Friday, July 20, 2018

Product Review: Shoofly Leggins

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this review nor have I received any form of incentive or compensation for doing so. All opinions are my own and given voluntarily.

Product reviews are few and far between for me. Mostly because I'm not someone who spends money often and most of what I purchase is straight-forward, utilitarian, and often well-known and already well-reviewed. But I feel obligated to write this review after another blogger's write-up (hi, Sara!) influenced me to purchase the product!

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Since moving my horses onto smaller acreage near home in June, I've had things like fly masks/boots on my radar for the first time ever. The horses are in a herd of 3 instead of 10, don't have as many places to move around and escape pesky flies, the deer flies blow in Canaan, and I knew that on smaller acreage I wouldn't mind finding a mask or fly boot that had been casually discarded by one of them over the course of time between my visits (because to hell with searching for a lost boot or fly mask on the 28 acres they were previously living on).

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Considering the Options

It's worth noting, as I'm certain I'll get questions otherwise, why I didn't consider a fly sheet or put them all in masks instead of/in addition to the leggings:

With regard to sheets, I had concerns that they'd sweat in them. I know how even my light sun protective layers cause me to sweat and I just didn't want that for the horses. Additionally, they all enjoy rolling quite often, clothed or not, and I just imagined the fine mesh of a fly sheet getting nabbed by an errant piece of vegetation and becoming torn in no time at all.

And with regard to masks, I'd honestly planned to put them in those in addition to the leggings. But when I spent time really observing them in the field while I was there over the course of several weeks, I noted that the flies in Canaan are not the type to really flock to their faces. On the contrary, these flies go for the legs (especially the lower leg where they're more out of reach from the horses' defenses) and belly more than anything. My observations suggested that the Shoofly Leggins should resolve much of my horses' fly-related stress.

Product Selection: Shoofly Leggins

While many other fly boot products exist on the market, I've always been skeptical of them. My horses live in a 24/7 turnout situation on pastures that are not perfectly manicured. A classic boot with multiple velcro strips and fleece-covered hemlines didn't seem like a great option for our mornings ripe with heavy dew on the grass. I didn't relish the idea of that wet being contained so close to their horses legs for hours until they dried. 

Additionally, I didn't love the idea of boots that dropped below the coronet band because I just foresaw those getting shredded from inevitable overreach. Could I put bell boots on to help prevent that? Sure, but that's just adding more crap to their legs which didn't thrill me for a variety of reasons.

Finally, I questioned the durability of some of the mesh used in some boot designs. It looked like something my horses could tear up in no time at all, and I had no desire to spend money on something so easily destroyed.

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Shoofly Leggins loose, simple design that provides for a lot of airflow was very appealing to me. Overall, the description of their construction sounded promising for my needs. Per their website, "Breathable plastic mesh with sewn-in stays to eliminate sagging. Heavy-duty Velcro ensures durability and wear-ability. Lower edge finished in felt to eliminate embedded wild oats, burrs, and foxtails."

And so, as summer hit it's stride at the end of June in the Valley, I bit the bullet and nabbed 3 sets of Shoofly Leggins from Stateline Tack when they had one of their many sales. Sum total for 3 sets + shipping? $145. Not a bad investment if the horses would keep them on and if they'd last me at least one summer if not two!

Initial Impressions

The evening the leggings arrived, I hurried over to feed the horses and put them on.

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They went on simply and easily and I saw an IMMEDIATE change in each of my horses as they were applied. Prior to wearing them, as the horses ate their meals, each was stomp-stomp-stomping constantly with one foot or the other. As each horse donned the leggings, the stomping ceased. Immediately. It was a very cool cascading diminuendo sound effect to go from a trio of stomping horses to a duo to a single individual to NOTHING in a matter of a few minutes.

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None of the horses protested to wearing the leggings more than a few elevated leg raises and startled stutter-steps in place where they were tied. Each was alarmed for a second or two before accepting the leggings as their new normal, and then proceeded to happily swish their tails and occasionally nip at their bellies if a particularly evil fly found its way there. 

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With such promising initial results, I crossed my fingers and toes that the product would withstand the horses daily movements, stay on, and not rub or cause distress to the pastern area.

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The next day I was THRILLED to arrive and see 12 leggings precisely where I'd left them. Barring the one day someone other than me replaced them when only one came off of Q's right hind, they haven't budged once since I've been using them - which has been daily for 10+ days now. Every day I arrive the horses have them on; such a satisfying thing!


Big selling points for me with this product:

  • Loose design to allow plenty of air flow so they dry quickly from morning dew and do not hold moisture against the horses' skin
  • Simple design that stays on for horses who are on 24/7 turnout
  • Majority of reviewers didn't not have issues with rubs - and I haven't either
  • Color options (I chose what would be easiest to find when discarded) 
  • Affordable - a set of 4 for $46 (on sale); looking at the construction of these things $11.50 per legging is very fair!


Conclusions

So far, I'm very, very pleased with this product. The horses seem SO much more content - the biggest win. But beyond that, I'm very pleased that the leggings stay put where they are supposed to, aren't rubbing any raw spots, and seem quite durable to the rigors of daily life for my little herd.

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This photo is the most recent of all of the above.
The only visible wear is the now off-white felt at the base and a slight sag to the previously very upright leggings.

Though the true test of time will come this autumn when I put these things away until next summer. I'm optimistic that they will still be in great shape, but I'll certainly have to check back in at a later date and let you know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Griffin Logic: Ditches ≠ Ditches

You all know Griffin.

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Tall, grey, and handsome

He's my raised-and-trained-by-me dabbles-in-everything-with-a-focus-on-eventing horse. Part of that whole "raised-and-trained-by-me" bit means he spent the better part of 2 years doing more trail riding than anything else. It helped him learn how to be a riding horse, balance himself with a rider in oodles of situations, and helped build a really solid, balanced body as a result of all that terrain.

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On a trail. In water. Happy.

He's also been a lover of water since I introduced him to it as a babe. He loves drinking from the hose, playing in the trough, and we've recently been doing a lot of swimming in the pond (which I need to get media of because it is THE MOST FUN).

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LERV WATER

But apparently since we've hunkered down and focused more on eventing these past few years, Griffin has forgotten how to be on a trail. In particular, he's decided he CANNOT cross ditches on trail. Not even when they're LITERALLY 6 inches wide with a trickle of water. Cue: rearing (fortunately not too big!), crow hopping, squealing, head flinging, giraffe imitations, turning and trying to bolt in the opposite direction (yes, even AWAY from home...like WTF horse, the barn is the other way?), and general athletic outbursts of protest.

I mean, okay, I get it, dude. You're a fancy sporthorse now. You don't "do" trails.

But like. Can we just reframe that for a second? Maybe with some photos for emphasis:

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Tackles ditches with ease.


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And log-like things aren't a problem either!

Because last I checked, as a fancy sporthorse he's tackled his share of ditches and logs. And he tackled them all with ease. So, Griffin, while you may have Opinions with a capital "O", your argument is invalid. So invalid, in fact, that it amuses me more than it frustrates me!


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A pretty picture but OH the argument we had 20 minutes before this!

And thus, last weekend when I had the opportunity to get all three horses out on a trail ride on the trail with the godforsaken 6-inch wide ditches on repeat for the second mile of trail (seriously, there are about 8 of them), I decided Griffin was going to Get Over his opinions. And if he simply Could Not, then I'd let him follow Stan or Q and work with him again at the subsequent ditch.

I really didn't expect him to have too big of an issue following the ride pictured above, I just needed to bring the right mindset and the proper tools with me to better address the issue before he could escalate to such a point that I suffered another injury. Because yeah, his Opinions and subsequent outburst preceding the above photo resulted in what I can only conclude is a minor fracture to the joint on my right middle finger as it's been swollen (though less over time) and painful for 3+ weeks now.

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Happy ears checking in with me

Leaving the barn the other morning with my friends, I think Griffin could tell I meant business; but I also think he was excited to get to go on an adventure with his friends. And he responded appropriately, striking out in the lead of our little trio with admirable confidence. I couldn't help but grin. This was the trail horse I raised. The confident little front-runner who loves to get out and tackle whatever terrain I put in front of him.

He carried that confidence and marched proudly in the lead clear to the first ditch where he promptly stopped, snorted, and expressed his Opinion. In anticipation of this moment, I had not only warned my riding partners that I'd be schooling him, but I also had a dressage whip in hand and ready.

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I have no idea why this photo came out looking like the dead of night, but it wasn't. And also, this was the turn around point
for our ride. Grif didn't give a hoot about the river.

I put my leg on and told him to cross the ditch. Griffin snorted. He flung his head in the air and body to the side. I put my leg on and told him no with my voice and body language and asked him again to cross the ditch. He reared. I popped him one and told him no and asked him to cross again. He spun, reared, kicked out, and generally threw a little fit. Fortunately, it was a very well-balanced fit that was easy to ride! I popped him once again as he escalated his fit, told him no, and represented him to the ditch where he then stopped and snorted, staring at it.

I asked him to go forward. He hesitated then tried to back up. I applied leg and annoyingly and persistently tap-tap-tapped him on the shoulder with the whip. Any movement away from the ditch earned more annoying tapping; any movement toward the ditch earned praise and an immediate cessation of tapping. He evaded and I tapped until he'd take a step toward the ditch where I'd praise and cease my annoying taps. We repeated this only a few seconds more before he overjumped the hell out of the ditch to cross it. I praised him LAVISHLY, laughing at his excessive jump.

After that, he protested mildly at one more crossing and was an angel for the rest of the ride, leading confidently the whole way just as I knew he could. I continued to praise him with exuberance each time he crossed a ditch and after the second I didn't have to use the whip again the whole ride - except for shooing deer flies away from us both!

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All smiles before heading back.

And so, more frequent trail riding is now on Griffin's agenda. It's so obvious how much he truly LOVES his trail time, and now that I have trail access again, I want him to have it, too! He's forgotten a bit about what life is like outside of dressage schooling and jumping and has developed a more "sporthorse" reaction to express his Opinions (which I can only blame myself for because I've worked so hard to build such an athletic little creature who uses his body correctly lol). His sweetheart-need-to-please core personality is still there. I just needed to set as firm of boundaries during the trail work as I set elsewhere in his life, which totally makes sense!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Endurance with an Iron Horse

This past Saturday I did something I've never done before: a bike race. As if that wasn't a big enough "first", it was the furthest I've ever traveled under my own power (read: not riding a horse): 53.7 miles per my GPS watch. Another "first"? I climbed over 5,300 feet in the course of those miles, including to the top of the highest point in WV, Spruce Knob. But wait, there's one more "first" to log into my personal record book: I did well enough to squeak onto the podium!

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I'd have brought my jersey down if I thought I was actually going to end up on the podium!

After a friend tackled this race last year, I put it on my calendar for 2018. I knew the roads we'd travel on this gravel grinder and felt comfortable with the idea that I could bike them. I knew I wouldn't be the fastest, but that was okay! The AERC motto of To Finish is to Win embodies all of my endurance attempts in any sport.

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On top of the world

And so I signed up. I trained some...but not as much as a should have or could have. In fact, I tore one of my quad muscles 3 weeks out from the race and rode a minimal amount leading up to it in an effort to have the muscle healed enough to race. And miracle of miracles, it was healed enough to not bother me [much]!

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Starting line chaos

A huge contingent of friends from Canaan were competing in each of the three distances (72, 53, and 32 miles; the 72 mile course climbed over 8,600 feet!). It was SO FUN to see all of them at the start, through parts of the course where there was two-way traffic, and have them cheering/cheer for them at the finish.

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Smiles with friends pre-start

I impressed myself powering through every mile of the race. Without a horse's well-being to account for, I could unleash my competitive nature more than I've done since I was a swimmer. Of those women nearby, I was only confident that two were in my category; I fought to chase one and stay in front of the second. I didn't know how many were ultimately in my category, but I did know that the podium would recognize and award the top 5, so I pushed my legs to handle all they could with hopes that I'd make it in.

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Eager and ready to rip-roar down the road

I nearly cried when I reached the summit of Spruce Knob and knew I only had one final climb ahead of me after a solid 9.5 mile downhill where I was able to rest and recoup. But boy was I dreading that final climb! My legs and body were really hurting. But I knew I was going to meet my goal of finishing within 6 hours even if I walked my bike up that final hill!

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My first bike race number ever

Lucky for me, my husband was waiting at the base of that final climb! As if seeing him wasn't enough of a pick-me-up, he then proceeded to run alongside me for the final two miles to the finish - all the way up that 1 mile climb. It was a total surprise in the best way possible and helped me power forward a little more than I thought I would be able to.

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A short section of paved road by Spruce Knob Lake

All of my friends who had already finished were clustered by the finish line and cheered and whooped and hollered as I came into sight. It was so awesome!

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Looking toward Cunningham and Yokum Knobs as I descended from the summit; crooked horizon because I was zipping
downhill with one hand on the brake and one hand taking the photo lol

I am surprised how much I enjoyed this race and absolutely plan to participate next year (Dave, too)! While I wish I'd trained a little more and eaten a little better the morning before the race, there isn't much else I'd change about the experience. The mental side of endurance is definitely the hardest part for me and my headspace was remarkably positive even through the hardest parts of the course. I surprised even myself in that regard!

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Copious sponsor banners and tents setup where the dinner and awards were held. Aside: This facility is my absolute most
favorite spot in all of West Virginia. I credit my time here as a kid for my love of outdoors sports, conservation, and West Virginia.

It's been a long time since I've felt this fit (my body literally bounced back from the abuse I put it through in < 24 hours) and it feels GOOD. I'm excited to get back on my bike to maintain and improve my strength. I don't know if I'll do many more races, but I definitely foresee many more training miles in my future!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mid-Year Goal Check-In

Firstly, thank you all for your kind words and well wishes re: my elopement. In the time since that post, we celebrated with friends and family and had a GREAT time. It was so very good to see everyone. My biggest goal for the celebration was for everyone to have fun. It was a rousing success and the most common comment from everyone was, "What a great party! Best I've been to in years. Hope you all had as much fun as we did!" 

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I've set some solid goals for each animal and myself, as well as some stretch goals (+) that, while they should be achievable, I'm not banking on their completion to feel success in my yearly achievements. 

Griffin

✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Build strength, power, and finesse within dressage and jumping
~ Take > 3 dressage lessons (and become more confirmed/comfortable with shoulder-in and lateral movements)
✘ Take > 1 jumping lesson
~ Feel confirmed at beginner novice
✘ + Compete in the novice division at one HT
✘ + Compete in either a dressage or jumping show
✘ + Put Grif on cattle to see if he works them as he does the dogs around the barn


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Griffin has forgotten how to trail ride in recent years. I foresee a lot more of it in our near future.

The beginning of the year began slowly between the weather and my fussing about with when and where to move the horses. Now that I've crossed that [very big] goal off, hopefully I can settle in and work on the rest of these goals. Though, admittedly, I can say I won't be able to cross them all off as I'd hoped thanks to the whole debacle with my truck. Womp, womp, womp. (This week marks 1 month that it's been in the shop...)

Beyond staying healthy and building strength, I'm most pleased that we fit in two dressage lessons. They were great and Griffin far exceeded expectations. I'd love to get back up there for some more lessons later this year as it's one of the few things I feel certain I could budget post-truck repair. I had so many things "click" into place for me at the lessons and would love to build on that some more. C also teaches jumping (it was my original introduction to hear YEARSSSS ago), so perhaps I'll be able to check off that goal, too?

re: partial completion of feeling confirmed at BN: I'm giving myself partial credit for this because when Grif and I have jumped this year, everything has been greater than BN height. Honestly, they have been for ages and I was just measuring wrong. Whoops. I'll take that mistake though! Knowing the actual height has made me feel a lot more confident in Griffin and having my mental space more confident has only resulted in better rides with him. I hope to build some XC jumps as soon as I get my truck back, so while we may not be able to show this year, we'll absolutely be able to school well at home!


Q

✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Build more trust and confidence in our partnership
✘ Take > 1 dressage or centered riding lesson
✔✔ Build better balance and abolish her sidedness, especially with trot diagonals
✘ Hone lateral movements under saddle
✘ Complete a conditioning ride >20 miles over mountainous terrain (rail trail does not count)
✘ + Compete in a dressage show
✘ + Return to endurance competition


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Same view as above behind different ears. This climb to here is an 800'+ elevation gain in ~1 mile.

This mare. I'm SO pleased with what we've accomplished the past few months. So, so pleased. Her confidence is building with every mile. She spooks less and less and the spooking she does offer picks me up and takes me with her as opposed to dropping my ass as she retreats. That's a HUGE difference and one I'll happily take. Hopefully one day she'll be less afraid of bracken ferns...

Aside from the total boost in confidence and our partnership, I'm really pleased to report that my efforts to abolish her sidedness have been successful. I know I tend to favor posting the right diagonal on any horse I ride, but with Q lately, I'll look down and find myself on the left diagonal as often as the right without even thinking about it! Prior to this, while I would switch my diagonal often on Q, every time I'd post the left diagonal she'd find something to spook at within a stride or two and I'd find myself back on the right diagonal. The secondary indicator that we've kicked this problem to the curb is that her raised Arabian tail, which formerly tended to curve to the right when trotting is now carried much straighter! This pleases me greatly.

While we haven't completed a 20+ mile ride over terrain YET, we're right on the cusp of doing it. The only reason I haven't is really just a lack of time on my part. I've put in a 12 and 14.5 mile ride on her the past two weeks. That goal will be checked off in no time. As for the remaining ones, I'm confident several of them will be checked off as the rest of the year marches forward.

Stan

✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
~ Keep up conditioning levels to a degree where striking out on a 20+ mile conditioning ride over mountainous terrain is a walk-in-the-park
✘ + Compete in a 50-mile ride


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The handsomest.

Stan's mostly been sitting idle this year. And that's totally okay. He's happy, he's healthy, and that is what matters the most. Recently though, he's been out on a few conditioning rides piloted by some of my girlfriends. He's done outstanding on each one and always seems happy to be out.

He's such a GOOD horse. I love riding him, but even more, I love that he is trustworthy enough for me to loan out to friends so I have company when riding. One of these ladies will be free leasing him very soon! Another friend will also be getting her riding-legs back with some rides on him, too, if all goes to plan.

That stretch goal definitely will not happen. It's just not a priority. Could I get him there and make it work, probably. But the level of work and amount of time I'd need to put into getting him to that point isn't something I have on my radar. If his free leaser gets really gung-ho and puts the miles on him, maybe, but I doubt this will happen as he'd need to be ridden 1-3 hours/day for at least 5 days a week. Having him happy, healthy, and fit enough for fun conditioning rides around Canaan is way simpler and fun.


Kenai

✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
~ Get some answers to his hair loss
✔ Maintain a healthy weight and diet with whatever supplements keep him moving well


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Hiding in the shade on a recent hike.

I feel like a broken record, but in the best way: Kenai is moving better and seems happier than he has in years. He's definitely got some gnarly arthritis in his stifles from the surgeries, but he's trotting more than he's ever done since the surgery and is sassy to boot.

While I'm happy with Kenai's weight and movement, I still have no idea WTF is up with his hair loss. I have copious hypotheses, but no answers. Vet opinions differ and come down to pursuing different routes, either hormone therapy or diet changes. Hormone therapy is a hard pass for me; the costs (e.g., side effects to his health/body, trickiness to figure out the correct combo/amount, financial side) far outweigh potential benefits.

He was diagnosed with a staph infection in January, which we treated and gave him some relief for the duration of treatment and a month or so after. But then he became itchy again which raised a lot of questions in my mind. Is it seasonal or is it a food allergy as the vet suggested? Areas of hair loss are certainly restricted to places he can chew/bite or scratch. It's hard to tell and could easily be a combination of seasonal and food allergies.

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Admittedly, his paws are black from the mud, but the other dark areas on his caudal thigh and neck is all hairless skin. Sigh.

If he has a food allergy, as one vet hypothesized after his bloodwork came back perfect, there are several routes to go down. Commonly, you will hear that the dog has developed an allergy to a common protein and the vet will recommend a novel protein food source. That's all well and good, except the [usually prescription] novel protein foods they often recommend are an exorbitant price. In my case, the food recommended was going to be a minimum of $120 a month. Oof! I have always had my dogs on quality kibble, but that cost was more than I could stomach and budget. Not to mention when I looked at the protein within the food I found 3 different kinds (and the vet wanted him on one....).

So, I took a dive off the deep end, consumed myself with research on homemade diets, and slowly transitioned Kenai over. It's a bit of work for me, but the research has been SO FUN (and informative!) and I much prefer the work over watching my budget hemorrhage. It costs money at the moment, but as soon as deer season opens this fall, the cost will drop to nearly nothing. I'd like to keep him on this type of diet for the remainder of the year and see where things stand.


Taiga

✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Hone recall and obedience training
~ + Begin pursuing training necessary to become a therapy dog


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I'd say I forced this cuddle for a photo, but her expression says how unforced it was lol

This little dog is such a happy soul and a bright spot to my days. While potty training with her wasn't the easiest, she has exceeded expectations in every other area. She recalls better than Kenai most days and truly wants to please. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with her - even when she rolls in the latest, greatest most-disgusting-smell-ever.

I haven't actively been pursuing therapy training, but I also haven't shelved it either. I hope to check in with this as the rest of the year progresses and try to pursue it more. This little dog learns so quickly that I'm optimistic we can achieve whatever we set our sights on once we've started the journey.

Myself

✔ Stay happy and healthy physically and mentally
✔ Build a stronger and more flexible body
✔ Build/maintain my photography skillset and business
✘ Lead climb above 5.9
~ Bike Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking
✔✔✔ Really push forward with finding a living situation for the horses that is closer to my home
~ + Be able to do a split & feel comfortable with inversion poses


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The only arm balance I can confidently do currently.

The biggest goal I set for myself this year was to get the horses closer to home. Status: ACHIEVED. I'm beyond happy. I'm still going to see about pursuing an amendment in my HOA to get them really close to home, but I'm not holding my breath about that and am happy to have them 10 minutes away.

Moving the horses home has done wonders for my mental health. I fit in so much more horse time than I once did. I see them at least 6 days a week and on the days I don't stop by, I usually see them as I drive by. I rode 15 separate times this month and was in the saddle for 13 hours total. For comparison, in May I only rode 8 times for a total of 9 hours; 3 of those rides and half of those hours were from lessons, which aren't a regularly scheduled thing.

Fitting in so much more horse time leaves me feeling very happy and fulfilled. I've also been able to spend more quality time with Dave and have gotten out and exercised a lot more! My increased fitness is allowing me to handle the heat so far this summer with much more grace than in past years. It's still a work in progress and I still don't like the hot, hot heat and being super exposed to the sun, but I'm definitely less averse to it than I've been!

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These two 💕

Climbing has taken a backseat this year due to injuries. However, I seem to be on the other side of these and there is a LOT of climbing weather left for the year. Dave and I headed out for a few hours on Saturday to climb and I exceeded my expectations for myself for the day. My original expectations were set very honestly, so being able to push my body beyond them felt really great. 

I'm still trucking along with mountain biking and yoga. I've technically ridden a trail on Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking now, but it wasn't one of the trails I originally had in mind to complete as a part of the goal. Additionally, while my yoga strength and flexibility are much improved, and I'm making incremental progress toward my goals with splits and inversions, there's more work to do! A side effect of the yoga is the improvement I see in my riding position - especially in my dressage saddle. Can't wait to see if that evolves more as the year goes on!

My photography side hustle is wonderful. Admittedly, I'm doing more free shoots for friends than anything - which I'm so happy to do! These shoots allow me to experiment without pressure, build my portfolio, and provide my close friends some wonderful images of their families and pets. I continue to enjoy it and learn more and more every day, and learning is the thing I enjoy most.

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Overall, I'm really happy. And I've worked hard to get to this point during the first half of the year. It hasn't been easy, but I knew from the get-go that it would be worth it if I put the time in. I've done that and am so excited to be where I am now. I'm really looking forward to what I'll manifest and accomplish in the second half of the year.