Thursday, October 25, 2012

a last hurrah

Our riding club got together the past weekend for one last hurrah trail ride before winter sinks in. About 20 of us set out on the trail Saturday morning. We started at the river and climbed the mountain to the almost-top, stopped for lunch, and then descended back to the campground we were basing out of.

Seeing folks I hadn’t seen lately, and riding with folks I hadn’t ridden with in weeks/months/years was really a treat. The day was overcast and a little breezy, but the chances of rain were minimal. The trees weren’t quite at peak, but a lot of rusts and golds still cling to the trees. It was still beautiful. West Virginia autumns always are.

I was exceptionally excited for this ride because it was in an area that I have always dreamed of riding. The time I’ve owned Q has really opened a lot of doors for riding places I’d always dreamed about. Its been such a treat finally getting to experience these places on horseback. Many of them are places I’m familiar with through hiking and various work through the years. This mountain was no exception.

I’d spent the entire summer of 2009 working on the mountain we rode last weekend. It’s close to home, too, and I’d grown up playing and hiking most of the trails. I know most of the Forest Service roads up there rather intimately from my summer 2008 job with the Forest Service (that job is the biggest reason I have an intimate understanding of so many FS roads and the trail systems within the Mon. Forest).

The trails we road were a mix of FS roads, old logging roads (circa early 1900s), and a few game trails to link adjacent roads. Steep and rocky, beautiful and fun. No more of a challenge than the trails on the endurance ride, really. Q was more than up for it.

I booted her all around in anticipation of the rocks. I think we slid a little more than she would have barefoot on the leaves due to the boot plastic, but nothing too crazy. The leaves were very thick on the forest floor. I’d reckon to say that ~75% of them have fallen.

Overall, I was very proud of Q through the whole ride. She’s still a bit mare-ish about horses running up her butt, but nothing crazy. She had a few moments where she became exceedingly worried about all activity around her and had a little skitter-fest. One of my good friends, the area’s equine vet, even noticed and we laughed at Q for being a spazz.  Truly though, I hope to figure out what triggers her concern and remedy the problem for her. She never put me in danger by behaving in such a manner, but I’d like for her to be able to work through and overcome things better so she doesn’t have to be distressed.

She took care of me through the whole ride though and out-performed all my expectations for her.
  • When bush-wacking (minor) up a hill to link two trail-roads, she took my cue to move away from the other horses and skillfully navigated through the trees at a canter, breaking through onto the road above like it was nothing. She promptly dropped her head to eat, totally unconcerned with all the crashing going on as people plowed through the woods behind us.
  • We deviated from the beaten path to drop off a short, steep incline as the terrain below appeared better. She tucked her hind legs underneath and slid down the short incline per Man From Snowy River. I was nearly lying on her back due to the steepness! Upon reaching the bottom we found it to be quite rocky under all those leaves. Soccer ball-sized stones. Tricky, tricky footing. I gave her her head and let her work her way back up the slope a little further down. She stumbled a moment into the side of the hill; I took this moment to step off and let her take the last three or four tricky steps on her own.
  • At the very end of the ride we had yet another short, steep incline to reach the point of crossing on the river. She took this slower, and more precisely than the former hill. This resulted in my saddle slipping forward onto her neck and putting me immediately in a very tricky position. I didn’t know HOW to get off safely without spooking Q or hurting one of us. It was NOT a good place for this to happen! Apparently, Q’s back leg was also caught up in a stick (per the account of a friend behind me). She’d lifted the leg high, high, high to get it over the stick. She didn’t spook over that sensation coupled with me + saddle on her neck. She situated her feet, got stable, and then turned uphill into a safer position so I could dismount and fix everything. GOOD GIRL, Q!!!!!
  • Finally, at the river crossing our biggest yet, she was a super star. She let me guide her to the least-deep section that still came up to her belly. I had to take my feet out of the stirrups to avoid wet boots! The bottom was cobbled river stone and a likely a little slick in places. She picked her way carefully and I giggled the whole time. It was just a too cool ending to the day.
  • And then, all through the night she stood stoically tied to the trailer like a champ. Even with a small crowd of rowdy drunks and a campfire being ~20 feet from her location, she was unbothered and relaxed. Such a good girl!!
You can see where her belly and chest are wet from the deeper water!

A great end ride to the season. We had a blast. I’m so happy with my little horse and grateful that she stumbled into my life when she did.

West Virginia Autumn

The cold bites my skin as I step outside. I smile a little, welcoming my old friend Jack Frost. I watch my breath in the crisp air as I make my way to my car.

The engine roars to life at the turn of the key, cold and resentful of the temperature. The frost on the windshield glistens slightly as the lights from the house play across its surface.

I retrieve the ice scraper from the back seat and make quick work of the windshield and mirrors.

: : : : :

A few miles down the road, the engine now warm and purring, I wind up the mountain. The fog is already rising, not content to linger for all hours of the morning as it did through the summer months.

The sky is turning from shades of blue and purple to hues of red and pink. The trees are exhibiting peak color, their oranges and yellows contrasting the changing colors in the sky.

As I wind along the two-lane highway, the trees and leaves form a golden tunnel obscuring the sky. It is growing steadily lighter as I climb higher. The sun must be nearly topping the mountains that are hiding it.

As the road reaches the top, the tunnel of trees thins and the sky opens up above. A light, clear blue with patches of bright pink and orange toward the horizon of the rising sun greets me. The big ball of light has nearly broken free of the mountain that is still concealing it.

The road dips down into the trees again for a mile or two. I gun it forward, increasing speed so that I can catch those first rays of sun a few moments sooner. The trees begin to thin again as the road rises in elevation. Suddenly everything around me is alive with color.


The rays of sun have broken over the mountain top. They kiss the autumn leaves ‘good morning’. The hills light up with color. The mist even catches the light as it twists and spirals out of the hollers. The sun has awoken the mountains. I smile, thankful for the beauty of nature that surrounds me.

Almost heaven, West Virginia. 

Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness; copyright Liz Stout 2011

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WW: Going to dinner in style!

**Disclaimer: The horse was in no way harmed. You can see that he is only confused and not in pain from anything we are doing. We only rode like this for ~200 feet. Silly, yes. No helmets was a risk, yes. But for ~200 feet with people all around us walking beside on the way there that were all horse savvy, a risk we were willing to take.

Monday, October 22, 2012


  • My weekend was too brief, but wonderful.
  • Q and I could totally be The Man from Snowy Mountain doubles if we had to - we conquered some steep sliding hills and she excelled.
  • She is also great at fording rivers that reach her belly.
  • School is slowly eating me alive - I have no time any more.
  • Work is also ramping up just to make my life even more interesting in the time management department.
  • The new kitten needs to stop climbing me because its annoying and it hurts.
  • The new kitten - Cheat - is over half-way to being completely potty - yes, the human toilet - trained.
  • Kenai has THE WORST dog breath in the world. What can I do!?
** edited added bullets **
  • Yoga is being reintroduced into my life (finally). Shoulder be damned.
  • My Halloween costume is nearly done and completely kickass. Pictures will come after the weekend.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jumping fun

All photos by Dominique Heinke

A fellow redhead photographer friend accompanied me to the barn to photograph the barn, horses, Kenai, and Q and I jumping. It was a lot of fun. Its really helpful to see photos of myself and Q jumping as I never get to critique my form otherwise! Riding alone definitely has a lot of downsides.

So questions for all you jump-savvy folks! I know I should have more of a "release" - or so the pictures seem to say, but what do you do when your horse rushes the jump and CHARGES off after it? Because that's Miss Q, rush the jump, charge away upon landing. It doesn't help that her friends are around - she loves her jumping job, but she's very friend motivated when we're right around the barnyard, which is the only available place I have to jump (surrounded on 3 sides by her friends).

Q refusing the jump due to Kenai being a douche; my saddle sliding off her side due to loose
girth from first day with Woolback....

The clouds!! And Q thinking the jump is a monster

Prepping to mount after fixing the loose saddle

I've fixed my chicken wings a bit at least...

So I had this goal to make a goofy face while Q was jumping...

Ground work to get her focused; she ran to her boyfriend along the fence while I was moving a jump
She quickly figured out that standing near him at the fence meant she had to do even more work

Release a little more?? Sit up straighter??

Her throatlatch is soooo thick...all the better to breathe with?


My favorite

Cantering away post jump - I mean, charging to the fence to be with her boyfriend...

Training suggestions? Posture/form suggestions?

Thanks y'all. =)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WW: The Barn

(Building behind colt is not the barn)

The barn builder (he has built this barn all by himself)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rail trailin' with cyclists

Its our life for the next few months! One, its not as muddy as the woods will become as winter wet sinks in; two, we have fun friends to bike with, three, hunters won't get us out here. Hunting is big big big around these parts (yes, I just said "these parts"). Our schools get the entire week of Thanksgiving off for hunting. West Virginia loves venison!

Despite having a god-awful 3-day headache, I managed to subdue it for a few hours Sunday to get in a ride.

It was a really fun time and our first official jaunt with the Woolback pad. Loved it! I think Q approved, too. She was a bit preoccupied by our cyclist extraordinaire partner, especially when he'd stand up and boogie away. She'd give me an ear flick to say, What is this strange creature DOING?! You don't expect me to do that, too, do you? No, Q, just keep trotting. The funniest point, by far, was when we reach the turn around mile marker and our cyclist took off at high speed, oblivious of the fact that it was time to go home. Q flicker he ears at him, at me, and back at him and then, as we reached the mile marker, skidded to a halt with nary a request from my end. To hell with that nonsense. Its time to go HOME. I laughed at her and gave a turn-around cue to speedy.

I didn't have my Endomondo app running for this ride as I wasn't really concerned with our speed and I knew what the distance was, but I wish I'd had it running for one little part where I turned Q loose and unfurled her sails to see how fast she could boogie. I'm not even sure she maxed out, but DAMN was it fast! Nate said he was probably going ~25 mph or so and we blew past him like he was standing still. Go Q!

More surprising to me? The rate at which that little horse slowed to a halt. I think with a little bit of training I could have her marking some 11's in the dirt!

--Oh, and briefly, very briefly: I got to visit a meat processor post-ride and see cows killed/processed. As a meat eater I jumped at the opportunity to see how my local meat is prepared. I have to say I was very, very impressed with how humanely the process was carried out. The animals walked in without any signs of stress. I think the worst part about slaughter is the stress I've heard cows and other animals having to experience, this place really does it right though. The one cow from our farm (where Q and Griffin stay) started to exhibit nervous behaviors so they didn't force him to enter the facility but instead put him down where he stood so he didn't have to stress. I was very impressed. No tasers, no prodding. Big thumbs up to our local guys.

: : : : :

Griffin is doing well. I've decided I'm going to train him in liberty work a lot this winter. Four of us ladies will have our horses in the same place this winter. We're planning on teaching our horses and ourselves bridleless riding per Stacy Westfall, soft feel and numerous other subtle techniques per Buck Brannaman that we learned from watching his clinic (stellar, by the way!), liberty training per whatever I decide to buy, and then maybe some Aussie stuff from Guy McLean or that other gentleman whose name is escaping me currently. Big plans!

Everyone feeds horses apples like this, right?

Griffin was very gentle for the record ;-)

: : : : :

In non-horse news, I have a new kitten. My dad rescued him, and he has become mine by some odd turn of events it seems... Little guy refuses to leave my room despite the door being open. I've decided I'm going to make an attempt to teach him to use the toilet. What is funnier/cooler than a cat that uses the john? Additionally, it is becoming very evident that I am not allowed to own animals that don't have a blaze and predominantly white legs...all four of my animals do. I'm a fan.