QThis year held both my proudest accomplishment with this horse (also, one of my proudest life accomplishments to date) and the saddest event with any horse of mine to date. To quote Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."
The beginning of the year held hope, promise, and fear as I put as much time and effort as I could into preparing for the Old Dominion 100 in June. Q and I embarked on multiple long training rides and changed up our typical "hill sprints" to "mountain sprints". We finished the No Frills 55 at the end of April with plenty of gas left in the tank and seemed to finally be gaining a hold on our girthing issues which were my biggest concern. (The final answer to this puzzle was a mohair girth with ample Body Glide.)
I hawked the weather as June 11 approached, groaning at the 95+ degree (and don't forget the added humidity this temperate rainforest is so well-known for!) prediction. Regardless, Q and I loaded up and headed over the mountains to basecamp.
The short of it is that with help from an absolutely amazing crew Q and I completed what is arguably the toughest 100 course in the country at 5:11am the morning after we began. We had a "moment" at 78 miles where I thought we might be pulled, but with careful management, Q bounced back and we found ourselves true 100-milers.
It's taken months to come to terms with the significance of this achievement. Few are so lucky to go out and find success on their first 100 with their own horse. Fewer find that success on the hardest courses in the country. Like Tevis, which is much better publicized, studied, and known, the OD 100 boasts completion rates from the 35% to 60% range. I stacked the odds in my favor the best way I knew how: by intensely studied the course to the best of my abilities and conditioning Q over similar terrain to the best of our abilities. And things played out quite well, considering.
I gave Q a solid month off following the 100. We enjoyed a brief conditioning ride before (like, the day before) her next ride - the RBTR 30 with dressage aficionado Austen aboard for her first foray into the endurance world. The pair completed without a hitch - Q had As all day long and CRIs in the 40s despite the 80+ degrees and enough humidity to make you feel like a fish underwater.
Three weeks after RBTR, I noticed Q seeming off. Circles on the flat triggered it and movement downhill even moreso. It had been a very, very bad summer for abscesses, so I didn't fret much at first (Griffin was dead lame for 10 days with a HUGE abscesss). Q did blow a big abscess in her right front within a week of my notice of her lameness, but the lameness didn't completely resolve. By September 19 we'd had a lameness evaluation and confirmed the culprit: lesions near the origin of her suspensory on her left hind. Well, fuck.
And so, my little mare has had time off ever since and will continue to do so until next summer. The 60-day ultrasound showed marked improvement, which is a great sign. Time is my friend right now. Q approaches me first every time I'm in the field these days, knowing I have a treat for her. She seems eager to come in with me the few times I've brought her in and enjoys grooming more than I've ever known her to. She's enjoying being a horse (albeit a fat one!) right now.
The plan to bring her back into work mid-late next year is a slow one that will begin with hikes in hand, then follow with a long while of walk-only work that will be very dressage-focused. Q has to be a dressage horse before she can be an endurance horse again. I need to develop her body in a balanced way if she's to ever have a hope of another endurance completion. While this injury is the absolute pits, I'm trying to make the best of it so that she comes back from it with a stronger-than-ever-before body and a better relationship with me, because we all know that's had it's ups and downs over the years. I am very, very cautiously optimistic.
GriffinOh what a journey! Come late January, this guy will have been in my life for 5 years. He's come an incredibly long way and I've loved every part of the journey.
At the start of the year I was riding Griffin sparingly as my focus was centered on getting Q ready for the OD. Griffin was my main lesson horse until mid-summer when I noticed repeated signs of him greatly disliking the job - the first time this horse has ever NOT liked a job! And I honestly don't blame him. To rectify the situation to prevent potential injury to the newbies and to save the relationship I had with the horse (who was very uncharacteristically running away from me every chance he got in the field), I "fired" (for lack of a better term) my lesson students.
Around the same time, I was focusing on getting Griffin in better shape to make his second attempt at the RBTR 30. Steady, thought-provoking and strength-building work with his main human brought him right back around to his normal self. While he certainly wasn't in the best shape possible, he did complete the RBTR 30. Other than his limited gas tank (totally due to not quite enough conditioning), the only issue he had at the ride was his total and complete (uncharacteristic) reliance on Q. His CRIs were heightened more than I would have anticipated because of his concern for where "his mare" had gone. If I wanted to continue to compete in endurance with him, I'd have focused to resolve this more, but I don't have a desire to keep him in that sport so it is a non-issue.
Following our RBTR completion, I buckled down and focused on dressage and jumping more. Griffin has so much natural talent for jumping. If I keep my shit together, he's picture-perfect. Days I am less than stellar, he is less than stellar. The variety of exercises I have presented him with he masters and I have so much fun working through them with him.
I had hoped to make it to volunteer at a jumper event this year to learn more and travel to school on a XC course a time or two, but neither worked out. I also fostered some hope of getting a jumping lesson with a trainer, but that didn't work out either. 2017 will hopefully allow these opportunities to represent and be accomplished. I still foster a dream to try my hand at eventing one day, but until such a time as I can school a XC course several times, I am going to focus individually on jumpers and dressage and see how those pursuits work for us.
Where we slacked off meeting my small goals for jumping, my goals for dressage were achieved and surpassed. At the end of August, Griffin and I trekked to Austen's barn in Maryland to ride with Stephen Birchall. It was everything I'd hoped for and more out of a first dressage lesson. I have been taking the things I learned very seriously and have practiced my "homework" diligently and am pleased to report that I have a completely different horse now than I did 3½ months ago.
I try to ride Griffin a minimum of 3x a week right now. He understands and accepts contact and requests for "forward" very well now. He has his distracted days, but they are few and far between. He's mostly a very good worker and I try to be a very fair rider and not ask him more than he can handle.
I'm very pleased to report that he has developed buttons for lateral movements! I always wanted to install these on my own horses, but doubted my ability to do so. Doubt no more! I just need to hone and fine-tune now - and I am having so much fun developing and fine-tuning.
I had planned to ride again with Stephen this past weekend, but a last minute issue with my trailer (seriously, last minute - the car was packed, the trailer was hitched, and the horse was loaded) halted that effort in its tracks. C'est la vie. I will try again in a few months - though it would have been wonderful to have had updated homework to concentrate on through the winter months.
I hope to make it to a few more lessons with Stephen next year and hopefully a schooling show or two with Griffin by mid-summer. With any luck, perhaps we will make it to a horse trial or two, also!
StanStan was definitely this year's wild card and the best surprise possible. It was a wonderful to get to welcome my OG back into my life for good.
He was a great weight when he came back into my life, but was certainly lacking a bit of attention to his coat and definitely needed to tone up and build some fitness. I quickly took care of his mane and tail and with help of the junior I have been mentoring for endurance; we had him back to a level of above-moderate fitness within a couple months time.
My only firm goals for Stan have been to get him fit, keep him happy and healthy, and keep him in my life for the rest of his. All other goals I foster for him are quite fluid. It would be great to get him back to being fighting fit and tackle some LDs and maybe a 50 or two with him. Or polish him up with some dressage (this is the most likely) and dabble in some jumping at home. We'll see! I really enjoy having a horse who I don't feel a need to "achieve" anything with. A horse I can just go out, ride, and fully enjoy the moment with without feeling the need to practice a certain skill that day. I love the regimented schedule I have with my other two, too, but no schedule is also fun. I'm a multi-passion person in many ways, so three horses that I can focus on different things with pleases me greatly and suits me well.
Stan is currently on a part-time free lease with Lauren until her horse arrives in March. It's a great arrangement that allows him to gain/maintain fitness, but without such regimented practice. I anticipate that come spring/summer, Stan will be my main mount out on the trails for the 2017 year, as I'm enjoying keeping Griffin in arena settings more and more.
Regardless of what I may or may not dabble in with Stan, I love having him back in my life for the confidence he is re-teaching me. I know I'll gain it back and then he'll help me maintain it. <3
KenaiI'm so grateful that this year involved nothing but adventure and strengthening for my favorite adventure partner. I think the worst thing for him this year was that I put him on a diet after he'd gained about 7 extra pounds!
He's not quite able to keep up with the intensity of adventure as he once was, but those adventures are so few and far between that things really haven't changed too much for him. Hikes < 7 miles, bikes < 5 miles, and no trail rides unless they are strictly walking on the part of the horseback riders are what he can handle now. His osteoarthritis as a result of the stifle surgeries means he is stiffer and sorer sooner and longer than he used to be.
At the beginning of the year, he was getting one Dasequin +MSM once a day. Now, he gets one in the morning and one in the evening. He is also on a different joint-specific food. While he's certainly stiff behind, his movement is equal on both sides and he doesn't favor one leg more than the other.
We still visit the rehabilitation therapist once every 6 weeks for cold laser and general check-in to see how he is doing. I keep thinking we will plateau with the healing/improvement process, but so far, we get a more positive report with every visit. I really enjoy getting confirmation from a professional about how well he's doing; I notice it, but I still second guess a lot.
With the return of cold temperatures, Kenai is back in his truest form. He has more drive and stamina than he did at all during the warmer months. The cold is better for his joints, I think. He seems less stiff after more activity than he did a few months ago. Perhaps he really has built strength, perhaps not. We'll know for sure when the weather breaks back into warmer trends in March and April! Regardless, I'm so happy to see his puppy-like behavior as he approaches 7 years of age this upcoming March. He's not a youngin' any more, but boy does he act like one most days!
I hope that with careful management on my part, Kenai will have high quality of life for many, many more years. I hope surgeries are behind us!
SkiingThis year was a bit of a bust so far as east coast skiing went. We had one epic storm (Jonas) in January that christened the area with 3½ to 4 feet of pristine champagne powder. Dave and I were totally snowed in and he ended up having to hike a half mile uphill to the house because his truck couldn't make it up the last two switchbacks. Fortunately, I had the foresight to park my car at the base of the ridge we live on the night before so we were indeed able to get into work (ski patrol) the next day. It involved us skiing down the 1-mile road (a 700' descent)' to the car in the early morning hours with snow still pounding the area, but that was just a good excuse for some more vertical before we would spend the entire day skiing some truly epic conditions. And yes, it's true what they say - No Friends on a Powder Day! ;-)
I garnered a few more telemark lessons with a local/national telemark legend and finally had some huge breakthroughs that have helped my skiing immensely. I'm very exciting to begin this upcoming season and apply this knowledge. Here's hoping for a better snow year than the last!
I also managed to get out on several XC skiing jaunts this year - but still not enough! I have plans to upgrade a few key pieces of gear this year that will enable and motivate me to get out on the XC trails more this season. It's such a great way to explore and get exercise.
ClimbingWe didn't have nearly the frequency of trips this year as last. We did make it out to climb in Nevada and Utah in April though! I would love to go back to both places and climb more in the future. True crack climbing is a whole other kind of monster that I got to experience for the first time in Utah. While I struggled immensely at the time, it motivated me to get better so that I can find more success in future visits.
I did continue to lead this year and I find my head to be in a better place each time. In moments that would have had me packing my bags in the past, I instead pushed through my fears and completed climbs. Leading is a completely mental battle for me and one that, while not easy, I very much enjoy pushing myself through. The mental exercise of overcoming some pretty strong fear is an easier battle each time.
Dave and I have plans to build a climbing wall in the basement this winter, so I am excited to get into much better shape for the 2017 season. I have missed having the luxury of a gym very much the past 5 years and am so excited to finally have the opportunity to climb daily again and keep my body strong.
Mountain biking2016 was the year I fully fell in love with mountain biking. I started this year with the purchase of a brand new bike. As with most things, the money you spend dictates the quality of the product you're getting. I was amazed at the difference riding a high-end bike did for my skills development this year. From Arkansas to New Mexico to Arizona to Moab and at home, I built and honed my skills on the bike.
The crux rides of the year for me were two ~24 mile rides we did - one in Moab and one in West Virginia. The Moab adventure involved mostly downhill ride on slick rock that took place over seven different trails and is known as the Magnificent 7, or simply, Mag 7. It was a total BLAST. Sections of it certainly challenged me, but I built confidence as the miles ticked past and powered through the off-camber single track at the end that would have royally sketched me out at the beginning of the day.
At home, we made a
Hiking and ExplorationAnother year in Canaan equaled another year of hiking and exploring the beautiful place I am fortunate call home.
TravelHot damn did I do some driving this year. I visited 27 of our 50 states this year for either work or pleasure and saw some truly beautiful sites along the way from A to Z. No, literally, A to Z! Acadia, the Adirondacks, Arches, and Zion were just a few of the beautiful areas I had the pleasure of exploring.
I also spent a significant amount of time with birds this year for work and pleasure alike.
What a wonderful year of travel it has been. This country encompasses some truly beautiful landscapes.
ConclusionThis year certainly had its ups (travel, OD 100 completion, Stan) and its downs (Q's suspensory tear, various personal strife that isn't blog-worthy), but by and large it has been yet another incredible year. I'm so grateful to get to live the life I live and do the things I do. And I'm so happy I have taken the time to document my many adventures these past six years on the blog.
Cheers to a wonderful, adventurous year and here's hoping for more fun to come! I hope your year has held moments of wonder and adventure and that you find even more in 2017.