Thursday, January 19, 2017

Partner vs. Pet

Mel wrote a great post about the differences between horses that are partners versus pets. It really resounded with me and as I started to compose a novel-length comment on her post, I decided instead that I would write a post of my own!

As Mel notes, neither partner or pet is better than the other - and I agree. They're different and special in their own ways.

Griffin

Griffin is just like Mel's ML - a pet. He's friendly to a fault and always wants to be around me and anyone else in the field - human, horse, dog, or otherwise. Most photos I get of him involve his nose in my camera because he is constantly wanting to be RIGHT beside me.

He's got an insatiable need to please, too, unlike any horse I've ever been around. He wants to work, he loves any and all jobs I've given him (although he absolutely loves jumping the most), and wants absolutely nothing more than to provide me with The Right Answer when we're working. I routinely refer to him as "my very large dog with hooves" to my non-horse friends.

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Walking toward me. Forever and always the most common photo I have of him.

When I bring Q or Stan (or both) in from the field, it is nigh impossible to not bring Griffin. He almost ALWAYS volunteers himself to come, too. He wants nothing more than to be with me. If I work other horses in the barn/barnyard, he waits by the gate for the entirety of the time I'm with the other horses. The only time this wasn't true was when he decided he could no longer bear giving riding lessons to newbies and he would NOT be caught for anything. Any time Griffin alters from his in-my-pocket demeanor, I know something is up and evaluate how to make changes to resolve the problem.

I'm a total sucker for Griffin being such a sweetheart, too, and give him ample treats from my pocket which has only reinforced his behavior through the years. #sorrynotsorry I absolutely adore Griffin, his temperament, his trust in me, and the relationship we have. I think working with him from a young age really helped hone his temperament, the trust, and the relationship.

Stan

Back in the day, Stan and I were closer than close. I had but to think a thing for him to do a thing. He was a partner and a pet and mostly my close friend with whom I could do anything. He was kind of an extension of myself. We spent 5 years apart and he was a pasture puff during that time. Now we're coming back into a relationship and I'm not quite sure how it will end up so far as the partner - pet spectrum.

Stan definitely resents being pulled away from a cushy retirement to re-enter the working world. And I don't blame him! Additionally, he's finally living with mares for the first time in a very long time, so he is quite loathe to leave his ladies to spend time with me. And that is also understandable, considering he lived in one place for 11 years and has now been plopped into a totally new environment. I've been very understanding of the herd dynamic change in his life and have not pushed any steady regimented work on him beyond about one or two rides a week - usually Lauren riding him - since he joined me on July 31. I know all too well how herd dynamics can influence a horse's behavior, and I wanted him to have time to settle in knowing I'd start anew with a schedule for him in January.

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From the days we used to just hang out together before and after work was done.

While much of Stan not seeking me out in the field is due to the new herd dynamic, I can't ignore that in our time apart Stan has grown creakier with his increasing age which may be influencing how he views time with me. When I'm sore, I don't want to do anything with anyone (especially a person who instigates activities that make me sore), so I can't fault him for it either. I'm hoping that efforts to keep him working for a minimum of 20 minutes a day 3 - 4 days a week (plus supplements in the near future) will help combat this and make him a bit more willing to be a working partner for me as time goes on. I'm not at all concerned with the in-between no-man's-land we're dealing with right now because I haven't had Stan in any kind of steady work to really judge. He's only been back in my life for 5½ months. The real work is just beginning and we'll have to see where we are at in a few months. Time and miles do a lot for a relationship - and from my experience, usually for the better.

Q

Q entered my life as a partner, strictly. In fact, when I bought her, while I hoped she'd be a grand endurance mount, I wasn't even sure I'd keep her forever and ever. Our first year was one of learning one another. Q has an aloof personality which is likely due to being passed around between a minimum of five people prior to entering my life (and that was all before she turned 6!) As we moved into the second year, we were finally starting to be more than strangers, though not quite friends.

My personal relationships with a person or two resulted in me being a total shitbag to Q in 2014 and I spent 2015 rebounding from that; being overly critical (i.e., a shitbag) to a sensitive horse will leave you years of mess to clean up - learn from me and don't do it. We were on the up and up in 2016, my mess of 2014 mostly resolved except for lingering spooking. We completed a 100 last year and didn't hate one another afterward (minus that moment at mile ~44 where she spooked at a deer and dumped me...I hated her a LOT in that moment).

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Q, my business partner for 100 miles
In our time together, Q's been my athletic partner far more than a pet. However, unlike Mel's relationship with Farley, her partner-horse, Q does still seek me out when we aren't working and we definitely don't hate one another after a weekend together. In fact, in times away from home, Q looks to me MORE and while not as cuddly as Grif, she wants to be with me. I become her herd of one and she seeks me out. (Food has a huge thing to do with this, I'm no dummy.) Additionally, during this time off due to the suspensory injury, Q will come over to me in the field when I fetch one of the boys and has come to the fence/gate with increased frequency to presumably check in on me.

While mostly a partner in the past, I can't help but wonder how much toward pet Q will migrate as time goes on. Slow, quiet one-on-one work builds my relationship with this mare. That is exactly the kind of work that is going to be paramount in our time together over the next many months. As with Stan, I'll have to revisit the pet-partner relationship with Q a few months down the line.

A follow up thought

I think there is great value to horses that are partners, horses that are pets, and those who can be a little bit of both. There really isn't a bad result to any option. It's absolutely personal preference. You still have a bond with that animal in some manner regardless of whether they're more in-your-pocket or strictly a business partner, per se. Personally, I enjoy a dynamic that involves aspects of both and I can honestly admit that having a horse who was strictly my partner would be more difficult for me at this point in my life. (I say "this point" because I can absolutely see where I may prefer differently one day.)

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A hard working partner with unquestioning trust of a pet

However, in my reflection of my horses and how they fall on the pet-partner spectrum I am left pondering one thing in particular: the way the horse's early years were spent and how that influenced them. Let's review --

Griffin was passed around frequently for about six months (to three homes) following his weaning, but each new home was short in duration. He was too young to start under saddle so he mostly traveled around meeting new horses and eating as he was handled by different folks. He came to me at 1½ years old and has been with me ever since. It's all chronicled on this blog. And he's had a great life with me, if I do say so myself. He was started slowly and we have built a great relationship over the past five years together. Griffin trusts me implicitly as a result, which is a very big factor in our every interaction. If I ask something of him, he doesn't fret, fear, or worry, he simply tries to find the correct answer that garners the praise he seeks (be it a release of pressure, kind words, treats, etc.) and life moves forward.

Stan was with his breeder to age 4, then was gelded and brought to his next home where he stayed for 11 years before re-entering my life as my horse last year. Stan was never presented with a reason to distrust people. He was started between 3 and 4, was green when I met him, and when I was 16, I put most of the miles on him to make him go from "green" to "broke". I was never mean or pushy and Stan learned what was acceptable and what wasn't through time and miles. I learned a lot, too. Freedom to enjoy one horse in that manner at that age resulted in a lot of blind trust in Stan. And for me, blind trust was a beautiful thing at that point in my life. I didn't necessarily abuse it or push it to crazy limits by any means - and I'm grateful Stan didn't either - but not being told I couldn't do something meant that we tried a lot of things that would cause me hesitation today. A level head and some blind trust built a great relationship and a great foundation for Stan.

Q differs from both geldings. She was bred, then sold to lady #1, passed along to lady #2, then sent to the cowboy, then went on trial to lady #3, then went back to the cowboy, and then came to me. The reasons for being passed along to folks beginning with lady #1 all revolved around her being "too much horse". Mostly, she was hotter than your typical quarter horse (the most common horse in this area, see: Stan) and really needed one person to be around as she learned what was okay and not okay. She also needed that one person to be patient and not react with anger, force, or aggression (the three things that cowboy did). Her 4½ years spent with me support this wholly; the more time she's with me and the more patient, calm, and consistent I can be, the better she is and the more she trusts me and exhibits pet-like qualities instead of exclusive partner qualities. Her guarded personality has blossomed and bloomed.

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Seeking me out.


And while I certainly recognize that the temperament of an animal will vary and that there are absolutely bad eggs out there, I wonder about those early years of training and how they correlate to where a horse falls on the pet-partner spectrum?

Certainly other variables factor in over time, too, like how many homes a horse has had, the quality of those homes/their people, and the horses' breeding and tendency to be hotter or quieter. But for the sake of this argument, let's assume no matter the breed, if a horse was brought up by someone knowledgeable, patient, and consistent in a training schedule, would that horse develop more on the pet side of the spectrum or the partner side of the spectrum? Does correct early training that builds more trust provide a higher frequency of horses with pet-like qualities? Or are those things purely temperament based?

Thank you Mel for providing the prompt for this thought process. Animal behavior is absolutely fascinating to me and I've really enjoyed thinking about the pet-partner spectrum as it applies to my horses and potential training of other horses.

So how about you? Where do your horses fall on the pet-partner spectrum? What kind of horse do your prefer? Do you think training plays a part in where a horse falls on this spectrum? Leave a comment below or perhaps compose your own post. I'm interested to see where this discussion goes!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Moonlit Snow Galloping

There's something about
Writing haikus in winter
That makes me happy

But even moreso,
There's something about snow rides
That are magical

Especially rides
On my favorite grey horse
In moonlit snow fields

The brisk winter air
And the moonlight above us
Made our shadows dance

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Squealing and snorting
Griffin shared his excitement
And I had to smile

We trotted around
Leaving neat hoofprints in snow
With each passing round

Eventually
I let Griffin loose to fly
Racing our shadow

Borrowing freedom
I soared with him over snow
Smiling and laughing

The moon rose higher
Its light reflecting on snow
Subtle sparkles shine

This way and that way
Griffin and I galloped on
Tireless in the snow

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Grateful for this night
For the moon and for the snow
And time on horseback

One final gallop
We streaked across snowy fields
With breathtaking speed

With praise and neck pats
I thanked Griffin for the ride
Truly delightful

So very grateful
For this horse and for this night
Just what I needed

Monday, January 9, 2017

Update on Q's Suspensory

I dropped Q off Thursday morning last week for her 120-day ultrasound appointment to wrap up our monitoring of her suspensory injury.

To recap in the most concise way possible: Q came up lame at the end of August and was diagnosed with lesions near the origin of her suspensory in her left hind on September 19. (Due to a wicked year of repeated abscesses in 2 out of 3 of my horses, I had suspected it was an abscess at first. But after she didn't regain soundness after blowing a massive abscess on her RF, off to the vet we went!)

The 60-day ultrasound appointment showed improvements though there was still disorganization in the pattern of fibers.

This most recent ultrasound however showed huge improvements!

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Q was very alarmed by the AllEarsApp

When I picked Q up, the vet was out to lunch, so I didn't get a complete download of information beyond the techs telling me, "We can't tell you much other than it's definitely looking better." And hey, that's all I needed to hear at the time! Trending toward "better" is all I care about. I don't mind it taking awhile so long as it is *improving*.

Due to some turnover at my vet's practice (her second vet is leaving/has been working at another job), they've been outstandingly busy for a few months as is wont to happen with these kinds of things. I didn't anticipate dropping by to get a download on information until Monday afternoon. However, to my surprise, my vet took a few minutes Sunday morning to call me and give me an update! She reported that Q looked a LOT better this time around and that it was very hard to see any disorganization in the fibers at all on this round of ultrasounds. HURRAH! She also told me she'd be attending a specialized lameness workshop in Lexington in coming weeks that was centered around suspensory injuries. She's got me and Q in mind as she plans to attend and I'm looking forward to hearing more about the latest and greatest in the realm of suspensory research.

I'm psyched to hear that Q's doing so well and hope she continues to heal and get stronger in coming months. So far she's had four complete months off due to this injury.

She'll get a year off from true work, but we'll be doing some short (5 to 10 minutes) in hand sessions once every week from here on out. These will not be anything exciting or crazy at all, but instead will serve mostly to remind the mare that she is NOT in charge. Her herd status coupled with the time off (read: complete freedom from anything beyond getting her hooves trimmed once every four weeks) has unfortunately resulted some very rude behaviors (e.g., biting me, excessive fidgeting when tied, protest to (read: pinned ears) having her feet handled/certain body parts groomed, and constant wide-eyed and ear-swiveling concern for where her herdmates are at all times) that I absolutely do not tolerate.

I'm so relieved we've had a nice linear healing trend through these first 4+ months following the injury. I hope that this trend will continue into the future.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2017 Goals

Q

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Continue to see steady improvement and be able to put this whole suspensory ordeal in the rear-view mirror this year
- At the proper time, build back strength and fitness (through hiking and dressage that will be intensely focused at the walk for a few months)
- Achieve a more acute understanding of the aids and get her to accept contact
- Teach her lateral movements under saddle
- Build her body back in a more balanced fashion that it was preceding her injury
- Enjoy many slow miles of trails (whereby "slow" is mostly walking and meandering and "many" is any amount >20 miles for the year)

Griffin

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Build and develop our prowess at dressage and jumping
- Travel and compete in at least two shows
- Ride in at least two clinics with Stephen
- Take at least two lessons with a jumping trainer
- Spend some time perfecting our gallop - something I've never focused on before

Stan

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Continue to build fitness with the goal of having a sleek, muscular athlete who doesn't look his age
- Ride > 200 miles on him for the year
- Compete in at least one LD

Kenai

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Continue to build strength
- Maintain a healthy weight and diet
- Keep him comfortable on whatever combination of supplements help him the most

Myself

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Lead climb above a 5.8
- Conquer at least one trail on Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking
- Bike North Fork Mountain again faster than before
- Build a stronger body
- Advance my mandolin skill
- Build my photography and editing prowess as well as my small photography side business

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 Highlight Reel

Q

This year held both my proudest accomplishment with this horse (also, one of my proudest life accomplishments to date) and the saddest event with any horse of mine to date. To quote Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

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The beginning of the year held hope, promise, and fear as I put as much time and effort as I could into preparing for the Old Dominion 100 in June. Q and I embarked on multiple long training rides and changed up our typical "hill sprints" to "mountain sprints". We finished the No Frills 55 at the end of April with plenty of gas left in the tank and seemed to finally be gaining a hold on our girthing issues which were my biggest concern. (The final answer to this puzzle was a mohair girth with ample Body Glide.)

I hawked the weather as June 11 approached, groaning at the 95+ degree (and don't forget the added humidity this temperate rainforest is so well-known for!) prediction. Regardless, Q and I loaded up and headed over the mountains to basecamp.

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The short of it is that with help from an absolutely amazing crew Q and I completed what is arguably the toughest 100 course in the country at 5:11am the morning after we began. We had a "moment" at 78 miles where I thought we might be pulled, but with careful management, Q bounced back and we found ourselves true 100-milers.

It's taken months to come to terms with the significance of this achievement. Few are so lucky to go out and find success on their first 100 with their own horse. Fewer find that success on the hardest courses in the country. Like Tevis, which is much better publicized, studied, and known, the OD 100 boasts completion rates from the 35% to 60% range. I stacked the odds in my favor the best way I knew how: by intensely studied the course to the best of my abilities and conditioning Q over similar terrain to the best of our abilities. And things played out quite well, considering.

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I gave Q a solid month off following the 100. We enjoyed a brief conditioning ride before (like, the day before) her next ride - the RBTR 30 with dressage aficionado Austen aboard for her first foray into the endurance world. The pair completed without a hitch - Q had As all day long and CRIs in the 40s despite the 80+ degrees and enough humidity to make you feel like a fish underwater.

Three weeks after RBTR, I noticed Q seeming off. Circles on the flat triggered it and movement downhill even moreso. It had been a very, very bad summer for abscesses, so I didn't fret much at first (Griffin was dead lame for 10 days with a HUGE abscesss). Q did blow a big abscess in her right front within a week of my notice of her lameness, but the lameness didn't completely resolve. By September 19 we'd had a lameness evaluation and confirmed the culprit: lesions near the origin of her suspensory on her left hind. Well, fuck.

Ultrasound comparison, clean

And so, my little mare has had time off ever since and will continue to do so until next summer. The 60-day ultrasound showed marked improvement, which is a great sign. Time is my friend right now. Q approaches me first every time I'm in the field these days, knowing I have a treat for her. She seems eager to come in with me the few times I've brought her in and enjoys grooming more than I've ever known her to. She's enjoying being a horse (albeit a fat one!) right now.

The plan to bring her back into work mid-late next year is a slow one that will begin with hikes in hand, then follow with a long while of walk-only work that will be very dressage-focused. Q has to be a dressage horse before she can be an endurance horse again. I need to develop her body in a balanced way if she's to ever have a hope of another endurance completion. While this injury is the absolute pits, I'm trying to make the best of it so that she comes back from it with a stronger-than-ever-before body and a better relationship with me, because we all know that's had it's ups and downs over the years. I am very, very cautiously optimistic.

Griffin

Oh what a journey! Come late January, this guy will have been in my life for 5 years. He's come an incredibly long way and I've loved every part of the journey.

At the start of the year I was riding Griffin sparingly as my focus was centered on getting Q ready for the OD. Griffin was my main lesson horse until mid-summer when I noticed repeated signs of him greatly disliking the job - the first time this horse has ever NOT liked a job! And I honestly don't blame him. To rectify the situation to prevent potential injury to the newbies and to save the relationship I had with the horse (who was very uncharacteristically running away from me every chance he got in the field), I "fired" (for lack of a better term) my lesson students.

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Around the same time, I was focusing on getting Griffin in better shape to make his second attempt at the RBTR 30. Steady, thought-provoking and strength-building work with his main human brought him right back around to his normal self. While he certainly wasn't in the best shape possible, he did complete the RBTR 30. Other than his limited gas tank (totally due to not quite enough conditioning), the only issue he had at the ride was his total and complete (uncharacteristic) reliance on Q. His CRIs were heightened more than I would have anticipated because of his concern for where "his mare" had gone. If I wanted to continue to compete in endurance with him, I'd have focused to resolve this more, but I don't have a desire to keep him in that sport so it is a non-issue.

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Following our RBTR completion, I buckled down and focused on dressage and jumping more. Griffin has so much natural talent for jumping. If I keep my shit together, he's picture-perfect. Days I am less than stellar, he is less than stellar. The variety of exercises I have presented him with he masters and I have so much fun working through them with him.

I had hoped to make it to volunteer at a jumper event this year to learn more and travel to school on a XC course a time or two, but neither worked out. I also fostered some hope of getting a jumping lesson with a trainer, but that didn't work out either. 2017 will hopefully allow these opportunities to represent and be accomplished. I still foster a dream to try my hand at eventing one day, but until such a time as I can school a XC course several times, I am going to focus individually on jumpers and dressage and see how those pursuits work for us.

Birchall Lesson (12 of 15)

Where we slacked off meeting my small goals for jumping, my goals for dressage were achieved and surpassed. At the end of August, Griffin and I trekked to Austen's barn in Maryland to ride with Stephen Birchall. It was everything I'd hoped for and more out of a first dressage lesson. I have been taking the things I learned very seriously and have practiced my "homework" diligently and am pleased to report that I have a completely different horse now than I did 3½ months ago.

I try to ride Griffin a minimum of 3x a week right now. He understands and accepts contact and requests for "forward" very well now. He has his distracted days, but they are few and far between. He's mostly a very good worker and I try to be a very fair rider and not ask him more than he can handle.

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I'm very pleased to report that he has developed buttons for lateral movements! I always wanted to install these on my own horses, but doubted my ability to do so. Doubt no more! I just need to hone and fine-tune now - and I am having so much fun developing and fine-tuning.

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I had planned to ride again with Stephen this past weekend, but a last minute issue with my trailer (seriously, last minute - the car was packed, the trailer was hitched, and the horse was loaded) halted that effort in its tracks. C'est la vie. I will try again in a few months - though it would have been wonderful to have had updated homework to concentrate on through the winter months.

I hope to make it to a few more lessons with Stephen next year and hopefully a schooling show or two with Griffin by mid-summer. With any luck, perhaps we will make it to a horse trial or two, also!

Stan

Stan was definitely this year's wild card and the best surprise possible. It was a wonderful to get to welcome my OG back into my life for good.

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He was a great weight when he came back into my life, but was certainly lacking a bit of attention to his coat and definitely needed to tone up and build some fitness. I quickly took care of his mane and tail and with help of the junior I have been mentoring for endurance; we had him back to a level of above-moderate fitness within a couple months time.

Stan Compare

My only firm goals for Stan  have been to get him fit, keep him happy and healthy, and keep him in my life for the rest of his. All other goals I foster for him are quite fluid. It would be great to get him back to being fighting fit and tackle some LDs and maybe a 50 or two with him. Or polish him up with some dressage (this is the most likely) and dabble in some jumping at home. We'll see! I really enjoy having a horse who I don't feel a need to "achieve" anything with. A horse I can just go out, ride, and fully enjoy the moment with without feeling the need to practice a certain skill that day. I love the regimented schedule I have with my other two, too, but no schedule is also fun. I'm a multi-passion person in many ways, so three horses that I can focus on different things with pleases me greatly and suits me well.

Stan is currently on a part-time free lease with Lauren until her horse arrives in March. It's a great arrangement that allows him to gain/maintain fitness, but without such regimented practice. I anticipate that come spring/summer, Stan will be my main mount out on the trails for the 2017 year, as I'm enjoying keeping Griffin in arena settings more and more.

Snow riding

Regardless of what I may or may not dabble in with Stan, I love having him back in my life for the confidence he is re-teaching me. I know I'll gain it back and then he'll help me maintain it. <3

Kenai

I'm so grateful that this year involved nothing but adventure and strengthening for my favorite adventure partner. I think the worst thing for him this year was that I put him on a diet after he'd gained about 7 extra pounds!

He's not quite able to keep up with the intensity of adventure as he once was, but those adventures are so few and far between that things really haven't changed too much for him. Hikes < 7 miles, bikes < 5 miles, and no trail rides unless they are strictly walking on the part of the horseback riders are what he can handle now. His osteoarthritis as a result of the stifle surgeries means he is stiffer and sorer sooner and longer than he used to be.

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At the beginning of the year, he was getting one Dasequin +MSM once a day. Now, he gets one in the morning and one in the evening. He is also on a different joint-specific food. While he's certainly stiff behind, his movement is equal on both sides and he doesn't favor one leg more than the other.

We still visit the rehabilitation therapist once every 6 weeks for cold laser and general check-in to see how he is doing. I keep thinking we will plateau with the healing/improvement process, but so far, we get a more positive report with every visit. I really enjoy getting confirmation from a professional about how well he's doing; I notice it, but I still second guess a lot.

Kenai Winter 2016-3

With the return of cold temperatures, Kenai is back in his truest form. He has more drive and stamina than he did at all during the warmer months. The cold is better for his joints, I think. He seems less stiff after more activity than he did a few months ago. Perhaps he really has built strength, perhaps not. We'll know for sure when the weather breaks back into warmer trends in March and April! Regardless, I'm so happy to see his puppy-like behavior as he approaches 7 years of age this upcoming March. He's not a youngin' any more, but boy does he act like one most days!

I hope that with careful management on my part, Kenai will have high quality of life for many, many more years. I hope surgeries are behind us!

Adventure

Skiing

This year was a bit of a bust so far as east coast skiing went. We had one epic storm (Jonas) in January that christened the area with 3½ to 4 feet of pristine champagne powder. Dave and I were totally snowed in and he ended up having to hike a half mile uphill to the house because his truck couldn't make it up the last two switchbacks. Fortunately, I had the foresight to park my car at the base of the ridge we live on the night before so we were indeed able to get into work (ski patrol) the next day. It involved us skiing down the 1-mile road (a 700' descent)' to the car in the early morning hours with snow still pounding the area, but that was just a good excuse for some more vertical before we would spend the entire day skiing some truly epic conditions. And yes, it's true what they say - No Friends on a Powder Day! ;-)

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I garnered a few more telemark lessons with a local/national telemark legend and finally had some huge breakthroughs that have helped my skiing immensely. I'm very exciting to begin this upcoming season and apply this knowledge. Here's hoping for a better snow year than the last!

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I also managed to get out on several XC skiing jaunts this year - but still not enough! I have plans to upgrade a few key pieces of gear this year that will enable and motivate me to get out on the XC trails more this season. It's such a great way to explore and get exercise.

Climbing

We didn't have nearly the frequency of trips this year as last. We did make it out to climb in Nevada and Utah in April though! I would love to go back to both places and climb more in the future. True crack climbing is a whole other kind of monster that I got to experience for the first time in Utah. While I struggled immensely at the time, it motivated me to get better so that I can find more success in future visits.

I did continue to lead this year and I find my head to be in a better place each time. In moments that would have had me packing my bags in the past, I instead pushed through my fears and completed climbs. Leading is a completely mental battle for me and one that, while not easy, I very much enjoy pushing myself through. The mental exercise of overcoming some pretty strong fear is an easier battle each time.

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Dave and I have plans to build a climbing wall in the basement this winter, so I am excited to get into much better shape for the 2017 season. I have missed having the luxury of a gym very much the past 5 years and am so excited to finally have the opportunity to climb daily again and keep my body strong.

Mountain biking

2016 was the year I fully fell in love with mountain biking. I started this year with the purchase of a brand new bike. As with most things, the money you spend dictates the quality of the product you're getting. I was amazed at the difference riding a high-end bike did for my skills development this year. From Arkansas to New Mexico to Arizona to Moab and at home, I built and honed my skills on the bike.

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The crux rides of the year for me were two ~24 mile rides we did - one in Moab and one in West Virginia. The Moab adventure involved mostly downhill ride on slick rock  that took place over seven different trails and is known as the Magnificent 7, or simply, Mag 7. It was a total BLAST. Sections of it certainly challenged me, but I built confidence as the miles ticked past and powered through the off-camber single track at the end that would have royally sketched me out at the beginning of the day.

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At home, we made a drunken brilliant decision the night before to tackle the 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail in one go the following day. This ride, while similar in length to the Mag 7 trails in Moab, involved equal parts climbing and descent. It was an endurance feat of epic proportions for me! But I LOVED it. Even when I hated it, I loved it. I was by and large the weakest link in our group (riding with an Olympic caliber rider and and her equally talented boyfriend will do that), and it really motivated me to want to get better so I'm not dragging down the group so much next time.

Hiking and Exploration

Another year in Canaan equaled another year of hiking and exploring the beautiful place I am fortunate call home.

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Travel

Hot damn did I do some driving this year. I visited 27 of our 50 states this year for either work or pleasure and saw some truly beautiful sites along the way from A to Z. No, literally, A to Z! Acadia, the Adirondacks, Arches, and Zion were just a few of the beautiful areas I had the pleasure of exploring.

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I also spent a significant amount of time with birds this year for work and pleasure alike.

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What a wonderful year of travel it has been. This country encompasses some truly beautiful landscapes.

Conclusion

This year certainly had its ups (travel, OD 100 completion, Stan) and its downs (Q's suspensory tear, various personal strife that isn't blog-worthy), but by and large it has been yet another incredible year. I'm so grateful to get to live the life I live and do the things I do. And I'm so happy I have taken the time to document my many adventures these past six years on the blog.

Cheers to a wonderful, adventurous year and here's hoping for more fun to come! I hope your year has held moments of wonder and adventure and that you find even more in 2017.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 Blogger Gift Exchange

This was my first year participating in the Blogger Secret Santa Gift Exchange that Tracy at Fly On Over EQ hosts. I don't really have an excuse for not participating before - I plan to participate in the future as I had a blast this year.

I netted friend and blogger Sara over at a Gem of a Horse as my person to shop for this year. This was perfect on a lot of levels: Sara and I are friends because of our blogs, both compete in endurance, both crewed for one another's first 100 this summer, and are friends IRL. I know her, her family, and Gem intimately after this year! It was a blast to shop for her. She received her gift and recapped it here.

I received my gift this afternoon. So much excitement.

My Secret Santa was Rhiannon from The Horse Is Not Black - a new to me blog that I've now added to my Feedly.

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Upon opening
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So much festive! And the penguin wearing mittens slays me
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Polo wraps, hot chocolate mix, Twix (these may or may not last the day lol), local honey, Mrs. Pastures treats, and boot socks!
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A tote to hold it all!


Rhiannon, I swear you read my mind with the tote as I was *just yesterday* wishing I had a barn-specific tote. And the black polos are perfect as I've decided Griffin's "color" is black for all foreseeable future events. Also, I have always coveted boot socks just like these! I may or may not have squealed a little bit in delight upon unwrapping them. Simple things thrill me...

The horses and I thank you so much for the sweets and other treats you've sent us. Sugar highs are in everyone's near future. Thank you for thinking of us.

Happy holidays, all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Goal Review

To be totally honest, I didn't look back on the goals I made for myself much - if at all - during the year to check progress. I made the goals very carefully at the beginning of the year though and despite not looking at them, things went pretty damn well in the success rate department!

Q

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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally

Mentally, I think this horse had a great year. No huge issues with insecurities or manic spooking. She certainly had her moments, but nothing insane. We're definitely on the up-and-up which is VERY EXCITING. Unfortunately, the lesions in her suspensory have halted all things and make it impossible for me to consider her 100% healthy at the end of the year.

- Build confidence and relaxation in all things, but particularly under saddle on trails 

A great year for confidence and relaxation - under saddle especially! I think the highlight of the year so far as her confidence on trails was definitely the many miles of success I found with her when leading on trail for pieces of the 100 during the 3rd leg of the ride.

- Have a safe and fun competition season

I'm calling this a "success" because while she may have initially injured her suspensory during a competition, it didn't show up for realsies until weeks after a slow LD where she received all A's and had CRIs of 48/40.. 

- Move up in distance (competitively) this year

Hell yeah. Completed the Old Dominion 100.

- Log many miles in Canaan/Dolly Sods

While "many" could be argued based on what I had in mind for myself, we did log a lot of miles in Canaan in the spring. Somewhere around 50 miles up there this year.

- Build understanding on basic dressage with a goal of lots of "long and low" work as this is the effort Q is least inclined to give

 While I built my knowledge of dressage, I didn't apply it to Q much!

Griffin


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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally

He's fitter than he's been in awhile and with the cessation of his short-lived lesson horse career, he's more fun to be around than he's been since he was a youngster getting handled daily and saw me as his best friend.

- Advance skill within dressage and jumping

Oh hell yes. The dressage transformation is far more photo-evident, but the jumping has improved, too. He's more balanced (thanks, dressage), more rateable (thanks, dressage), and 3' doesn't make me nervous like it used to. In fact, up to 3'6" I'm pretty comfortable and confident now. We haven't schooled those heights much when they weren't at the end of a gymnastic grid, but thanks to the work we did do with them, I feel a lot of trust in Grif to navigate them. In tandem, he definitely is more confident, too, and doesn't hesitate or suck back in the slightest when presented with heights above 3' now.

- School on some XC courses

Big fat nope. Didn't happen.

- Spend some more time on trail this year than we did in 2015 

Absolutely. We conditioned for our first LD and have enjoyed numerous other trail rides including multiple Canaan Valley jaunts.

- Compete in something (endurance, eventing, jumpers, I'm not picky!) 

First completion of a 30 mile LD!

Kenai

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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally

SUCCESS. Thank goodness for a far less stressful year with this guy. Careful management is forever our future, but I'll take it over 3 surgeries in as many weeks!

- Continue to strengthen body through rehab exercises

We get glowing reviews every time we go to PT!

[Stretch] Develop our "sit pretty" into a true, classic looking pose - this is an exercise we've been working on for rehab, but I'd love to get it even more developed

He doesn't perch his paws super cute every time, but he can sit up and hold the pose for many seconds now. I'm so impressed.


Me

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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally 

 I'm healthy and happy!

- Audit several clinics for dressage and jumping

Dressage clinic auditing success! No jumping yet though.

- Try to find somewhere to take periodic lessons for the above that is within budget 

Clinics with Stephen Birchall a few times a year are working for us right now! Although, some last minute trailer issues kept us home last weekend when we'd planned to attend our second.

- Try to match # of days skied to # days climbed


It was similar, but I honestly didn't keep track of the numbers this year. #sorrynotsorry

- Continue to lead climb and build my comfort level / lead-head

I didn't get back to leading until our last trip of the year, but I led 4 or 5 climbs that trip and pushed myself through fears that stopped me in my tracks previous attempts. I also walked up to a few totally new-to-me climbs and just led them instead of climbing them on top rope first. Proud of myself for this continued progress.

- Hike or bike N. Fk. Mtn. trail from end to end (23.8 miles)

Spontaneous drunken plans are the best plans. Biked the hell out of it. (Okay, and hiked-a-bike a fair bit.) I must say, an LD on a horse is far superior to one on my bike/own two feet!

- Continue to mountain bike and increase my skill/comfort level on the bike and trails 

Accomplished and knocked out of the park. I still have work to do, but the work I have left to do is on a totally other level from where I began. Living in an area with some of the most technical trails in the country has made me far superior than I dreamed I'd be in a two-year period. I'll never be perfect, but I'd like to be able to ride through at least some of the trails on Canaan Mountain (my arch nemesis) without hike-a-biking in another year!

- Continue to build on my skill playing the mandolin

 I didn't pick it up consistently very much at all. I haven't forgotten what I taught myself last year, but I haven't learned any new chords either.

[Stretch] Go fox hunting

Nippity nope. It was a stretch for a reason!

[Stretch] Take a polo lesson - this just strikes me as fun and I want to learn more about it

And another nope - stretch goal for a reason.

30 before 30 goals accomplished this year

- Continue to knock out states left to visit

Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas were crossed off the list. Hoping to continue ticking them off next year! Only six (LA, MS, ND, OR, WA, ID) to go...

Conclusion

72.7% success rate for the horses, 100+% success for Kenai, and 87.5% success for my personal goals. (Stretch goals not included, though the + on Kenai's success rate indicates the achievement of a stretch goal.)

I hope 2017 is even better. I attribute the success rate in 2016 to carefully made goals. I plan to do more of the same for next year - and maybe I'll check in with my list a few times during the year for a change!

2016 Highlight Reel to follow soon with more detailed look at the year and the goals achieved and lack thereof!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Location, Location, Location

Yet another blog hop -- Seems to be the season for blog hops. As a person who loves maps and learning more about the inner workings of other places, I had to get involved with this one!

My Area


West Virginia

Randolph County, West Virginia

You can see how heavily forested the state and the region are and how dense the forest is in my area especially

The Tygart Valley runs north-south and is where most of the population is concentrate; I'm in the northern/northeastern part of it trending into the green area. The eastern part of the county contains portions of the Monongahela National Forest. In the county to the north, Tucker County, in the dense green you can see the topography of the Blackwater Canyon. The densest green area to the east on the WV-VA line is where the Old Dominion 100 course is.

West Virginia is 79% forested. While the state is known for industries such as coal and timber and, more recently, oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale, we are slowly trending in the direction of green energy and eco-tourism. It's a beautiful place to live that is largely not like the stereotypes depicted so often in movies, television shows, and on the media.

Cost of Keeping Horses

  • Trim - $30-45 depending on your practitioner
  • Shoes - $80-120 for four shoes depending on the farrier
  • Pasture board - $45-250 depending on whether you know someone with land or it's a legit "facility" (of which there are very few, most people own or lease their own property and don't board)
  • Full board - $250-350
  • Full training board - $400-1000 depending on the trainer (all western-focused)
  • Hay (round bale) - $40-60 depending on delivery options, seller, and type
  • Hay (square bale) - $4-8 depending on quality and delivery options

Weather

To be completely frank? It sucks. Haha. You've got to have good humor about it or you won't survive.

In 2006, we were on the Farmer's Almanac list for Worst Weather.

I tried for years to move away (applied to over 40 different jobs in an ~18 month period, none in WV), but it just didn't work out that way. I'm really happy now and I'm accustomed to the weather so I make the best of it.

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We have four distinct seasons and, by and large, the warmer temperatures are more prevalent than cold. Winters are typically very snowy (though they do seem to arrive later and depart earlier every year; for those bitching that this is total farce, just talk to a ski resort employee! Resorts used to open in mid-November and go through mid-April, now it's mid-late December through early-March) with the occasional arctic blast, summers are hot and humid, and fall and spring are topsy turvy at best with temperatures often fluctuating 30-40°F in a single day between morning/evening and the afternoon and rain/snow showers intermittent throughout. Humidity is lowest during fall and spring though, which is a wonderous thing.

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Four seasons in Canaan Valley State Park
Photos my own.

Due to the topography (the valley and the Allegheny front), our spring, summer, and fall often have mornings thick with fog that burns off between 10a-noon depending on the day. Rain is prevalent and frequent during most months of the year, but is greatest in spring and summer. In Summer 2015, it rained (in some capacity) for 37 straight days. (How fun.)

Despite it all, the state is absolutely gorgeous 99% of the time. You've seen my photos through the years that prove this statement.

Riding Demographic

Western disciplines reign. The large majority of my local friends and the riding club I'm a member of ride western and practice cutting, penning, or backcountry packing/travel with a few barrel racers thrown in for good measure. There are a couple endurance riders, too, but nearly zero English folks. I'm always the weird one riding in my "little" saddle with my "tight pants" and "fancy boots" and a helmet.

Other Notes


Public land to trail ride and condition for endurance on is PRIMO. This state is very odd in that fact. I LOVE living so close to opportunities like that. I ride largely on private land from the barn; I can ride out from the barn and have access to 20 miles of trail with lots of elevation change that's mine-all-mine to train on during the non-hunting season. The catch is that I surrender it for ~2 months of the year to the hunters. Not a bad deal at all.

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Dolly Sods looking out over Canaan Valley <3

This area is also absolutely GORGEOUS. I'm an hour trailer ride from Canaan Valley, Dolly Sods, the Seneca-Spruce Knob Recreation area, and other areas on the Monongahela Nat'l Forest. For endurance training, I really couldn't ask for anything better. It's an absolute mecca of conditioning possibilities.

Frustrating Issues

The small (nonexistent) availability of trainers and facilities to practice the things I'm interested in (dressage/jumping) is absolutely frustrating. Additionally, not having anyone nearby to ride with who is knowledgeable of what I'd like to pursue is also frustrating. I don't have "eyes on the ground" to help me learn basically ever. I'm forced to video with a tripod or beg friends to come photograph so I can analyze later. Makes it really hard to develop a feel for things in dressage and correcting positional issues and getting the timing of things perfect with jumping is much trickier. It's really quite remarkable I find any success at all in these disciplines when you consider how much time I spend alone.

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Rare photo day!

For the lessons I do pursue, I'm currently trailering ~4-hours one-way. I want to explore other options an hour closer, but it's hard to commit to "trainer shopping" for someone who will be a good fit for both Griffin and I when I have to commit a minimum of 6 hours of my day to commuting to do so!

Also frustrating is the lack of equine-focused business. I have a Tractor Supply Co. and a Southern States for "tack shops" and only one vet to choose from. While I generally shop online and I do enjoy my vet, sometimes it wouldn't hurt to be able to shop around a little for items and answers. Getting Griffin outfitted with a jumping saddle in the next 6 months is more difficult when I can't test fit for either of us. And only one vet facility means I'm limited to what they can offer for services (which is an awful lot for a small area like this!) and appointment time slots (and they're insanely busy because of the large area they service). Also, I really wish an equine chiropractic or acupuncture practitioner were closer.

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Photo by Becky Pearman; used with purchase

However, I'm a multi-passion person. While this area isn't the greatest for dressage/jumping training opportunities, it is absolutely amazing for endurance training, rock climbing, mountain biking, and skiing. I love that I don't have to travel very far to be able to have primo access to some of the best climbing and mountain biking in the country! Additionally, it is incredibly cheap to live here which allows me money in my budget to spend on travel (horse and non-horse) and competitive horse pursuits out of state. I love that I have so many options to fulfill my passions here, even if I have to travel a little for some of them.