Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Heart Comes Home

The Call

Thursday, July 22, 2016, I received a Facebook message out-of-the-blue from the son of the folks who owned the barn I worked at for a few years during high school. I say "out-of-the-blue" because while I'm still Facebook friends with all parties (those with social media) we rarely interact as we once did. Life has a way of doing that.

The message from the son simply stated, "Hey, call my dad sometime, he needs to talk to you."

My radar was officially up and whirring with that statement.

Whirring with a vengeance.

You see, while I've definitely kept up with the lady who employed me the most and her son second to that, his dad was the piece of the puzzle that fell to the wayward. The couple went their separate ways in 2008 while I was in college and have since found other partners. Everyone is happy now.

I knew there was only one reason for this man to reach out to me suddenly.

Stan.

Stan, whom I've mentioned time and time again on this blog - though not for a very long while (and if you're not familiar, please click back to those links to better understand) - was always the father's horse. When the couple split, I was still allowed to come see and ride Stan, but it just wasn't the same as before.

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Peak fitness August 2007; this was the period of my life when I rode without a helmet, for shame, I know

As I welcomed horses of my own into my life, my visits with Stan faded away as I sadly knew they would. But I was okay with that. I knew he was safe and happy as could be - and that was all that mattered.

And regardless of our time together coming to an end, somewhere deep inside, I knew it wasn't truly "over". I just had this spark of a feeling that one day he'd be mine.

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August 2006 one of the first photos of Stan and I

Well, that "one day" came crashing down upon my life a lot sooner than anticipated!

I called Stan's owner up within 24 hours of receiving notice from his son. He unfortunately wasn't home at the time, but his wife filled me in on everything.

They were getting "out of horses". They wanted to give Stan to me. They wanted to know he was in a safe forever home that would ride him.

How could I say no?

I couldn't.

I accepted her offer and promised to call later in the week to arrange pick up.

The Pick Up

After a few missed calls from me to them due to schedules being crazy on both parts, I was finally able to reach them on Tuesday, July 26, to discuss pick up options. I let them know I could either do that Thursday or Sunday evening. They chose Sunday, July 31, but noted to me that if I needed more time, that was okay, too, as long as he was gone before winter because they wouldn't be buying hay. I thanked them for the leniency, but noted that I was eager to get him into work as I knew it would be a process. The sooner we started, the sooner we'd see results.

And so life whirled by crazily for another few days as I eagerly awaited Sunday evening.

Sunday arrived and they gave me a call around noon to check in to see what time I was planning to come get Stan later in the day. We agreed on 6ish. I'm pretty sure Dave was ready to just put me in a sanatorium after that call, I was so jittery with excitement. I swear I tried to contain it!

Time passed, as it does, and before I knew it I was pulling the trailer up that long driveway that I used to gallop up with Stan.

The farm looked as it always did, though the grass was a bit longer than it ever was when there was a herd of geldings and a herd of mares on site.

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October 2007, galloping in a farmer's hay field

I turned the trailer around in the empty space where the old barn had stood from my time there, sadly remembering as I did so the fire that killed one horse and burned the barn to the ground during the fall of 2008.

As I finished parking the trailer, a familiar old face ran down the hill to greet me, Jeb, one of their dogs whom I remembered fondly. I hadn't expected any of the dogs to be alive and kicking still. They'd been middle aged at best the last time I was at the farm and it's been 5 or 6 years since then.

I loved and petted on the old man as Stan's owners walked down from the house to meet me.

We chatted amiably as we walked into the barn where Stan and the two other geldings were. One of the geldings had already left for his new home the week prior and was doing great, the other two were still awaiting someone to show interest, though it sounds like there are some leads.

I was filled in on how Stan's vaccines are all up to date, though they didn't have his Coggins done as they knew they wouldn't be going anywhere - they hadn't left the property with the horses in 3 or so years. Stan had hardly been ridden at all during that time! My vet (also their vet) had all of his records and had drawn the blood for Coggins (and will hopefully be running it for me) a week or so prior to my picking up Stan. The only health-related item they hadn't addressed was his feet which were quite long in the toe - but not neglectfully so at all. I assured them I'd take care of that [myself] in the following day or two.

They also gave me Stan's papers - he's registered AQHA - for my own records. Dynamic in a Flash, a 2001 model. I've always been told "he's Appendix" but never really investigated much further. He doesn't have any TB for at least 5 generations of his pedigree on both sides - that's hardly Appendix and much more QH! Regardless, he still has quite a lanky frame - especially when he's fit! His heart girth is smaller than both Q's and Griffin's!

I began to walk to the trailer for a halter but they redirected me to grab his halter - the same one he's had since 2005 - from the rack instead. I grabbed it, walked over to Stan who was standing with his head out of his stall participating in our conversation. As I approached with the halter to put it on, Stan put his face into it to help me, seemingly understanding what was happening and eager about the whole ordeal.

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Yep, this halter and lead! After winning English High Point (plate is etched with the award)
August 2006 (only true show I ever did)

I opened the trailer door and his owner walked Stan right onto the trailer. As we closed the trailer door a moment later, I thanked them profusely for this opportunity. It was a dream come true. They smiled, as they had been the whole time I was there, and thanked me for giving him such a good home as they knew he'd have with me.

The twenty minute trailer ride home was uneventful; Stan hauled like an old pro.

I unloaded him at the farm and he off loaded, a little sweaty and a tiny bit wild-eyed (as wild-eyed as he gets, which is NOTHING compared to my other two, hahaha) as he looked around his new surroundings. Compared to my other two, he was so. stoic.

The horses in the field took notice, but they didn't come running immediately. I tied Stan up in the barn and set to grooming him. When his old owners said he hadn't done much, they meant it! He'd been loose in the field except for making sure his feet and health were taken care of for a long while.

His mane and tail told the story very well. While not matted at all, his thick, long tail was in dire need of brushing. It took me 20-30 minutes to get it combed out and soft! His mane on the other hand was past saving. Most of it was in one large dread that hung halfway to his knees and the rest was broken off and scraggly. Y'all know me and manes (excluding forelocks), I'm definitely not against roaching!

And so off it came. It'll grow back with time and I'll keep it much healthier.

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Before shots
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After shots; the mud on his legs just wasn't going to come off on this day

Once I'd groomed Stan to my heart's content, I settled him into the "timeout" paddock for the night (and next few days) with Mare who is in there to lose some weight before she founders for true. [It's the "timeout" paddock because we put horses in there for various reasons but all result in spending time out of the normal pasture. The pasture borders the paddock on one side though, so horses can interact. Safely from behind the fence.]

I visited the barn daily for the first several days Stan was in my possession, though I only groomed and fed him on one of the days (Aug. 2) because it was the week leading up to RBTR and I had a lot to do!

Getting Settled

On Monday, August 1, I trimmed Stan's feet. I took all of his toes back to where they needed to be and left his heels as they were for the time being. I didn't want to change too much too quickly for him. His heels and a little more toe will come off in coming weeks as he slowly adjusts to the changes. These are probably the shortest feet he's had in a very long time and they'll eventually be the shortest toes with lowest heels he's had in his life when I'm done! He's moving really nicely already with his shorter toes, so I can't wait to see how he continues to feel and move with time.


Following his trim, I rode him on a trail ride with Lauren. Q was a Very Bad Pony during this ride and grabbed the bit and bolted for home, knocking Lauren off as she went through two tight consecutive turns on the way back. This resulted in Lauren and I riding Stan double back to the barn. Stan is a Very Good Horse.

On Wednesday, August 3, Stan once again played the part of the lesson horse for one of my other students and did very well. He seemed slightly confused, but he's a Very Good Horse, so he figured things out and was a doll. I told him he'd be doing this 2 hours a week for the foreseeable future - he's got to work for his board. ;-)

On Thursday, August 4, I introduced Stan into his new herd. Lauren and I pulled Q and Griffin out for RBTR and turned out Stan as soon as they were in; I didn't know how excited and crazy the herd dynamic would become with the introduction of a new horse and didn't want Q and Griffin involved prior to RBTR.

Every introduction is different. Stan was herd leader and has been for years at his place. He's been living with geldings almost exclusively for the past 11 years of his life, too. (This is at no fault of his - it was policy at The Pony Garage to keep mares and geldings in separate fields and when that business dissolved, it was predominantly geldings who were kept on the farm.) I had no idea how things would go since he'd have mares to live with and another dominant gelding who had been in charge or a herd as long or longer than Stan!

Stan whinnied to the herd as soon as I took his halter off and trotted toward them. Little Bit (LB; herd leader) came charging over at his fanciest running walk (he's TWH) with neck arched and a challenge in his eyes. The two geldings slowed on approach, necks arching, nostrils flaring. They sniffed near each other for a moment, Stan squealed, and then turned and trotted off the other way. The herd followed at a slow trot, pushing Stan along.
 
And that was that.

The herd followed and pushed him around with their body language, and Stan let them, grazing all the while.

By Sunday when I returned from RBTR, everyone was at an agreement that Stan would stay on the outskirts of the herd and be left alone. If he tried to be close to anyone, LB or Oliver would send him away with the threat of teeth and hooves.

The introduction of Q and Griffin back into the herd was fascinating.

The whole herd (8 horses total now with 3 mares and 5 geldings with ages ranging from 6 to 22; Mayer is still in timeout) was waiting for Q and Griffin at the gate. I used my body language to tell the to back up and give us room as I brought them in and turned them loose. As SOON as I had released them and exited the field the herd SWARMED around the two of them and drove Stan AWAY. They kept him away as both Q and Griffin had a good roll and continued to keep him away until both horses were settled and ready to communicate on their own.

I've never personally witnessed horses doing this before. It made sense to me from a behavioral ecology standpoint, but I was so surprised and thrilled to observe it.

And here we are, a week plus later and things are well. Stan has "a mare" he spends most of his time with. Not surprising at all it's the mare he was stalled beside for 5 years of his life. Can I stand her? Nope. Not at all. We've never gotten on well in the eleven years I've known her. But she's a good friend to Stan (and Griffin) regardless of my feelings about her.

The other horses have stopped chasing Stan away and he's allowed to stand with them, albeit at a slightly buffered distance.  He's also allowed to spend time with the lower ranking mare (obviously) and the lower ranking gelding in the herd. He seems to have "taken them in" as "his own". Things seem pretty peaceful, though I'm sure the social dynamics will still shuffle around for awhile, but with more subtlety than before.

Q has been positively grouchy toward Stan until the past few days. Now she suddenly is obsessed with wanting to be "his mare". He honestly doesn't care one way or the other about her. He's got a friend and the other horses aren't bossing him about so aggressively, so he's content. But I'm getting a hoot out of watching her advances on a gelding who truly gives zero fucks as to her presence. She really doesn't know WHAT to do about it and so far just stands there, seemingly flummoxed for a moment or two every time he just walks by her with no more than the tiniest of ear flicks about her presence.

Training

I've had Stan on the lunge line multiple times in side reins. He's got a lot of fitness to build back and a lot of muscling. Beyond general fitness, my biggest goal is to make that pencil-thin neck of his a bit more attractive! Lots of work using his body properly will get it there in no time, I've just got to set him up for success.

Lunging Stanley
First time with side reins
Lunging Stanley
Second time with side reins
Yawn
He wouldn't quit yawning on this day!
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Lipstick much?

I've also ridden him solo multiple times. To start, our sessions have been very brief 15-20 minutes. He's in a new-to-him place, he's very affected by the sight and influence of his new herd, and he hasn't had to truly *work* in a very long time. With each session, I gain more of his attention and I am witnessing him starting to "get it". He's slowly understanding what work is again and it's very exciting.

Over the past weekend I finally felt comfortable taking him out in the back field for some work. I don't distrust him or expect him to act out and hurt me, but I want to be absolutely certain he is going to have a good experience and set him up for success. He was a little bit up (for him) at the beginning, but he did settle into work and we even popped over the cavaletti and a small crossrail some!

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January 2007 I was a crazy kid
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December 2011, bareback pad
Also, probably one of the last rides I had on Stan

Riding him feels like HOME. He's comfortable and So Honest. I'm so, so excited to get him back into shape and have fun on the trails like we used to and finally do the jumping I always wanted to do with him. <3

So, welcome back to my life and welcome back to the blog, Stan. I'm really excited you're here and I'm interested to see how I manage to keep you and Q and Griffin in work! And that will be the most interesting thing about this whole development! Can Liz more acutely manage her time than she already does? Tune in later to find out!

Stanley (1 of 1)-2Stanley (1 of 1)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

RBTR 2016: Griffin's first LD and many new faces

The short

Griffin completed his first LD. Q carried fellow blogger Austen through her first endurance event. Both of my horses tied for turtle! One of my lesson students completed her first LD also, and much fun was had by our group of 8 riders all day long. 

Tuesday

No stranger to how busy and quickly ride camp fills up for this ride, I headed out Tuesday night to stake out my camp and spots for Nicole and Carlos and Dan. It was a wise decision, as I was able to snag my usual spot with plenty of space for our group before ANYONE was present.

Bonus? Someone mowed it for us before we arrived for good on Thursday. =)

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Space-saving, shade-saving


Thursday

I worked a half day before heading home to load my car and head out to the barn to finish packing and get the horses loaded.

Lauren, my 12 year old lesson student, was going to meet me at the barn and help out. She hasn't even been riding a year yet, but she's such a natural, does her homework, and was beyond eager to try her hand with endurance, so when my mentor Mary offered up her 24 year old ½-Arabian decade team horse I arranged for Lauren to come to RBTR and ride him.

Lauren was bringing Q and Griffin in when I arrived at the barn. Once they were in, we loaded the trailer the rest of the way, washed them off a bit (scrubbed poop stains from Griffin. Because grey horses.) and then loaded them up uneventfully and headed to Ellamore!

Dan and his daughter Orion were already at camp when we arrived. Orion joined us last year, but didn't compete. This year, Dan had promised her that if she got her horse, Nell, into shape through the summer, she could come try her hand at it. She did a fabulous job doing just that - Nell looked amazing! And so, our group of riders for RBTR would be eight: Lauren on Shiloh, Austen on Q, me on Griffin, Nicole's friend Jess on Lily, Carlos on Gracie, Dan on Butch, Orion on Nell, and Charlie on Dakota. 4 first-time riders, two relatively inexperienced endurance riders, Charlie, who has past experience but it's been several years (though her brother is more active, he just completed Tevis in 14th place), and me. Shiloh had more experience than the entire group put together (>5400 competitive miles) and of the 8 horses, only 1 was full Arab, 2 were half-Arab, and the rest were non-Arabs (TB, RMH, Morgan/QH, Morgan/Stdbd., and then Griffin, who is god-knows-what).

Dan walked over to greet us as I backed in the trailer, informing me he was all setup and ready to throw shoes on Griffin. You see, we'd have done this earlier, in fact, we'd planned to, but Griffin was lame with an abscess (or two?) for about 11 days and didn't come up sound again until July 31. Talk about cutting it close to the ride!

And so, Griffin unloaded in a new-to-him place, walked over to Dan's trailer, and received his first set of shoes in his life as if he'd been doing it for years. The only mishaps were when he drooled (white clover) in Dan's ear and then pooped without ANY warning while Dan worked on his right hind.

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Griffin thinking about sleeping
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Totally at ease with this new thing
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Backs? No problem. Q, take notes, please.

Orion, Dan, Lauren and I chatted on and off through the whole shoeing process. I, for one, was just so grateful to finally be in a place with no cell service for a few days. I'd been increasingly overwhelmed by the world in the days preceding the ride, so it was really nice to be totally away from any technological stimuli.

Lauren's mom picked her up shortly after the shoeing, and Kenai and I headed down to the swimming hole for a time to cool off - while temperatures weren't too bad, the humidity was absurd!

Once I was cooled off, I visited with club members for a bit before heading out to put up a few more signs to help those arriving find ride camp.

I noticed upon my return to camp that I had new neighbors parked to one side of me, so I spent some time visiting with them (turns out it was Daisy Bicking) before Austen showed up.

Austen and the huskies arrived just in time for dinner, and she had prosecco in tow. And thus the evening shenanigans began! We enjoyed dinner with Dan, Orion, my mom, and club members, then headed back to our camp to indulge in grapefruit margaritas (also brought by Austen) while we chatted with Dan and Orion.

Eventually, Dan headed to bed and we ladies stayed up chatting even longer.

At some point, Austen and I decided it would be a brilliant idea to ride the horses. Because what better time to ride than in the middle of the night, drunk? Nevermind the fact that Austen hadn't ridden Q before. It'd be fine! Orion skipped off to get her helmet and horse so she could provide some supervision while Austen and I stuffed our noggins in our helmets and mounted up. Safety first!

We tooled around the field in camp for awhile, giggling all the while. Orion eventually abandoned us, so we gave up the charade and headed back to camp to talk more before I decided I simply could not sit upright and talk any more, so we decided to go to my big tent and talk more. And thus, 2 girls and 3 huskies crammed into a 5 person tent for the night.

Friday

I nursed a hangover much of the morning, guzzling electrolytes and BCAAs to try to make up for my poor decision the night before.

Dan wandered over to our camp area as I made Austen and I breakfast and we chatted about random things for awhile until Austen and I ran over to the registration booth so I could pay and get the paperwork for my two taken care of. Afterwards, Austen and I prepped to head out on a 5-mile pre-ride.

The pre-ride went uneventfully minus one incident... You see, we let Lyra come along with us. She'd been darting hither and thither all along, and then we stopped dead in one of the many mud puddles for a moment. Griffin was leading, Q was standing behind and slightly to his right (her head at his flank) and Lyra was to Griffin's left taking a dump. Austen and I were laughing at Lyra because we knew being so close to the horses was making her nervous and she couldn't run away in the moment...because poop. Well, I gave Grif a little leg to urge him on by, and the next thing I know, Austen is lying on her back half-submerged in the mud puddle yelling and kicking her free leg at Q yelling, "GET OFF MY LEG GET OFF MY LEG!"

Best guess, Q saw Lyra suddenly where she hadn't realized she was, teleported to the right, and forgot to mention the plan to Austen. Classic Q spook. Fortunately, the mud was deep and soft and Austen wasn't hurt, her ankle was even spared damage other than some minor swelling! She was however, COVERED in mud. Logically, we walked back to the closest river access point where she promptly dropped down the bank to bathe.

But not before this photo:

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Heading down to the river to bathe

I apologized profusely, repeatedly, but she assured me she was okay! The rest of the pre-ride went without issue and we spent most of it discussing Q's way of going from Austen's dressage-minded perspective. I gained a LOT of insight into this little horse over the weekend and foresee a lot of homework in my future to help improve her and strengthen her!

Following our ride, we went to the river and swam awhile.

After our swim, Nicole and Carlos arrived and our camp area was a flurry of activity for a bit.

I was distracted much of the afternoon waiting on Lauren's horse to arrive along with a horse that was being dropped off for a friend to pick up later that evening. They finally showed up around 4:30p in a moment when I happened to be wandering around looking (for the 3rd time) and so I darted over to fetch both horses. The give away would stay tied to my trailer for an hour until her new owners arrived, and with Carlos' help, I increased the size of my corral to make a space for Shiloh. (I didn't originally *know* Shiloh would be penned up with us, but it definitely worked out a lot better that he was!)

Sometime around the time Shiloh arrived, but before dinner, Nicole's friend Jess whom I've heard SO much about arrived. Everyone met and mingled for a bit before we headed over to dinner and the ride meeting.

Contrary to past years, the club did not slow cook a whole hog all day this year for Friday night's dinner; instead, they opted to buy pork butt from the same gentleman we typically get the pigs from and have it pre-cooked and brought to camp to serve as sandwiches instead of having to pull the hog and deal with all of that nonsense. It was still delicious, as slow-cooked locally raised meat tends to be.

I admit to not paying much mind at all to the ride meeting. I knew that the blue loop had changed a bit, but I wasn't super concerned about it. Beyond that, I knew criteria would be at 64 with 60 at the finish and knew I knew the yellow loop like the back of my hand. And so, I spent much of the ride chatting with our group and catching up. <3

Following dinner, everyone took the horses on a leg-stretching grass-eating walk for a time before coming back to our camp to talk for a short time. Dom and Mike joined us for a time even! It was really nice to chat with everyone, but ultimately sleep was singing its sweet song and we all left to follow it.

Saturday

I slept well, albeit lightly that night. The camp wake up and Lauren's arrival, both around 5:30a, roused me up for good though.

Once dressed, I putzed around for a bit doing random things as I waited on Austen to rouse herself. Nicole and Co. were already milling about, as were Dan and Co.

Austen and I, with Lauren tagging along, walked over to get some coffee from the registration tent. With a jolt of caffeine in our systems, we sparked to life a little more than we had been, but we still weren't very alert.

As Lauren and Austen had never been to an endurance event prior, I wanted them to see the start of the 50 so they knew what the start of a ride was like (though my plan for everyone was to leave camp after all of the starters for the 30!). Fortunately for all, it was a very, very mellow start. Other than a few horses side-stepping, no one acted out and all walked or trotted calmly out of camp.

After the 50s left, we went back to get our horses ready, though we took our sweet time about it. My head wasn't super focused at all through the process. Lauren kept offering to help and grab this and that, and as much as I appreciated the offers, I just couldn't put to words what I was doing/going to do. After planning and executing the OD 100, a 30 on my "home" course seemed like child's play and I was totally lackadaisical about the entire thing.

Somehow, all three horses, Q, Shiloh, and Griffin, were tacked up and all riders (all 8 of us!) were mounted and ready with time to spare before the start. Despite Dan's urgings, "Let's GO!", I held everyone back away from the start until I was certain most of the 30s had left. Nicole played right into my "make everyone wait" goal, whether purposely or not, I'm uncertain, by taking photos of the group and trying to get our attention.

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The posse!
Photo by Nicole
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Uncertain beasties
Photo by Nicole
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Lauren and I...and probably my new favorite photo of Griffin. SMILE!
Photo by Nicole

Finally, I was satisfied that any potential starting chaos was past, and we headed out on trail at a sedate walk.

We trotted for a little bit, but Griffin threw a bit of a broncing fit (no extreme aerobatics but he was popping up in the front and the back end a lot and squealing). Then I noticed that Lauren's stirrups were incredibly uneven (totally my bad) so we had to stop and fix those at the beginning of the ride. Beyond Griffin's relatively mild antics and Lauren's stirrups though, we didn't have any issues with the start!

Becky Pearman was in the river at the start for photos, and I darted ahead to try to get another epic river photo on Griffin. Without a crop though, Griffin wasn't totally convinced he should canter through the water.

For the next many miles, we'd trade leaders as we went in my efforts to keep us going down the trail at a fair pace with proper etiquette toward other riders. It's kind of nerve-wracking managing so many new riders! Dan and Charlie rode sweep for me the whole time to keep an eye on things. I had Griffin lead as much as I could, let the old pro Shiloh lead with Lauren a fair bit on loop 1, too, and tried letting Carlos lead a fair bit, too, but Carlos was almost always riding too fast for the rest of the group which almost got us in trouble several times. Once Austen and Q settled into their partnership, they led us a fair bit, too, which Q did beautifully at.

The biggest uphill of the first loop was all on a gravel road. The beginning is mild, and so I told everyone we could trot those sections, but we'd be walking in a bit. I don't know what happened exactly, but when we finally reached the steady uphill, almost the entire group took off cantering/galloping. Da fuq?! I think Carlos was in the lead of that charge? All I know is that Dan and I were in the back chatting with other riders and we looked up to see all of them galloping away. Well, Griffin had HAD it at this point and was not possibly going to catch up to them (he was debating why he ever became my horse and why would I possibly bring him to such a ride when he wasn't in as peak condition as he could be), so I told Dan, "Go get them and stop them. Make them walk. Please!" and he and Butch took off to catch and slow our group who was now disappearing around the turn in the road!

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Shiloh and Lauren leading
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Smiles walking up the hill
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Few more smiling faces
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Probably my favorite selfie of the ride.
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Dan, don't look so scared!
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Q had been standing squarer a moment before! And look, Nicole! Electrolyting and hackamore swapping!
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"You mean, there's MORE?"

I have no issue with going faster like that, it's how I normally ride. But how I normally ride is also on a horse far fitter than nearly any horse in that group, who is proven at multiple mileages, and whom will pulse down quickly and easily at a hold. The group we had on this day was NOT conditioned like that and NOT capable of pulsing in like that at a hold! We needed to ride smart and ride slow if we had any hopes of getting everyone through.

Dan slowed everyone down one-by-one as he passed them, and Griffin and I did a slow trot to catch up with a bit of time. All was well and good, though when we reached the top of the incline where the spotter was, more than a few of the horses were breathing harder than I wanted to see. Fortunately, at my recommendation to hand walk the last tiny incline before reaching the ridgeline where we'd ride for a couple miles, almost everyone dismounted and hand walked the horses to give them a break for a little bit.

Three more spotters, two moonshine stops, and one grazing stop (I was pretty serious about making sure all the horses were doing the best they possibly could be) later, we were coming into camp for the first check and hold. We'd walked the horses for the last 3/4 mile and had dismounted to handwalk them in for the final ¼-mile of that. Thanks to this preparation and careful management, all were very close to being at pulse criteria once we'd stripped tack. With just a little sponging, all were down at or below criteria and went through the vetting.

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Libations.

I can't speak for Dan's horses or Nicole's horses other than to say "they passed the check" but I do know that both Q and Shiloh (½-Arabs) had CRIs in the 40s (48/48 for Q and 48/40 for Shiloh) with all As and the vets asked if either of them was doing anything out there (haha). Griffin and I vetted through with the pickiest vet of the group and he was screaming his head off the whole time. Basically, each time we returned to camp Griffin went into a screaming fury calling for anyone and everyone who might listen. Nevermind that all of his friends were WITH him, he had to talk to the whole camp. -_- So, needless to say, my vetting was a bit nerve wracking. His pulse was 56 when I checked it before the P&R station, 60 at the P&R, 64 when the vet checked it, and his CRI ended up being 64/68. Screaming, screaming, screaming. The vet also called him "off behind" gave him Bs for attitude, impulsion and gait, A- on 3 other criteria, and Bs on all gut sounds. I inquired what I could do to improve all of these scores and was told, "Keep him eating and drinking." Well, he's doing that beautifully, so okay.

The rest of the hold went uneventfully. All horses ate well and drank well and both of mine peed. The latest out time for our group was 11:12a and I think it was more like 11:15a when we all rolled out at a sedate walk once again, only picking up a trot/canter when we passed the photographer at the top of the hill as we left camp.

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<3
(Used with purchase.)


The next 3ish miles went pretty uneventfully as we picked our way up the mountain to ride on the ridgeline once more. Carlos was in the lead for this and ended up passing some other riders and leaving our group in the dust for 5-10 minutes before he stopped for us to catch up. Once we caught up, he took off too fast once again which led to Dan screaming from behind, "DUDE SLOW DOWN! TAKE IT EASY!" because he was worried about the group keeping up and Lily in particular as I believe she'd received a lot of Bs during the vetting.

I pushed Griffin to the front after that and wound through the tricky mud puddle section with ease before Griffin told me in no uncertain terms that he. was. done. leading. And so I let Carlos take the lead before, and he was much more cautious about his speed.

We wound along on top of the mountain with minimal issues, Carlos and Austen trading off with the lead for awhile.

I was growing increasingly concerned about Griffin as we went along. Even though he had shoes on, he was mincing his steps really dramatically any time we were on gravel or significant rocks. Dan assured me he saw no reason for Griffin to be so sore when he shod him two days prior. So I tried to ease my mind a bit, but it still bugged me.

When we reached the beginning of the stretch of trail that was new, I dismounted and hand walked Griffin for a time. The trail was pretty laden with gravel bits and I figured he'd rather deal with that without me on board. Eventually, most of the group dismounted to handwalk this section that ended climbing a big incline to a nice grassy section where we let all of the horses graze for a time while we indulged in the first cell service of several days.

To this point, the day had been overcast and very humid with intermittent drizzling rain. The temperature wasn't too bad in the low 80s, but the humidity was oppressive. It made it very difficult for the horses to cool out properly and made me very thankful that the sun wasn't out to make matters even worse! So, taking hills easy and stopping to graze was a really important part of getting the group through.

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Selfie attempt
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Better photo

I checked pulses on all (Dakota was the lowest at 50 with Q and Shiloh also in the 50s and all others in upper 60s) after we grazed for a time and declared that we should walk all of the ups and significant downs, and trot the flat bits for the rest of the ride. We shouldn't have more than 7 miles left, but as I hadn't pre-ridden the new section (I was supposed to map it but Griffin's abscess ruined those plans) I didn't know what was ahead.

All remounted and set out. I rode Griffin for a time, but when we reached what seemed to be another long downhill (rocky) I dismounted to lead him down it.

I was growing increasingly concerned about time and miles at this point. I was more or less "in charge" of everyone all day - keeping the pace, making certain all of the horses were handling things okay, and getting us in and out of checks smoothly. It was a lot! I was ready for it, but it was still a little nerve wracking - especially toward the end when I realized we were going to be cutting things close time-wise. I HATE racing the clock. Hate. It.

In my head, I separated out the horses who were doing great and could handle any pace, those who needed to be coddled a little, and those who really needed to go slow. As I handwalked Griffin, several of our group noted to me that Lily had taken some off steps. It sounded like it could have just been a rock, but hard to tell. She was walking now on tricky footing and seemed okay.

I shared with Austen and Carlos about my plan to split up and how we'd do it if it happened. It had been amazing that we had all been able to ride together to this point, but it wasn't fair for everyone to have to sacrifice their completions for one weak link, y'know? So, point shared, burden off my shoulders a little bit from internalizing it for so long, I realized my right knee was really bugging me and I decided to jog. Griffin easily picked up a trot with me and downward we descended, passing everyone in the group.

I really had a Forrest Gump moment. I just kept run-nig and run-nig and run-nig. It felt good and it made me hopeful that we'd get to a place I recognized on the trail sooner than later so I could better gauge the time and miles to better manage our group. I didn't exactly tell anyone I was going to run for as long as I did, but I ended up running nearly a mile down that damn hill. Griffin trotted happily along and Austen joined me on Q at some point, too.

At a natural flat spot, I waited to see everyone else, told them sorry for running off, but explained that I wanted to find out where we were so I could pace us better. Dan, Charlie, Orion and Lauren were all together and agreed with my reasoning, so I took off again.

Shortly after that though, the trail took a bit of an uphill turn and I said eff that noise. I don't run uphill. So I remounted then waited for the group with Austen who'd continued along with Griffin and I riding Q.

When the group came around the corner, Carlos and Jess were still absent. We waited for a time for them, but I finally had to call it and say, "Let's keep walking." We simply couldn't sacrifice completions for the rest of us and time was really going to be short.

We walked and walked for a time. Charlie and I even dismounted and handwalked Dakota and Griffin awhile more.

We eventually came to Howell Bridge crossing (where I was suspecting we'd come out after a time because nothing else made sense in my mind) and found out that we had 3.5 more miles to camp. Excellent. It was somewhere around 1:45p at this point. We indulged in some beverages (water and otherwise) and waited for 5 minutes for Carlos and Jess before I urged everyone to move on.

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Yay water!
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Q still isn't sure about walking through water...
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Drinking like a boss

Those remaining 3.5 miles were uneventful and we walked the horses in/dismounted at the same places as before - though I did tell Lauren and Austen to go ahead and ride their horses in. Q and Shiloh were more than capable of pulsing quickly after trotting across the finish.

We all came in around 2:20p and every horse pulsed down pretty quickly. Bonus? Griffin wasn't screaming as badly as before.

Both of my horses and Shiloh vetted through the final check with all As. Griffin's CRI was 56/56 and Q and Shiloh were both (once again) in the 40s. Completions for all!

Orion was unfortunately pulled at the finish for a slight offness of her mare's front left. I could see it later when I trotted her out back at the trailer, but it wasn't very obvious - no worse that Q's offness at the second Laurel Run check of the OD 100! Dan had also been running Butch without hind shoes and he had a somewhat predictable stone bruise that caused him to be pulled at the finish also. Dan's Dakota completed with great scores. (Nell and Butch were fine the next AM.)

As for Jess and Carlos? Well, I'll let them tell their tale over at Nicole's blog.


Following our completions, we settled the critters and changed clothes. Q and Griffin got a watermelon to split between themselves, and I even gave Shiloh a few bites before we took him over to his ride home that was about to leave.

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Happy nomz
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Mmmm

Austen, Lauren and I grabbed our ride photos from Becky before heading down to meet everyone at the swimming hole where we would spend the next hour cooling off and relaxing post-ride. It was so nice to just sit and chat with everyone in the river. Seriously love these people. <3

Following swimming, we went to the awards dinner. Of 66 starters, there were 40 finishers. That humidity was a bitch and the trail isn't the easiest.

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Because it isn't RBTR without ample dogs!
Photo by Carlos

Austen and I ended up tying for turtle!

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Woo! Also, my shirt matches the turtle ;-)
Photo by Carlos

It'll be a long while before my horses tie for an award again! How special that we could this time around.

Lauren finished right ahead of us.

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Yay Lauren!
Photo by Carlos

Dinner was great, once again, drinks were plentiful, conversations were rich, and laughter was a constant.

Lauren's ride arrived right at the end of dinner, so we got her sent off with words of praise (once again) and then settled in for the night to drink and chat. Per the norm, we had a band (classic rock cover band this year) and bonfire, but we didn't bother walking over to it this year, opting instead to sit near my easy-up and chat.

Except before we could settle in, we had an impromptu hoof clinic with Daisy! Amanda's gelding Elvis was getting a trim and Dan and Nicole and I were interested in geeking out while she did so. But the more and more people wandered over and before we knew it there was a small following gathered around an LED spotlight as Daisy narrated to us why she was doing what she was doing.

I've heard about her clinics for 2 years now, but it was fun to watch her work. 85% of what she did and why was right in line with what I do when I trim my horses. The new-to-me information wasn't anything earth-shattering, but definitely helps pull the bigger picture together and will benefit my trimming skill for sure. Hopefully Dan will get to one of her clinics eventually to pick up some more skills.


Once Elvis' feet were all trimmed up, we settled in to drink and talk for hours. I was definitely the weakest link though and went to bed around 11p. I just couldn't keep my eyes open much longer!!

Sunday and follow-up

I slept great and was hesitant to rise on Sunday. But camp needed to be picked up and the car needed packed.

I manged to get everything broken down and packed in record time and in a neater fashion than I've ever done before.

Our whole group was able to roll out of camp around 9:30a to get on with our travels and our days.

It was a really great weekend. I loved meeting Jess, riding with Charlie, and introducing Austen and Lauren to a new sport. (I think they're both a bit addicted now. ;-) )

I don't have any rides planned for awhile, but the training will continue ever onward. I foresee a lot of dressage in my near future for all horses. Griffin and I plan to clinic with Stephen Birchall in a few weeks and Austen has a lot of homework for me to do with Q that I'm excited about! With time and patience, Q will be stronger than ever and Griffin's fitness is finally getting back to a great place. =)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Happy 6th Birthday, Griffin

And cheers to many more, grey guy. <3

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Rainy and dreary and he was disgusting, but photos had to be taken!
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Treats?
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<3

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Summer Living

Summer is in full swing and my life carries on as busy as ever. 40 hours on the clock for work, 4 horseback riding lessons, and various life responsibilities consume me from Monday - Thursday. I run away to Dave's on the weekends where we enjoy lazy mornings, active afternoons that lapse into the evening hours, and then end the day with a nightcap with or without friends.

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On top of the world with my favorites

I feel so rushed about lately, jam packing my schedule as I have, but I feel fulfilled with such a busy life, so I really can't complain too much. At first, the thought of giving lessons on top of my job seemed a daunting task - I had interest from 6 or 7 people! I'm grateful for the interest and I love sharing my passion with others, but I am only one person with two horses and a whole other life outside of them, so my time is limited. I capped my students to 3 (one girl comes 2x/week) and life is wonderful. Each is eager to learn and passionate about learning more and being better. It makes me so happy to watch them learn and fall in love with horses all over again each lesson.

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Her first time jumping something more than a tiny crossrail and her second jumping lesson ever! She LOVES it.

Between lessons and my training rides, Griffin is getting his fair share of work lately. I'm riding him in the LD at RBTR in 2½ weeks, so I need to polish him up and into shape quickly. He's coming right along and doing very well; he absolutely loves having a job. Most of his workouts have been restricted to the farm of late - dressage-focused flatting (with quite a bit of emphasis on walk-canter transitions as I really want him to work that booty!), some hill sprints, jumping, and of course his patient lessoning with the girls.

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Blurry still from a video, but we've still got it.

Last night I got him out on his first significant trail ride in a few months - 8 miles with 1,300' climbing and an average ride pace of 4.8 mph. He's significantly spookier on the trails than he once was, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that for a time as he hasn't done as much trail work since 2014. Time and miles cure most things, so I'm sure he'll move out a little better with more trail work. He gets shoes on Sunday (his first!), and I'm sure they'll increase his confidence just like they've done for Q.

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July 5 on top and July 20 below. Sunset lighting for the win.

Q is doing well. The 8 mile trail ride was her first real ride back (I rode her for a brief 5 minute bareback jaunt on Monday and that was followed by a bareback lesson which consisted of almost exclusively ring work on the lunge line) since the 100. My lesson student was on her and followed me most of the time, but for the moments I did watch the little mare, she seemed content. Or as content as she gets - she's such a stoic little creature. Her footfalls sounded confident and relaxed throughout the ride.

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Treats?

Post-ride, we untacked and sponged the horses. Griffin pulsed in at 57, which I'll totally take considering his non-Arab status, and Q was at 47. Clearly the ride didn't do much to challenge her; I love the level of fitness she's at right now! She'll also be doing the LD at RBTR (with a non-endurance blogger aboard!) which will play perfectly into maintaining her fitness levels. (A quick aside, but I want to note this for the record: I observed Q roll all the way over last night For The First Time. She is so focused on scratching certain parts of her shoulder and bum and usually rolls on an incline that I've never actually seen her roll over. I've never worried she was physically unable to, but moreso just never witnessed her rolling on a truly flat patch of ground.)

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Dave and I picked a gallon of blueberries last weekend. Each of these jars is a quart.

Biking and climbing are helping me push my fitness into another dimension during the summer months. My legs especially are more fit than they have been since my competitive swimming days. It's fabulous. My bike handling skills are so much improved from last year, too, and I'm really enjoying the trails anew; it's so satisfying to only dab a foot once or only walk a short section of a trail I was hike-a-biking for much greater distances last year! Long uphill sections are also increasingly easier as time goes on. Cardio for the win.

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Ride at Five'rs heading through ferns on Hellbender trail.

I'm excited for a lot of upcoming opportunities in coming weeks for riding, biking, and climbing. Summer is sweet and it is my every intent to soak up as much of it as I can being as active as I am able.

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'Cause when the blueberries are in, you stop and enjoy! Ride at Five, Forage at Five. Bikes and Blueberries.