Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Highlight Reel

Q

Q's year began with a focus on activities that would build her confidence. I completely removed most activities that were not trail-based from her repertoire and did all I could to build our relationship to a better place.

We began with in-hand walks and hikes, progressed to some ground driving, and then hit the trails again, first with buddy horses, and then solo. New additions to tack included a hackamore for her and a dressage whip in my hand at all times. I affectionately refer to the whip now as The Confidence Stick. You see, Q is the most looky horse I've ever witnessed; she actively scans the terrain with big sweeping motions, not just her eyes. As a result, she forgets about me a lot in her worry with the world around her. However, when The Confidence Stick is tapping her shoulder, flank, and neck periodically, it helps bring her mind back to me. (No, she could give zero f*cks about my voice. I've tried. The whip registers more with her and will give me an ear flick of acknowledgement much more often than I ever get with my voice.)

Another tactic I employed this year was to ride her greater distances with less frequency, or in other words, seek to condition the same mileage we have in past years but do it with fewer rides. This began as a by-product of my busy life and resulted in the new norm for Q as she proceeded to take to it so well. She holds her fitness wonderfully (yay Arab) which aids in this conditioning program being so successful. I also think the larger amount of time-off she receives (10-20 days between rides) does a world of good for her mental health and her physical health - a fact that became more and more evident as she began to excel on our rides.

Beyond frequency and length of rides, changed tack/aids, and my mindset, the only other major change to how I conditioned Q was that we finally added downhills with speed to our rides (when footing wasn't technical). Building strength and skill with this was the last piece to our conditioning puzzle that really helped to make a huge difference for us this year.

Beyond finding success at building my relationship with this horse this year, my favorite memories all involve riding her in Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods. I trailered her away from home for the majority of our training rides this year and those two places were often our destination. The terrain is rugged, unforgiving, and outstandingly beautiful. I foresee many, many miles there through 2016. It doesn't hurt that our favorite "local" riding buddy is there either!

Due to financial restraints, Q only competed in the RBTR 50 and then, on a last-minute whim decision, October OD 25. She finished STRONG with PLENTY of gas in the tank at both events - even finishing 4th and showing for BC in the 25. I plan to move her up in distance during the 2016 season at some point as we continue to march ever onward toward the goal of joining the Decade Team. Three years at endurance distances are under our belts now!

2016 will likely involve many more training miles AWAY from the barn as Q gives her best efforts when she is trailered away from her herd. I foresee a lot of time spent in the valley and hopefully some weekends over on the Old Dominion trails. I feel like I'm finally unlocking some key pieces of this enigmatic mare. She's been a really hard nut to crack, but I'm enjoying the journey of figuring her out - even though it frustrates the hell out of me sometimes! Fortunately, I'm more stubborn than she is and time is in our favor. =)

[525 miles logged riding this year, large majority on Q as I didn't track Griffin's jumping/flatting]

Griffin

In 2014, Griffin spent a lot of time on the trails. It was the perfect environment to introduce him to how to best handle life under saddle outside in a way that was least stressful to him. He almost always had a buddy horse to look to and the nature of trail riding lent itself well to his developing brain so that by the time 2015 rolled around, he was much better prepared to tackle the more mentally (and physically) stimulating work I threw at him.

I spent a lot more time jumping and flatting Griffin as opposed to trail riding this year. He has always hunted jumps and poles that were lying about in the barnyard/field and I was waiting until he was a long 4 year old to really start playing with them.

At the beginning of this year, I was more focused on Q than Griffin as I originally had a full endurance season planned for the mare before my financial woes began. I'd tool around with Griffin here and there, but nothing of great significance. Once my financial situation reared it's head though, I couched nearly my entire ride season for Q and with the time that opened up, I began having fun with Griffin.


To provide more direction and structure to my chaotic [by choice] schedule, I decided that I would give each horse a set discipline of focus for an indefinite period and see how that worked. In the past, I have dabbled within multiple disciplines with each horse because my tastes are so varied. Not this year. Q would be trail-focused for endurance and Griffin would be flat and jumping-focused - it's work he really enjoys and has wanted to do since I put him under saddle, so it seemed perfect.

With the start of April, I consistently worked Griffin several days a week. We began with a lot of flatting that involved many bending exercises, a lot of circles, serpentines, and figure-8s. Griffin mastered that very quickly and really excelled; I could practically SEE the cogs in his brain whirring and turning as he figured out the "right answer" to each query. As he figured out the flatting, I added in ground poles to make him think even more. We began these exercises (and all later jumping exercises) on the lunge so he could figure things out without me on board first. I always tried my best to set him up for success and he excelled time and time again.

From those exercises, we added in cavaletti and finally jumps. We kept things mild at 18" for a few months, throwing in the occasional 2' standard. When Griffin began cantering over the 18" cavaletti more and more often, I added gymnastics. Lots of bouncing and additional ground pole work between cavaletti/jumps. That led to gymnastic lines with a 2'+ jump at the end which then led into micro "courses" that involved 2-3 jumps in some kind of pattern. By August, we attempted 3' for the first time; Griffin said NBD! I didn't jump 3' again until October - and when we did it then, we even went up to 3'6" one time. For a 15hh horse, he makes it so easy!

Now, we've been schooling 18" - 2'6" pretty regularly through all of my jumps and cavaletti to create a 9 jump "course" complete with 1 skinny and two or three rollbacks. In December I began adding in a 3' jump a little more regularly (often 3-4 times in the last half of our workouts). Griffin and I both have to work together more over that height. It's perfect for pointing out areas we need to finesse more and I'm enjoying how it is making us both grow.

Of course, in between all of his jumping progression, we were also working on more dressage-focused concepts on the flat, most often with a bareback pad. 95% of that work was at the walk and trot. I am learning as I go as much as he's learning from me. It was a lot of fun to get him to where he was listening to my seat more than anything else. It's fortunate that he has such an easy riding trot that I can sit without too much issue. It's been hard translating things from bareback pad to saddle, but we are getting there. With the bareback pad Griffin will transition from a tiny, collected trot into this huge lengthening trot purely from my seat. I can't tell you how much fun it was for me (both of us, I think) to figure that out! I was focusing on NOT MOVING MY HANDS ANYWHERE while Griffin's little brain whirred away trying to figure out the new "right answer". I think a choir of song birds was singing amidst a herd of unicorns under a rainbow when that clicked for both of us.

All of the flatting and jumping has done so well by Griffin. He's really bloomed into a gorgeous creature this year. About 2 months shy of his 5th birthday, he started bulking up and filling out in a whole new way - there is so much substance to him. He's so SOLID, a fact that is VERY evident when I ride him right after Q. While Q has a huge stride, it's lofty and dainty in it's execution. There is power behind it, but it's the kind of power you see in a yogini as she flawlessly executes a series of difficult poses. She is a strong, highly dynamic and flexible athlete. Griffin though? His solidity and power is more akin to mid-distance Olympic swimmer. He's powerful and strong with perfectly timed and executed efforts that help him meet his goals without making it look like he busted his ass to do it in a record-breaking manner. His strength is visible in his physique, but despite that strength, his movements also have this unwavering grace to them.

While I have no solid plans for Griffin in 2016, I'm really excited to see how things will fall into place. I'd like to enter him into one or two competitive events of some kind. Discipline to be decided later. He possesses talent in multiple areas, so we'll just see which one we dive into!

Kenai

When Facebook offered up the "your year in review" this year, mine was 90% KENAI. This has been the year of Kenai. And not for the greatest of reasons.

Kenai entered 2015 lame. I had him on and off crate rest with limited leashed activities for a long while, in fact. We visited the vet in January and she confirmed that we should keep doing what we were and added some pain killers to the equation. By March, he was no better and so we did more analysis and discovered that the surgery he'd had in 2013 had failed on the right stifle and his meniscus may be torn, too.

We scheduled TTA surgery for April. There is a 0.5% chance of implant failure with the device used. Well, you guessed it, luck didn't favor us and we fell into that small percentage - it failed. Kenai went back to have another surgery to repair the failure. THAT surgery failed < 24 hours post-op while he was still at the hospital. Yet ANOTHER surgery was performed within a day of the failure. It was a fucking SAGA. (If you're behind on the story, please just click the links because I simply cannot bring myself to relive it by writing it great detail.) 

To say I was stressed would be an understatement. The financial burden of all of this coupled with worries about if he'd ever be okay again consumed me. Crowd-source funding (started by Saiph) helped raise about a third of the ultimate cost of surgeries/rehab - and I cannot say thank you enough to those who helped us during this time. The generosity of others blew me out of the water. THANK YOU, again. Kenai is loved by so many near and far.

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In July, Kenai began the physical therapy rehabilitation (rehab) process. The lady we worked with through it all was absolutely incredible. What an amazing human.

I drove to Morgantown (3-hour round trip) multiple times a month from July - December for Kenai's rehab. In addition to those visits, we had a lot of homework to keep up with. We'll have homework for life. But it's worth it. And it's paid off. On December 2, Kenai met the discharge criteria. He's been cleared to return to normal life. It is such a relief and blessing. I am SO HAPPY to have my best adventure buddy back in action.

All I wish for 2016 is to have a healthy adventure dog. If it snows, we plan to pursue a lot of XC skiing this year.

If you're the instagramming type, feel free to follow along with Kenai's adventures at #kenaithehuskydog .

Adventure

Skiing - The 2015 part of winter 2014-15 was absolutely outstanding. I began working at Timberline in addition to Canaan. Both resorts are in Canaan Valley and while they are mere mile or two apart, the terrain at each is drastically different. Canaan boasts wider slopes with less steep terrain while Timberline has a wealth of steep slopes that are much narrower. Working both mountains was an exercise in time management and involved me becoming very skilled at driving my car with ski boots on as I would work shifts on both mountains in one day!

I was schooled more heavily on my telemark technique this year than ever before. I spent a lot of time focusing on HOW I was skiing and did a lot of things to tweak my style. This was my fourth season on tele vs. alpine gear and it was a good year to really begin buckling down and getting more technical with my form.

Ski, bike, climb - I have many passions
I finally added more time skiing in the trees this year. It will be a long time yet before I master the
finesse of tree skiing, but I'm getting there a day at a time! I'm really thankful to have such an outstanding group of tele skiers to ski with now (an added benefit of patrolling at Timberline).

Climbing - My unwritten goal for myself this year was to climb as many days as I skied. At last tally, I racked up 27 days climbing this year, give or take one or two. It didn't hurt that I had a full-time climbing partner all year! Dave and I were motivation for each other to get out and climb more. A lot of excuses I've made in the past about climbing revolved around not having a partner to go with - and a partner is critical in this sport!

Dave and I climbed in all of the WV areas (New River Gorge/Summersville Lake, Seneca, Smoke Hole, Nelson, and Franklin) and also made it to the Obed in Tennessee for a week. It was a very enjoyable year in which I managed to lead a few more times. My head is progressively in a better place for being on the sharp end and I'm optimistic that I'll maybe one day meet my very modest goal of leading a 5.10a.

Mountain biking - This sport was a new addition that I never saw coming. It surprised me and I fell in love almost immediately. I'm really excited to pursue more of it next year and have plans to get a new bike that will better hold up to the beating that Tucker County trails put on a bike and body.

Mountain biking augments my fitness unlike any other sport since swimming (I swam competitively for 10 years and had scholarship offers for college but decided to head in a different direction - one I don't regret). The cardio and general fitness I gain from mountain biking is so awesome; I missed burning calories like that (swimming was the best for a secondary reason of I could eat whatever the hell I wanted whenever the hell I wanted lol). My rider fitness SOARED this year because of mountain biking. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I'll stick with the sport into the future - the things it does for my [endurance] riding are so incredible. [177 miles logged on the bike this year]

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Mountain momma


Hiking/exploration - Living in Canaan, a vacation destination, half of the year (weekends/holidays) was motivation in itself to get outside more often for exploration. The people up there are such an active group of individuals. I LOVE it. (Shocker, no?) I hiked more and explored more and saw more of West Virginia's beauty than I have ever before (gah, just look at the collage image above). The amount of awesome I fit into my life this year with regards to outdoor exploration was incredible. I don't think I'll settle for less ever again.

It is one of the most beautiful places, hands down. Don't believe me? Come visit. I'll show you first hand. Just ask Dom or Saiph, I think I've made them believers. ;-) I'm happy to be your host/guide for West Virginia mountain adventure any time. [63 miles logged hiking this year - definitely missing some; at least 22 nights spent sleeping outside]

Travel

Thanks to work, I saw a bit more of the world this year than I have in awhile. At least more of the US with a big emphasis on the East Coast. My travels to me to or through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri this year. I racked up over 17,000 miles on the road.

I saw some beautiful places, did some really cool things, and visited some of my favorite people throughout my travels. The biggest highlights were definitely the coast of Maine (work), Cape May (workcation) banding raptors, and Tennessee climbing.

My travel budget & plans next year are very up in the air right now, but I'm excited to see where they will lead me. Puerto Rico? Mexico? A road trip through the south and into the west for some adventure? The PNW? Montana? It's all in flux at the moment. I know the right things will fall into place. European and South America are travel plans I'd love to have, but I don't think they'll fall into line for another year or two.

Conclusion

A really outstanding year. I jam packed it with a ton of West Virginia adventures and time spent with absolutely amazing people. I hope to continue these trends into the future and make the most out of every opportunity.

See y'all in the new year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Holiday Riding

Christmas Eve


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4.5 miles with Kenai and Griffin
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Overlooking a snowless farm and jump field
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"Woman, give me the treats. Nao."
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"Peppermints?"
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A BATH was given on December 24 in 60+°F weather. INSANE.

Christmas Day



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Overlooking Canaan Valley at the beginning of our 17-mile Dolly Sods ride
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Dan on his new Arabian (I am a horrible influence)
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SHORT SLEEVES in Dolly Sods in DECEMBER. Da fuq?!
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Along the edge of the Valley
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Deeper into the Sods
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Photo does not do justice to the incline
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Driving rain; thunder; lightning. We're completely sane.
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Drenched mare was drenched. And a good leader!
Yes, the trail and the stream are one.
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Oilskin selfie!
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So much blurry wetness.
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Cheery despite it all!
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She's a saint. Seriously.
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Yes. That is the trail. Yes, it is also a stream.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Goals Achieved at Year's End

In January, I set some guideline goals for myself for the year. They were more general than specific for a good reason - it made them a little easier to achieve.

In July, I checked in at the half-way point for these goals. While the year had its ups and downs, I was really on-track with where I wanted to be.

So now, to bring things full circle, I want to check back in and wrap everything up.


Happiness - 

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My happy place. One of them anyway.
I am happier than I have been in years and years. Maybe happier than I've ever been. I'm content. I'm relaxed. I'm rarely hard on myself. I am proud of what I've accomplished and I hardly take time to dwell on things I wish I did/didn't do/etc. Happiness has become a habit - a really wonderful habit. Once you form a habit, it is easier to maintain it, which is just what I've done. I foresee continuing this habit for many years to come.


Health for myself and the animals -

As I noted in July, yoga slacked off with the summer months. It's more of a winter thing for me as I tend to stick to more mobile activities through the summer. As predicted, with winter I'm picking yoga back up again.

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I even led several times this year. My head is in a better place every year -
though in this picture I was second-guessingmyself before I clipped the
rope into the second draw at the end of the climb. Classic Liz-brain
freak-out here.

I climbed more than I had in years this year. Didn't hurt that I had a full-time climbing partner for the first time in a very, very long time. My days climbed rivaled my ski days - just what I wanted! In addition, I picked up mountain biking this year. I still love it and very much plan to continue pursuing it next year for both the enjoyment of the sport itself and because it lends greatly to rider fitness!

I've purchased a bike trainer so I can continue to gain exercise benefits from my bike through the winter months. I'm already utilizing it multiple evenings a week. (Something to be grateful for since I've only seen one day of snow (<1 inch) so far this season!)

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Mountain biking on December 14. Should have snow but we're doing this instead.

Kenai's health had quite an obvious bobble, but we moved onward and over that hurdle. We're maintaining steadily on the other side. It's been such a saga, but I have learned a ton. Ultimately, I have a very happy dog now - which I am so very grateful for! His only want is for snow to better enjoy himself in...

The horses have continued to be par for the course. I'm very pleased with their weights going into winter.

Q's fitness is fabulous. I am going to strive to maintain it through the winter and then fine-tune it in the summer. This should be achievable while still allowing ample rest as she has done incredible with the schedule of riding for longer amounts of time but on fewer days. We're striving for 1 or 2 rides per month until March rolls around.

Griffin's fitness is great, but I will fine tune him through the winter. I'd like to install a few new buttons and new skills before spring that will help trim him down some as his belly is still a hair on the chubby side. (Don't tell him!)


Budget -

I'm right on-track for the most part. I'm pleased with where I am. I'm not struggling greatly, but it would be awesome to have ski season begin so I can bring in a little extra for a few months!


Slow Down -

West Virginia through the seasons as seen through my eye and lens this year.
What a beautiful place to call home. <3
L to R Top: En route to Bald Knob on a -14 degree day;
vista of Canaan Valley from Timberline ski slopes; honeysuckle
L to R Middle: Canaan Valley; Blackwater Canyon from Pace Point;
single track trail in Canaan Valley
L to R Bottom: Mule Hole on the Cheat River; fall foilage on Bald Knob;
Roaring Plains in Dolly Sods
Knitting, reading, crafting, cooking, and photography. The knitting is about the only thing I haven't done much of only because I'm just not feeling it lately! The other things though? Definitely have excelled in all of them this year! Instagram has been great for my photography - aided by living in such a beautiful place that I've been so active in this year. <3 West Virginia.


Horse-specific -

My hands down favorite photo ever of Q and I.
One of very few photos where I think Q is accurately represented.
Becky Pearmany Photography - used with purchase
Q - Is by and large in a MUCH better place mentally than she's been in years. Our partnership has strengthened a lot, too. While our competition season was shorter than planned, it went well and she completed both rides sound and happy with lots of gas in the tank. We will be moving up in distance next year as long as winter maintenance goes well.


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My favorite photo of Griffin and I jumping to date. 
Griffin - He has been sound, strong, and happy all year. We didn't pursue a single competitive event as I'd hoped, but I'm totally okay with letting that slide. Honestly, the budget couldn't have handled it. Next year I will definitely be pursuing something competitive with him be it jumping, endurance, or something entirely different. I adore this grey horse. I can't wait to start doing more with him.


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This horse has come so far thanks to the time I've put in on him.
My riding - The lessons 1x a month didn't happen for financial reasons. I DID take a lesson in October though with a dressage instructor in Virginia. I drove 5 hours round trip for that lesson. While I thought I could financially handle it once a month, I'm not so sure of that right now. $65 for a 45 minute lesson plus 5 hours in the car? That's quite a deficit to my wallet and my time. I may take more lessons, but I don't know with what frequency. It's so hard to commit to when all decent instructors are >2 hours away from me one-way.

The jumping photo above thrills me. There are still so many things for me to tweak and perfect, but damnit, for a self-taught "backyard" rider, I think I'm doing damn good. My horse is happy and willing, too, which speaks volumes, IMHO. I'll continue to work on things because learning is a forever thing, but I'm quite pleased with my progress this year. I'm not nearly as defensive as I once was and overall, riding a jumping horse becomes more "second nature" each ride than it was before.

Additionally, photos of Griffin this year have been so plentiful. He has come so far -- but second to his transformation is mine as a rider. I've learned so much more about riding thanks to this horse. It is so incredible to think about where I was vs. where I am now. I'd really like to commit myself to auditing some clinics this year and taking more lessons; time is the issue though, and it is hard to say how things will fall into place right now.


30 before 30 goals -

I went skydiving. It was awesome. I plan to do more and potentially get licensed to go on my own one day in the future when money is a little more free. (Haha, is money ever easier to come by? I suspect not!)

I've mastered multiple chords on my mandolin and can play several songs. I'll be taking a few lessons this winter to hopefully learn a few more things that are harder to pick up on my own. I'm marking this goal as "achieved" because I can play it, I'm just limited in how many things!


All in All - 

A very successful year so far as goals were concerned! I expect my 2016 to be very similar goal-wise with little changes. I love where I am at and will mostly seek to maintain this balance into the future. Happiness and healthiness are paramount to all else for me. Having those two things leads to a wealth of other opportunities.

Cheers!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Annual Urban Christmas Lights Ride

In December of every year, the riding club I'm a part of rides the streets of our town to view the Christmas lights. Kids anticipate our visit in certain neighborhoods and will come out to see the horses. We tell them we are Santa's helpers visiting to make sure folks are in the Christmas spirit. When I was dating Mike last year, I took both horses. This year however, I didn't have a friend to ride one of them, so I just took Griffin because, frankly, he needs the experience more than Q.

El NiƱo weather patterns in West Virginia have introduced a very, very mild pattern so far. I cannot remember a year in my life when we had not seen a significant (>1") snowfall before Christmas before this year. We always get some kind of significant snowfall in late October or sometime in November, but it just hasn't happened this year! (However, as I write this, there are ~2" of snow outside and it is 3°F with the windchill; this weather will lift tonight and it will be sunny in the 40s tomorrow.) By and large, mid-late October through the present have been mild weather with highs in the 60s and 70s and lows in the 30s and 40s. It's bizarre at best for WV at this time of year! 

The ride through town is usually COLD. Whiskey is sipped not only because we like it, but because it helps us keep warm! However, this year, we needed no help keeping warm - the low for the night was only 52°F!! The night began around 65°F. 

While I wish I were skiing (my ski resorts aren't even open yet), the warm weather has its perks. For instance, I was able to give Griffin a BATH before we headed out that evening! And he didn't even shiver once. In fact, the poor guy was slightly sweaty when I brought him in from the field that afternoon; I'm pretty certain that cold water felt GOOD to him.

After his bath, I dolled him up with red polos, decked him out in all black tack, and used two saddle pads to provide both green and white to his getup. He was adorable. And I should have taken photos, but I didn't. For shame.

He loaded in the trailer the easiest he ever has and we set off for town with ample time to spare.

Because things had gone so smoothly at home, I had more than enough time to spare when we arrived at the meeting place. I chatted with three of the other riders as we waited for three additional folks to join us. Griffin was a bundle of nerves from the moment he stepped off that trailer. In fact, he didn't step off, he kind of half fell out in his manic state. (He was fine.) He was so concerned with taking in EVERYTHING around him as he was getting off the trailer that he took a few missteps and ended up stumbling pretty badly, bumping himself on the trailer. 

His concern for his surroundings settled a bit with time, but he was still King Looky Loo worried about everything. He was fidgeting constantly, completely unable to stand still. Unfortunately for me, his fidgeting led to my right foot getting stepped on in a BAD way while I tried to put my cantle bag on him! I've definitely got a fractured something in my foot now, and I don't think Griffin even realizes he stepped on me. I screamed bloody murder and that startled him into moving away. (I didn't want to just push him off because ofttimes a horse will push back for a split second before moving away and I KNEW that split second of leaning harder onto my foot would do a world of [more] damage.)

I popped some vitamin I and called it good for the night though, vowing to sip some vitamin W a little later once my nervous horse settled.

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5 of the 7 of us. The paint pony hidden behind Griffin was a DOLL. She's his age and SUCH a solid citizen.
I was beyond impressed. She'd walk up steps to allow her rider to knock on doors!

Griffin couldn't handle life for the first 2 miles of the night. He was a Nervous Nancy about everything. Flickering lights and footing that was contrasting dramatically in either appearance or sensation bothered him most. But around the 2 mile mark (45 min.) he settled down and I felt calmer about letting him lead (something he wanted to do most of the night).

About 3 hours into the ride, we stopped at a house where some ex-riding club folks lived with their kids. (Life situations changed and they are no longer very active with their horses.) Griffin was one of three horses who gave pony rides to those kids in the middle of downtown at 9pm. What a good boy!!

We ended up walking 9¼-miles through town that night. It was just as cool as last year. My inner child will never cease to be thrilled about riding "my pony" downtown where wheeled vehicles are usually the only means of transportation. Near the end of the nigh, we ran into some of my friends out walking their dog. As we rode up, I called out their names in greeting and their only response was, "We saw horses and we KNEW it would be you." Guilty as charged.

Back at the barn post-ride, I did NOT want to turn him back out. He was SO CLEAN and SO SOFT and free of mud and dust. I just wanted to take him home and cuddle him or something. But I turned him out with his friends -- which he galloped off in the darkness to meet.

His barefeet fared super well on the paved roads all night. (Only one of the 7 horses was shod.) In fact, I think all of that self-trimming did a world of good for his feet! They looked incredible the following day when I checked them in the daylight. 

Griffin ended up leading most of the last half of the night and was really outstanding. I felt very safe; he was really trustworthy. I was so pleased and proud of him. He's really turning into one of those "once in a lifetime" horses. <3

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Made the newspaper! I was hoping to have a hi-res version of this photo but the paper won't reply to my request. -_-

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kenai Rehab: Complete!

December 2, 2015, was a bit of a monumental day for Kenai --


He met all of the discharge criteria for physical therapy rehab.


Following the surgery saga this year (for those who don't want to click the link, the quick and dirty of it is that he had 3 stifle surgeries in less than a month's time due to a myriad of complications and shitty luck), I sought out physical therapy rehab (referred to as rehab from here on) with a specialist.

Since July, I have traveled to Morgantown (a 3 hour round trip) for rehab sessions. The specialist and I agreed to 10 sessions for the amount of money I had budgeted for the rehab. Both of our schedules were a bit crazy, but we made it work. 

The first visit I learned how I would stretch Kenai and what other homework exercises we would need to work through between our visits. It was a lot of information to take in! But I took photos and notes and all was well. 

I stretched Kenai daily and put him through the list of exercises. The degree of difficulty for the exercises changed with time as Kenai improved and progressed. 

In addition to our stretches and exercises, each rehab session also included cold laser therapy and time on the underwater treadmill. I took videos of every session he had in the aquatread (we didn't use it on our first session due to concerns that he wasn't quite ready for that step nor one of the November sessions due to my late arrival because of traffic).

Now, before I launch into the myriad of gifs from aquatread sessions below, I think it is worthwhile to share the following two for baseline comparison.



This video was taken summer of 2011 before any of the chaos with Kenai's multiple stifle surgeries began. It's a great baseline video for what his movement (and his coat!) used to look like.


This video is from June 2015 prior to any rehab session and about 6 weeks post-op from the last surgery. You can see how incredibly stiff he was and how limited his range of motion was through his hip and knee.

Now, I've made gifs of each of the aquatread sessions and put them in chronological order below for comparison. The hind leg closest to the camera (right hind) is the one that had the surgeries. In addition to the changes in his hair regrowth over time, pay attention to his striding, how he places his weight, his comfort with how long he will bear weight on each hind limb, etc. (I know most of my readers are horse-folk who are very accustomed to looking for subtleties in lameness, so much of this and more will be second nature to look for!)

August 14, 2015

September 2, 2015

October 7, 2015

October 28, 2015

November 18, 2015

December 2, 2015 -- hesitations in his step were because he was distracted watching me

For the observant viewers, yes, the water levels changed with time (decreased) to lower buoyancy and increase difficulty. Additionally, Kenai was introduced to an incline.

Kenai's progress with his stretching and exercises and aquatread, coupled with my comments about his increased appetite (as opposed to being finicky during the two years between surgeries), increased play drive (he prances about the apartment and house with his toys trying to force you to play with him now as he once did when he was a puppy), increased fitness (you'd have to really get your hands on him to note this...or just watch him frolic amok), and general newfound zest for life (you've seen the photos on my blog, instagram, and Facebook -- this dog is HAPPY) led the specialist to tell me he could be discharged from physical therapy as he has met all of the criteria she sets. She deemed him fit to return to nearly anything he wants to do. (The use of "nearly" here is my own as there are numerous things I won't allow him to do again (skijoring or pulling significant amounts of weight and faster, lengthy trail rides) just because I don't want to put any undue stress on the joint.)

However, because Kenai has met these criteria in only 8 sessions (she called this a miracle, by the way -- mostly it is due to my diligence with stretching and exercises), she would be more comfortable with everything if she could see him once in January and once in February, which would allow us to meet the 10 sessions we'd agreed on. She left the decision up to me ultimately, but I didn't need to even think about it, "Of COURSE! I'd feel more comfortable with that, too!" It'll be great for continuing to map his progress.

We will continue to pursue the exercises and stretching for life as they are now a necessary part of keeping Kenai happy and mobile. 

I have learned SO MUCH from this experience. It's been a saga and not the easiest of ones! Despite all of the stress, pain, worry, and tears, I am so pleased to have my adventure buddy back -- and just in time for the snow to fly!

Hopefully this closes this chapter in Kenai's life. I look forward to many more years with my best friend on the snow and off. For now though, we're psyched about a winter of snowy treks through Canaan Valley and beyond!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Work with What'cha Got

Q's made a ton of progress in the last year - I've made a ton of progress in the last year.

Yes, the two are directly correlated.

Much like this post from last February, life with this little mare has continued well along the track I set out on 10 months ago. (And wow, can I just say for the record how much I love blogging for exactly that reason? I can look back and be like, "YES. That is IT. Go me for doing that then!")

Q is calmer and better on trails. She is still, hands down, the looky-est fucking horse. But, I'm learning how to manage and deal with that all the time.

She is also HIGHLY drawn to her herdmates when we are at home. HIGHLY drawn.

While yes, her instincts tell her that she should be a social flight animal because safety is in numbers for such critters, her tendency to listen to this instinct is far greater than any horse I've ridden.

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She wants to try to listen to her rider. She tries to be a good girl...but she struggles.

Why? I'll tell you the best hypothesis I have: that damn cowboy.
  • When Q was under his tutelage, working WAS NOT FUN. "Work" was terrifying. He misused and overused those flags on a stick that are so popular. I witnessed a short session of this the day I met her; she was downright terrified and despite that very obvious body language he kept plowing ahead and working her up more.
  • He gouged her with his spurs too much forcing her to submit to his wishes. She has the scars (white hairs) on her belly to show it.
  • He tied her hind leg(s) up one at a time to tire her out and better force submission. (Noted through her issues with hind leg handling and 
  • "Work" meant being forced to comply with whatever the daily task was. It meant being man handled. It meant submitting out of fear and pain.
When "work" was done though Q could finally escape to her herd of horses. She could be a horse and not worry about that damned man, his wishes, or his poor understanding of the language she was trying to speak. Her herdmates were her happy place and time away from them was likely a small slice of hell.

Q is a sensitive horse. While she has no papers to my knowledge, she is very much an Arabian. The cowboy hated that about her, he's much more drawn to quarter horses. (Noted through observation; Q was the only Arab on a farm of all QH and a couple APH. And he wanted to be RID of her SOON.)


Piecing together the stories I've gathered from a few different sources, this cowboy seems to have been the main person in Q's life when she was transitioning into her life as a riding horse. I firmly believe that his methods are the root cause of why she is the way she is.

In nearly all things I pursue with her that she also experienced with the cowboy, she exhibits a variety of nervous/scared behaviors more often (e.g., work in the round pen, many aspects of trail riding, the act of "training" to get on and off a trailer, handling her feet for trims, any work in and around "home").

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However, if I throw her into situations that are complete novel to her time with me, I witness an animal who is inquisitive and curious, maybe a bit timid, but ultimately an incredibly willing partner (e.g., parades during daylight or night time with and without flashing lights and sirens, crowds of people, elementary school jumping demonstrations, riding through an urban area at night, use of the trailer to go somewhere and not just train, work/activities away from "home").

This year has been more of an anomaly than past years for work with Q. The majority of our riding time was spent off property. I'd really like to make this anomaly more of the norm.

Why?

Any time I work Q at home, or really within a mile of home,  the magnetic force of her herd draws her attention away from the task at hand. She is nearly incapable of focusing on what I want because she is so drawn to watching the other horses/trying to be near the other horses. She also is spookier near home than away from home. I suspect her lack of attention on the task at hand is a contributing factor, I'm more startled by things when my attention is elsewhere, too! Hell, the whole premise of trying to scare your friends revolves around their attention being elsewhere while you sneak up on them. So it isn't too surprising that Q gets more wigged out by things at home when her attention is on, "Friends. I have friends. Did you see my friends? My friends are over ther-- DARK SPOT ON THE GROUND OHMYGODITSABLACKHOLETOANOTHERUNIVERSE. I'M GONNA DIE."

But if I take her off property her propensity toward her herdmates disappears. Additionally, having a new area to ride in means less anticipation of scary "monsters" and more focus on what is actually present. (And it is great training to experience different things!)

Additionally, this horse benefits greatly from a buddy on trail. Maybe one day she won't (time and miles seem to dictate that most horses get better and move past this?!), but right now she very, very much needs a buddy. Q builds on her positive experiences when she has a buddy, be it horse or mountain biker.

I'm going to strive to work even better with the horse I have into the future. Great strides have been made this year and I'm going to do my damndest to continue them: more riding in Canaan, more riding in Dolly Sods, more riding at Olson Tower, more riding with mountain bikers on many gravel roads and trails.

This horse hasn't been the easiest nut to crack, but I feel like I understand her better every day. I owe it to her to use my understanding to help her be better. Cheers to that!

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Success! And yet, failure - Carolina 100

Because I'm some kind of special (or maybe just a masochist), when my friend and endurance mentor Mary Howell mentioned needing a rider for her Siena mare less than a week out from the Carolina 100, I quickly filled out my entry form and fired it off to her.

I've been plotting and scheming when to attempt my first 100 for nearly a year now, but the time just hasn't been right yet. We'd originally attempted this plan in March, but weather moved in and the plan was flushed down the drain. In the time since, Siena has completed numerous 50s (one with me aboard) and multiple 75s. I knew also, she was in peak shape under Mary's training program. I enjoy riding the mare, evidenced in my 3 50s on her since 2013, so a 100 sounded just fine!

My drive to SC was with minimal issue on Friday. I caught up with Mary upon arrival and chatted with some other endurance riding friends of hers before the ride meeting and dinner.

At the meeting, I learned I would be starting with 27 other 100-mile riders at 7a. There would be five loops of the following mileage: 28.7, 14.2, 28.7, 15.5, 15.5. The first three checks would be 50 minutes and the final check would be 30 minutes with optional tack-on.

The big loop sounded a bit intimidating, but I knew it would go by quickly enough. The second iteration of it during the heat of the day would definitely be trying though!

I, very surprisingly, slept VERY soundly that night. I even dreamt of starting the ride and riding several miles. No anxiety!

Temps that morning were in the mid-upper 40s - which had been the high in WV! Highs for the day were predicted to be in the low 70s with no precipitation in the forecast. Perfect.

I used my orange tack on Siena with Mary's newer model Ansur saddle. Oh. My. Goodness. That saddle is a dream! I felt so balanced and secure in it! I rode in an older model Ansur on Siena in 2013 and fell in love - it's why I now ride Q in an Ansur! I told Mary she'd cursed me again, now all I desire is one of the newer model Ansurs...unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) they can only be had to the tune of $3900. Even a lightly used one chimes in to the tune of $2500 - both way out of my price range! Maybe one day.

Mary and I started near the front of the pack. The only two folks in front of us at the start went on to complete the ride in first and second place.

The trails were predominately sand roads and trails, all wide enough for a vehicle to traverse. Deep sand was intermittent throughout, but nothing crazy for very long. Fortunately, the heavy rains SC experienced earlier in the month lent plenty of water along the loop!

Siena and I on the first loop. Photo by Becky Pearman


Mary and I along with Amy Stone aboard her Anglo-Arab mare Kricket settled into a nice ground eating 10-11 mph pace. A lady on her 14hh POA/Appy mare rode with us for a time, but eventually moved out beyond us. (What a little engine that mare had! She would go on to complete.)

A group of 5 or 6 ladies rode along with us for a mile or two, but we let them pass after a mile or so, opting for a slower pace. There was plenty of day ahead - no need to burn up the horses on the first loop!

We ultimately took 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete that first big loop. Almost a third of the way done with the mileage for the day!

Unfortunately for me though, Siena trotting out lame at the first hold. Slightly off on her right front. A 48 pulse and all As on everything else. And thus, as quickly as it had begun, my 100 mile hopes for the day were dashed!! The lameness was subtle; Mary suspected it was likely a stone bruise from a misstep. Regardless, better to quit while we were ahead before it became anything worse!!

Honestly though, I wasn't too bothered by the pull. It was the right thing to do for the horse. I was grateful she wasn't in any worse a way. (I re-presented her to the vets around 3p and they all said the lameness, while still present, was even more subtle than it had been previously. Encouraging!)

I quickly reverted into crew mode for Mary for the next couple holds.

Mary's account of the rest of the ride is here.

Ultimately (spoiler alert), she and Amy completed at 12:15am in a 4th place tie!

---

One of my 30 before 30 goals was to *compete* in a 100 mile ride. When I originally wrote the goal, it was to complete a 100-miler. Within hours of writing that, I modified it. 100s are tricky. Beyond the combination of a good, fit rider on a talented, fit horse, 100s require some luck. There is a lot more time for things to go awry.

So, while my first attempt at a 100 was foiled, I still count the whole experience as a success. I had the initial cojones to sign myself up and start the ride. It didn't go as planned, but I still had a blast. I'll definitely be seeking out my second attempt at a 100-miler in the near future!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A fun comparison

Well, here's a fun comparison...

Spring of 2014, I was finally getting some consistent work with Griffin under saddle with a bit in his mouth. While he would accept a bit, it took him a good while to be 100% okay with the pressure of it on his mouth. I outlined the issues in this post.

I introduced video screenshots in that post, but never actually shared the videos as I'd said I would.

Well, while perusing my YouTube uploads over the past few years, I was noting to myself the wealth of Griffin videos. There are so many! It's really fun to be able to look back on where he was so long ago. This January will mark 4 years together (!!).

Realizing my mistake in never uploading the videos from March 2014, I thought I'd share one now along with a comparison video of where Griffin's canter work is these days. He's changed so much in 20 months.





It's visible evidence like this that absolutely blows me away. He's come SO far. I've spent SO much time working with him to get him there, too.

And it isn't just his canter that has improved -- his jumping really has, too! Here's a 64 second video of a small 9 jump course I've recently strung together with him. Each cavaletti is 18", the skinny vertical is ~2'3" (yep, he's jumping a 4'-wide skinny with ease now!), and the standard verticals are at 2'6" -2'9".



I was realizing it for the first time in the post from March 2014, but the sentiment really rings true 20 months later: He's SO MUCH FUN. I really love working with and riding this grey horse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Raptor Banding Trip 2015

If you are fascinated by birds of prey, this is a post for you. If birds ghoul you out, then click on past.

I inundated my Instagram and Facebook feeds with photos and videos last week, so time to top off the trifecta of social media and share them on ye olde blog.

I have aided with the raptor banding efforts for the Cape May Raptor Banding project since 2011. One of my best friends is permitted and I assist her (and other banders) to trap, band, process, and release these birds. The project has been monitoring the status of raptor migration every fall since 1967. It's a fabulous long-term project and I'm really grateful to get to be a part of it. It's a really great way to celebrate the 1x a year I get to see Mandy (as she lives in CA and I live in WV); it also makes for a really epic Girls Trip. No, this is NOT a part of my normal job and no, I do NOT get paid to do this. I take a vacation to go and volunteer with this project and spend quality time with my bff.


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Hatch year (HY) coopers hawk
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Team Redhead selfie!
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HY red tail hawk (RTHA)
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Kenai beaching it up
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One happy dog!
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Added Arthur to the blind for a day
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An epic pose with an epic bird - HY peregrine falcon
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A non-epic pose with the epic bird
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The box we sat in for nearly 10 hours every day
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Mature coopers hawk - ain't 'e a beaut'!
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Selfie with a female sharp-shinned hawk -- she looks so quizzical
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And now, the onslaught of photos of the second year (SY) male northern harrier (NOHA) I trapped -- I've been wanting one of these in hand since the very first year we went
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I was SO HAPPY. SO HAPPY.
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See that little brown feather? That was how we ID'd him as a SY bird
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This accurately describes my excitement about finally having a NOHA in hand
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Such an incredibly cool bird
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Beautiful "grey ghost"
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Look at his long legs! Better for snatching prey out of grasslands/marshes
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Another epic sunset night on the beach for Kenai
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Mature adult RTHA -- a GORGEOUS bird
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She was stabilizing herself in hand against the wind gusts (> 20 mph)
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So gorgeous!
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Talons! And her new jewelry - a band.
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Another RTHA later in the morning - and Mandy's sassy face apparently.
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I LOVE the eye color of these birds
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Shot of a HY RTHA release from my hand -- see the band on its right leg?
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Redheads with redtails. Both HY birds.
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And finally, the most epic release photo of a HY RTHA.