Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Dreams Become Reality: Part II - Designing My Dream

I'll be honest, a small-acreage farm was never my dream. My horses and horse farms I grew up around in this area have expansive 20+ acre fields with ample grass. A farm like this is what always dreamed of having for myself.

However, when I moved to Canaan, I knew my options for fulfilling my dream would be more limited. Land of any amount in Canaan comes at a premium price, unfortunately, because it is a vacation destination for so many. Additionally, very few real estate offerings were suitable for horses, within my budget, and/or had the kind of acreage I'd dreamed of. Even adjusting my original dream of 10-15 acres of pasture to 5-10 acres of pasture proved to be a big ask in this mountainous vacation destination ripe with more wetlands than firm ground.

Over time, I surrendered to the reality that no matter what I found in Canaan, it was going to have to be a small acreage farm in order to be affordable. This came with the acceptance that I'd have to feed hay year-round, designate and construct a durable sacrifice area, implement pasture rotation, and devise a manure management plan.

A small a commute would be critical to successfully implement this plan, which made real estate shopping all the trickier! Gaining permission from my HOA to bring the horses home to the lots next door was the best possible scenario. I was so very relieved when it became an option!

Making the Best Use of the Land

Once I received the go-ahead from the HOA in October, my mind began whirring anew with farm design options. Of course, I'd looked out on that land for years in advance dreaming about how I would design the fencing, fields, and barn, but those dreams were just that - dreams. Now, knowing that they would become a real, tangible thing, my planning took on a new fervor. I plotted and schemed how to design a farm in the best way possible on what would soon become my land.

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Draft Plan demonstrating how topography and prevailing winds play into the placement of the barn, dry lot, and pastures.

The topography of the land is the biggest factor that contributed toward my options for farm layout. The pasture is gently sloping from the gravel road down toward the treeline (light yellow lines above roughly demonstrate the slope). Obviously, I want to make the most of this available pasture!

But I also want to do my best to provide adequate shelter from the elements for the horses because environment is much less forgiving up here on this ridge than where they currently live! Case in point: our old, heavy, vapor-soaked hot tub lid coupled with a very hefty chunk of wood was blown off the tub and off our porch last night. Anything I can do to get the horses out of the wicked winds that prevail from the west and northwest (and increasingly from the south as I'm noticing lately...thanks, climate change!) is preferred.

As luck would have it, achieving the goals of maximizing the available pasture & providing the horses with the best shelter is simply met by situating the barn and dry lot within the treeline. This allows the pasture area to remain open for rotational grazing while utilizing the forested area as a windbreak from the worst of the winds.

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For scale, Dave skiing on the old road bench just below the treeline. The pasture is above. This is just beyond the limits of
the future dry lot. Fortunately, the area in front of Dave where the dry lot and barn will be has a much milder slope that will
be more easily manipulated to level ground for the dry lot and barn.

Oddly enough, this option didn't seem as obvious to me at first because the hillside that begins just beyond the treeline boasts a very steep slope (red lines in the image above). Fortunately, there is an old logging road bench at the start of the treeline that provides level ground before the steepest drop off (as Dave demonstrates, above)! What's more fortunate is that the area surrounding that road bench closest to my house is very mildly sloped in comparison to the surrounding land, making it an absolute perfect place for the barn!

Designing the Barn

I have dreamed of designing my own barn for literal decades. Strangely, once I knew my dream stood a chance at becoming reality my mind went totally blank for a few days. The options! I just... How could I possibly choose?!

Well, for one, finances helped determine what was possible. As much as I may wish and long for a barn with a covered arena, that simply is not within the realms of my financial abilities. Second to that, the land was going to limit anything too crazy (see: above). And third, I had to think about it from a pragmatic standpoint (not hard for me!): how could I provide shelter, hay/feed storage, and tack storage within one structure utilizing the available space in the best way possible?

After a lot of internet browsing, day dreaming, and endless sketches and doodles on any piece of paper that ended up in front of me no matter where I was, I settled on a rough-idea: A three stall, center aisle barn with a closed tack/feed room, a sizable area for ground-level hay storage, and an overhang where the stalls open up into the dry lot. The barn will have a roof with architectural shingles to match our house and the siding will be wood to meet the HOA guidelines - color TBD.

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The current state of the Sketch Up design Dave is working on. I love having a contractor for a husband!
Tiny human (red shirt) in near corner for scale.
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The sliding doors won't actually have windows in them, but Google Sketch Up thinks they should. The back wall of my
tack/feed room WILL have a sizable window though. And the outside stalls will have small 
windows. I may also put one
at the end of the aisle where we omitted the second sliding door because it will open to a steep hillside. 

Reasons I selected this design
- The center aisle was just plain functional. It gives me room to groom, room for farrier work, room for vet work, room to unload hay and feed, room to generally maneuver and do horse and barn related everythings.
- I've grown up around a lot of barns with ground-level hay storage and they're a lot simpler and allow me to not purchase a hay elevator to store my hay. I will simply line that area with pallets to stack the hay. This achieves a long-time goal of not having to leave the barn to feed in the winter & will help encourage the horses to get out of the elements.
- I don't have, nor do I need, a ton of tack. A 10' x 12' combined feed and tack room will be more than sufficient for my needs. It will be closed off from the rest of the barn to protect from dust and will have a wooden floor that will be easy to sweep.
- The stalls opening to an overhang in the dry lot will provide the horses with a sheltered loafing area within the dry lot and will help minimize any precipitation blowing into the stall doors if I choose to leave them open. Additionally, it will prevent the need for me to fetch the horses for feeding as I'll be able to simply open the stalls for them to come eat.

Mud Management

A HUGE component of my farm plan is preventing mud. See, I hate mud. I hate mud so fucking much. Unfortunately, mud is commonplace around these parts for much of the year. Such is life when you live in a temperate rainforest with the affectionate nickname of Can-Rain Valley (instead of Canaan Valley, which is pronounced ke-nayne as opposed to the Bibical kay-nen)! But still. I've thought long and hard for many years about how to avoid mud as much as possible if/when I designed my own property.

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Current state of the high-traffic areas where I board the horses. YUCK.

So, how am I planning to achieve this? Well, for starters, the stalls opening into the dry lot is huge. The horses won't have to stand in mud or track it into the barn, and I won't have to walk through mud to feed or fetch them. I cannot tell you how freaking thrilled I am that this winter is my last fucking winter dealing with high-traffic barn areas that resemble the above. I am over mud caking to my boots and coating my horses legs!

The dry lot construction has a lot to do with how mud-free it remains (a post for the future as plans move forward). Beyond proper dry lot construction though, I've got to minimize the amount of sheet flow from the slightly uphill pasture into the dry lot. This will be accomplished with one hell of a French drain. I'm really grateful that the contractor doing my earth work is not only freaking amazing at his job but also has a lot of livestock and understands what I'm looking to achieve. It's a lot of money, but it's something that I'm happy to fork over in favor of mud-free feet!

Unattractive Mud collage
The current state of my horses on blanket-free days. FML.
Also, the worst photo of Q ever because I couldn't back up
any more to take the photo & her front end is in a low spot.
Sorry, mare.

Beyond the dry lot and barn being one contiguous area with a solid uphill French drain, a manure management plan and pasture rotation will be paramount to minimizing the amount of mud. For manure management, I will be mucking the dry lot often and mucking and/or dragging the pastures as often as necessary.

My pasture rotation will be contingent not only on the health of the grass within them but also the weather. If the weather has been exceptionally wet, I won't turn the horses out. I know how quickly horse hooves can destroy a wet pasture around here and would much rather preserve the pasture quality for years to come. I'll exercise the beasties enough by riding that it shouldn't be too big of a deal. Regardless, this will be a big change for us all. But I think it will ultimately benefit all parties while also keeping my land as healthy as possible! Which pleases my little conservation biologist soul to no end, and meets my other goal of doing this whole horse farm thing in a way that is best for the health of the land.

Fences & Water

The two remaining major aspects to complete the farm layout are fencing and water.

Fencing
My horses are pretty smart about fencing and have a lot of respect for every fence I've put them in, something for which I am very grateful! It means the world is my oyster so far as fencing options go. Though I do have to abide by my HOA, which requires building materials to be "natural", thus limiting the options to wood and metal.

As beautiful as a post and board or split rail fence can be, my feelings toward those aren't very warm and fuzzy. A large chunk of my husband's business in the summer revolves around re-staining/painting houses and decks to protect them from the weather. In the 4 years we've been together, he's re-stained several of the same places twice! Our weather in "Can-Rain" Valley is not kind to wooden exteriors. Having a wooden fence in this clime is basically a money pit. I would spend more time than I care to replacing and/or re-staining the damn thing. Just, no.

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My friend's beautiful fence and even more beautiful pasture.

So, that leaves high tensile electric - a very popular option around here. And fortunately, I've got more than a few options for help to build the damn thing in short order at a good price. Winning! Two other bonuses to this type of fencing for my HOA are: (1) it will keep the viewshed open - a bargaining point of mine during my presentation, and (2) it will not change the way the snow drifts at all on the road along the top of the pastures - something my neighbor will appreciate in the winter.

Water
All of the farms I've grown up around, including the one where my horses currently reside, have perennial streams on the property. The pastures are designed so that the horses always have access to them. It's easy and stress-free.

But my farm is on a ridge top. There are multiple springs on this mountain of ours (our water system is connected to one of the bigger ones), but no springs exist on my property for the horses, which means I have to have a trough. No big deal. That's easy enough to fill and clean - especially with a couple goldfish residents! Add a de-icer in the winter and it's good to go year-round.

However, when the horses spent time at my friend's place for 2 months this past summer, I got to experience the sheer brilliance of their water system for the horses. It was such a simple improvement for a trough scenario.

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Rain-fed trough with overflow being piped away from the field.

They designed the gutter on their barn at a very slight angle so that the water would feed into their trough. They also added a small hole for overflow that allowed for a pipe connection to funnel the water away from the horse area. Absolutely brilliant when you consider how much rain we get! It basically guarantees that the only time necessary to fill the trough is when we have a drought period. (Drought? What is this foreign concept you speak of?). It is my plan to have Dave construct a similar gutter situation so I can have a nearly-identical setup. Not as simple as a stream, but pretty damn close!

: : : : :

So, there you have it! A rough plan of how the farm layout will be constructed on the landscape in the coming months. I'm still the very embodiment of excited and am creating lists upon lists of things to do to prep in the mean time. I'll keep the updates coming as things progress and continue to share more details on each step of the process as it unfolds.

I'd also like to extend a big thank you to everyone for your well-wishes on the first post of this series endeavor. It's fun to celebrate with the greater horse community and I'm looking forward to sharing more!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Dreams Become Reality: Part I - Convincing My HOA

I have alluded in previous posts about big changes afoot. Huge, life-changing, dream-attaining changes.

Drum roll please....

By next winter, my horses will be home with me for good. My barn commute will be zero. My life-long dreams of having my horses outside my window and 100% in my care will be achieved. 

I am the very embodiment of the word "excited".

But let's rewind. Because this whole thing didn't happen quickly or easily, and I want nothing more than to document the story for myself to have in years to come. Over the next month or two, I'll publish a series of posts that include everything that went into the planning and preparation phase for this dream to become reality. Then, once we roll into the warmer months and I begin implementing this dream, I'll document all of the pieces involved in the land prep and construction.

A Seemingly Far-Fetched Idea

I live in a homeowner's association (HOA) in an area that serves as a vacation destination and second-home to many folks from the DC area and beyond. My HOA is comprised of 14 residences and, of those, we are the only 100% full-time residents. One other gentleman is here 80-90% of the time. All others are only here for multiple long weekends and/or extended summer stays. 

We're situated on top of a big flat ridge that was formerly a farm. I can run a 1.1 mile loop from my house and only gain something like 75 feet in elevation. It's pleasant to have both remarkable mountain views from a high vantage point and also have flat land. As such, the very large majority of the homes in the HOA are positioned so that they can enjoy 180-270° views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

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With a view like this (and this is only one third of the view!), it's understandable why people want to have homes up there!

The lots are large, folks tend to own several, and the homes are really spaced out. There are limitations on buliding size,  what materials you can build and side your home with, and other limitations on how the appearance of your yard etc. must be kept. Most folks mow their lots immediately around their homes and a local fellow comes up to hay the unmowed areas for his cattle. In the grand scheme of HOAs, it's pretty nice and relatively relaxed. 

Since moving up here full time in 2017, I've dreamed of bringing the horses home to one of the vacant lots. But the cost of land in this area coupled with the HOA rules forbidding horses (and cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. - it's quite a long and inclusive list!) kept my dreaming at bay. Even if the HOA adjusted the rules, I couldn't imagine dropping that kind of money on such a small parcel of land.

After Dave and I married and I began exploring boarding options in earnest, I realized that every option in our local area was going to be expensive because it's a vacation destination. And so I decided that before I pursued other options for land in the surrounding area, I would at least ask a friend (a past HOA president) if the option for horses in the development even seemed feasible. I knew it would very, very likely be a quick "no", but I also knew if I didn't at least ask I would always wonder "what could have been".

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Standing at the far edge of the lots looking toward the house. Gonna have my work cut out for me getting rid of golden rod!

And so when I saw my friend out and about one day this past summer while Dave and I were walking, I popped the question.

"Hey. I've got a kind of crazy question for you. I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be, but I've got to ask or I'll always wonder. Do you think the HOA would ever make an exception to allow horses?"

He pondered it for a second before replying, "Well, I love horses. I think having horses up here would be wonderful. I'd be your biggest supporter - my grandkids would love it! I think others would probably be up for it, too. But we'll have to be strategic about how you approach it and ask..."

Cue: a shocked expression on my part!

After I recovered from my initial shock at not receiving what I was certain would be a "no", a smile slowly spread across my face and my mind began whirring with possibilities.

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Standing below our house looking toward the end of the lots. Barn will be just left of center nestled in the trees. 

Following that initial conversation, I put pen to paper and drew out the first draft of my plans to share with my friend. I met with him and we discussed my idea and how best to move forward. With his expert guidance and understanding of the HOA, its residents, and history, I put together a proposal for the executive committee to review and consider.

In a shorter time than I imagined, I received a reply from the executive committee. They were in favor of my proposal. The next step I needed to take was to prepare a presentation for the annual HOA meeting on October 28.

I had a solid 2-2½ months to prepare my presentation. It was both a gift and a curse to have that much time! I had plenty of time to prepare, certainly, but I also had ample time for my mind to run amok wondering will they/won't they be in favor and will this/won't this dream actually happen?

The Presentation AKA The Day of Reckoning

Finally, the day of my presentation arrived. An agenda had been set out prior to all HOA members, and item 6a read, "Permission to allow horses on 2 or more lots as requested by Liz Stout..."

All through the start of the meeting, I was nervous. I knew the executive committee was in favor and the path forward sounded straight forward enough, but if anyone had a strong objection to my plan, the whole thing could come crashing down.

Finally, it was my turn to present.

Ever-prepared, I had brought a laptop, projector, and had prepared a well-practiced presentation. I don't think any of them expected this! I laughed and made a joke about my nature to be well-prepared and overly-organized, and then went right into my presentation.

background

I set the stage by sharing my background as an equestrian, a biologist, and a West Virginia native. I briefly shared the type of riding I do and noted my years of experience working at other barns and my copious visits and observations of other barns local and abroad. From there, I noted that my ideas of a good horse farm revolved around not only providing safe fencing, adequate food, water, shelter, and care for the horses, but to do this in a manner that conserved the resource (land), was aesthetically pleasing, and mindful of the viewshed.

To support these claims, I then proceeded through slides that:
  • provided a first-draft of ideas for fencing and barn placement/design and noted that any barn design would, of course, be subject to review by the architectural committee
  • shared that fencing options would be visually appealing and that the barn would be situated on the landscape in such a way that other residents wouldn't see it unless they were on the edge of our property
  • shared my plans for pasture rotation and a dry lot in order to preserve and promote healthy pastures 
  • noted that I would have a manure management plan and would position the composting bins in such a way that prevailing winds would push any smell away from the other homes
Farm Draft
A rough sketch of my current plan. I drew the barn per measurements in Google Earth and it looks mighty small if that's
 supposed to be accurate! In reality, the roof will probably be similar in dimensions to the garage (left of the house).
  • included a simple viewshed analysis with photos of my hopeful property from various vantage points to prove my claim that the change wouldn't have a large visual impact to the HOA
  • included a short list of benefits that would result from my proposal, keyly keeping spaces open so houses wouldn't be on top of one another and lessening the burden on our spring-fed water system by preventing future home development (oh, and horses use infinitely less water than a human would - especially with my plans to have a rain-fed trough for the rainy parts of the year)
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly because it was a damn well thought out presentation, the few questions I received were clarifying questions that I more than had the ability to answer. Largely, I received a wealth of compliments - from nearly every single person in the room! - for my well thought out presentation, attention to detail, and conscientious consideration of my plans and land management.

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Running through future pasture 1 on Griffin in 2017.

A few other small matters were addressed on the agenda following my presentation before the vote was put forward. While these other items were discussed, a sense of calm settled over me. I'd done all I possibly could. The praise was nice to receive. I was even more cautiously optimistic than I'd been, but my mind still halted any sense of jubilation or excitement. It just seemed crazy to think that this whole thing could actually happen. 

Ten to fifteen minutes later, it was time for everyone to vote. I locked eyes with my friend who had helped so much to this point. Ever the master of the pokerface, he cracked the tiniest of smiles at me, a twinkle in his eyes. 

The HOA president announced my request to the room for a vote. Every single person raised their hand in the affirmative to accept the exception and allow horses. It was official.

I smiled, shyly, still in disbelief that this thing was going to really happen. My friend caught my eyes again, grinning in earnest now. I returned the smile and then glanced back down at my notes simply shocked at the reality of everything. 

The meeting adjourned shortly after the vote. I thanked my friend copiously, answered a few general horse questions for others, and told the lady who currently owns the lots I would be purchasing that I would reach out after the HOA paperwork for the exception was finalized. 

Once in my car and back in range of cell service, I stopped and sent out a couple texts to those closest to me, whom I knew were waiting to hear how it went. "UNANIMOUS YES!" I declared. Victorious excitement filled me after that. I turned up the music in my car and grinned all the way home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Progress in the New Year

So far, so good in this new year. In fact, everything is pretty par for the course for January. Well, minus the whole shutdown debacle. I am fortunately one of the lucky exempt employees who is still working and bringing home a paycheck. Working without colleagues and without a lot of resources I need to do my job severely limits my abilities. I very much miss my coworkers, and I know they miss their jobs. It's interesting to say the least, but it is giving me time to catch up on things I never seem to have time to do in the usual hustle and bustle.  Hopefully things will be resolved soon, though I'm not holding my breath.

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Reasons I don't take many photos - they'd all look horribly like this because it's dark!
However, I took this photo on this night because it followed an amazing ride on this little mare that I wanted to remember.

On a lighter note, the horses are doing well and winter is here in full force! I know many hate winter, but I'm not one of those people. Snow makes me happy. Skiing makes me happy. And what makes me happier yet is when the mud is frozen and the ground is blanketed in pretty white. I hate mud and mud season with every fiber of my being.

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I thought I was retired. What is this riding nonsense you're suggesting? - Stan, probably

I've been keeping a decent schedule for riding so far in January. I've logged over 8 hours in the saddle and have ridden at least 3x per week. All three horses have been out multiple times. I'm focusing on Griffin and Q, with whom I have competition hopes for this year, but I am making a concerted effort to try to ride Stan at least once a week to keep him moving. And to enjoy grinning like a fiend because he is such a pleasure to ride.

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Snowing sideways in 21°F weather. Lovely!

I've been working on very similar things with Grif and Q: legging them back up, redeveloping their toplines, and focusing on the pieces of homework LC gave me back in December. And I'm seeing marked success in each of these categories! Both horses look better week to week. I squeal almost daily over small successes each one is making. They seem relatively happy in the work, too, both meeting me in the field almost daily, which is wonderful.

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I'll admit, my toes were cold. And my riding skirt blew up around my waist twice from the gusts.

Success in itself is exciting. But more than that, I'm truly enjoying each step of the process. Maybe it's all the talk of process goals in bloglandia of late. Regardless, it's been awhile since I've found so much enjoyment from every piece of the journey. I find myself humming, singing, talking to the horses, laughing at the horses, and smiling constantly on every ride. 

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On the rail trail.

Almost every ride so far has involved a lot of hill work at a marching walk. I march each horse up the big hill in riding field a minimum of 3x per ride, if not more. This week I have marched Griffin and Q up it 18x each, ponying one while riding another. I'm beginning to throw in a random trot or canter climb into the mix, but by and large I've been focusing on and honing each horse's marching walk. 

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Hi Grif!

All of the hill work is doing wonders for their fitness in a way that prevents them from becoming too sweaty in the cold weather - perfect for my typical evening rides post-work. I love it. Even more, I love seeing the change in their appearance and abilities with each passing day. Both are really getting the hang of the faster marching walk and pushing through their hind end with a lot more power. The change is especially evident in Griffin whose fitness had been at an all-time low for the first time in years these past few months.

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He's a happy little chunk. Lauren rode him beautifully on this day!

Last weekend, we were able to get out on a 12-mile conditioning ride on the rail trail. Lauren rode Grif, I rode Q, and Chelsey joined us on JL. The pace was a very moderate 5 mph average, but it was still a good ride. Q even led for the first half and was really wonderful, choosing a forward 7-8mph trot! I was going to continue letting Q lead for the return, but after a half-dozen "spooks" within the first mile of the return I resolved the situation and had Lauren put Griffin in front. 

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I just missed capturing us all cantering in a single file line.
Too slow getting the phone out with my gloved hands.

I know my horses (and most horses) will strike out for home with more gusto than they traveled away from home. And Q definitely powered in the homeward direction with a lot more power than she did for the first half of the ride. But the problem arose when I began to rein her trot back to the more reasonable pace we'd kept for the first half instead of the 10-12mph trot she was offering.

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Two-by with the mare behind. 

See, when Q has a difference of opinion from me about work - especially if my request makes the work "harder" - her MO is to first, rush and bull her way forward, and if she is unsuccessful with this she will then "spook". I've countered this behavior by simply slowing her down and/or ignoring her "spook" and continuing whatever we were doing as if it never happened.

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WHOA, Q. CALM DOWN.

Fortunately, her spooks are infinitely easier to ride than they once were because she's making some effort to pick me up and take me with her when she does it. Unfortunately, on the day of our conditioning ride she wound herself so tight in the process of spooking and evading the work that I knew I needed to change the situation before things became worse.

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Good drinking horses following our 12 mile ride.
PC: Chelsey

It was nice to have other people/horses along so I could simply give Q a break from leading to resolve the situation. But I definitely recognize that the problem isn't "fixed" by doing this. I will absolutely be heading back out solo with Q in the future to work through the issue slowly and systematically. Well, as systematic as one can be with a horses/an opinionated mare. It will inevitably involve a lot of walking every time she becomes rushy and rewarding her when she's relaxed and forward.

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Ponying Q from Grif two nights ago.

Now that her confidence is up, it's a lot easier to work through these types of issues. I have a much better read on her and can tell when she's being contrary because she wants to be lazy and when she's genuinely scared. And, I can confidently say she's being contrary 95% of the time! Mares...

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Happy relaxed expression!

All in all, I'm super pleased with how things are progressing for January. I've got another lesson scheduled for next week, and am excited to have new homework to fuel me forward for another 6ish weeks. This will get me through the brunt of the winter weather and firmly into longer daylight hours!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

2019 Goals & Intentions

This year looks to be a continuation of the past year, more or less. Overall, I'd like to see myself and all of the animals continue to be happy and healthy. Beyond that, I've detailed some very attainable goals below for each of us as well as a few (+) stretch goals.

One big difference between past years and this year is that I've largely removed competition goals from my plate. Don't get me wrong, I'd really love to make it out to multiple competitions on both Q and Griffin, but I'm not naive about the financial push that I'm going to have this year to fulfill my dream of bringing the horses home. As a result, I do not want to commit to any kind of competition goals. The only one I'm really going to hunker down and focus hard on will be to get Q to a minimum of one AERC-sanctioned competition. I really miss endurance. I miss the eventing environment that I finally began to dabble in with gusto in 2017, but I recognize that a lot of my training goals with that can be achieved at home for now with the hope of returning to competitions with more gusto in 2020.

In many ways, this year looks to be a transition year for me with the horses. I'm completely okay with this because it means fulfilling my biggest life dream of bringing them home for good.

AdobeLightroom
My first "hey I can see my house from here" winter 2018-19 photo.

Griffin

- Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
- Take consistent lessons with LC
- Establish a very solid "forward" button so I don't have to nag
- Cement "long and low" stretching
- School over novice height jumps, both stadium and XC (probably at home)
+ Make it to a schooling show of some kind
+ Cutting

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Throwing it back to summertime when the mud was easier to brush off and wash out!
He's just as disgusting now, but with a full winter coat.

Without a great place to school Griffin toward the end of last year, I let a lot of his dressage training wander to the wayside. In other words: we lollygagged hither and yon and didn't do anything with consistency. He's lost a lot of the strength he had and now I've got to put that back. It won't take anything miraculous, just consistency. Which, admittedly, is difficult currently with winter, the commute, and my two jobs.

After a chaotic last quarter of 2018 that left me little time for pleasure reading, I've been gobbling up all of the Practical Horseman issues I lapsed on reading. It's giving me so much motivation for things to work on with Griffin going forward. I have countless notes and exercises jotted down to work on through the winter that pair well with my homework from LC. In no time at all, I hope to have Grif's strength up. Once I get his strength back up, I'm looking forward to making progress and having check-ins during lessons with LC.

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Wish he was so easily clean... I'm not sure the mud staining will ever disappear after this winter!

A lot of my goals for Griffin can be achieved without going to competitions. Schooling dressage movements, riding tests under watchful, knowledgeable eyes, schooling jumps and honing agility and fitness for various types of jumps can all be achieved at home. Even more so now that I've got LC nearby! Between her and two of my neighbors who are very into dressage, I'm hoping I can setup a couple "judged" tests where they all watch me ride some of the USDF tests and give me "scores". It's seems like a good way to get feedback and improve without breaking what little bank I'll have while I pursue bringing the horses home.

Q

- Continue to build confidence
- Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
- Take consistent lessons with LC
- Complete at least one endurance competition
+ Ride 400 non-competition miles this year

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Goals? What goals?

After a year + of building this little mare's confidence and arriving at a much better place with our relationship as a result, I am SO excited to start laying on the conditioning miles this year with purpose. I know how to get this mare fit for endurance, we've done it with lots of success in the past. But now I'd like to do it even better and with plenty of dressage thrown in. With help from LC, I know this will be achievable.

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Look at that floppy lower lip!

My current aim is to compete at No Frills at the end of April. Ride camp is a short drive from where I live and I find the trails to be pretty friendly overall. If I have my druthers, I'd really like to also fit in our new WV ride in August and possibly Fort Valley in October. Whether we make multiple competitions or not, I will be fitting in lots of conditioning miles through the year. I'm excited to pursue training miles now that I have a much more confident partner.

Stan

- Rack up some trail miles and have a ton of fun
- Don't become a total asshole once moved home
+ Ride 150 miles this year

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A year of ease? Okay!

No major goals for the big guy for now until forever beyond just getting out there and enjoying time on trail together. Whether I ride him or he treats my friends or husband to the joys of life on horseback, it doesn't matter. I'd just like to keep him moving and keep him fit.

It makes me giggle a little bit, but I'm also completely serious about him not becoming an asshole when I move him home. He's got a track record for being a dick about regimented feeding times. His habits reared their ugly head some this past summer and we had a lot of conversations about it. He gets tunnel vision where food is involved in a multiple-horse-regimented-feeding schedule. He'll go after other horses with gnashing teeth and flying hooves and will sometimes offer these behaviors to his human caretakers, as well. I've got a lot of ideas and plans for how to prevent him from being a complete asshole once home, but the proof is in the pudding! Time will tell.

Kenai

- Train to the invisible fence
- Maintain mobility through lots of steady exercise

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Heading into 2019 like...

Kenai is doing so very well lately. Hopefully he will maintain and make some small improvements this year! He may not go on every adventure Taiga goes on in order to preserve those gnarly stifles for years to come, but I still hope to get him out on many hikes and some smaller bike rides.

The biggest change in his life will be that I'm going to commit to training his sassy ass to the invisible fence. I got it for Taiga and intended to train him "later". It's now a year "later". The time is nigh. A young, fit husky ignoring me is one thing. An older husky who is quickly earning the title of Curmudgeon with a capital "C" is not as enjoyable. Time to initiate my plan and confine him to an acre of space only.

Taiga

- Get out in crowded places more often to minimize her over-stimulation in these environments
+ Take local course to fulfill therapy training

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#sorrynotsorry for using this photo in two consecutive posts. It's my new favorite.

This little girl is so fun and easy to be around. As with Kenai, I don't have anything huge slated for her this year beyond making more of an effort to get her out and about. That in and of itself will help fulfill a lot of the things she needs to know in order to pass the test to be a therapy dog. Hopefully time will allow for me to take her to a few classes preceding the test late next year.

Myself

- Bring the horses home
- Maintain fitness level
- Be financially cognizant throughout the year
- Purge, purge, purge
- Continue my yoga practice
- Complete GRUSK 53-mile bike race
- Climb more
- Bike often
- Maintain and build my photography side hustle

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New year, new headshot

My biggest goals for myself this year is to bring the horses home, watch my finances, and keep up with my fitness. The other goals listed here will help me achieve these things.

Bringing the horses home is the biggest goal I have this year. I'll be sharing more details in coming weeks!

With the above in mind, I know my finances are going to be tight this year. Thus, it is my intention to make the best of what I already have and purge everything I don't really use/need to make space and recoup a bit of extra money. Between that and my photography side hustle, things should work out!

I had a great year for fitness in 2018. Giving myself a solid goal to meet - GRUSK - really jump started my motivation to a much better place. I hope to maintain that this year and add climbing back into the mix, too. The financial stress of bringing the horses home won't enable me to take too many crazy climbing trips, but fortunately I live in an area with a wealth of local options. The trick will just be to get out more often.

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: A Year in Review + Goals Analysis

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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Far from clean with the amount of mud and highly organic soil we encountered on the way up,
but a favorite photo nonetheless because it was a very successful ride following quite an
acrobatic outburst from Grif when he refused to go over an 11" wide, 4" deep ditch. He hadn't
given me so much push back on something in ages and to work through it successfully was
the biggest reward for our relationship. 

It wasn't the year I'd hoped for competitively with eventing, but it wasn't a bad year by any stretch!

3 of 5 goals accomplished and 1 of 3 stretch goals met.

Between Kenai's vet bills (more on this below) and my truck mysteriously leaking oil and needing loads of diagnostics and labor hours to resolve (2-3 days labor to find a significant crack in the oil pan - oof), money that was intended for competitions was spent elsewhere. C'est la vie!

This doesn't mean we sat completely idle though! The biggest win of the year - beyond health and soundness! - was finally taking lessons. I haven't had steady riding lessons since I was a child. By and large, those lessons were more "time and miles" than any remarkable education about riding. Seriously, the vast majority of what I learned in those lessons can be summarized in 6 words, "eyes up, heels down, toes in". Not winning any prizes with that!

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A shot from our second lesson in May

In my two lessons with centered riding instructor C in May, Griffin and I built upon our understanding of proper bend, cut our teeth on some introductory lateral work, and began piecing together the stepping stones for flying lead changes. It was my intention to make it back for another lesson or two that summer, but the truck issues heated up and money got tight.

Fortunately though, I was able to just barely meet my goal of a minimum of 3 lessons this calendar year by taking a third on December 5 when the Federal government had a surprise holiday to mourn GHW Bush. After months of conditioning rides with new local trainer LC, I was finally able to setup a lesson with her. Never mind the winter weather advisory in full effect during my lesson!

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Griffin's "Woman, are you kidding me?!" face re: our snowy lesson day.

Snow, schmow, it was a great first lesson focused on some of the most basics of basics to retrain my body and mind around riding. Admittedly, the way she taught me to think about my body and aids was a bit of a blow to my ego because I felt like those were things I actually understood but, uh, didn't. I rebounded very quickly from this and had a really great lesson on Griffin focused on very basic building blocks that are critical for us to develop to move forward. Following the lesson, I put all of my new understanding and drills to use with Q and had one of the best rides of that kind on her ever. I'm really psyched to have homework to motivate me through the winter months and plan to have a lesson with LC every 4-6 weeks going forward. She's a really awesome fit for me as a trainer and I'm so very excited to finally have some quality training on a regular basis for the first time in my adult life.

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Late April jump school at home.

Jumping and becoming confirmed at BN this year obviously didn't happen. Though just because I didn't compete doesn't mean we didn't jump. We actually schooled jumps at home quite a bit this summer (though I didn't document a single time). Griffin is so very solid compared to where we once were. The main thing I incorporated into our jump schooling this summer that I hadn't done previously was to school several jumps on a slight downhill. Of all the XC jumps Grif and I tackled at our Loch Moy outings, the ones on a slight downhill were the toughest for me. I'd never jumped something on a downhill slope before! Easily remedied with practice though, and now I feel a lot more comfortable about it. Crazy what practice does.

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Impressively I got to fulfill the one stretch goal I thought would be the hardest to do this year - put Grif on some cows! Now, admittedly I didn't fulfill this goal in the format I anticipated. But it was so much better. It was real life application with purpose, not some staged setup in a controlled environment. I still hope to give things a go in a controlled environment eventually to really see if he'll cut and work the cows the way he does dogs, but getting to experience working cattle in a practical application for the first time was pretty damn sweet.

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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She was the most confident little mare on this ride and I was SO Freaking Proud.

What a great year for this little mare! We didn't return to competition as I hoped, but I'm confident when we do make a return it will go well. My relationship with her under saddle is better than it's ever been, her body is just as strong and stronger than it was pre-suspensory injury, and she's really given me some great rides lately when I asked her to think more and use her body in novel ways.

Regaining and improving trust and confidence for Q is the biggest win of the year, hands down. I've written ad nauseam about this though, and won't continue to wax and wane poetically here. It's been really awesome and I'm so excited to see where things go from here now that we have such a solid foundation together.

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LC and Q watching deer in the distance

The second biggest win of the year is my success in abolishing Q's sidedness. LC rode Q during a conditioning ride back in November and about a mile into the ride she remarked, "Wow. This is the first horse I've ridden since coming to West Virginia that is even through her body." Cue massive fist pump to the sky on my part. Best. Compliment. Ever. I have worked SO hard over the past year on this with Q. Having someone who is only just meeting me and the horses, and who has such extensive training with high-caliber horses and riders, compliment her in this way meant so much.

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Summer Canaan vistas when the shrubby St John's wort was in bloom.

While I didn't get to ride Q for a lesson this year, she's absolutely benefited from what I have learned in my lessons on Griffin. Most recently, I put my new knowledge to the test with her immediately after my lesson with LC; I learned just as much from this ride as I did from my lesson. Having the opportunity to cement my new knowledge and find great success was really great. My goal is to build Q up with my learning through the next couple months and then ride her for my third lesson with LC.
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Into 2019 we go!
Finally, while we didn't return to endurance competition, we absolutely put in the miles as if we were. I got oodles of great conditioning miles in on this little mare in 2018. I rode her and numerous friends rode her. She excelled throughout every ride and was a star for our longest one of nearly 30 miles. I have no doubt of her ability to find success on the endurance trail next year.

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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Pretty boy - wish he'd been standing on 100% level ground for this!

Stan had a pretty good year. Nothing crazy, but still lots of miles tackled. I imagine this is going to be pretty par for the course for him going forward. He's 17 and I don't have huge goals to fulfill with him through the last half of his life. He's done so much for me and is such a steady eddy no matter how much time he has off. He has become the horse I hop on to just meander around without a care in the world and the horse I can trust with any rider.

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I decided this year that competing him in a 50 mile competition is not something I care to pursue. He's got nothing to prove to me and I've got nothing to prove to myself. I wasn't super sold on the goal when I wrote it down at the beginning of the year, but I figured I'd jot it down just in case we managed to absolutely slay some conditioning miles this year. Which we did. Just not anything crazy. And that is completely fine and awesome. All I want for Stan is good health and lots of fun, carefree miles in the saddle to keep him limber and relatively fit.

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Probably the best photo ever of his cheek freckle.

He is the best horse. I always know that, but it really strikes home when I ride him. He just feels like home. I am looking forward to many more years in the saddle just enjoying the world with him.

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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Ferns make my heart go pitter patter - and so does this dog.

Finally, a solid 100% completion! Haha. My goals are never set thinking I will complete them all, but rather to keep me on track as I travel through the calendar year because I've got squirrel-brain a lot. It's good to keep things reined in to those I'd most like to achieve instead of picking up new hobbies and goals left and right. Having said that, it still feels good to have 100% success in one realm!

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He tackled her right after this.

Kenai is at an ideal weight, down 5 pounds from where he was at the beginning of the year. He's moving better than he has in ages and seems to only improve as time goes on. He's on a routine injection schedule to help his arthritis which has made such a huge difference! It's been awesome to watch him feel better and better the past 6 months. Taiga appreciates it, too, because she's got a much more playful friend to roughhouse with.

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Zoomies!

Surprisingly, - or maybe not surprisingly because why the fuck not we've already had such bad luck after all - Kenai had ANOTHER knee surgery this year. For those keeping count of the times his stifles have been cut open, the count is now at one time for the left stifle (2013) and 5 times for the right stifle (2013, the 2015 saga, and now 2018.)

Fortunately for everyone involved, this 2018 surgery was the quickest, easiest, and shortest rehab yet! His body rejected part of the hardware installed in the third surgery of 2015. We tried to correct this with antibiotics for a time but to no avail. And so now he's an ounce or two lighter in that stifle and much happier overall.

And while I worried we wouldn't find an answer earlier this year, we have actually resolved much of Kenai's hair loss over the past 4 months, too! So much so that my vet is absolutely flabbergasted in the change.

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Early August when he was looking pretty damn haggard - his coat was in absolute shambles.
kenai sept 2
Labor Day weekend showed some improvements from the fungal meds already.
The inflammation of his skin had disappeared and new hair was sprouting everywhere (though the tips were black so you can't tell what's hair and bald for sure in these photos.)
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Sunset on Christmas Day - lighting isn't the same as the prior photos, but you can see how much of his coat has returned
and I think should be able to see how the quality is much improved.
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Excusing the sunset lighting again in comparison to the other photos, you can also see how the darker guard hairs haven't
come back with as much gusto. We'll see what one more month on the anti-fungal drug does, but regardless, he's a much
happier guy with a MUCH healthier coat!

And rightly so! What a change! It was hard won, too, trying basically every avenue possible before arriving at an answer. After consulting multiple vets, running multiple blood panels (which were always normal), bathing with three different medicated shampoos 2x a week for literal months, doing a 6 week treatment with a medication for a systemic bacterial infection, adding vitamin E and omega 3 supplements to his diet, and switching to a homemade diet for 5ish months, I finally demanded of my regular vet to try a systemic fungal treatment. And lo and behold! Immediate cessation of the lesions and hotspots coupled with amazing hair regrowth!

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Oh, and we can't forget this get up. I tried this, too, to help his skin issues.

In fact, Kenai has a healthier coat than he has in literal YEARS. It's amazing. He's still absent of hair in some places (notably the sides of his neck, his caudal thighs, and pathetic tail), but there has been so much regrowth and change. His coat is no longer brittle and crisp, but healthy, rich, and soft.

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Relaxing in the wilds of West Virginia
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Moody Kenai.

We're trying one more month of the fungal medication to see if we can get any more regrowth and will then see where we're at before doing anything else. Honestly, I'm not sure there is much more to do at this point. The change is so freaking huge. I'm happy to accept that he may just have some alopecia. My husband does, why not have a dog with the same affliction? Haha.



Taiga

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

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Definitely one of my all-time favorite photos of her at sunset one evening.

This little dog had a pretty great first year with us. She's such an attention-seeking, people-pleasing little thing. Throughout the days I've slowly drafted this post, she sits by whatever chair I'm in as close as she can be. The only time she doesn't feel the need to be near me is at night when she chooses to remain downstairs on her dog bed.

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But also a favorite sunset photo from Christmas Day...

She's got a fraction of the prey drive Kenai has and has been infinitely easier to train for recall in that regard. It doesn't mean she won't chase something, it just means that she is easily called off of that something or if she does "catch" it she wants to play with it as a friend not a foe/meal. This contrasts Kenai who is very motivated to maim and kill. The only thing Taiga is kind of "vicious" about killing are fish that are handed to her after we catch them. She swiftly dispatches them and consumes them head to tail!

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Watching birds...

She has yet to "run away" during any of our outings. Kenai had run off at least 3 times in my first 18 months with him! If Taiga doesn't come when I call on a hike, it isn't because she is trying to misbehave, she's just lost track of where exactly I am on the landscape because she's distracted chasing butterflies or leaves. Seriously. It's both adorable and incredibly frustrating.

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Looking out on her world.

Taiga has endless energy and is the perfect trail riding partner both on horseback and mountain biking.  To date, her longest ride/run was 17 miles! I don't take her on longer rides/bikes with a lot of elevation gain/loss or super gnarly trail conditions yet, choosing instead to stick to those that are super easy going if we're going to log a bunch of miles so that she isn't taxing herself as much. These days, any venture less than 12 miles means I will still have a rambunctious dog by evening after she's had a nap. I miss the days where our normal 7-mile loop made her sleep until the next morning!

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Sunset ballet dancer

I still plan to take her through some testing that will give us the necessary paperwork to be allowed to be at my new office (same job, new building) by the end of next year. The same paperwork will give her added credence when she's on the ski mountain with me and enable her to come on accidents or enter the aid room. Right now, I keep her away from those situations unless the patient is a local who knows her. She's got the perfect temperament for that kind of work, and I look forward to doing more of it with her. The biggest thing we need to work on between now and whenever we test is exposure to more people/dogs. Unlike when Kenai was a puppy with me my senior year at university, there aren't as many times Taiga has been large groups of people and/or lots of strange dogs. As a result, when she is in those situations she's overjoyed and over-stimulated. I'm very confident that time and miles will resolve this and look forward to getting her out and about more in the coming year.

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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A wee little crow pose on top of Seneca - I love this photo because you get a sense of the exposure. 800-900 foot drop to the
valley floor to my front - you know, right where my eyes are looking - and only a 4-5 foot wide fin of rock to stand on!

Climbing took a major backseat this year. Mostly, it rained a LOT. Rain isn't great for climbing. But I'm okay with totally biffing on my annual climbing goal. The two times I climbed this year were enjoyable - especially the trip up Seneca with one of my good friends who is an AMGA guide. We laughed SO much and I've never felt so relaxed on top of Seneca amidst that kind of exposure before. It was a really fantastic day.

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Shy of the climbing goal, I blew the rest of the goals out of the park. Physically, I feel better in my body than I have in years. The 53-mile bike race in July was a great way to get there and I've done nothing but maintain ever since. I will absolutely be pursuing that same race again in 2019!

Also on the biking front, I learned about several new-to-me trails on Canaan Mountain this year. The very large majority of times I headed out on group rides this year, we biked up that mountain. I actually kind of loved it. Far cry from how I felt about that mountain at the start of the year!

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A small selection of client images for the year.

My photography side hustle did well again this year. I am really pleased with how my skillset is advancing both behind the lens and post-processing. I'm having a ton of fun with it and learning more every day, which is all I can ask for! It leaves me wishing I'd taken a few courses in college. The fact that I can make some additional income from it is a huge bonus.

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Finally looking like a split! In the past week or so I've been able to lift my arms like this and not support myself with them.
It takes me a good 10 minutes of stretching and prep to get to this point - which is fine! It's amazing the change stretching affords.
Now to work on squaring my hips more and developing more freedom of movement within them which will bring more
depth and comfort to the pose.

I finally got consistent with my yoga practice this past year. It still isn't anything crazy, but my body and my body awareness have evolved so much in the past year thanks to it. I'm increasingly comfortable in inversion poses and I can practically taste the success from achieving my first full front-back split! The latter has helped my riding immensely by opening my hip angle up so much. Another bonus of yoga is that it has really helped my anxiety; whenever my headspace is particularly fussy, I quite literally stop, drop, and yoga for a few minutes wherever I am. The breath work and routine flow of my body gets me back in the present moment and really calms my mind.

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One of my absolute most favorite photos I took this summer and my hands-down favorite photo of the 3 of them together.

And finally, through the summer months I enjoyed having the horses closer to home, achieving a big goal for a good chunk of the year. It was so very enjoyable to have them nearby again AND get to be largely in charge of their care. Unfortunately, the winter situation didn't workout as I'd hoped, but I'm very much at peace with my decision to move them back to their old barn for the winter.

Moving forward, it is my hope to bring them home late-summer, early-autumn of 2019 for good. I'm still moving through the lengthy processes involved in this endeavor and can't wait to share details (hopefully soon!), but until then, just cross all of your digits for me!

: : : : :

All-in-all, the year wasn't quite what I'd planned for, but it was still a great year. I did my best to roll with the changes as they came and make the most out of every situation. By and large, it was a bit of a "transition" year, and honestly, next year is shaping up to be one of those, too. I'm okay with it though because despite this year being what it was, I don't feel as if I lost ground anywhere. I either stagnated, maintained, or improved - which is a net positive! But also, this transition period is coming with some really big life changes like marriage and hopefully owning my own little farmette. These changes are worth "sitting still" for a time while they manifest into my wildest dreams.

Cheers to you and yours - I hope 2019 brings you many smiles and fond memories.