Friday, June 23, 2017

Journey as a Rider

As I have recently done for Q and Stan, I intend to also write a specific post about Griffin and where we're at with things. But then Emma had to go and pose questions that really got me thinking. So, sorry, Grif, but I'mma write this out first.

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Do you define yourself as a rider by your goals or ambitions? Are they inextricably linked to your specific horse? Or maybe instead, your preferred means of deriving enjoyment are defined by the horse you have currently? 

I'm a rider first and foremost because I love horses, being around them, training them, caring for them, and everything in between, good and bad. Horses scratch an itch that none of my other hobbies can. I can't explain it better than that. Secondary to this love, however, are goals and ambitions. I'd say that most simply, these goals and ambitions are to be the best I can be while helping my horses to be the best they can be.

The life of owning, riding, and competing three horses of my own wasn't what I envisioned for my journey with horses. However, it is where I AM. And in an effort to live fully in the present moment and make the best of it, I'm doing all I can to help each horse find success within jobs they enjoy that I also enjoy. I include the caveat, "that I also enjoy" because there are a few disciplines I have zero desire to ever dabble in. Fortunately, those are so few that I shouldn't have a problem finding other fun things to occupy my time (and money)! It is also fortunate that each of the horses I have right now is athletic and capable of pursuing many disciplines.

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The first lesson pony: Rocky. Also, there are horses all along the bottom of my t-shirt. Obsessed

From the moment I sat on a horse, I wanted to do more than walk. For a time, after a bad first fall, the canter scared me, but once I moved past that I wanted to canter lots. I wouldn't necessarily say, "I wanna go fast" because I don't have much desire to gallop hither and thither, but I DO like feeling like I'm going somewhere and doing something. While I always dreamed of jumping, the opportunities to do that in my area were slim growing up (and now, too). Trails were easy to come by though! Before I ever knew endurance riding was a thing, I spent hours out on trails every week trotting and cantering up and down mountains, through creeks and rivers wherever I could find to go. So it's no surprise endurance makes me happy. And now that I'm coming to a point in my life that I have the time and the means to travel to event, I'm finally pursuing that, also.


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Have you had to make decisions about buying or selling a horse based on its suitability for your goals or purposes?

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Orion. The first horse I owned for 5 months in 2011.

Horses that I've spent time with in life have largely come to me through serendipitous events. I borrowed horses growing up and didn't own one until 2011. That horse documented shortly during the beginning of my blogging time was a crash-course in Conformation 101 for me. He was NOT suited for anything I really wanted to do (endurance or some sort of jumping) and ultimately I sold him because I didn't want to spend time and money on a horse that I couldn't pursue what I loved most with.

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Yep, hard to believe that's Griffin nearly 5½ years ago. 

Griffin came along a few months after I sold my first horse. He was an ugly little 18 month old intended to be a learning project for me for groundwork. I took him on in order to learn something and maybe keep him. I learned a ton, decided to keep him, and we continue to learn together. Fortunately, his "ugly" was only a phase and he grew into a really nice critter with the best personality ever. He loves jumping the most, puts up with dressage, enjoys the trail, and is very "gamey" in the way that cutting horses are when allowed to chase/herd dogs. As chronicled on the blog, we've pursued jumping, dressage, and trails so far. I hope to put him on cattle and see if he'll work a cow some day, too.

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The second morning with Q the weekend I met her. I was leaning heavily toward buying her.

Q is the only horse I have intentionally purchased with some semblance of a plan to do so. I knew I needed a "riding project" in addition to Griffin as a "groundwork project". I'd been hunting for Arabians for a month or two online. I'd found one mare in Kentucky at an Arabian re-homing facility that I really, really liked, but I was too hesitant about the financial burden of two horses to bite the bullet on her (ultimately, the guy in charge of that place kept her for himself because she's so nice). When my riding club went to a horsemanship and trail ride clinic, the cowboy had Q and was looking to get rid of "that crazy psycho". She was super comfortable to ride, jumped neater than any horse I'd ridden prior, and had the build/breeding to stand a chance competing in endurance. I adored everything about her after 2½ days with her and the rest is history.

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4 year old Stanley!

Stan, with whom I spent many years during HS and college with, fell into my lap last summer when his owners decided to "get out of horses". I always knew this would happen at some point and had no hesitation telling them I'd take him. He's an athletic horse that, to this day, hates working in arenas and loves being on trail. While I plan to do an LD with him in about 6 weeks, I don't know that I will continue to pursue endurance with him after that. It will largely depend on how difficult it is to manage him metabolically as I really don't have a great desire to micromanage that aspect of endurance much more than I have in the past. I don't feel the need to compete Stan to feel fulfilled.


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Do you feel like there's something bigger out there, something more overarching in your own journey as a rider, independent of the horses that may come in and out of your life? Or maybe you feel the opposite - that it's less about striving forever for something, and more about enjoying each good moment as it comes?

I try to enjoy the good moments as they're presented. Have a horse that likes trails? Pursue trails and endurance. Have a horse that likes jumping? Pursue that. Have a jack of all trades? Do it all!
That being said, I am a competitive person and do enjoy working toward goals. As my horses have expressed their opinions on favorite jobs, I have stretched us both forward to see how far we can go within those jobs. I enter with cautious optimism about achieving what starts as an easy goal and move upward from there if success is found. I don't believe that I must achieve a certain level within endurance or eventing to feel fulfilled/successful. I will pursue the sports within my horse's realm of ability and enjoy every moment along the way.

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Have your opinions or thoughts on this matter had to change over time due to different circumstances? Or maybe you've never actually thought particularly deeply about it at all? 

I hadn't thought deeply about it until these questions. 😉 But now that I am... yes, my thoughts and opinions have changed over time as life has presented options to me.

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Once I learned it was a thing, I always wanted to do endurance. I didn't know at what distance though and was honestly intimidated about each longer distance until I became confirmed at the one below it. Q succeeded at LDs, so we tried 50s. She succeeded at 50s, so we did a 100. I'd still like to do more of that if she still wants to tackle it. If/when she doesn't want to, I absolutely WILL one day find another horse who wants to. I'd love to be able to pursue more 100-mile rides and participate in 3 to 5 endurance rides per year. I have zero desire to win any ride, but have every desire to complete the rides with a sound, happy horse.

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Griffin loves jumping and doesn't mind our dressage work. I'm pursuing eventing and fulfilling a childhood dream to jump and go fast in the process. We're also pursuing dressage because as an adult I am fascinated by it and see huge value in it for myself and the horse. If my summer competitions at the elementary division go well, I'd like to pursue beginner novice in the fall. (We regularly school 2'6" and 2'9" at home, so if I can get our dressage to a good point, BN seems more than achievable.) If BN goes well, I will absolutely dabble at higher levels within eventing as long as I feel comfortable and the horse can handle the questions.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Conditioning in Canaan

Stan has been home in Canaan for a little over three weeks now.

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While my riding frequency has unfortunately not increased much, the quality of our conditioning rides has increased ten-fold. In May, we managed to fit in five conditioning rides for a total of 30.6 miles. In the first half of June, we've managed to fit in four rides for a total of 41.2 miles.

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Before having Stan in Canaan, we were only able to fit in one or two rides a week due to: juggling two horses in full work, living 50 minutes from the barn, work sucking, life responsibilities. These few rides were limited to the big back field and a hill for sprints because of the new douchecanoe new neighbor forbidding access to trails we enjoyed for 5+ years.

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As a result of not having trails, most of our rides were "easy" conditioning miles (in my opinion) and lacked significant elevation gain and had zero tricky footing. They were also only about 5-6 miles in length because doing laps around the same field gets really tedious for both horse and rider after a point.

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I really knew these 1-2 rides/week were not going to cut it for preparing a non-Arab for a 30 mile ride. When I conditioned Stan for our first go at Ride Between the Rivers (RBTR) in 2007, I was 18, didn't have a full-time job, didn't have many responsibilities in life, only had one horse, and thus had lots more time available for conditioning him. We rode 1 to 3 hours a day 5 to 6 days a week. When I was out of town for summer camps, my BO would put in rides on him. We didn't know what the hell we were getting into, so we conditioned the hell out of him.

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With RBTR fast approaching, you can imagine how excited I was to get Stan closer so we could get in bigger and better rides on trails - even if they weren't going to be with the frequency that I trained 10 years ago!

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The first few conditioning rides I had with Stan in Canaan, he was completely barefoot. This seriously limited our options for places to go. Technical rocky terrain is the norm around here.

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Fortunately, my hunches on how to connect certain areas I knew to be mild footing were correct and we gained access to amazing training terrain that was barefoot friendly. We tackled two training rides on that terrain with a good 1,000+ feet of elevation gain on each ride in addition to a shorter "warm up" ride with only 300-400' of elevation gain.

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This past weekend following application of front shoes by Dan, Stan got to venture into Dolly Sods for his first time.

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Over the course of 4 hours, this old quarter horse tackled 23 miles of trails like a boss, leading the whole time (Lauren came up to train with me).

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It was my first ride in the Sods without Dan. This was odd for me mentally, but I knew I could manage on my own easily enough - especially with Stan. And, unsurprisingly, the day went wonderfully. I even tackled some trails I hadn't previously done with Dan but knew were good (read: passable) for horses.

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Stan would have definitely benefited from four shoes instead of two, but he did remarkably well with just fronts. If he had four, we'd have been able to maintain a trot in some areas that we walked and would have been able to lessen the time we were out.

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The biggest limiting factor in keeping us moving along wasn't Stan's feet though. I accidentally scheduled our training ride for the same day as the annual Highland Sky 40-mile ultra run in Dolly Sods! We intercepted and leap frogged runners for a large part of our day. Fortunately, the majority of our ride wasn't on shared trails, but the parts that were were very slow going!

Typically, ALL trail users should yield to horses, but on this day, I was more than happy to make an exception to that rule for the competitors. We very often  stepped off to the side and gave them room to keep trudging along. Every one of them was very grateful and very amicable toward us.

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We also ran into a number of hikers. We only received dirty looks from two and the other dozen or so groups were very friendly.

I made a point to Lauren throughout the day about how important it was to initiate conversation other trail users. It not only helps the horses identify bulky backpackers or brightly clad hikers/runners as humans and not monsters, but also helps shine a bright light on equestrian trail users. I'm all about being a good ambassador for horse folks in areas like this!

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Lauren loved the ride and seeing new trails. I think she did get a bit of a shock about the roughness of the terrain at first. Better to learn now than be surprised later! We had several conversations about how our training trails compare to competition trails. Basically, if she can handle what we train on, she'll be able to handily tackle any competition trail she finds herself on in the east (and honestly, probably much of the west, too, if she ever ended up there; the only thing we can't practice that the west has is work at elevation).

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Beyond trending toward slower and lazier than Q, Stan was an absolute doll all day. He was absolutely unflappable through everything we encountered on trail. He is as steady as the day is long and more than worth his weight in gold. He may be 16, but he's got a lot of go in him yet. 

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I anticipate getting another 20+ miles of conditioning in this weekend through a combination of rides. We won't be going out and winning RBTR in August, but I think this ol' quarter horse will definitely have a solid shot at earning a completion.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Updates on the Endurance Pony

Quick Backstory

As most are aware, Q presented with mild lameness (most visible on a downhill) near the end of last August. As last summer was a bitch for abscesses, I didn't fret much because the lameness was mild and she had no swelling or any other signs of discomfort. After several weeks at least one, and possibly two blown abscesses later, she was still NQR. Cue: lengthy vet lameness evaluation and the resulting ultrasound diagnosis of a lesion to her suspensory ligament in her LH near the origin point (hock).


I spoke to numerous endurance riders from around the country and got some second opinions from vets and ultimately decided to give Q time off. Lots of time off. Soft tissue heals best with time, so time I have given. Many endurance riders who have had horses with this injury have found the best results/recovery from a year of turnout; many report to be back competing at the same levels as before.

I threw Q out into the field with her friends after the lameness evaluation and haven't looked back. Other than administering some daily oral NSAIDs, I have let Q be a horse for many months. She's been sound the whole time; my BO watches the horses a lot from the house and has reported this to me. We did have follow-up ultrasounds at 60 and 120 days following the diagnosis. Both times Q showed marked improvement from former ultrasounds. My vet was very, very pleased by the time our 120-day ultrasound rolled around. I have no reason to believe she's done anything but heal more in the time since.

Present Day

Here we are, 10 months after the lameness initially presented and 9 months after diagnosis. Q has done little to nothing for the 10 month period. I could have started rehab walking earlier, and we've had a handful of 5 to 10 minute bareback walking rides scattered about, but nothing with consistency.

My non-horse life has been beyond busy and stressful which has limited my time with the horses. Q has been a low priority for me because I feel more rest and time off will only benefit her. Griffin and Stan have competitions to be ready for in the near future so they've taking precedent for the time being.

But now? Well, the thing I knew without a doubt would happen has happened.

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Guys...

She's fat.

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Sorry Q-mare, I can't lie for you any more. I can't fake the photos or shoot you "from your good side". Girlfriend, there's just no hiding that extra cushion you've got goin' on.

But, my dear, you really, truly ARE the cutest of them all even with those extra pounds.

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As a result though, I'm more motivated to start "working" the mare more regularly. Time to start half-vacation instead of full-vacation (whereby half is still work but nothing compared to her previous endurance work, haha). She will likely also go in the diet pen/get a muzzle. (I'm still working out the details of these options with my current situation.)

The first step to her reemergence into the working world was to purchase some Back on Track hock boots. Now, when I go to work Griffin, I bring her in and let her wear them for a time while I work Griffin.



She really doesn't love them for the first few seconds they're on.

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I do have to hand it to myself though. I know this mare well enough to know that she was going to have an issue with them for a bit. I also knew that if I only put one on she'd probably lose it more than if both were on. I was correct.

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After she decides she isn't 1) being attacked by the evil Hock Monster, 2) she isn't weighted down to the ground unable to move at all, and 3) can bend her legs still, she reverts to being a normal pony.

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Doesn't she look positively pissed? 😂

Poor tortured Q.

Yesterday, Q enjoyed her first ride back. We showed Chelsey and Jean Luc the few "trails" we have left to access from the barn. (Oh, btw, new horse at the barn! My childhood best friend got back into horses last month 😀. They're blogging here.)

For anyone who thought Q would be "settled" and "lazy" after her time off, I'm happy to confirm for you that she most definitely is neither of those adjectives. More accurate descriptors would be: fussbucket, loon, spazz. She's her normal self absolutely fretting over every little thing she could find to fret about. She was wound so tight and ready to explode most of the ride despite our very sedate pace and the very casual atmosphere. As I told Chels, I was just doing my best to ignore her shit and ride her like nothing was going on. Hopefully, with time, she'll quit her crap when it doesn't garner a reaction from me.

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Things that were terrifying and possible monsters on this short ride included: her shadow, stumps, moss, logs, ferns, grass, her shadow - again, the mere threat of wide open spaces (oh god the horror!), an old shed, a pile of dirt, a road cone, patchy sunlight hitting the ground. By the end, Chelsey confirmed, "I see how she could drive people crazy." Yeeee-up. This is my 100-mile horse, folks!

Fortunately, Jean Luc is a saintly horse who loves to lead. He motored along in front of us completely oblivious of Q's multiple nervous breakdowns. In fact, Jean Luc hardly flicked an ear when a fawn ran out from under his hooves! Q's reaction? A TERRIFYING BABY DEER OH MY GOD IT ATE JEAN LUC AND HE'S DEAD AND....oh, wait, no, he's totally fine and still walking home.

Q was behind him by a solid horse length. She spooked nice and big despite Jean Luc's obvious casual manner to the situation. Somehow, I manged to sit her spook with remarkable ease; muscle memory is a funny thing.

So the bottom line? Q is doing just fine. Probably better than fine. We've got lots of walking and dressage in our future. I'm going to build her body back in the most correct, balanced way possible to add support to that ligament. Maybe somewhere along this journey she'll get some new hamsters installed in that silly head of hers!

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 10 Questions



June 10 Questions Blog Hop courtesy of Allie at Rocking E Cowgirl. Photos are some of my favorite "nature shots" I've taken over the past two weeks.

What is your earliest, clearest horse memory?
While not a long memory, I do have a very vivid memory of sitting on a horse in our city park during one of the festivals our town has. My first clear memory that is more than a few fleeting moments, however, is riding a local farrier's pony as he led us up the mountain behind his house. I remember being so thrilled to ride in the woods. At the end of the ride he let me do all the steering and make my own decisions as we came back through the field to his house. I trotted for the first time and remember it being such a big thrill.

Describe the perfect summer day.
Low humidity, patchy clouds, a light breeze, in the low to mid 70s. I'd wake up early and enjoy a peaceful morning at home and make myself a big breakfast and read my book. I'd then ride all three horses - Grif and I would school dressage and jumping, Stan and I would go on a great conditioning ride full of gallops, and finally Q (who is 100% healed) and I would go out on a more technical conditioning ride. After riding the horses I'd have a short nap and then go rock climbing or mountain biking with Dave before settling down to a really tasty dinner somewhere local.

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Are you reading anything right now? Tell me about it!
I just started the Handmaid's Tale yesterday. I've been binge reading a ton of "chick flick" novels because I can no longer binge watch chick flick movies or television shows at home. I do so much technical reading and writing for work that I just need a mindless escape at the end of the day. Fantasy has always been my jam, but I'm in a lull with it lately.

Do you follow a celebrity (horsey or non) that you’re embarrassed to say fascinates you? Tell me. NOW.
I love Rachel Brathen (Yoga Girl). I've followed her on Instagram for many years. Her views on life align closely with my own and inspire me to be a better person.

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What is your single most biggest horsey dream or goal?
I'd love to have an endurance horse that reaches 3k competitive miles. This is achievable if I'm patient. A slightly bigger reach goal, however, is to have an equine who reaches 5k miles. My biggest limiting factor is time/money because I have multiple passions and cannot simply throw myself wholly into one sport. A secondary goal is simply competing in eventing - a childhood dream. I don't have competition goals yet for that because I just want to fulfill the dream of actually participating! Honestly though, if I'm dreaming, I'd love to compete Griffin at Novice eventually; if that went well, I'm fully open to giving Training a go.

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If you were at Starbucks right now, what would you order?
I'm really not a big Starbucks person and hardly know the menu. The last time I had it though I got a....java chip frappuchino, I think? And loved it!

What is your biggest equine pet peeve?
People who assume they will have a majickal bond with the horse and don't put the time or miles into the animal. A good horse takes many hours and many miles to make, they do not happen over night. So many people meet my horses and love them and then want their own. Okay, good for you. Do you have the money for such a venture? Moreso, do you have the time? I've watched countless people through the years get horses only to not work with them at all. The horse devolves into bad habits because the person thinks that they are "cute" or that they're "not serious" because "Fluffy loves me and doesn't mean anything by it!" Bullshit. A strong bond/relationship/whatever with a horse comes from a lot of hours and a lot of miles with that animal. Time and miles build trust and respect and as the human you absolutely have to be a good leader (with established boundaries) before that trust/respect will come.

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With everything going on politically and in the media, tell me, do you follow it religiously? Tune it out? Or something in between?
Nnnnngggghhh. That's my daily noise since for the past several months. I do not follow things religiously per se, but I do follow them closely. I listen to NPR, read the New York Times and the Washington Post, and check in with sites like 538. I stay well researched and educated and I'm making a difference where I can and have donated to many causes I believe in. I work for the Federal government and what's going on right now directly affects my job. It affects it so directly that my normal work week has devolved into a worse hell every week since the middle of March. I keep wondering how my job can possibly get worse and yet it continues to; being a scientist is hard y'all.

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If you had to show your horse to a song, what would you choose?
I imagine putting together a dressage routine or jumping compilation video for SO many songs. Oftentimes, the songs are upbeat and ridiculous, but they're catchy. Most recently, I put together a mental dressage routine to Miley Cyrus' Party in the USA. I am overcome with giggles thinking about how people would receive that song paired with that discipline. Alternatively, I've also put together routines to various Bonobo or Ratatat songs. For jumping, I'm inexplicably drawn to techno-esque songs; I've dreamt up many jumping compilation videos to Daft Punk songs.

What are you most looking forward to this summer? 
Getting the horses to Canaan. Showing Griffin. Competing Stan in the same race that originally got me into endurance 10 years later. Getting Q back to work. Climbing harder.

Friday, June 9, 2017

2017 Goals: Half-Way Check-In

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Q

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally  
She hasn't tread a lame step since last September's diagnosis. She's fat, sassy, happy, and ready to return to low level work as soon as I find the time. I'm not in a hurry because more rest will only benefit the leg.
- Continue to see steady improvement and be able to put this whole suspensory ordeal in the rear-view mirror this year  
See above
- At the proper time, build back strength and fitness (through hiking and dressage that will be intensely focused at the walk for a few months)
See above
- Achieve a more acute understanding of the aids and get her to accept contact
Work in progress.
- Teach her lateral movements under saddle
Work in progress.
- Build her body back in a more balanced fashion that it was preceding her injury
Work in progress.
- Enjoy many slow miles of trails (whereby "slow" is mostly walking and meandering and "many" is any amount >20 miles for the year)
Work in progress.

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Griffin

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
He is all of these things!
- Build and develop our prowess at dressage and jumping
He's steady in the contact 90% of the time; he hasn't balked at a jump yet this year; we've begun schooling 2'9" rather regularly after schooling 2'6" for ages.
- Travel and compete in at least two shows 
Got several scheduled for the latter half of the year!
- Ride in at least two clinics with Stephen
Eh. Clinics with Stephen may or may not happen. We'll see how the cards are dealt in the second half of the year.
- Take at least two lessons with a jumping trainer
I tried to schedule a lesson with a jumping trainer and ultimately never heard back from her. I've since reached out to a Centered Riding instructor and hope to get up to her for lessons once I move Griffin (this month?!)
- Spend some time perfecting our gallop - something I've never focused on before
We've done this and continue to do it! We're both more comfortable and now I'm working on finessing the finer points.

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Stan

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
Stan is all of these things - he looks, moves, and acts amazing for 16!
- Continue to build fitness with the goal of having a sleek, muscular athlete who doesn't look his age
Big success!
- Ride > 200 miles on him for the yearDefinitely marching toward that goal. We're at 75.2 recorded miles for the year plus numerous lunge line sessions.
- Compete in at least one LD 
Slated for August.


Kenai

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
He's happy and moving well, but I'm 95% certain he has alopecia X. If it isn't one thing with this dog...
- Continue to build strength
He's stronger than he's been since the surgery debacles. I'm really, really pleased with how he's been moving the past few months.
- Maintain a healthy weight and diet
He's at a GREAT weight and I'm really pleased with his diet despite the hair loss. He is SO happy and moving SO freely and is a very happy dog. The hair loss is just a freak cosmetic thing going on it seems!
- Keep him comfortable on whatever combination of supplements help him the most
Dasuquin, fish oil, melatonin, and zinc in combination with his joint-health-focused food have him acting like a puppy despite being 7 years old.


Myself

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
I'm three of these things. Work is challenging my mental health 40 hours a week, but that just can't be helped with this administration. It is a VERY hard time to be a scientist within the government. Demoralizing is the name of the game these days, I'm afraid...
- Lead climb above a 5.8
Working toward this! Dave is out for the year with an injury, so climbing partners aren't easy to come by. This is good and bad -  bad because of the obvious lack of partner, but good because I have to sack up and lead if I want to climb more!
- Conquer at least one trail on Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking
I haven't been biking as much as I'd like due to work, but I still hope to push toward this goal.
- Bike North Fork Mountain again faster than before
See above.
- Build a stronger body
Definitely stronger!
- Advance my mandolin skill
Hahahaha. What mandolin? I really ought to pull it out again. Dave hasn't been playing his guitar much either though...
- Build my photography and editing prowess as well as my small photography side business
I've really got a good editing flow that I'm really happy with now. My goal is to have a public portfolio to advertise my services by the end of July. I've been working on selecting favorite shots for that since May. I've got several fun shoots already lined up and am looking forward to what the rest of the year holds!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

One Down, Two To Go!

Stan has joined me in Canaan!

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I moved him up last Friday. He was nervous for the first bit of the trip, drenched in sweat after the first 5 miles to the gas station. Fortunately, when I stopped again about 10 miles out of town, he'd calmed down significantly. By the time we reached home, he was totally dry.

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He's settling in well at my farrier Dan's house where he is serving as mentor to a yearling mustang. His pasture situation is definitely a downgrade from the lush digs he has enjoyed most of his life, but it's a good thing! He, like Q and Grif, is an easy keeper. Not being on primo flatter pasture will serve him well and help keep him at a better weight.

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We've been on two rides so far. He's currently completely barefoot, so we're a little limited on where we can adventure. Regardless, we're making the best of the few barefoot friendly options we have.

I turned him loose on a grassy trail the other day and let him gallop. Or rather, he insisted to me that galloping would be far more fun than just cantering and I acquiesced to his request.

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It was the first time I'd let loose and galloped (though still not full bore for this horse, he's SO fast) on a trail my horse had never seen before. Q's exceptional ability to spook and drop me on the ground during the maneuver has sobered me to galloping about like I once did. Stan is making up for lost time teaching me to move past that and have fun.

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I hope to get shoes back on him in the next week and really get to it with our conditioning. We've got so many options right from the house! Bonus? It's a great workout to ride from Dan's place to my house. While my HOA doesn't allow livestock or horses, there is nothing preventing me from putting up a temporary pen to let him graze for a few hours in the afternoon to break up a workout.

I'm hoping to get Grif and Q up to the valley this month, too. Still a few things to firm up first. Fingers crossed!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Jolene and Her Trailer

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Meet Jolene and her trailer.

At long last, this post closes out a saga I've been wanting to tell for a long time.

At the beginning of February, I bought a trailer. While I wanted to crow my joy to the world about this huge step in my equine life at that time, I held off. Why? Well, succinctly as possible: I was in the process of moving to Canaan, had a vacation upcoming, work devolved into a total shitstorm (and has only built in strength since), I wanted to get the horses moved before sharing, and then I began truck hunting. Thus order to not complicate the storytelling or jinx the truck hunt, I opted to wait until most of these events found some sort of resolution/conclusion.

The Trailer

When I began trailer hunting, I had several definite criteria: I knew I wanted a two-horse bumper pull, I knew my budget and knew I wanted something in solid used condition, and I knew how far I was willing to drive to pick up a trailer. I also limited myself to smaller two-horse trailers that did not have a dressing room because I simply wasn't certain what kind of haul vehicle I'd end up with ultimately.

Because I had hauled with a two-horse bumper pull with mangers for the past 4 years, I began looking at those. Knowing the cons of a trailer with mangers though, I switched gears and started exploring other two horse options that would be more comfortable for the horse.  I perused copious ads online, interacted with multiple sellers (and scammers!), and ultimately ended up with this 1994 Valley TB.

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It is in great shape structurally and should serve me very well as a first trailer. The worst thing about it is that one of the hinges (there are three) on the ramp has some significant rust. The hinge has been "bandaged" for the summer by a local welder and will be fixed in full in another couple months (it is totally safe for the horses right now, I just want to get it resolved before it becomes a bigger issue down the road).

I plan to give the trailer a fresh paint job later this summer to really freshen it up and put a stall on the inevitable rusting that occurs due to my climate. I also plan to install several hooks and bars for storage of bridles, halters, and saddle pads and hopefully some over the door hangers with zippered pockets for grooming supplies and other small odds and ends. Other larger items will be hauled in the truck.

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I've loaded each horse on the trailer already with very minimal issue. They were each wary of the ramp at first, but once they realized it was just a part of the trailer, all loaded much quicker and more easily than they ever did on the step up we'd been using. I've always wanted a trailer with a ramp and I'm glad my horses approve of that decision. I'm certain they will also appreciate the more airy nature of this trailer compared to the shorter, stuffier trailer we've used in the past.

The Truck

I'd like to say first and foremost: I hate car shopping. Especially used car shopping. I don't enjoy wheeling and dealing. I'd rather spend money up front to avoid hassle and haggling.

I was spoiled when I bought my Subaru a few years ago because I did so through the Subaru VIP program. This program is haggle-free. Essentially, those with access to the program design the car they want, tell their dealer of choice who participates with the program, and then you just sign the necessary paperwork, provide a down-payment, and wait for the car to arrive. I dreaded truck hunting because I knew it would be a far cry from this experience.

I started my truck hunt by enlisting the help of a friend who knows trucks very well and buys a LOT of vehicles at a wholesale auction every year. He's got capital, knowledge, and man power to turnover these vehicles after fixing what are usually very minor problems. He also LOVES wheeling and dealing so the whole process is quite a fun side business for him.

I paid him a small fee to help me find a good truck that met my budget and my criteria. About a month after we spoke, I had a truck. A 2004 red Ford F-150 with 57,000 miles. It had originally belonged to an older gentleman who had passed away; it then sat idly for a few years until ended up at auction. It was in great shape and passed my buddy's mechanic's inspection beyond noting that there was some more advanced rust in places. He told me he's personally driven much worse and had no problems.

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But the rust issue ate away at the back of my mind. I just couldn't risk putting the truck through it's paces hauling my horses without being absolutely certain it was structurally sound to handle it. I refused to risk the safety of my animals.

I shared with a few people that I was thinking about selling the truck and getting something with less rust. Remarkably, of the three people I told I was selling the car, one mentioned it to a friend who mentioned it to another friend who was very interested. And that's how I sold a truck I'd had for 2 weeks to the first buyer interested without every writing or posting an ad. I also profited handsomely from the deal because I bought the vehicle for way less than it was worth originally.

My friend who helped me get the truck informed me upon it's sale, "That's hustlin', baby!" That it was...I'll never get lucky like that again!

And so from there I spent another month scouring cars.com and CarGurus for better options. I also enlisted help along the way from several gearhead friends: a mechanical engineer who works for Cummins, a US military (multiple branches) trained mechanic, and an encyclopedia of truck knowledge who is active in the horse-world. The knowledge and advice they lent me guided and honed my truck hunt.

There were a lot of near misses. So many potential options that I almost went to get. But each time I thought I'd found "the one" something would happen to prevent it from working out. When I finally found what I thought was "the one" and told the dealer I would be there the next morning, early, he called me back 45 minutes later to let me know he'd just sold it to someone else. This was the icing on the cake to what had been an exceptionally SHITTY day for me. I threw my hands in the air in exasperation and declared NO MORE TRUCK SHOPPING FOR A WEEK.

Yeah. That lasted about 15 minutes. I cooled off and cautiously started looking again. And then I found her. A 2003 Chevrolet Silverado 1500HD originally from Texas with a nearly spotless CarFax, no rust, a mean brush guard, and overly-aggressive tires.


Laughing to myself, I forwarded the ad to my engineer buddy, "Look at THIS bad boy"
"I mean, I might go get that?"
"lol like now?"
"I like that truck a lot."
"If it's still there on my day off, I'll call, and if it passes all of my tests, I'll go get it."

Well, it was still there on my day off, passed the tests, and I got it.

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Turns out, this dealer specializes in heavy duty trucks. They've been in this business for 38 years and tend to get almost all of their inventory from Texas because they know east coasters try to avoid shopping for used vehicles with lots of rust. The only reason this truck was within my budget is because it has a lot of cosmetic blemishes, so they listed it for much less than they had originally planned. Win for me!

It's a meaner truck than I ever thought I'd get. I still giggle every time I see it in the driveway.

The first of my friends to see me driving the truck just started laughing and shaking his head. He gave the truck a good once-over, grinning, and then looked at me and simply said, "Angry!" Yep. Pretty much. Angry. And the fact that little ol' me is driving it? Ridiculous.

I'd joked with a coworker when I originally found the truck that if I ended up getting it I'd name it "The Texan". However, I couldn't help but want a more feminine truck name for the big girl, so in line with being from Texas, I decided to choose a very country sounding name: Jolene.

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For the first time in my horse career, I have true freedom. A capable haul vehicle and a trailer that I own and am not borrowing. While incredibly grateful for the borrowed trailer and my 4Runner over the past 4 years, I'm so happy to have a more solid setup now. I anticipate I'll upgrade to larger trailer eventually, but for now, this little one will serve all of my needs.

I'm eager to dive into my competition season with TWO disciplines this year now that I have the ability to do so. I've penciled in 4 HTs, 1 dressage schooling show, and 1 LD for the year. I also am looking forward to taking some lessons (dressage and jumping) with a local-ish Centered Riding instructor once or twice a month. So many exciting experiences I've always dreamed of loom on the horizon! Cheers to a great season.

How about you? Do you have your own truck and trailer? Did you suffer through the shopping for them or do you enjoy the wheeling and dealing thrill of the hunt?