Thursday, December 29, 2016

2017 Goals

Q

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Continue to see steady improvement and be able to put this whole suspensory ordeal in the rear-view mirror this year
- 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)
- Achieve a more acute understanding of the aids and get her to accept contact
- Teach her lateral movements under saddle
- Build her body back in a more balanced fashion that it was preceding her injury
- Enjoy many slow miles of trails (whereby "slow" is mostly walking and meandering and "many" is any amount >20 miles for the year)

Griffin

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Build and develop our prowess at dressage and jumping
- Travel and compete in at least two shows
- Ride in at least two clinics with Stephen
- Take at least two lessons with a jumping trainer
- Spend some time perfecting our gallop - something I've never focused on before

Stan

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Continue to build fitness with the goal of having a sleek, muscular athlete who doesn't look his age
- Ride > 200 miles on him for the year
- Compete in at least one LD

Kenai

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Continue to build strength
- Maintain a healthy weight and diet
- Keep him comfortable on whatever combination of supplements help him the most

Myself

- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
- Lead climb above a 5.8
- Conquer at least one trail on Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking
- Bike North Fork Mountain again faster than before
- Build a stronger body
- Advance my mandolin skill
- Build my photography and editing prowess as well as my small photography side business

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 Highlight Reel

Q

This 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..."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Griffin

Oh 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.

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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.

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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.

Birchall Lesson (12 of 15)

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.

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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.

Griff

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!

Stan

Stan 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.

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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.

Stan Compare

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.

Snow riding

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

Kenai

I'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.

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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.

Kenai Winter 2016-3

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!

Adventure

Skiing

This 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! ;-)

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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!

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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.

Climbing

We 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.

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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 biking

2016 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.

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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.

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At home, we made a drunken brilliant decision the night before to tackle the 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail in one go the following day. This ride, while similar in length to the Mag 7 trails in Moab, involved equal parts climbing and descent. It was an endurance feat of epic proportions for me! But I LOVED it. Even when I hated it, I loved it. I was by and large the weakest link in our group (riding with an Olympic caliber rider and and her equally talented boyfriend will do that), and it really motivated me to want to get better so I'm not dragging down the group so much next time.

Hiking and Exploration

Another year in Canaan equaled another year of hiking and exploring the beautiful place I am fortunate call home.

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Travel

Hot 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.

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I also spent a significant amount of time with birds this year for work and pleasure alike.

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What a wonderful year of travel it has been. This country encompasses some truly beautiful landscapes.

Conclusion

This 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.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 Blogger Gift Exchange

This was my first year participating in the Blogger Secret Santa Gift Exchange that Tracy at Fly On Over EQ hosts. I don't really have an excuse for not participating before - I plan to participate in the future as I had a blast this year.

I netted friend and blogger Sara over at a Gem of a Horse as my person to shop for this year. This was perfect on a lot of levels: Sara and I are friends because of our blogs, both compete in endurance, both crewed for one another's first 100 this summer, and are friends IRL. I know her, her family, and Gem intimately after this year! It was a blast to shop for her. She received her gift and recapped it here.

I received my gift this afternoon. So much excitement.

My Secret Santa was Rhiannon from The Horse Is Not Black - a new to me blog that I've now added to my Feedly.

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Upon opening
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So much festive! And the penguin wearing mittens slays me
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Polo wraps, hot chocolate mix, Twix (these may or may not last the day lol), local honey, Mrs. Pastures treats, and boot socks!
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A tote to hold it all!


Rhiannon, I swear you read my mind with the tote as I was *just yesterday* wishing I had a barn-specific tote. And the black polos are perfect as I've decided Griffin's "color" is black for all foreseeable future events. Also, I have always coveted boot socks just like these! I may or may not have squealed a little bit in delight upon unwrapping them. Simple things thrill me...

The horses and I thank you so much for the sweets and other treats you've sent us. Sugar highs are in everyone's near future. Thank you for thinking of us.

Happy holidays, all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Goal Review

To be totally honest, I didn't look back on the goals I made for myself much - if at all - during the year to check progress. I made the goals very carefully at the beginning of the year though and despite not looking at them, things went pretty damn well in the success rate department!

Q

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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally

Mentally, I think this horse had a great year. No huge issues with insecurities or manic spooking. She certainly had her moments, but nothing insane. We're definitely on the up-and-up which is VERY EXCITING. Unfortunately, the lesions in her suspensory have halted all things and make it impossible for me to consider her 100% healthy at the end of the year.

- Build confidence and relaxation in all things, but particularly under saddle on trails 

A great year for confidence and relaxation - under saddle especially! I think the highlight of the year so far as her confidence on trails was definitely the many miles of success I found with her when leading on trail for pieces of the 100 during the 3rd leg of the ride.

- Have a safe and fun competition season

I'm calling this a "success" because while she may have initially injured her suspensory during a competition, it didn't show up for realsies until weeks after a slow LD where she received all A's and had CRIs of 48/40.. 

- Move up in distance (competitively) this year

Hell yeah. Completed the Old Dominion 100.

- Log many miles in Canaan/Dolly Sods

While "many" could be argued based on what I had in mind for myself, we did log a lot of miles in Canaan in the spring. Somewhere around 50 miles up there this year.

- Build understanding on basic dressage with a goal of lots of "long and low" work as this is the effort Q is least inclined to give

 While I built my knowledge of dressage, I didn't apply it to Q much!

Griffin


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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally

He's fitter than he's been in awhile and with the cessation of his short-lived lesson horse career, he's more fun to be around than he's been since he was a youngster getting handled daily and saw me as his best friend.

- Advance skill within dressage and jumping

Oh hell yes. The dressage transformation is far more photo-evident, but the jumping has improved, too. He's more balanced (thanks, dressage), more rateable (thanks, dressage), and 3' doesn't make me nervous like it used to. In fact, up to 3'6" I'm pretty comfortable and confident now. We haven't schooled those heights much when they weren't at the end of a gymnastic grid, but thanks to the work we did do with them, I feel a lot of trust in Grif to navigate them. In tandem, he definitely is more confident, too, and doesn't hesitate or suck back in the slightest when presented with heights above 3' now.

- School on some XC courses

Big fat nope. Didn't happen.

- Spend some more time on trail this year than we did in 2015 

Absolutely. We conditioned for our first LD and have enjoyed numerous other trail rides including multiple Canaan Valley jaunts.

- Compete in something (endurance, eventing, jumpers, I'm not picky!) 

First completion of a 30 mile LD!

Kenai

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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally

SUCCESS. Thank goodness for a far less stressful year with this guy. Careful management is forever our future, but I'll take it over 3 surgeries in as many weeks!

- Continue to strengthen body through rehab exercises

We get glowing reviews every time we go to PT!

[Stretch] Develop our "sit pretty" into a true, classic looking pose - this is an exercise we've been working on for rehab, but I'd love to get it even more developed

He doesn't perch his paws super cute every time, but he can sit up and hold the pose for many seconds now. I'm so impressed.


Me

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- Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally 

 I'm healthy and happy!

- Audit several clinics for dressage and jumping

Dressage clinic auditing success! No jumping yet though.

- Try to find somewhere to take periodic lessons for the above that is within budget 

Clinics with Stephen Birchall a few times a year are working for us right now! Although, some last minute trailer issues kept us home last weekend when we'd planned to attend our second.

- Try to match # of days skied to # days climbed


It was similar, but I honestly didn't keep track of the numbers this year. #sorrynotsorry

- Continue to lead climb and build my comfort level / lead-head

I didn't get back to leading until our last trip of the year, but I led 4 or 5 climbs that trip and pushed myself through fears that stopped me in my tracks previous attempts. I also walked up to a few totally new-to-me climbs and just led them instead of climbing them on top rope first. Proud of myself for this continued progress.

- Hike or bike N. Fk. Mtn. trail from end to end (23.8 miles)

Spontaneous drunken plans are the best plans. Biked the hell out of it. (Okay, and hiked-a-bike a fair bit.) I must say, an LD on a horse is far superior to one on my bike/own two feet!

- Continue to mountain bike and increase my skill/comfort level on the bike and trails 

Accomplished and knocked out of the park. I still have work to do, but the work I have left to do is on a totally other level from where I began. Living in an area with some of the most technical trails in the country has made me far superior than I dreamed I'd be in a two-year period. I'll never be perfect, but I'd like to be able to ride through at least some of the trails on Canaan Mountain (my arch nemesis) without hike-a-biking in another year!

- Continue to build on my skill playing the mandolin

 I didn't pick it up consistently very much at all. I haven't forgotten what I taught myself last year, but I haven't learned any new chords either.

[Stretch] Go fox hunting

Nippity nope. It was a stretch for a reason!

[Stretch] Take a polo lesson - this just strikes me as fun and I want to learn more about it

And another nope - stretch goal for a reason.

30 before 30 goals accomplished this year

- Continue to knock out states left to visit

Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas were crossed off the list. Hoping to continue ticking them off next year! Only six (LA, MS, ND, OR, WA, ID) to go...

Conclusion

72.7% success rate for the horses, 100+% success for Kenai, and 87.5% success for my personal goals. (Stretch goals not included, though the + on Kenai's success rate indicates the achievement of a stretch goal.)

I hope 2017 is even better. I attribute the success rate in 2016 to carefully made goals. I plan to do more of the same for next year - and maybe I'll check in with my list a few times during the year for a change!

2016 Highlight Reel to follow soon with more detailed look at the year and the goals achieved and lack thereof!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Location, Location, Location

Yet another blog hop -- Seems to be the season for blog hops. As a person who loves maps and learning more about the inner workings of other places, I had to get involved with this one!

My Area


West Virginia

Randolph County, West Virginia

You can see how heavily forested the state and the region are and how dense the forest is in my area especially

The Tygart Valley runs north-south and is where most of the population is concentrate; I'm in the northern/northeastern part of it trending into the green area. The eastern part of the county contains portions of the Monongahela National Forest. In the county to the north, Tucker County, in the dense green you can see the topography of the Blackwater Canyon. The densest green area to the east on the WV-VA line is where the Old Dominion 100 course is.

West Virginia is 79% forested. While the state is known for industries such as coal and timber and, more recently, oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale, we are slowly trending in the direction of green energy and eco-tourism. It's a beautiful place to live that is largely not like the stereotypes depicted so often in movies, television shows, and on the media.

Cost of Keeping Horses

  • Trim - $30-45 depending on your practitioner
  • Shoes - $80-120 for four shoes depending on the farrier
  • Pasture board - $45-250 depending on whether you know someone with land or it's a legit "facility" (of which there are very few, most people own or lease their own property and don't board)
  • Full board - $250-350
  • Full training board - $400-1000 depending on the trainer (all western-focused)
  • Hay (round bale) - $40-60 depending on delivery options, seller, and type
  • Hay (square bale) - $4-8 depending on quality and delivery options

Weather

To be completely frank? It sucks. Haha. You've got to have good humor about it or you won't survive.

In 2006, we were on the Farmer's Almanac list for Worst Weather.

I tried for years to move away (applied to over 40 different jobs in an ~18 month period, none in WV), but it just didn't work out that way. I'm really happy now and I'm accustomed to the weather so I make the best of it.

From usclimatedata.com
 
We have four distinct seasons and, by and large, the warmer temperatures are more prevalent than cold. Winters are typically very snowy (though they do seem to arrive later and depart earlier every year; for those bitching that this is total farce, just talk to a ski resort employee! Resorts used to open in mid-November and go through mid-April, now it's mid-late December through early-March) with the occasional arctic blast, summers are hot and humid, and fall and spring are topsy turvy at best with temperatures often fluctuating 30-40°F in a single day between morning/evening and the afternoon and rain/snow showers intermittent throughout. Humidity is lowest during fall and spring though, which is a wonderous thing.

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Four seasons in Canaan Valley State Park
Photos my own.

Due to the topography (the valley and the Allegheny front), our spring, summer, and fall often have mornings thick with fog that burns off between 10a-noon depending on the day. Rain is prevalent and frequent during most months of the year, but is greatest in spring and summer. In Summer 2015, it rained (in some capacity) for 37 straight days. (How fun.)

Despite it all, the state is absolutely gorgeous 99% of the time. You've seen my photos through the years that prove this statement.

Riding Demographic

Western disciplines reign. The large majority of my local friends and the riding club I'm a member of ride western and practice cutting, penning, or backcountry packing/travel with a few barrel racers thrown in for good measure. There are a couple endurance riders, too, but nearly zero English folks. I'm always the weird one riding in my "little" saddle with my "tight pants" and "fancy boots" and a helmet.

Other Notes


Public land to trail ride and condition for endurance on is PRIMO. This state is very odd in that fact. I LOVE living so close to opportunities like that. I ride largely on private land from the barn; I can ride out from the barn and have access to 20 miles of trail with lots of elevation change that's mine-all-mine to train on during the non-hunting season. The catch is that I surrender it for ~2 months of the year to the hunters. Not a bad deal at all.

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Dolly Sods looking out over Canaan Valley <3

This area is also absolutely GORGEOUS. I'm an hour trailer ride from Canaan Valley, Dolly Sods, the Seneca-Spruce Knob Recreation area, and other areas on the Monongahela Nat'l Forest. For endurance training, I really couldn't ask for anything better. It's an absolute mecca of conditioning possibilities.

Frustrating Issues

The small (nonexistent) availability of trainers and facilities to practice the things I'm interested in (dressage/jumping) is absolutely frustrating. Additionally, not having anyone nearby to ride with who is knowledgeable of what I'd like to pursue is also frustrating. I don't have "eyes on the ground" to help me learn basically ever. I'm forced to video with a tripod or beg friends to come photograph so I can analyze later. Makes it really hard to develop a feel for things in dressage and correcting positional issues and getting the timing of things perfect with jumping is much trickier. It's really quite remarkable I find any success at all in these disciplines when you consider how much time I spend alone.

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Rare photo day!

For the lessons I do pursue, I'm currently trailering ~4-hours one-way. I want to explore other options an hour closer, but it's hard to commit to "trainer shopping" for someone who will be a good fit for both Griffin and I when I have to commit a minimum of 6 hours of my day to commuting to do so!

Also frustrating is the lack of equine-focused business. I have a Tractor Supply Co. and a Southern States for "tack shops" and only one vet to choose from. While I generally shop online and I do enjoy my vet, sometimes it wouldn't hurt to be able to shop around a little for items and answers. Getting Griffin outfitted with a jumping saddle in the next 6 months is more difficult when I can't test fit for either of us. And only one vet facility means I'm limited to what they can offer for services (which is an awful lot for a small area like this!) and appointment time slots (and they're insanely busy because of the large area they service). Also, I really wish an equine chiropractic or acupuncture practitioner were closer.

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Photo by Becky Pearman; used with purchase

However, I'm a multi-passion person. While this area isn't the greatest for dressage/jumping training opportunities, it is absolutely amazing for endurance training, rock climbing, mountain biking, and skiing. I love that I don't have to travel very far to be able to have primo access to some of the best climbing and mountain biking in the country! Additionally, it is incredibly cheap to live here which allows me money in my budget to spend on travel (horse and non-horse) and competitive horse pursuits out of state. I love that I have so many options to fulfill my passions here, even if I have to travel a little for some of them.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Haiku Farm Photo-Heavy Blog Hop

Aarene over at Haiku Farm started this blog hop; I always enjoy periodically publishing content like this for newish readers to learn more.

Here are the directions Aarene shared:

Answer the questions (below) on your own blog, and leave a link to that post in the comments here. In your post, invite readers to answer the questions on THEIR blogs, and link those blogs to yours AND to here. Let's see how far this can travel! Pictures!  Let's see lots of pictures of people and horses!

*  Introduce yourself! 



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Holding a hatch year female northern harrier (my spirit bird), Cape May, October 2016

I'm Liz, a late-20-something West Virginian who pursues multiple passions avidly, horses being but one. (Add skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, photography to round them out.) I am a biologist by trade, though I'm the kind of biologist who does more technical writing than fieldwork.

*  Introduce your horse(s)!


Their stats (age, breed, name, discipline) are in the right column, but...

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October 2016

Griffin came to me in January of 2012 as a "project" (You can sell him!) / (You can learn from him!) / (If you hate him give him back to me!) from a friend who had rescued him from less than ideal circumstances the previous summer. Spoiler alert: I learned from him. I loved him. I kept him. I trained him from the ground up to do basically everything he does today. We're currently pursuing dressage more seriously with hopes to also pursue jumping.

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October 2015

I brought Q home after a weekend cowboy clinic where she was lent to me. Someone had "left" her at the cowboy's farm and he was trying to sell her. She was due to go to auction 2 weeks after I rode her. He didn't really like her (and his daughters called her "that psycho/crazy horse". I ADORED her -- especially her canter. I worried about owning two horses, but ultimately gave in. She became my endurance horse completing her first LD about 2 months after I brought her home She's since gone on to complete many more rides, including her first 100 at the Old Dominion this summer. She's since suffered a suspensory tear and is now receiving a year off. She's improving though, so I hope that trend continues and we'll be back at it in 2018.

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December 2016
(And yeah, he's a muddy mess, but I took this photo just for this post after coming up empty handed in my quest to find an older one in >1,200 photos from 10 years ago of this horse. In other news, yay for so many photos?)

I rode Stan during my high school/college years. I dipped my toes into the endurance swimming pool with him for the first time in 2007. From late 2011 - July 2016, I didn't ride Stan or even visit him. I thought of him often, wondered how he was doing, but dismissed the thoughts rather quickly because I knew he was in great hands with his owner. Well, color me shocked when his owner contacted me late July of this year to say he was "getting out of horses" and asked if I wanted Stan? Um. Yes! I hardly had to think about it. And now, my OG is back in my life. My main goal for him is to keep him fit and healthy. I'm riding him mostly for pleasure at this point and he's essentially on a part-time free lease to my sole lesson student (I used to have more but my horses decided they hated being lesson horses so I had to change things) until she gets her own horse in the spring.

*  What's your favorite horse sport?  Do you cross train in other activities?


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2016 Old Dominion 100 June 2016

I have largely pursued endurance during my time as a competitive horseback rider. It fits my love of the trail, time alone with my horse, and riding for hours and hours. It also fits into my lifestyle of living in an area absent of arenas and trainers very well because trails to train on are plentiful. I've competed in rides of 25, 30, 50, 55, and 100 miles.

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Schooling dressage at home November 2016

I'm also pursuing dressage. I've wanted to get into this discipline since learning more about it a few years ago, but it isn't exactly easy for me to get lessons in dressage considering I have a minimum of a 2.5-hour drive (one-way) to be able to lesson with a trainer with any kind of merit. I have one lesson under my belt so far (a 4-hour one way drive) and have another one planned soon if the weather cooperates.

While totally new to dressage, I firmly believe that it is the backbone of all disciplines. Endurance horses with dressage backgrounds/cross training are infinitely more comfortable to ride and also seem to be more free of injury than those without. When I school jumps after warming up with dressage, I have a much better ride than I would without. Additionally, if I'm to have any hope of bringing Q back to endurance, she will absolutely HAVE to be balanced and evenly strong throughout her body (she is rather crooked at the moment) before she can go forward.

I am beginning my foray into this new world with Griffin, who is my perpetual Learn New Things Together partner (I'd never started a horse from the ground up until him). Griffin's insatiable need-to-please coupled with athleticism makes the learning endeavor fun. I hope to apply lessons I learn with him to Stan and then to Q (the problem child, or maybe it's because she's a mare) with time.

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Schooling jumps at home Sept. 2016

I have always loved jumping and wanted to do it since I was a kid. However, showing has always intimidated the hell out of me until very recently. To this point, I am entirely self-taught with aid of copious Q&A sessions through sharing of emailed photo/video to Nicole. Griffin LOVES to jump. He's a natural at it, too. With any luck, I'll make it to some formal lessons sometime in 2017.

*  Who else in your family rides?


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2007?
Tried to find the one photo I know I have of my brother on a horse, but no luck! He's also been on Griffin once before.

No one rides except me. I've had my brother and mom on a horse on occasion, but it was never anything lasting. Dad rode as a kid, I believe, but that didn't last either. I'm the crazy one.

*  What's your proudest equestrian accomplishment?


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OD 100 finish line at 5:11a June 2016

Completing the Beast of the East for my first 100 mile endurance ride is hands down my proudest competitive accomplishment to date. It was a lofty goal to tackle - I'm really not sure why I decided to make such a crazy decision! But it went well and left me wanting more. More 100s, more OD trail, more miles and hours in the saddle.

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January 2012 vs. October 2016

Beyond competitive accomplishments, I am insanely proud of Griffin. I have never trained a horse from zero to hero before him. He knew how to lead and would get on and off a trailer when he came to me. Nothing more. I've done everything with him and when I think back (and read back) to what things were like 4½ years ago, I am continually floored that he has become what he has. It's beyond my wildest dreams, for sure.

*  What was your lowest moment as a horse owner/rider?


Day 0 vs. Day 60 comparison of Q's suspensory

Most recently? Receiving the unexpected news that Q had a proximal hind limb suspensory injury. It wasn't at all what I anticipated as the outcome of our lameness evaluation and dealt me a really hard blow that took several weeks to grieve through and come to grips with. I haven't been so shocked by anything with my horses like that in a very long time. In writing and in most conversations with people, I exuded optimism, but it took a lot longer to get 110% on board mentally with that fa├žade.


*  What's the most important small thing you ever learned in a lesson?



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Learning from Stephen Birchall in Maryland, August 2016

With the fact in mind that I've only one major lesson with a professional (at the end of August to boot), I've got a small library to work from. But I think the small tidbit that Stephen told me at the very end of our lesson about Griffin's embouchure needing to strengthen with the rest of him takes the cake. It doesn't shock me to learn that a horse would need to strengthen those muscles, but I'd just never thought about it before. Griffin immediately went to rub the corners of his mouth on his leg at the end of the lesson which made Stephen note it to me. *ping* A lightbulb flashed to life above my head. Makes total sense! And makes me appreciate even more why dressage is a slow, steady process of learning and not something that one can develop overnight.


*  Do you have any riding rituals or superstitions?



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Stan and I at our only show, August 2006

Not really. I've been wearing certain bracelets more this year made of green aventurine and howlite most often. I'm not a very superstitious or ritualistic person beyond making sure my mental checklist of tack and gear is complete.


*  What are your short term goals for yourself/your horse?



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Schooling jumps at home October 2016

With Griffin: Compete in dressage by the end of 2017. I'd also love to get a formal jumping lesson in 2017.

With Q: Get her healed and back under saddle during the last half of 2017.

With Stan: Keep him healthy and fit. If time/budget allow, do an LD on him in 2017.
Myself sans horse: Volunteer at a dressage and/or jumping and/or eventing competition this year be it for the event itself or as a groom for a friend.


*  Long term goals?



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RBTR 50 August 2015
More 50s and 100s (I hope with Q!) // Pursue dressage through a few levels with Griffin. I'd also love to compete in the jumpers with him. If those two things go well individually and I can get some practice on a XC course, I'd love to eventually pursue eventing with him. I think he would LOVE it. My limited access to resources to lesson and practice will determine the pace of this goal. // Keep Stan fit and healthy. If the stars aligned, I'd love to do a 50 on him.


*  If time and money were no object, what is your dream equestrian vacation?



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One of my senior pictures from April 2007

I've had a goal for years to take a trip to Mongolia to ride horses (and camels). I'd also love to take a riding safari in Africa. I have a friend in Patagonia who runs a tourism business that features horses going into the backcountry; I foster a dream of volunteering my medical, equestrian, and language skills to work for them for a few weeks. It would help them and be a great trip for me! I have also dreamed long and hard (and even planned routes) about riding coast to coast in the US like Linny Kenney did on Sojourner.


*  What kind of horse activities were you doing 10 years ago?



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An eerie and not planned resemblance to the above photo! August 2006

Ten years ago I was riding Stan almost exclusively. I would ride him several times a week and mostly just gallop around the trails spending as much time riding as I could. During the later half of winter 2007, I began conditioning Stan for my first foray into the endurance world.


*  What kind of horse activities do you think you'll be doing 10 years from now?



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First check at the OD 100 June 2016

Endurance, I sincerely hope. I also hope I'll still be involved in dressage and jumping. And I really hope to be bringing along another young horse from the ground up.


*  What is the quirk about your horse that you like most?


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Or, you know, he's just sometimes IN the tack room. December 2016

Griffin: His need to watch me when I'm in the tack room. I make a point of tying him nearest to the door with just enough slack so he can peak around and watch me. He loves to keep an eye on me and be near me.

Q napping while cars line up behind us waiting for the parade to pass, not pictured are about a dozen firetrucks in front of us
sirens blaring, lights flashing, people running amok, July 2012

Q: Um. The mare doesn't really have quirks. She's been a tough nut to crack so far as her personality goes. She's got a lot of issues from the cowboy who trained her before I got her, but she is amazingly level-headed in situations she's experienced with me alone (read: parades with loud firetrucks, flashing lights, people running amok, balloons, etc.). So I really like that while a fern or large leaf may spook the hell out of her, other scarier things only illicit an ear flick.

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September 2010

Stan: Gah, I can't even think of quirks about him. He's so easy going! I suppose I like that he's easy to love. My mother adores him, Lauren adores him, and Nicole fell quickly for him when she rode him over Thanksgiving.