Monday, July 26, 2021

June Highlights Reel (the abbreviated version)

Despite my hopes and best efforts, keeping the blog up to date with current happenings has proven very difficult this summer. I have omitted several sections from this post because they just seem silly in light of so much that has been going on; additionally, I simply don't have the time, bandwidth, or interest to sort through my copious photos to choose ones to include for this month. 

I have one more huge update about the farm to share in a future post, but beyond that, I will likely be absent from this space in the future. I am not committing to "ending" the blog at this point, but with so much going on of late (and my dedication to not over-commit myself anymore, thus allowing myself space and time to relax), I do not anticipate that I will update much in the future. If you enjoy my adventures and scenery, I encourage you to follow along with my Instagram @estout18 for more "regular" updates. Cheers, y'all.

A Total Loss

As alluded to in my introductory text for my [very] late May highlights reel, life at the end of May was a bit turbulent for me. It took 32 years, but I finally hit a deer with a vehicle. And not only did I hit a deer, but I destroyed said deer. It jumped off a bank into the road directly in front of my car in a section of road we don't often see them (there are much more popular crossing points on either side of where the accident occurred). I had no time to react at all. I was going 50-55 mph. The road is posted at 55. One second I was driving, and in the next I slammed into the deer's broadside. With an explosion of simultaneous sound, I struck the doe and all of my airbags deployed. I immediately pulled over to the side of the road and flung myself out of the vehicle to stumble to the side of the road where I sat in a tripod position trying to come to grips with the sudden onset of events. Ultimately, I would drive my vehicle home (3 miles away) and go into shock for 90 minutes. It was a bad night. 

Fortunately for me, Subaru makes a very safe vehicle. Unfortunately for me, in making vehicles safe, they also make them more expendable. Hitting the deer totaled my sweet little car. 

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I'd just like to pause and take this moment to ask each of you: Did you know there were shin-height air bags? Because I sure didn't. And 95% of the folks who I've talked to since my accident did not know this either. It makes sense and I totally support having them, but I'm just impressed with how few people seem aware that they exist - myself included!

Were it not for the shin bags, I would have been completely unscathed from the incident. The steering wheel airbag didn't even touch me. My touching it only occurred as I batted it away from me so I could see the road and pull over. I didn't even register the shin airbag until I'd gotten home. And I didn't register that the airbag had caused trauma to my lower legs until later that evening. And even then, I was only aware of the significant swelling to my right leg. In fact, the swelling was so significant that I wondered if I had broken the leg and was only moving okay on it due to shock and adrenaline. In all my years as a first responder (over a decade) I've never seen a shin swell like mine did that evening without their also being a fracture. 

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After all was said and done, I was grateful to be okay without a need to go to the hospital. I loathe car shopping, but am fortunate to have close friends who enjoy it. So while I still hated the process, it wasn't as bad as it could have been and by the third weekend of June I brought another new-to-me Subaru home. Same model, three years younger than my last. 

I am so happy to put this in the rearview mirror and move forward. It was exceptionally stressful for me, and while I'm grateful to have grown from the experience, I'm ready to enjoy some [hopefully] easier days for awhile.

Further Tack Room Upgrades

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Fed up with the spacing of my saddles (which I chose based on the availability/distance of studs), I decided I needed to come up with a new solution. No matter how burly my dry wall anchors were, they failed. Patching my wall is something I'm capable of, but not a chore I enjoy doing so often. Meh.
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So all of the saddles came off the wall and were stacked on the couch while I came up with a solution.

Yes, that is a plush unicorn head in the window. Yes, I have plans for it. One day...
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Austen recommended doing some sort of wood wall where the saddles were. This way the boards could be drilled into the studs and then the saddle racks could go anywhere on the boards and have support! I loved it and knew I had lots of scrap wood to make the project happen for pennies on the dollar. In fact, Dave even found some more 100+ year old spruce boards for me to use (the darkest boards) and some really old cedar from a project he did years back.
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The mismatched scrap wood pairs beautifully with the rest of the barn. 
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One day I'll get black pipe insulators in place of the blue pool noodles, but for now, this setup works beautifully! I love being able to have my racks spaced more comfortably for the saddles. 
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It's a small change with big benefits. 
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Overall I'm really happy with this space and how it has fallen together. I'd like to add a few more minor storage/organization things, but beyond that - I think we're close to "complete" finally.
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I also adopted a mini fridge from a friend who was getting rid of it. I LOVE having it for my meds and for water and alcohol. Barn beers are an important part of barn chores, after all!

Lyme and Meningitis 

(If you like odd medical stories, this is for you - keep reading! If not, skip this section.) 

During the final 10 days of June, Dave came down with a sickness. Its initial onset presented as strong body aches that would evolve into a fever hours later. The fever and body aches continued for three straight days where Dave could hardly leave the couch. No other symptoms except he occasionally complained of his head hurting. The fever went from over 101°F to somewhere in the low 99°F range by Friday evening and he was able to rally and spend some time with friends. He was now complaining of a headache/migraine, but was otherwise "okay".  Until 4am Sunday when he woke me up in the worst pain of his life. 

We immediately headed north to Oakland, Maryland where we went into the ER. They found several incidental findings not related to his pain on an abdominal CT scan, nothing to report from two head/neck CT scans, and elevated liver enzymes in his bloodwork. They delivered toradol, morphine, and Ativan to his system while we were there, but nothing resolved his pain in the slightest. We were discharged with two scripts to fill for musculoskeletal pain "causing the headaches" and headed home. 

Once home, we each napped for about 3 hours (we were each operating on less than 3 hours of sleep to this point). Upon waking, I checked on Dave and he was no better. Worse even. His body was on fire. He was barely lucid. I'd been texting with 6 medical professional friends since 5:30am and was aware that this was No Good. Meningitis was looking very likely. So I packed bags for us very quickly and we headed to the nearest higher care facility in Morgantown, two hours north. 

My medical knowledge and savvy coupled with my vast network of medical professional friends and family helped us to get through the intake process at the Emergency Department quite quickly. Knowing buzz words to trigger triage of stuff like this is very beneficial. From the time we arrived until we were in a private room in the ED was less than 30 minutes. Through this entire process, Dave could barely talk. He was in so much pain that I became the mouthpiece with the medical team. They ran another gamut of tests and a suite of bloodwork and found that his C-Reactive Protein test was very elevated (in the 200s). From here, the team started taking things much more seriously. They administered a gamut of pain drugs once more, but nothing helped. At 8:30pm, Dave consented to a lumbar puncture and I left the hospital to spend the night with a friend. 

By the next morning, Dave was feeling much better - to the great relief of myself, friends, and family. They'd ruled out bacterial meningitis and were confident with a diagnosis of some kind of viral meningitis that wasn't caused by a herpes virus. Lyme was still on the table. As to the drugs responsible for helping him, we still didn't know. They administered 14 the night before in an attempt to get him comfortable.

I spent all of Monday at the hospital with Dave hanging out waiting on updates as the medical team received test results. Dave felt great all day and the team felt it was very safe to discharge him that evening (though they were also happy to keep him if he felt he wanted to stay). Right before discharge, some additional bloodwork was returned that noted the presence of IgG and IgM antibodies for Lyme in his blood indicating an active Lyme infection. While the team didn't draw an immediate conclusion that evening (still awaiting further test results), it is entirely possibly that his meningitis was catalyzed by Lyme. And so, they scripted him doxycycline with his discharge. 

As of this writing, we are home and Dave is holding stable, but is still a little uncomfortable. We're hanging low and hoping for steady improvement in coming days. 

Update: I wrote the above immediately following the incident. Since that time, Dave's western blot test results have been returned and were negative. Thus, doctors told him he did not have Lyme and did not need to take doxy. He spent about 2½ weeks building back up to his normal routine and - other than putting his back out this past weekend - has been great and has returned to life as usual. What a scare though! We're really grateful to have it in the rearview mirror. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

May Highlights Reel

I had this post mostly composed and ready to go for the end of May, but then life got very life-y and I needed to sit and process for awhile. I hope to update more about all of the nonsense in my June highlights reel. For now, before more time passes, here are [most of] the high points from May. 

Camping

To kick off May, I joined my coworkers for what would be the first of many social gatherings sans masks this month. What an utter delight it has been to be around people again! Despite West Virginia's many backwoods ways, our vaccination campaign was well done. As of this month, everyone I know and interact with is fully vaccinated. 

I took Q with me on this camping trip - because why not? She's a camping pro and I wanted to bring my pony! 

She was absolutely stellar the whole weekend. Totally point-and-shoot on the [lack of] trails nearby, going wherever I asked - even when it was walking upstream in the river for about a quarter mile! (When the banks are too dense with vegetation to pass through, you make due.) Ultimately, the riding wasn't what I'd hoped it would be (my first time to this spot), so Q enjoyed a lot of grazing in camp.

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Heading to the first dead end of the day lol
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And then to the next dead end.
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And then back to camp.
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Where's Q? Can you find her?
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How about now?
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I didn't tie her the whole time. She just meandered and grazed. Such a good mare.
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You can see the leadline and extender (yellow webbing) here that I tied to her just in case she tried to book it lol
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The dogs also came and Kenai spent some quality time begging from his favorite chumps. Pity they both know better than to feed him scraps. Taiga was smarter about life and spent her time nomming deer bones that were near the area. 
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"Oh, I see you have a porkchop over there. I would also like a porkchop. Can I have your porkchop?" - Kenai, probably
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Q in her fake electric pen post dinner.


Favorite Pieces of Spring so Far

Spring is my favorite season. The return of the flora and fauna, bright, vibrant colors on the landscape, and turbulent skies make for such stunningly beautiful moments. I'm going to let the photos speak for my love of spring here...

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A successful morel hunt!
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My first time finding these delights in my county.
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This dogwood was STUNNING.
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Nice view of a bend in the Dry Fork
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I was stabbed countless times by four species of thorny vegetation to get these - TOTALLY WORTH IT.
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Red trillium.
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Spring deliciousness about to become dinner.
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Ramps and morels!
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Add some cheese.
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And then YUM.
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Kenai's hearing loss means I'm stared at a lot more intensely these days lol
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A low quality photo of a high quality bird. Scarlet tanager.
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So the hillside was SO slick due to rain that Grif slid down in a figure 11 for 15-20 foot stretches. He would slide, get a panicked look in his eyes, then stop and find something to snack on while he acted like, "Yeah. Meant to do that. Just like that."
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Spring ephemeral ride.
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White trillium.
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The various vibrant greens of spring are my absolute favorite.
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Love, love, love
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I'm not sure if more of these exist, but in an effort to do away with the pro-tobacco barns, this barn is advocating for anti-tobacco and supporting cancer survivors. It is always so pretty paired with spring colors. Makes for an even prettier photo on the years when the farmer has his sheep and lambs in this field.
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My sweet old man.
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He is the cutest.
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The newest flower bed right after planting!
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And my key for myself lol
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I was doing barn chores with no plans of riding on this evening. But then I looked up and saw the craziest, colorful light playing across the western horizon and I knew I had to go see it closer.
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And hot damn am I glad I did. The mist rolling past from latent rainstorms played the sunset light across the sky and landscape in a wholly new way. Just wow. 
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I will forever love taking photos of this old cabin at sunset.
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How is this even real life?
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Pink trillium.
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Lousewort.
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Columbine
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Columbine again
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From-scratch biscuits and gravy. Pork from my friend's farm. 
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Stanley Manley!
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And a Kate and Griffleby!
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And the Blackwater Canyon.
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Grif and his tree. 
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I killt it. 10 miles later and she was too tired to even lie down!
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Q and I about to head out on a ride with Chris and Ivan.
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The first outdoor dinner of the year with friends.
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AND THE MOST PRECIOUS PIGLETS EVER OMG
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I squealed an unreasonable amount. It scared the pigs. But then they came to investigate me anyway.
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Barb and Priscilla - the mommas.
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I loved the piglets so much that I went out the next day with the DSLR to take more photos. I wish they'd been as cooperative with the light as they had the night before, but c'est la vie.
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These pigs live THE BEST LIFE. They're out on more pasture than my horses are.
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It's a pretty sweet life. Born here, grow up here, and then will be butchered on site, too. As traveling is the most stressful part for most local farm animals, having the butcher shop setup on site is HUGE. 
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Can't wait to eat two of them later this summer at my friend's wedding lol They're cute, and I adore them, but I also adore eating them and feel no guilt about it because they live a truly kickass life.
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This is Ferdinand. He was born on the farm last year. Such a big boy now!
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And this is the new bull, Buster. Or, more affectionately, Bust-a-Nut. Use your imagination.
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He is a COMPLETE doll baby. He LOVES attention and scratches.
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This is Bessie, Ferdi's mom. She's a little more selective about who gives her affection, but she really loves her owner.
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Female downy woodpecker that hit our window. She needed a few hours to recoop, but was just fine in the end! So glad to be able to help her out. A male hit our house/window/something so hard a month ago that he broke his beak in half. I don't even want to know how much force that took! I was so relieved to have a better outcome from a window strike this go-around.
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Kate and her momma and I went on a ride together finally!
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Back porch pre-dinner drinks.
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Front yard dinner. Tons of various veggies and a perfectly cooked pork tenderloin.
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And finally, post dinner drinks, fire, and horse grazing. Pure happiness, if you ask me.
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An early morning rainbow! The sun was barely up when this sucker started lighting up.
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That second one gave it a go, but didn't become much.
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Just stunning.



Beach Trip

I haven't been on a beach trip that wasn't centered around something to do with birds and conservation work in...a really, really long time. I haven't swam in the ocean in... Gracious. Nearly two decades? I surprised myself on this trip by swimming in the ocean and lounging on the beach a fair bit. It helped that the temperatures were never above 75°F! Not ideal beach weather for many, but it suited me just fine!

We met up with family and I spent a fair bit of my time documenting my cousins' growing families. I have zero desire for my own kids, but I enjoy others' children quite a bit. I was so happy to be able to document their time together. 

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Getting the boat put in. Unfortuantely, we were there during the gas shortage nonsense and didn't get to use it as much as we foresaw.
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Talking about fish already, I presume lol
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Helter skelter getting ready to head out.
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Dinner outside with a yummy drink.
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First time eating out together since a picnic last year sometime. 
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Talk about beach front....... This is low tide.
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Vivienne's first time in the ocean.
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Love this high five. My cousin had just gotten off the phone where he was offered a new job. Emotions were high and we were all so excited. Here he is high-fiving his wife after telling his parents about the good news.
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These cuties!
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Brother and cousin with cousin's daughter.
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She's her daddy's twin.
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Those big ol' eyes tho!
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<3
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Doing beach things. This was the day that I may or may not have binge drinked as fast as I could following the worst meeting of my 10-year career....
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beach loungin'
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Mommas and babies!
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Annalise isn't ready to smile on command yet, but her eye contact was spot on! 
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I guess being this weird skipped my parents generation. Oh well. They're stuck with us.
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Cedar smoke settling into a bourbon drink.
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If you see these, buy them. OMG amazing.
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Proof that I was on a beach!
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And further proof that Dave and I are total weirdos.
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This stunning momma. Identical twin boys on their way late summer!
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*melts*


Our First Dressage Lessons!

My big goal for this year is to hunker down and focus on dressage with Q and Griffin. I finally have the time and finances to pursue it, and I'm so excited! Some of the logic behind this decision revolves around the fact that none of us are getting younger. Anything we can do to build better strength and mobility with proper, functional movement will greatly benefit us. Recovering from my shoulder injury last year hit this fact home hard for me. I've also thoroughly enjoyed the PT I've pursued, and anything that builds on it is just gravy.

Right now, I'm taking lessons with an assistant trainer at a GP trainer's barn in Virginia. Her lessons are more affordable and for the level of instruction I need at my n00b stage, the teaching is absolutely perfect. I've seen the GP give lessons in the past and really liked her teaching style. Her assistant trainer (AT) is quite similar and I absolutely loved the instruction she gave me with each horse.

(I was going to create gifs of the lessons, but as we're a month out from them now and I still haven't done that I'm opting to just link the entire lessons below in playlists.)

The first lesson was on Griffin. I warmed him up for her and introduced her to him and our background. Between observing our riding and hearing our story, the AT verbalized a VERY accurate picture of where we are and where want to go. Absolutely nailed it. 

She had me work Griffin through all three gaits before we spent time at the trot practicing the classic spiraling in and spiraling out exercise. The AT's steady stream of feedback allowed me to get some really wonderful work out of Griffin. After implementing the spiraling in and out exercise at the trot and canter, we then moved onto the "clock" exercise: a 20m circle with 10m circles to the inside at each 12, 3, 6, and 9 if you visualize the 20m circle as a clock. Once again, thanks to AT's constant feedback, I was able to get some truly lovely work out of Grif. I also received what - to me - were a surprising number of compliments on my riding. All in all, the entire 45 minute lesson was very enjoyable and I felt like I had plenty of gas left in my tank to tackle my next lesson with Miss Q.

Not surprisingly, Q's lesson was a much more difficult ride. Mares, opinions, blah blah blah. 😉 But, as with Grif, the AT put together a very quick and accurate picture of Q and quickly tailored our time to benefit us the most. (Q even graced AT with several examples of her expert teleporting skill due to a very terrifying ~3-inch sunspot in the arena footing.) 

While the exercises Grif and I did will also benefit Q, due to Q's opinions and lack of care for my aids on the day of the lesson, we spent the entire lesson working on controlling her haunches. First we rode a box with halts at the corners and then asked her to move her haunches over before striking off in the next straight line. Q was having NONE OF IT at first. She would not stand still. Fortunately, I now find her strong opinions and resistance absolutely comical and pursued the AT's instruction with quite a bit of good humor. With time, patience, more evasions than you could shake a stick at, and eventually a stick (dressage whip) in hand, we had Q listening (begrudgingly) to my requests. (Oh the mare glares I received! LOL)

Once we had Q a bit more onboard with the day's tasks (dressage whips are such beautiful aid enforcers!), we moved from halting in the corners to half halting and then transitions from walking the exercise to trotting it. Q still hated me/AT/life/everything and steadily pursued every possible evasion she could, but the hamsters in her brain really did hunker down and get to work. Her teleportation/spooking absolutely disappeared and she lowered her poll and neck more than she ever has during work. So while she may not have been completely agreeable to the days agenda, she ended up delivering some really wonderful work. It was really cool to get so many glimpses of what she's capable of when I can take her powers and use them for good. 

Despite her opinions about having to truly "work", I very much believe Q enjoys this new pursuit. The predictable, stable environment of a dressage arena suits her personality much more than time on trail ever did. The hardest task going forward will lie with me as I do my best to stay ahead of Q's very quick, clever brain. If I can manage to do this, I think I'll have a very flashy little entry-level dressage pony on my hands! And, provided I can achieve this daunting task, I very much think I would enjoy showing Q one day. Until then, we focus on the journey!