Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reprieve

Life lately is busy and beautiful. I'm constantly on the run and more in love with West Virginia than I have ever been.



I've been running away to Canaan Valley nearly every weekend since January. First it was ski patrol that kept me there; I had an obligation. But now? Now I flee there for a reprieve from the work week; a reprieve from the world. 




I find myself more wrapped up in outdoor adventure than ever as I spend time up there. My weekends consist of watching sunrises and sunsets from porches as I sip my tea in the morning and my beer/wine/cocktail in the evening. Long lazy walks occur as well  as faster paced hikes through beautiful terrain. Sometimes I trail run, but most times when I'm traversing trails with speed, I'm on a mountain bike.


I'm falling head over heels (not literally...yet...it is inevitable, I fear) for mountain biking. Tucker County has some of the best trails in the country for the sport along with some truly outstanding athletes. I never ever expected I would enjoy mountain biking as much as I am. It's a rush. It's insane. The trail consumes my thoughts wholly and I'm able to completely lose myself in each precise moment as I traverse the trail, my worries about the rest of the world completely absent for the while.




Over the past holiday weekend, I traded back and forth between horse and bike. I trailered Q up for the weekend to ride with friends in the valley. Over three rides, we covered around 28 miles with over 2800' climbing. The middle ride was short with nearly no tricky terrain, but the other two involved 1000' climbs.


About to drop off the edge of the 1000' descent; we'd climbed it previously

Riding in and around that area is so stunningly beautiful. The greenery is outstanding right now, so crisp and vibrant. I discovered that my little mare has gained more confidence than ever of late. She adored the single track trails and the pipeline right-of-way. During the weekend we only had one spook event that sticks in my mind - this is amazing when I think back to this time last year where I was lucky to get through a ride with fewer than 3 events!

The high elevation valley air is as good for Q as it is for me it seems. Her forward, confident nature - especially on the single track - blew me out of the water. All I could do was giggle as she nearly pulled my arms out of socket in her eagerness to blast down the single track when we finally arrived to it. If the behavior continues, it will certainly become more of a handful and something worth curbing, but for the 3 rides over the weekend it was absolutely wonderful to experience such behavior exhibited from a previously fearful and timid mare.


If you "embiggen", you can see vague outlines of ski slopes on two different peaks in distance. The left one is Timberline and on the right is Canaan - both resorts I work in the winter.








To mix things up, I helped sweep a mountain bike race course on Saturday. Much like an endurance event, there were multiple loops and multiple distance echelons which competitors chose to race. The trails are marked similar to an endurance event. I helped sweep the "long" loop with the gnarliest terrain. I was "hike-a-bike"-ing most of the loop as I couldn't handle actually riding it. This was perfect as I needed to remove markers frequently along the path.

I spent my time both amazed by the beauty of the area and flabbergasted that people were actually riding bikes - at speed! - on what proved to be one of the hands down gnarliest trails I have ever traveled. To my endurance riding friends, we ain't got nothin' on this shit! These guys take the trophy for most insane trails traversed. I will never complain about a gnarly horseback riding trail again unless I've found myself on some of this mountain biking single track.



The trail afforded me with some beautiful vistas I'd never laid eyes on before. It was so rewarding to travel across terrain I'd never seen.






By the weekend's close, the statistics were something like this:

- 28 miles on the horse
- 11 miles on the bike
- 5 miles hiked
- many miles traveled on new-to-me roads and trails
- one new swimming hole

It was certainly a weekend for the books.

The company kept throughout all of the activities was rich and wonderful. Capping off my days sitting outside eating and drinking with friends new and old as beautiful vistas surround us keeps me humbled and happy.






As the delicately sweet scent of black locust blooms wafted through the air each evening finding it's way to my nose, I breathed deep, taking in the sight of the first fireflies blinking in the distance, listening to the crickets sing during the breaks in what tended to become quiet conversation with the falling darkness.

I am beyond fortunate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

These are Mine


Last night the lighting was beautiful and Q was particularly CLEAN following some passing thundershowers. Her early summer coat - pre-sun bleaching - is just so remarkably beautiful. She is SO DARK in comparison to how she usually is. I decided I simply had to try to capture it.

A bonus? Q was being exceptionally cute last night. She followed me with her eyes everywhere I went, stretched her nose toward me to investigate my person every time I passed by her as I moved about between the tack room and both horses. She was also exceptionally calm and relaxed, something that is fortunately becoming a new norm for her!

Griffin, the boy he is, had rolled in the dirt right before I arrived judging from his appearance. I dusted him off for some photos, too, but it just wasn't his night photo-wise. He's been more prevalent in photos of late, so it's high time Q had her chance, too.

As I snapped away, I took a great thrill in the thought and knowledge that, Wow,these are MY horses. Mine. My childhood self would be ecstatic right now...hell, I'm ecstatic right now!
 
So, without further ado, some photo spam of my critters.

That shine. That booty. That face.


Dapples are still in full effect for another year!
Lighting does not accurately represent how dark she is in this photo,
but I love the soft brown highlights where her leg meets her abdomen.

Hai laidee, give me apple?

Even in this photo of his eye you can see
dirt... He was a mess!

So much shine! And again with the light brown mixing with the dark.

Further brown blending.

Dat nose doh.

Still investigating me for treats.

Her blaze <3

A much more accurate representation of how dark she is; lighting better here.

It was scary, then in less than 15 seconds
it was boring. Good mare.

Snoozing.

Plodding along.

Caught her peeing...took photo.

"Friends. I have friends. My friends are over
there. Did you know I have friends? Do you
see my friends? My friends are over there. I
love my friends. I have friends..."
-Q's mantra. Always. Forever.

Friday, May 15, 2015

From Failure to Success

Lately my first instinct when I go to the barn is to ride Griffin. My recent rides on Q have been wonderful, but really all I desire is to ride my grey horse. I don't know why. Maybe because he's typically the easier one of the two to deal with and I've got enough other things going on that I want to go out to the barn and enjoy an "easy" ride.

...except Griffin has been anything but easy lately!

I have fully arrived at the conclusion that Griffin is just a horse who needs consistent work. I need to make more of an effort to put in 3 days a week on him. (Because I simply cannot regularly strive to fit in more than 3 days. I'm far too busy; if I had one horse, it would be different.)

All the same, I've managed to turn our rides from horrible into good recently. It's a testament to how much calmer my mindset on life is in recent months. A rough start doesn't send me into a tizzy, I just rewind and work back through things in a different manner to best help my horse to find some success.

I'd hoped to do primarily jumping last night with Griffin. But best laid plans are just that, plans.

I set out two parallel ground poles for Griffin, an exercise from the 101 Jumping Exercises book, that we would use at the intersection of a figure-8. First we just walked through the poles as we bent around the 8. Then I changed it up to be a downward transition within the poles. A walking figure-8 meant we would halt between the poles; Griffin excelled. A trotting figure-8 meant we would walk between the poles; this started well and then fizzled into a mess.

Griffin initially picked up this LOVELY little western pleasure jog. He was reaching into the bit and listening so well. I praised him immensely. He'd slow to a walk between the poles, NBD. But as is becoming routine with this horse, he became more and more bottled up that he *gasp* wasn't allowed to go faster.

By our 4th round of the trot to walk figure-8, he was giving these grunts and tiny squeals with every walk to trot transition. He literally sounds like some kind of mutant guinea pig when he makes his little squeals - they're abbreviated in length, and muted in comparison to many noise a horse can make. They're also indicative of the high potential for an outburst from him in the near future.

By round 5 of trot-walk, he was popping his front end up into one or two canter strides in protest as he departed into the trot. Grunt. Squeal. Pop the front end a couple times. Then settle, but with an attitude about it. Rinse. Repeat. -_-

I decided to move the exercise into canter with a downward trot transition to see if a round or two of this would settle him a bit. Perhaps if he got to move out he'd just calm the F down?

*buzzzzz* WRONG.

What a shit.

Cue epic flailing, crow hopping, and baby bucking.

Shithead.

After the pictured flail, I dismounted and lunged his sassy ass for a moment or two to reset him.

I then remounted and took him over to the path that the tractor takes to the upper pasture and made him canter up it and walk down it twice. He was a saint for that.

However, reentering the field, his attitude returned.

I know the horse likes to canter, but we've already established that cantering isn't the answer. It's worth noting, he only thinks cantering is the answer when we are flatting. If we're on the trail he's game for many other options. Additionally, his newest attitude trigger is *gasp* pressure on his sides from a rider's legs. Heaven forbid I provide any inkling of a leg aid. Any leg pressure clearly means CANTER RIGHT NAO. No, no it doesn't you silly grey horse. And once again, this is a problem only intermittently presented when we're doing flat work that never presents on the trail.

I'm fairly confident it's just his newest way of testing his boundaries with me. The past year or so it was any pressure on his mouth, now it's any pressure on his side. He picks something to overreact to and see how far he can get. It's been his way with basically everything ever in hindsight. *waggles finger at Griffin* You silly horse, I'm learning your ways!

And so, with attitude firmly reestablished, I rewound back to the beginning of riding exercises.

Flex left. Flex right. Rinse. Repeat. Give to the pressure and stand quietly.

Except he couldn't be quiet about it. Instead, he spun in manic circles in each direction for the first attempt at each side. *sigh* However, once the light bulb came on, it stayed on.

We then walked. We walked a lot in a straight line. And then we halted and stood. Walk on. Halt. Stand. Walk on. Halt. Stand. Rinse. Repeat.

We continued to repeat the above, except we added backing after the halt before we walked on. He had a bit more of an attitude about that, but grasped it after a few repetitions.

I omitted the backing and the frequency of halting after he'd calmed. We walked and added some bending to our walking. Slowly, Griffin became more supple, lowered his headset, and reached for the bit. Much better.

So we began working over the ground poles at that very pleasant walk.

The camera angle doesn't do much for his hind end...

That was much better. So much in fact, that after several more circuits, we added the trot back in.



Much more control, focus, and steady rhythm now!

So then, because I knew it was really all he wanted to do, I rewarded him with a little jumping before we called it a night.



Yep. There's the horse I knew was hiding under all that attitude.

Much better. And talk about a turn around from the beginning of the night!!

To review:




Beyond rewinding to basics before building back up, the biggest good thing I did tonight was to continue to work him after he began to turn around his attitude. Gone are the days of quitting after the very first good note I can find in order to reward his ego without over working him. He's old enough now that I can't always cease our sour sessions with the first small good thing. He's picking up on the fact that he doesn't have to work very hard when I do that. It's time for him to learn that quality work is expected on a regular basis. Quality can be a quality halt, a quality walk, or quality work doing faster gaits or jumping. Attitude will not be accepted, it will be redirected.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Time and Miles

Q seems to be growing more of a brain finally. With added time and miles on trail, she's becoming much more reliable than she's been in the past. It seems as if I'm finally regaining the mare I brought home 3 years ago. I'm also unlocking more about her personality every day, and it seems I have a much more confident and sassy horse than I ever expected - something I applaud and encourage after worrying she was the polar opposite!

Of late, Q has been forward and confident on trail. She will give a wary look to certain objects, but by and large, she doesn't spook any more. At least not like she had been doing over the last year. The only spooking I deal with now seems to occur largely in new-to-her locations - and I'm okay with that.

Her default absolute-panic response is still to SLAM on the brakes and whirl around (always to her left), but the frequency of such spooking is much diminished. The whirling aspect of her spooks is also dropping in frequency, as well.

We had a particularly phenomenal 10.5 mile ride Sunday:

She was forward and eager to move out from the moment we left the barn. She knew she had a job to do and she did it. I was beyond thrilled. Every climb was tackled at a minimum of a trot, but often at a canter. She ate up the vertical like it was nothing!

After a brief respite at the peak of the hill, we'd resume trotting.

She put in a solid 4 or 5 miles before she gave me a legitimate spook. It occurred in an area she'd only been in 2x prior (both occurrences on the same day within 20 minutes of each other). Fallen logs on either side of the cleared trail were clearly a cause for alarm and she exhibited a hard stop from the canter with a moderate attempt to whirl to her left and run away from the perceived danger.

As Newton's first law dictates, an object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest remains at rest...unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Well, I stayed true to the act of staying in motion while Q exhibited an unbalanced force and stopped. I somersaulted off her right shoulder and onto the ground, my eyes staying on Q and my hands which were clenched to the reins throughout my fall. No way in hell was I about to let go of the damn horse when there was chance of having to travel home on my own two feet while she fled pell mell through the woods!

Q staggered back a bit, eyes wide and shifting from the logs to me and back to the logs. I grunted and slapped her on the coronet band with my dressage whip in my frustration as I clambered gracelessly off the ground muttering under my breath and climbed back into the saddle with nary a word to her.

Settled in the saddle, I turned her toward the logs and the direction I desired to go and told her, "Little girl, you ought to be more scared of this rider on your back than those fucking logs," and popped her good on the rear with the dressage whip, spurring her forward. She rocketed up the trail, taking my suggestion to heart and placing her fear in me instead of potential log monsters for the rest of the ride. (I say fear and not trust because there isn't trust from this horse in tricky moments...yet. I think it will come, but right now I'll take having her attention on me instead of things she's worried about in whatever form I can get it. At least she's giving me attention where she used to give me none!)

While I still lost my temper, I'm proud of myself for not yelling at her or hitting her more than I did; anger is a tricky emotion and resisting the urge to lash out is very hard in the heat of the moment. Honestly, that little crack with the dressage whip was very minor and likely not any worse than getting popped with a stick as we wind our way down rough trail. Or even clipping a pole over a jump. Ultimately, violence wasn't the right answer, but I'm still proud of myself for only having that much of an outburst instead of acting on the fire hot anger I was experiencing in the moment.

Controlling my reaction proved to be the proper answer however, as I was gifted with a wonderful remainder of my ride.

We have begun trotting all of the easy-moderate downhills where the footing is good. In the past, downhills at rides have been our downfall (pun intended) as I don't train them with any speed at home. Even though we walk them in competition, Q's legs will be stocked up significantly more post-ride if there were a lot of descents.

Downhills are hardest on a horse's legs I've always been told. But they are inevitable in this part of the world. And for many of the rides I've done, if you can't move out on the downhills at some rides, then you're going to be suffering significantly to meet the time limit for the ride! Sometimes they are the ONLY places you can move out - especially at some of the OD rides.

The downs that we are training on are definitely easy in comparison to many downs. I'm still walking down everything moderate, moderate-hard. But I'm hopeful that pursing trot training on the easy-moderate downs will help to further strengthen Q's legs. And besides, it isn't as if I'm pursuing this type of thing on a horse who has no fitness base built! We're coming to a close of 3 whole years of conditioning for endurance at the end of this month! (Wow...) That is a good amount of time for her muscles, tendons, and bones to have build up in response to conditioning.

Through our 10.5 mile ride (which included some significant climbing over a short distance) we maintained a faster pace than ever before averaging 6.45 mph. The route we took was a new one and one that I plan to tackle again and again in the future. I wasn't going for time when we set out, but I do value the stats gathered from this first ride as they will be valuable to compare with future efforts over the same course. I love data and am always interested to see how rides on the same terrain change over time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cantering Isn't the Answer

Last week I decided to do some ground pole work with Griffin.

I took all 6 poles from my standards and set them up as trot poles.

It took a little botching to get the spacing *just right* for Griffin. You see, this horse thinks that the canter is the answer to EVERYTHING. He'd rather canter than just about anything - at least on the flat. If poles aren't spaced *just right* he will canter them. He has the ability to do the slowest, most collected canter. I've tried to tell him how trotting would be easier, but he is very insistent that his collected canter is better.

I did get the poles arranged in an acceptable spacing however.



I made the ground poles a piece of several patterns so that I was able to approach them from both sides.

As Griffin proceeded through the non-ground pole section of the patterns he often asked to canter and was immediately shut down into the trot.

Finally though, after being shut down many times, I gave in and told him, "Fine. If you're going to canter it's going to be really hard."



And so I made him canter the trot poles.

I could practically hear the cogs in his little head whirring with that! He maintained right until the last two poles and then broke into a couple trot steps. The second time through he did better, however.

He was happier to trot after this...for a time.

So I told him again, if  he wanted to canter it wasn't going to be easy. And so we did a 10m circle in both directions.

This is HARD, Griffin expressed.

"Oh, I know," I told him, "but you wanted to canter when I told you trotting was our goal. Trotting was easier. If you're going to do something else, it isn't going to be easy. Cantering will not solve the world's problems. It really is not the correct answer to everything!"

After completing a circle in both directions without falling in, we quit with canter. And Griffin agreed, finally, that trotting was indeed a good answer and we ended on a very good note.

I'm so very much enjoying my work with this horse lately! He's so wonderful to work with and learn with.

And while the angle is slightly different (and trot poles have been added), here is a ~6 month difference in this grey gelding of mine:


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Sweetest Mare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kenai Updates







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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Treatments and Another Surgery

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

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

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

Q

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


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

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


Kenai

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

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

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

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

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


The only answer to help Kenai now is surgery.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saiph has generously set up a GoFundMe page for Kenai HERE


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

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Jumping Grey

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

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

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

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

Brown cavaletti; blue standards as ground poles


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Absolutely Outstanding

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

I had the most amazing ride on Q last night.

Absolutely outstanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Altered Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Running with Q and Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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