes

And thus, another season passes. And honestly? I'm not sorry to see it go!

It was certainly my most busy winter yet. I enjoy the flurry of activity through the winter months, but working three jobs and only having one day (maybe) off a week is taxing after a time! All the same, I loved the addition of working for not one, but two mountains this year for ski patrol.

The difference in terrain between the two mountains was a blast to ski - especially on the days when I'd work day shift on one mountain and then zip over to the second for night shift. (I'm officially a pro at driving with my ski boots on!) Canaan's trails are certainly more "beginner-friendly": wide, sloping, always groomed. Timberline offers more advanced terrain: steeper, narrower, and more tree skiing. Each have their merits; I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to ski both so often.

While fortunately not as arctic cold as last winter, we also missed out on the amounts of snow we had the previous winter. This year, all of the snow seemed to fall in February - except for the rogue storm in November. From the very tail end of January through February, if we got precipitation, it was in the form of snow. I didn't see the ground for weeks and forgot what a dry, clear road was like! Driving on snow covered roads became second-hand.

All of the February snow and cold was GREAT for building an absolutely amazing base of snow,
however. I did more tree skiing this year than I've ever done as a result. Superb!

I also got out and about on my XC skis more this year than I have in a long while. I always wonder why I don't do it more, but when you consider my work schedule, it becomes quite obvious. All the same, I enjoyed the few times I was out on my "skinnies" this year. I especially enjoyed the ski hash I was fortunate to be invited to in February! Definitely a highlight of the winter.

Spring is doing its damndest to emerge now; I'm so very happy to see green shoots of grass emerging and to hear the birds and frogs singing again. Winter is full of skiing and fun, but it is not a very colorful season and is quiet in comparison to the other months when nature abounds. I'll miss skiing, but I'm looking forward to climbing and riding!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dogs at the Office

While not common, there are some work places that allow man's best friend to accompany his human through the work day. I think many dog lovers covet such jobs and lust after the opportunity to bring Fido to work - even if such jobs are rare and unlikely to fall into their laps during their career. I've been - and Kenai has been - very fortunate to have held numerous jobs where Kenai can accompany me to work.

The first summer I had Kenai, I obtained a seasonal position at the local Petco as a dog bather. Kenai was able to come to work with me every day. When you've got a 10 week old pup you're trying to potty train, nothing could be better! The fortune of being able to bring Kenai to work with me meant that he was potty trained in no time. Additionally, he gained valuable social experiences with humans and dogs alike. The social experiences Kenai gained coupled with the manners in and out of cars and buildings was absolutely priceless and paramount to Kenai becoming the dog he is today.

My seasonal position the past four winters at the ski resort(s) is also a job where Kenai is able to accompany me to work. At one of the mountains I work at, Kenai has become the mascot for the ski patrol. Prior to his injuries and rehabs, Kenai would accompany me to the top of the mountain and ski a few runs with me every day. (In which he would run alongside as I skied, lest you think he's a doggie genius with his own skis.) Riding the lift with your pup really tests the trust in the relationship! Kenai tackled it well though. He learned a lot about focusing on me and ignoring crowds during our time on the mountain; this is a really valuable skill that many dogs seem to lack!

Finally, in addition to the above seasonal jobs, Kenai also accompanies me to my career-job as a biologist. I'm often at my desk making a difference for animals and their habitats from the indoors more than I am in the field. Sitting at a desk day in and day out isn't always the most exciting, as one could imagine, but the days I bring Kenai along certainly make it better! I'm so very fortunate to work in a small office with some really outstanding supervisors and superiors who are also dog lovers. We have a baby gate that rotates between several of our staff on the days they've brought their dog to the office (as we don't seem to have them here on the same days).

Kenai is great in the office setting! The time spent accompanying me to previous jobs and the lessons and skills he learned from those have definitely helped turn him into a solid citizen in the office. He's so well behaved and receives compliments very often on his behavior. Often, my coworkers don't even know that he is here for a few hours because he is so quiet and unobtrusive. Most of the time however, his presence is noted and he is often greeted before I am. ;-)

Traits that make Kenai (or any dog!) perfect office companions are:
  • No barking, whining, growling, or noise making (for obvious reasons to keep the peace at the office, but also critical when I'm on a conference call)
  • Content to sleep or relax patiently throughout the day
  • Pays heed to owner's commands when given
  • Good with people, but not over eager to greet or interact with people unless invited/given permission
  • Not alarmed or concerned with being left in a room alone (I sometimes have to step out for meetings or conference calls)
I am so very fortunate to have the option to bring my dog to work. It definitely adds some spice to situations that would otherwise be quite dull and allows me to spend time with my favorite guy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not Dead Yet*

I'm not dead yet. Still here. Still kickin'. I'm just busy working the three jobs and traveling for the main job of late.

I'm only getting to the barn once or twice a week right now due to chaos reigning most of life. Come April, I'll have a bit more time in my schedule to ride. The good news is that the snow is gone and the world is my oyster again so far as riding all the places goes.

Q and I have been doing once weekly training rides. She's doing wonderfully both physically and mentally - but mostly mentally. Last year was a huge setback for the mare and I with our mental game, as I've stated on here before.

We've been moving slowly this year to build back to where we should be. Deciding to do the LD in April has been a huge help as I don't feel the need to push her to "be ready" for a 50. We're relaxing and our training rides are going very well as a result! I've got a confident horse who has only spooked, at most, one time per ride. This. Is. Huge.

I've been riding her a lot in the back field recently: huge sweeping loops around the perimeter within sight of home, about 2.5 laps to make a mile. While still a little rushy in a few spots of the field, she settles well into her job after a lap or two. She knows her job is to move forward and stay on the perimeter, and knowing her job lends her confidence, I think. After the first lap or two, she's settled enough to move out on a loose rein. We've had some wonderful canter work back there as a result!

I'll add in trails and climbing in the coming weeks, admittedly though, I'm not greatly concerned with having to build on more fitness to complete the April ride! The primary objective is keeping the mare happy and building confidence right now.

A noteworthy confidence marker - the mare let me shave all four of her legs last night with no issue at all. Stood stoic and calm for the whole thing. She seems to have some very minor fungus already going on, but it mustn't be very painful as she did not react to me messing with her legs. I suppose it may be some really socked in mud from the field, but we'll just have to wait to see. I spritzed her legs with some of the product I'd been using last summer just in case.

Griffin has been enjoying a spring of lazy. I've not ridden him at all. My time is so limited and I've got nothing huge planned for the grey horse for awhile yet, so sitting in the field and building back some of the weight he lost during winter seems like a perfect plan.

Griffin has so far accompanied me on one run. He was a great partner, though demanding! I'm trying to get more into running this year for fitness and figured taking Griffin along would be good. I think he loved it. I had a very alert partner for the short 2 mile jaunt. I'm looking forward to more running in the spring months with my grey guy while Kenai is out of commission. 

Griffin and Q both have been helping with once weekly lessons for my 3 year old (4 this week) lesson student. She's coming leaps and bounds for being such a tiny thing. Griffin listens well to me and is perfect for the "red light, green light" games we play to build confidence in my student. Q however, is the perfect horse for this job. She is SO ATTENTIVE to this little girl. I've never seen her pay so much mind to a human before.

Last night was time to finally teach my student how to use the reins; her confidence and balance are finally to a good point. She had done most of the lesson on Griffin to this point and began learning how to control him on her own. Griffin however, is a baby himself still. He does very well with an accomplished rider, but a small 30 lb. child? He's confused by her requests. She did well with him, and he with her, but I grabbed Q over to see how things would go with her. 10x better. In just a halter with reins and a bareback pad, Q moved all around the outdoor round pen for my student, at least one ear always attune to what the small tot was doing on her back. Griffin was happy to relinquish this job to his sister and chose to bide his time hiding his head in my arms or nuzzling me, clearly I am his human and others just won't suffice.

Kenai is still on house arrest while I try to give his fabella time to heal on its own. He's finally seemed to settle into the routine of only going out 3x a day to potty (unless he asks for an additional) and spending the rest of his time in my small living room. He occasionally gets on a bender and wants to play hard and rough, but so far I've redirected these times by giving him a rawhide to busy himself with for a time. I hope to begin taking him on short walks and doing some strengthening exercises in April. Fingers crossed things go well!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Winter Blog Hop

This winter has been a tough one for equestrians. We have seen torrential rains, deep mud, unending snow, bitter winds and record lows. Words like "The Pineapple Express", "The Siberian Express", "Polar Vortex" and "El Nino" have meant less riding time and more time staring out the window at the weather. This winter has left barns devastated by collapsing roofs, trucks stranded in hub deep mud and frostbitten fingers and toes. All of this has led to our first blog hop. Thee Ashke and Wait for the Jump have teamed up to ask:

1. What has been the worst (and/or best?) of this winter so far?
2. What is the worst storm/winter you've ever experienced? Did you dig your way out of your house through feet of snow after an epic blizzard? Did you survive a tornado? Have you lived through a hurricane? Tell us!
3. What is the best winter you've ever had? What made it so special?

Worst of this winter
The worst of the winter has been being completely plowed OUT of my home. When my 4WD 4Runner with exceptional ground clearance and kickass winter snow tires is unable to reach my home due to a wall of snow, you know it's bad. I was only unable to get home for 2 days, but it wasn't awesome.

The same weekend, I also was not particularly fond of having to be out working and functioning in -15°F temps that were really -55°F to -70°F with the windchill. My snot froze in. my. nose. I had SO many layers on and it simply wasn't enough when skiing down a slope and experiencing the wind in my face full force. Eegads.

Best of this winter
Definitely all of the skiing I've been able to do. I'm at nearly 30 days skied and still have a month plus left of skiing/working. Working two resorts this year has been fabulous. The dynamic of the people between both mountains has been so much fun. I really, truly have two families - my blood family and my patrol family. When you work with a group of people like these in this type of environment, you can't help but get close. It's so outstanding.

The man angel salute

Worst winter storm
Frankenstorm/Super Storm Sandy hands down has been one of the worst snow storms we've experienced. While the coast had wicked tropical storm/hurricane weather that sucked, we got over three feet of heavy wet snow. Main two-lane highways were closed for a week or more in places. We were lucky and only were without power for a few days (and had a fireplace and gas stove/oven), but many were without for longer.

Grocery stores knew they would lose their refrigerated goods due to loss of electric and did huge community feeds as a result. People came together and brought grills to the stores so they could cook the food and serve the town.

The snow was so heavy that plows couldn't push it. We had to use heavy equipment. Up in Canaan Valley, folks were having to ski in - ski out of their houses just to go anywhere. The resorts ended up using the snow cats (large machines that are used to groom the ski slopes and move snow about) to help plow out key services and help to get power restored to the valley. I knew people who were without power (IN WINTER) for over a month.

In Elkins, we fared better than most. My mom and I had to hand shovel that heavy wet snow off our entire driveway though due to the plows being unable (transmissions were dying in the vehicles of those who tried). Shoveling a 500+ foot driveway by hand when the snow is that plentiful and that heavy was an incredible workout. Mom and I managed though. Super thankful we were fit and able enough to conquer such a feat - we'd have been stuck home for days otherwise!

A tree collapsing (center frame) due to the weight of the snow

Best winter 
All the winters since I have been on ski patrol have been amazing. I really cannot pick one. In my mind they all blur together in a flurry of incredible memories of amazing moments with outstanding people. The skiing I've accomplished since joining patrol has been unlike anything I ever imagined I'd do. I learn more all the time.

While patrol is sometimes hard work, it is so rewarding. The friendships and relationships I have as a result of it are some of the richest I've had in my life.

The experiences I've had with patrol and the people I've come to know as a second family through it have made winter a far more bearable season than it once was. Seasonal depression issues I'd be dealing with from a result of the weather are no longer a problem for me. When you've got a winter sport and a seasonal job that depends upon harsh weather, you become more eager for it to occur. And when it does occur, it isn't so hard to deal with because you're able to get out and enjoy it. Winter means a huge continual release of good endorphins for me. I build fitness more than I tend to at any other time of year, too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Kenai: 5 Years & injury update

Happy 5th birthday to my favorite guy. The best years of my life have been those spent with you. You're my partner in crime for all things, and while I regret being away for work this year and not getting to spend the day with you, I know you're in good hands. As I write this, you're probably enjoying a great nap on that big comfy couch you love so much.

This year has been rough for you...and for me. We'd successfully rehabbed from your double cruciate ligament surgery by the time your birthday rolled around last year. But things took a turn when you pulled your groin in March. We rehabbed through that successfully, too, though. I even managed to take you on some low-intensity hikes into the crag the two times I went rock climbing.

By fall you were back at it, the highlight of outdoors activities was certainly the 10 mile hike through Dolly Sods at peak autumn. You were the absolutely epitome of the perfect off leash dog on that hike. You stayed within close sight the whole time, paused when Q and I paused, and rested when Q and I rested. You were hardly even sore the next day! I was thrilled.

But then November rolled around and you tweaked something in a bad way again. The way you presented led me to believe it must be your groin - again. Despite being cautious with our level of activity, crating you for a few weeks even, you just weren't bouncing back from this second mystery injury. I was heartbroken every time I had to leave you behind when I headed for an adventure - I still am.

Despite the addition of daily pain relievers and supplements, you weren't improved much in January. I gave in and took you to the vet for x-rays to see what was up. I figured you had a full groin tear and wanted confirmation on it...but what we found out blew both the vet's mind and my own.

You'd managed to do something my vet had never seen before - you fractured a small bone called the fabella in your right knee. This bone is surrounded by ligaments and is where the vet had blindly anchored the suture during your cruciate surgery nearly 18 months prior. Somehow, you'd exerted enough force on that leg that the suture pulled through the bone, fracturing it into two pieces and loosening the suture from the knee surgery in the process.

We still aren't sure how to proceed with your rehab. You received a joint injection and an adequan shot at the vet that day and are responding well to the pain relievers you've been on for a month now. I'm trying to keep you quiet, only allowing you to move about during your bathroom breaks during the day - no great activity outside that.

It's so hard though! You're my adventure dog. You've had it ingrained in you from the first day you came home with me that you get to go everywhere with me and do all the things. Not being active is as hard for you as it is for me.

I plan to take it slow with you this year. To get that boned healed and get you strong without surgery. A year of rehab is what we're looking at, Kenai. A year of slow nothing that builds to slow something that hopefully builds slowly back into you being able to come up on the mountain with the patrol by next January.

You get to be on house arrest with minimal activity through March and part of April. If you're doing well, we'll add low intensity strength building inside. If that goes well, we'll begin short walks. From there we'll build up the length, time, and intensity of our walks. We'll hike lots of hills and mountains so you really have to use that hind end.

I hope we'll get there...I really, really, really do.

Happy birthday, Kenai. I'm glad you're in my life.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hash House Harriers

I had the unique opportunity this past Sunday to participate in my first hash house harrier ski hash. I'd participated in a hash in college on foot, but had always wanted to do a ski hash.

What is this "hash" thing? Well, considering a large majority of my readership is equestrian-based, I'll describe it in terms you'll be able to understand. Fox hunting. It's basically fox hunting. Minus the horses though. Although for me, the day had many correlations to endurance riding.

Essentially, a group of folks get together. Hares (fast skiers) are pre-decided. These folks set out through the countryside and mark the trail as they go so the hounds (the rest of us) can follow 15 minutes or so later and attempt to "catch" them. Builders chalk was used to mark their path.

It sounds straight-forward, except when you consider the fact that the hares will set false trail just to screw with the hounds. A sprinkling of color on the snow indicates you're on trail. An X means there is a cross roads - one trail is false and one is true. And three horizontal lines atop one another means Stop.

Added enjoyment to this whole thing? Alcohol. Periodically along the trail the hares will leave beer, liquor, or moonshine. Because what's exercise without alcohol?

If the hares are caught, their pants get pulled down (so I was told). They also have to participate in a down-down if they're caught (drinking alcohol from a dog bowl). Hash virgins also have to participate in a down-down (that's me, if you'd missed that fact).

The whole sha-bang ends with a potluck back at the host's house. Because food, y'all.

Clear as mud? Good.


Sunday afternoon I headed over to the host's house along with 40+ other people.

The day had started with snow, but by the time we arrived at the host's, it was turning to rain - where it would remain for the rest of the day. But that's okay! Alcohol and other such enjoyments were plentiful, exercise was imminent, and merriment was about to be had.

As folks arrived, they set their potluck dish inside and then proceeded to mill about socializing and merry-izing outside. Within 45 minutes or so, everyone had arrived and the hares readied themselves to dart off on XC skis. The hounds (the rest of us) were locked up in the garage with all of the windows blocked for a short while until the hares were out of sight. Once they were out of sight, we were allowed to mill about outside until the 15 minute delayed start was past. And then the trail was open!

I set out at the back of the pack, content to only finish the hash, not catch the hare. My endurance background is strong - to finish is to win!

We struck out across the valley, crossed the main road, and continued through the woods. One, two, three beer stops down. The pace was easy, life was good.

And then we arrived at the fourth stop, and it was more than beer this time. There was a shot ski and moonshine. I was pulled to the shot ski with two others and tasked with pouring my own poison. This was all well and good until the bottle sloshed me a very FULL shot glass instead of the half I'd hoped for. Oh well! Down down down.

With shot ski accomplished, we quickly realized that the second half of the pack had followed a false trail set at the shot ski. Dave, S, and another set out along another potential track to see if it would be true or false.

"ON ON?" we called.

"CHECKING!" they replied.

We waited a bit. And then, "ON ON!" they hollered. And we all set to climbing what ended up being a fair sized hill. Why must the climb come after the shot ski, I lamented.

Setting out anew on the true trail after the false trail mishap, I realized that I was now 4th to the front of the second pack of hashers. This motivated me to move out a bit.

I kept Dave, S, and the third guy in my sight for a time, but they slowly pulled away, moving out at a better clip than I was able. In a short time, I found myself in a pretty good bubble. No one in sight to the front or back of me.

It was nice to ski my own ski without feeling any pressure from another person. The shhh shhh shhh of my skis along the ice-encrusted snow was peaceful.

As I climbed a second hill, I could hear many voices ahead and to my left. I came to a cross roads, hesitated for a moment, uncertain, and then noticed an arrow in the snow made from twigs pointing toward the sound of the voices. Left I went, descending a slight hill and coming into sight of the whole group at a beer stop.

A few of them called to me as I approached, which of course set my inferior superior XC skiing off balance (XC is far different from downhill due to the lack of a metal edge on the ski and a lack of a plastic boot that stabilizes your ankle more). Fortunately, I saved myself from falling with some exceptional Matrix-esque flailing.

A beer was thrust in my hand as I arrived.

"They caught the hares here," someone filled me in. I grinned, nodding, not surprised based off the heckling I'd overheard prior to the hash beginning.

A large contingent of folks headed out toward the host's house as I stood catching up with folks. W, Dave, A and I decided to strike out shortly after them, leaving at least a dozen others behind who were still taking part in the merriment.

Our little quartet quickly caught the main contingent of hashers heading back. The group split up at a crossroads, but the four of us decided to stay with the main contingent. Dave and A and I paused at another beverage station, then made a short cut to catch the main group for the rest of the trek back to the host's house.

Back at the host's, I changed out of my clothes. While I'd layered properly to stay dry, I still didn't layer well to stay cool and ended up unzipping my waterproof layers to try to cool off - thus allowing the wet in. I'd planned for as much though, and was pleased to be able to change into dry clothes!

The food at the potluck was absolutely amazing. I didn't fully identify anything I ate, choosing instead to just dive in. I know how these folks can cook and knew I'd have no qualms - and I didn't! Some sort of mashed sweet potato dish, some sort of pizza thing, and the hands-down best venison I'd ever consumed made their way to my stomach along with some delicious local beers.

I plopped myself on an empty couch and was quickly surrounded by several others who had the same idea. We chatted for a time until the down-downs began. I'd been taunted warned by several, "You have to drink out of a dog bowl today!"

Because the hares had all been caught, they each drank from the bowl first amidst singing.

Here's to ______ (s)he's true blue
He's a hasher through and through
He's a pisspot so they say
Tried to get to heaven but he went the other way
Drink it down down down….
(if hasher takes too long) Why are we waiting (repeat until finish)


Dos, a beer, a Mexican beer,
Ray, the guy who buys me beer,
Me, the guy, he buys beer for,
Far, a long-long way to ski,
So, I think I’ve have a beer!
La, la la la la la la,
Tea, no thanks I’ll have a beer,
And that brings us back to d-down, down, down, down, 

(if hasher takes too long) Why are we waiting (repeat until finish)

And then I and the two other hash virgins also were treated to the same. I definitely took the longest, but I was the only female on this day who had to drink from the bowl, so oh well. Just part of the tradition!

All in all, what a great way to spend a rainy day! I had an absolute blast.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

All In A Week

1. Daily office dog. Four frequent the office at different times. This is 4 mo. old Daisy.  2. Friday Night Mountain Top Supper Club - fancy with a candle and tablecloth for Italian night!  3. Note all the zippers and associated layers necessary to survive -19°F prior to windchill calculations.  4. I ended up being "head feathers" / "hill chief" for an hour on Saturday; this means I directed ski patrollers around the mountain to respond to certain incidents and kept track of folks.  5. But most of the time I was skiing Saturday because it DUMPED 16" of snow in <24 hours. Epic, epic, epic powder day!  6. Cards Against Humanity for Saturday night shift.  7. The Man Angel salute; this is my second family getting post-work apr├ęs-ski beers.  8. So humble it hurts <3  9. Kenai living a rough life.  10. A series of screenshots from snaps I sent to Mandy and Saiph: "My car wasn't enough to get to the house"/"Beer is almost gone"/"Kenai and I are growing bored"  11. Shoveling through the 4' of snow on the porch.  12. Begging for treats.  13. Balance exercises at work.  14. The rough life of our office pet, Ralphie.