Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Learned Helplessness

On November 13, mugwump posted about learned helplessness. I read it and it really blew my mind. I suddenly viewed so many horses and so many of my horse (and general animal) experiences through a lens I'd never known. Two weeks later, T also shared the article in her post of November Resources. I read it again. The second time I read it, now from a place that I could think more critically about it all, I really started to piece my thoughts together. Now, I want to put digital pen to paper about it all.

Griffin and Stan have never experienced learned helplessness. Stan was brought along slowly after he entered his former owners' lives as a 4 year old. I was the one who rode him the most; we figured the world out together. It was easy and full of options to make mistakes and learn from them. Additionally, Griffin has most certainly never experienced learned helplessness. He had a rough start after weaning, but was within care of those who knew how to properly care for him in a short couple of months. He entered my life in January 2012 as a long-yearling. From there he and I learned the ins and outs of groundwork and finding a common ground for communication based on body language and, later, vocal cues. He had, and continues to have, every opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.

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I always forget she used to have this horrible habit of spinning and screaming when tied until I look back and find this photo.

Q though? Q has absolutely experienced learned helplessness. The cowboy who "trained" her was the kind that pushed a horse to exhaustion. Pushed them to a point where they gave up. As an Arabian x Morgan, Q had more "fight" to her than the usual quarter horses he was accustomed to, so I anticipate he really ramped up his typical round penning, flag waving, and exhaustive tying techniques (head tied so she couldn't move about and a hind leg trussed up so she had to stand for long periods on three legs). He forced her to comply with his wishes and, largely, she did.

He told me during our clinic that she would be really good. She was. She didn't put a single hoof out of line. When it came time to do some backing exercises, he told me she'd be one of the best there. She was. He told me she didn't come to him that way. He told me she hated backing up and used to fight him over it. You'd have never guessed. She lowered her head and backed up as fast as a reining horse in competition. And when we enjoyed trail time the next day? She didn't spook a single time. She did everything asked of her on cue. She was a dream!

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Totally chill and completely relaxed with the task of "learning to jump" a week or two after coming home with me.

The only thing that cowboy did right by her was not stalling her (or any of his horses). She at least had some time to interact with others in a healthy way, which I imagine saved her from the worst of things. However, what this turnout situation did do for her was ingrain herd boundness - and for some very justified reasons! Overall, it wasn't a great situation.

In hindsight, she was rather listless about the world during that clinic. In hindsight, she was, as mugs put it in her post, shut down. She had learned helplessness. It wasn't until I brought her home, into a situation where she had choices and could make mistakes without a huge drag-out, beat-down fight that she slowly "woke up" out of it.

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Ugh, I remember having THE WORST TIME with her leading up to this day. On this day, she was AMAZING.

It totally makes sense now why I struggled for so very long to get a good "feel" for her temperament and personality. She had shut herself off to people. It also explains why I began to struggle with her when I did. I complained that she hadn't "been this way" when I brought her home. And she wasn't. She was waking up out of the dark place she had been. But I didn't know that then. All I knew was that I was increasingly encountering a completely different horse than I'd had and it confused me to no end.

Unfortunately for us both, I didn't know about learned helplessness at the time nor did I have the tools in my toolkit at that point to help her through that transition period in a graceful, kind way. We fought a lot. Especially after I ruled out medical reasons for her behavior time and time again. I'm not proud of how I handled things, but I am grateful that I continued to explore many options for working through our issues instead of becoming stagnated in a bad place.

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One of many failed (rightly fucking so!) attempts to resolve her issues? Add a kimberwicke and martingale.
My crash vest also speaks volumes as to the magnitude of our problems and my distrust in her. Sigh.
Regardless, it's reassuring to me now to know that the start of those behaviors probably wasn't my fault; however, they absolutely escalated due to how I handled them! But I honestly can't [continue to] beat myself up over that any more. At that time, it seemed to me that I had one horse one year and a completely different one by the next. The horse who hardly spooked or noticed things on trail had suddenly escalated to reactions for every tiny little thing, and oftentimes over nothing at all. It turns out, to an extent, that's just her true temperament and she was finally "waking up" into it for the first time since I brought her home.

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Slowing down and starting again. The western saddle gave me the security I needed in those beginning days.

When Q sustained her suspensory injury in late-August 2016, all work halted for nearly a year. We were forced to slow the fuck down, and it was the best thing that ever happened to our relationship. Bringing her back slowly following that injury has allowed us both to meet in the middle and come to a better understanding. Slowing down helped me to better understand the horse she was, for better or worse, and find a common understanding within that knowledge. It allowed her to realize that the monkey on her back could really be trusted and allowed her to build confidence.

Slowing down and starting again helped me to finally learn what kind of temperament and personality Q had. She's a sensitive, smart, quick-thinking horse. She is often suspicious of the world around her and has a hard time focusing on work until she feels secure and safe, some of which is absolutely due to humans but not all of it. She reacts quickly and instinctually when she is afraid. When she wants to get out of work she won't rear or buck (she has never executed either of these behaviors in my 6½ years of owning her), but she will initiate her horizontal teleport maneuver to express her opinion. Additionally, she loves her herd mates very much.

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Q and I led the first half of the ride this day without a care in the world and no spook at all!

Understanding all of this has helped me build trust with her that I didn't have before. Now we don't fight, we banter. And 95% of the time it's absolutely comical. On the ground, when she's a shit, she knows it and she knows I know it. So when I shout at her and wave a finger or knock her on her shoulder and tell her to cut it out, she doesn't freak out and take offense. She stands there, as only a mare can, and grumps at me with her body language. And I laugh. Under saddle, I'm more forgiving of her "spooking" and use that behavior to recognize when she's struggling with an exercise. I can then break the exercise down more for her to digest or, if I know damn well it's something she knows damn well, I can continue to push her forward and ask again.

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Beating Grif and Stan to the gate to greet me. And this was after a gnarly 30-mile ride the day before!

Her herd boundness is a tougher nut to crack, especially under saddle, but I'm seeing some progress. The more I work with her and provide positive experiences and fair leadership, the more interested she is in the work. Toward the end of her time in Canaan this summer, she was often the first horse to approach and greet me - even before Griffin who has made it his trademark to be the first to say "hi". It's a small step, but for her it's a big one. Working her in areas adjacent to the herd at home is still a feat, but maybe it won't be forever.

Beyond the increased quiet moments of understanding we have though, the biggest evidence of the increased trust we've built in one another shows up in those times when her instincts override her mind/body and she reacts with a startle/spook. Now, instead of running from the perceived danger and ditching me to do so, she does so in a way that is infinitely easier to ride - she essentially picks me up and takes me with her. Instead of reacting in a, "YIKES! Fuck this and you, I'm gone!" she reacts in more of a, "NOPE! Let's get out of here! Come ON!"

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Another of many rides Q led this past summer. And one of my favorite photos of the place I get to call home.

Q has been the biggest struggle for me these past few years. Even though we have made so much progress this summer, there was something niggling the back of my mind asking questions and wondering why the train went off the tracks to begin with. The realization that she experienced learned helplessness feels like the final puzzle piece to understanding her; everything fits so neatly into place in my mind now.

I hate that Q had to be pushed to a point of learned helplessness before she entered my life. I am sad that I didn't handle things better with her as she "woke up" from it. But I am so very grateful that I now understand more and that we have had success moving past it. While I have every intention of bringing all of my future horses along in the way I did with Griffin, being aware of learned helplessness will help me in my journey with horses into the future whether the horses are mine or not.

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I'm curious - have any of you had experiences with learned helplessness in your horses or horses you've worked closely with?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thoroughbred Thrills

A few weekends ago, I made my biannual pilgrimage to DC to visit Austen, the floofs, and the horses. It was well-timed, too, because while sun was prescribed for my home forecast, warm temperatures certainly were not! I was eager to trade in my Canaan-Valley-cold-weather card for a weekend in DC's forecast that was a good 20-30°F higher! While we didn't get the sun we thought we'd get, it was infinitely better than windy and 30°F that home had.

In past trips, I have felt ill-prepared for the weekend's adventures. Many folks think I cram a lot into a day/weekend/week so far as activities go, but my abilities pale compared to Austen. Good gracious can she jam-pack a day! My dogs and I always come home tired (and sometimes cursing under our breath.)

Fortunately, this go-around, I asked Austen what she foresaw for the weekend. The answer? Copious horse time with a healthy side of PHOTOS. In fact, she informed me she had a brand new 64GB memory card ready and was clearing off a second as we spoke.

Challenge accepted.

Aside from taking copious photos, the plan was for me to ride not only Pig, whom I've ridden a time or two before, but also Bast!

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October 2017, a lesson on Pig I never wrote about or shared. Thanks to some observations Austen shared with me after this
ride, I began really focusing on more yoga in my life. What a difference it has made!

I'm an adept rider. I've got pretty fair balance and proper mechanics. I'm still learning, as we all are, but something about riding someone else's horse these days isn't as easy as it once was! I imagine that's just life when you have your own horses. I catch rode exclusively for the first two decades of my life. But that isn't something I do much any more! In fact, after hitting the dirt hard about 4 years ago, I swore off riding other people's horses unless they were ones I knew well or were horses I could learn something from. Read: their training supersedes my own.

Pig's training far supersede's my own and Bast is trending that direction quickly under Austen's expert guidance. And hot damn are they both SO FUN to ride. I dream of the day I am able to have my horses so tuned into riding off my seat alone. Sadly, my resources and education for learning and training that is in its early stages still. But that's why opportunities like those Austen offers me (full of fun and free of charge), are so very valuable.

Firstly, she worked Bast.

Weee!

He's come so damn far from the last time I saw them ride earlier this year. Such a little adult!

As such, when the moment came and Austen, grinning, told me, "Get your helmet!" I didn't feel any apprehension. And from the moment I climbed aboard, Bast was a complete gentleman.

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He's just the cutest

It was so very cool to ride Bast and compare him to past experiences on Pig. My education within dressage has grown leaps and bounds since my last ride on Pig in October 2017. Comparing and contrasting the stage of Bast's training to Pig's 4th level abilities was really cool. I understood the building blocks that made up Bast's foundation and could see how the rest of the training would build neatly upon it.

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What a good boy!

Overall, riding Bast was as similar as it gets to riding Grif. They're at a similar-ish place training-wise which lent me a lot of comfort as I rode him around. There weren't a million different buttons or heightened sensitivity to my micro movements in the saddle to worry about at all. Communication was much clearer, which is always a plus! He's just such a cool freaking horse and such a good boy.

After short time, I turned the reins back over to Austen to nab some more fun photos of her and Bast galloping. This one is my favorite.

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The epitome of an autumn color palette!

With Bast thoroughly exercised for the day, it was Pig's turn!

Austen gave me an inquiring look that asked if I wanted to just go ahead and jump on to which I rapidly shook my head, "Nope! You!" She laughed and climbed aboard.

Austen knows I know what Pig's shenanigans look like and knows they intimidate me. See, not unreasonably, Pig isn't fond of a handsy rider. And when he throws his little fits, I get handsy in my attempt to simultaneously pull the horse up and curl into the fetal position. Which, of course, causes him to escalate his opinion. And I'll give him that. Totally fair.

No hands necessary!

But my baggage isn't unfounded. I grew up riding a LOT of horses with a bucking problem. The first horse who really bucked - and I mean really bucked to the point where the whole audience of judges, instructors, parents, and riders at our 4-H shows would gasp and gape (ironically, this horse's registered name was Buck Destiny) - could easily be brought out of it if I pulled his head up. Thus, from a young age I've learned to pull heads up as opposed to giving more leg when a horse bucks. But I'm still learning, I'm improving, and I'm moving forward, but shit ain't quick or easy.

So, when it came time for me to ride Pig my mind and body hit a bit of a "block". I know I can ride a horse pretty well, but this horse is just so sensitive and well-trained that I worried I'd screw it all up and hit the dirt. Rational brain decided to take a vacation for a few minutes, what can I say?

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Austen is so helpful though. She knows me and the horse so well and put us through our paces appropriately to warm us both up.

Slowly my rational brain returned from it's momentary vacation and my body realized that, oh hey, I do know how to do this horse riding thing. And, in fact, the horse riding thing on this horse wasn't so hard after all. A year's worth of yoga with an emphasis on my hips has done wonders. Sitting with a more open hip angle and making micro-adjustments with my pelvis to cue and communicate with Pig was infinitely easier than it had been the year before. Crazy, I know.

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Take this human off of me immediately. - Pig, probably
Regardless, when it came time to canter the red fire engine, my rational brain went on strike again for a few moments. See, my stirrups were quite long and the sensation of having to constantly reach for them at the canter was quite unnerving!

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My white knuckled grip is my favorite and tells the story of my insecurity at this moment lol

Austen knew just how to get me to loosen up about it though, joking with me in a way that got me to goof off for the camera before I stopped to adjust them. Once they were adjusted to lend me a much more secure feeling, off we went again to give it a whirl. And I even started to relax a bit!

Except, then Pig decided the day was lost if he didn't express at least one opinion:

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I'm all smiles, starting to relax. Pig is about to express himself...
And no, I tried to not touch that curb rein at all. Also, my finger to brain connection about having
two sets of reins was something along the lines of, "?!!!??!"
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The appearance of my double-chin demonstrates my realization of how crap is about to go down.
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And now we've entered triple-chin territory where I believe death is imminent.
Meanwhile, Pig is like the girls in that Dane Cook skit about dancing, "I JUST WANNA DANCE!"
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"Throw my shoes on the floor, stand in a circle and just DANCE!"
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Uphill much?

And I mean, honestly, it wasn't so bad in hindsight. But it did intimidate me in the moment. But not so much that I couldn't immediately laugh about it. He's a good boy. Absurd, but good.

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Much more focused and relaxed.

From this moment, Austen started niggling me more about really galloping the little fire engine. I was still hesitant though. What exactly I was afraid of at this point, I don't know. It wasn't logical, that's for certain! Just one of those times a part of the brain overrides the logical part and says, "No," while the rational side tries to ask, "But why?" and is ignored.

Fortunately for my rational brain, Austen chose this moment to note, "Remember, my biggest fear with a horse is getting run away with. Pig is not going to run away with you. Sit up and he'll stop."

Cue singing unicorns and sparkling rainbows. My mind immediately clicked back into place in this moment and went, "YEAH! Okay. Let's DO THIS."

And so I did. And I think the photos tell the story from here...

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My face. I die.
But seriously, this is the same look all of us wear when we do something that simultaneously terrifies us and thrills us. 
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And this is the exact moment joy broke through the fear and decided to rule the day.
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Pure, unadulterated joy
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It was easy after that. 
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And it's funny how relaxation creates better riding. I mean, look! I can even manage to hold both sets of reins like something resembling an adult and not an inept child.
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ZOOMIES.
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I'm a step above stalker, I AM Austen. I've got the dog. The horse. The tack (the double!). A vest. In Maryland. At her barn.
Austen 2.0. ENGAGE.
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Pig clearly loves this job so, so very much. His ears are simply the happiest in every. single. photo.
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We conquer! And I didn't even grab mane with at least one hand...
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GO, PIGGY, GO!
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Oh, I'll GO. - Pig, probably
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And a true sign of my absolute relaxation at this point? One hand off the reins. 

It's an understatement to express how much freaking FUN I had. Damn. What a thrill!

And honestly, it isn't surprising. I used to gallop Stan around full bore all the time as a teen. I used to race my friends in their cars for Pete's sake. (As such, I know that a car speedometer clocked Stan and I rocketing along at 35mph for few hundred yards.) And I didn't wear a helmet then. What should I fear now?

Exactly.

And so, I'm really looking forward to springtime when I head back for another visit. Plans are already in the works for a full bore gallop session on both boys in a magically green landscape. I can't wait!

Thank you, Austen, for letting me experience the thrill and joy of galloping a thoroughbred. What a magical experience!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Awry

Best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And awry they went!

Remember my lovely winter board setup? Yeah. It didn't work out. Which is a huge bummer in some regards, but I'm at peace with my decision to leave. It's what is best for me and my horses right now.

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Back to familiar stomping grounds

Stan will have the winter completely off most likely. Q and Griffin will be worked minimally between now and the new year with hope to ramp up a little more as the day length grows. Between daylight wasting, my work schedule, my side hustle winter jobs, and my commute, minimal horse time is just my reality. Not the reality I'd hoped for, but c'est la vie!

I could set the bar higher, hope to ride more, lesson once a month, do all the things, but I've learned to be a lot easier and kinder on myself this year. Part of that is introducing more flexibility to my hopes/plans and trusting the process/journey and not creating so much of a to-do list or discrete goal list for myself. I'm certain I'll fit in some lovely rides and a lesson here and there, but it's best I don't plan for it from the get-go.

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Matching game

I'm happy the horses will have 24/7 turnout in a huge pasture with free choice hay for the winter months. They are very happy and will maintain a fair level of fitness just from having so much turnout and playtime. And when I do work with them this winter, it will be on foundational strength-building and suppling exercises, nothing earth-shattering!

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Super dirty grey horse season has arrived. No hot water = stains galore. 

Reflecting back on this summer with the horses in Canaan makes me smile though. It was amazing. I enjoyed so many wonderful rides solo and with friends across beautiful landscapes. In fact, sharing the horses with friends was one of the best parts! There are several horse ladies who are adept riders but simply don't have the time and/or finances to have their own horses. This sets the stage for the perfect mutualistic relationship: they get horse-time and I have help keeping all horses fit!

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But this field tho... So ready for a winter of ground pole exercises and gallops.

Beyond the riding and the friendship, my favorite part about this past summer was finally getting to take a more active role in my horses' care. Prior to this, their turnout situation was such (and is such again) that they don't require much human intervention. They're on 28 acres of some of the best pasture in the area complete with a stream that has enough flow to never freeze over and free-choice hay in the wintertime. I've never had to worry about them having enough to eat!

This summer though, with much smaller turnout areas and poor grass, I finally had to figure out a good recipe for proper nutrition to keep weight on them. It was a bit of a learning curve at first finagling things, but they're easy-keepers all things considered and once I got it right it was easy enough. Seeing them and caring for them daily in this way was so good for all of us. The three of them are closer than ever and the relationship I share with each of them has grown stronger. There is nothing better than seeing them march across the field to greet me, even after a hard ride the day before. (Sure, they know I feed them, but knowing that in the past hasn't stopped them from ignoring me following a big workout.)

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Griffin wasn't on board with selfies

While winter plans weren't what I hoped, I'm grateful the horses are in a place they will be happy and well cared for. With any luck, it will be their last winter in Elkins as big changes are afoot! 😉

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Magic of the West Virginia Highlands

Alternate titles: Recognizing Childhood Dreams; Griffin and Q Drive Cattle; The West Virginia Tundra

A new girlfriend, Emma, asked a week or so ago if I'd be interested in riding the horses in the Sinks of Gandy in the near future. Her family owns quite a bit of land up there, and she'd always dreamed of traversing it on horseback. Familiar with the area because my family has held a lease nearby her family's land for decades and I have visited the area she wanted to ride for various conservation efforts as a part of my current and past jobs, I didn't have to think about my response, "YES!"

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Heading in through private property inholdings past lots of gorgeous red spruce

The Sinks aren't far from Canaan Valley where I live. The area harbors a lot of similar climate to Canaan and has always been a favorite place of mine as a result. Something about these high elevation areas with red spruce forests and completely bizarre plant life compared to what you'd expect at this latitude just makes my soul happy. Both Canaan and the Sinks area a sanctuary for plant life more akin to what one may find in the tundra and the Arctic Circle, not the temperate Appalachian forests found between 38-39°N latitude!

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Where the forest ends and the open pastureland begins

Part of the land Emma's family owns is one of the most unique ecotypes in the world. So unique that only a handful of places like it exist anywhere on the planet. Balsam fir and red spruce litter the landscape surrounding a high elevation swamp that harbors plant life known to the Arctic circle. Karst (limestone) outcroppings litter the hillsides of the knobs, and the headwaters of several rivers begin right on the property! 

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One of the old homes and rocky karst outcroppings

In the 1800s when the economy was booming with the timber industry, the area was extensively clear cut and used to graze cattle. Trains carried the timber away, dropped the cattle off, and then picked them up before the harsh winter weather settled in. Emma's great-great-something grandfather was known as the cattle king thanks to the thousands of head of cattle he ran over these lands. With the advent of the automobile, the steel industry, and the coal industry, the booming timber and associated train industries died away from this area by the 1920s allowing the land to rehab and forests to regrow around much of it.

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Beautiful clear skies!

Today, cattle grazing is a still key component to keeping the environment intact. The sensitive swamp has been fenced off to exclude them from that area, but a small herd still grazes the surrounding area through the summer months.

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Finally on her family's property

Emma and I opted to park the trailer out on the main USFS road and ride into the property. It gave us more mileage and helped guarantee I wouldn't booger the trailer trying to turn it around in an area I'm not as intimately familiar with.

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The headwaters of the Gandy come out of the hillside behind Emma & Q

Following the initial keyed gate to the property, we had to pass through many gates on our way to her family's property. Multiple private properties exist on the road, all surrounded by the national forest. After 5 or so gates, we were finally on her property!

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Climbing up to enjoy gorgeous vistas

I immediately demonstrated to Griffin, who hasn't had close encounters with cattle before, that the cows would run from him with little effort on his part. We would walk/trot toward them and as soon as they turned tail away from us, I'd stop and turn Grif back around. He understood and released the little bit of tension he was holding onto from initially seeing the cows. Q watched bemusedly the whole time.

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All smiles in our happy place. Aside: the cattle behind us would be the first we would drive later!

Emma wanted to climb up both knobs on the property to enjoy the views. I was game for absolutely anything, completely overjoyed to have the opportunity to ride in the area at all!

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Looking toward Blister Swamp with the Gandy headwaters (yes, that tiny trickle) below us

We marched up Big Momma and did a circuit around the top, enjoying the views in every direction. Emma shared stories of her family and childhood the whole way while I ate up both the history and the scenery.

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Haystack behind, homestead below, Blister Swamp just out of frame to the right

As we completed our circuit, looking toward Haystack, the second knob we would climb and ride around, I took the opportunity to leg Griffin into a hand gallop across the wide open space at the top of the knob. Emma and Q followed close behind.

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Enjoying the views...and the cows

Both of us giggled at the complete joy of running on horseback with 360° views of our most favorite area in all the world. I even dropped my reins and spread my arms wide for a few strides, smiling and laughing at the amazingness of the moment. As Emma and I both noted, "This definitely doesn't suck!"

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WV Highland vista <3
The rock outcroppings in every photo are karst, or limestone, which is indicative of caves! Many caves litter this area and county.

As we descended back down, we observed Emma's parents and family friend had arrived to sort the cattle for travel back to their lower winter pastures.

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And again

Emma called out to her mom to see if they'd like us to move the closest group of yearlings toward the gate. She answered in the affirmative. Emma told me to head low and push them toward the gate while she stayed high to prevent them from breaking.

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Ahhhh such a happy place!

Neither I nor the horses have ever driven cattle! Emma has done it on foot for years though, and I've read enough books, seen enough movies and documentaries, and been around enough livestock to have a pretty good idea of how to accomplish it all. Honestly, much of it is similar to the liberty work I've done with the horses on the ground so far as body language cues go!

And so Emma on Q and I on Griffin set to driving cattle for the next 45 minutes or so!

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Really cool karst boulders on the opposite hillside - biggest I've ever seen!

First, we drove the yearlings through the gate into the smaller field where they would be sorted and loaded onto the trailers. Next we helped keep the larger herd from breaking away as we pushed them through the opposite gate. Then Emma sent me back up Big Momma to turn a stray cow down the mountain while she went to try to usher in an old cow who hadn't come in with the main herd.

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Happy hearts

From there, I headed back out toward the main field to help encourage another old cow who had a limp before helping Emma escort one final big girl out of the field and into the sorting area.

IT WAS SO COOL.

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Calm down, Q. Calm down.

Nothing crazy, no running or crazy breaks from the herd, but totally satisfying to get to truly WORK cattle from horseback. With the two men on 4-wheelers, her mom on foot, and us on horseback, the large majority of the herd was where they needed to be in no time at all. 

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I so wish I had more photos! But I had to stay ON it.

I finally thought to look at my watch once we'd finished with the cattle and realized we had better start heading to the trailer if we wanted to be on the road before dark! Daylight wasting time is the worst.

So Emma bid her family farewell and we struck off.

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See the cow? We drove her down off the knob shortly after this.

The cherry on the cake for the day was getting to see my first WV golden eagle as we left. The species has overwintered in the WV highlands for years now (they travel down from Quebec), and we have reason to believe some may even be persisting through the summers, breeding and nesting. I have seen ample trail cam footage from the State wildlife agency, but had yet to witness a GOEA of my own in WV. It was SO cool to finally check that off my list!


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Long shadows, golden light, and spruce forests

I'm looking forward to a spring trip with Emma to continue exploring and enjoying the area with the horses. The early-winter landscape was gorgeous, but the late-spring landscape will display an entirely different facet of beauty Emma and I are both keen to appreciate from horseback.

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My loves

The whole day was absolutely magical and I'm so grateful to Emma (and her family!) for the experience. Both of us agreed that our souls were happier and our mental health in a much better place than it had been at the start of the day. Something about horses and time in the mountains is so very healing and fulfilling.