Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No Frills: Reflections and Lessons

A few days have passed and the events that happened Saturday randomly pop up in my mind. I can't push aside the reality of what a huge bullet we dodged...so lucky nothing else was hurt. Such a freak accident!

A part of me wants to go back and hike that trail to the injury spot and see what caused it. I may rope a friend into doing this with  me - but I don't know when.

Thoughts keep racing through my mind though. I randomly get emotional and want to cry about everything that happened, but then I realize how silly that is because everything is okay. My horse is sound and healthy and healing. Yet I worry something more will happen and she won't heal correctly and all will be lost. But that thought is silly. I need to focus on the positive, on how lucky we are to still have time to ride and compete later in the season; three months is only a small blip in the big picture of things. But I get upset about my plans for the summer and how they're now abolished - whiting out "ride", "train train train", and "Old Dominion" in my day planner Monday morning really sucked. But I have so much time to do other things like climb. But then when people ask if I'm free and I hesitate because I was supposed to be training, but now I'm not going to be.

Doors closing. Doors opening. C'est la vie.

We're gonna make the most of this and things are going to be okay. Right now its all a little raw still. But all the same, there were some important lessons learned about things that worked and didn't work during this ordeal. These are important to note now so I can learn and move forward.

What worked:
  • I was lucky to have my NSP training to lend support during the accident. Looking back now I realize I went into "patroller mode" and for the large part removed myself from the situation and looked at it all objectively on the trail. I knew what had to happen and I made sure it all happened. My emotions invaded more once we were back at ridecamp and at the hospital, but only fleetingly; I had to do what was best for "the patient" and that overrided most of my personal worry and fear. Sunday was hard though, because all of the subdued emotion from Saturday really sank in.
  • Carrying the amount of first aid supplies with me that I do isn't silly. I was SO happy to have what I had in this situation. Without it I would have felt a little lost and probably would have been more scared about the goings-on. 
  • I'm in shape and fit to walk the distance to get her out without riding it all. That I had to walk 4-miles was no big deal to me at all. Slow going, but definitely do-able. In fact, I noted the time and distance I had to go, looked at the clock and realized that even if I had to hike the whole damn thing I could still probably get there by the time limit for pulse down. I'm a hiker on a mission when I need to be - especially when unburdened by a pack.
  • My first aid skills flew into action quickly. I got that wound flushed out within 60 seconds of it happening. I recognized enough of the anatomy of what was going on to know it wasn't life threatening right then. We could walk out without her dying. My first aid management of the situation couldn't have been any better with what I was presented with.
  • Erring on the side of caution and going to Leesburg. Fast action got us there and got this resolved by experts. If I hadn't gone we likely wouldn't have known about the ligament. 
  • My Mountain Khakis Granite Creek shirt shed the blood that spurted on it like nothing. No blood stains on my clothes was a plus. My hands were COVERED.
  • Endomondo. This GPS program for phones is awesome. It told me pretty well where I was and how far I had to go. Coupled with rider's accounts of the trail as they passed me this was so helpful in knowing how far I had to go.
What didn't work:
  • My boots. I've had these lace-up Justins forever. They're falling apart and I definitely need new boots. I definitely need to get some Terrains or something similar. I know some folks ride in running shoes, but when I was navigating the rockiest sections of this trail I had difficulty and was happy for the bit of ankle support provided. Walking down that steep hill I still nearly twisted my ankle a million times. Those Justins though...not as bad as the cowboy boot episode in the Smokies last summer, but it would have been if I'd had to hike further! Must get comfortable hiking/riding boots.  
  • Water. I could have used more. I need to always ride with a small Camelbak in addition to the bottles on my saddle pack....of which one is mysteriously gone. Sigh.
  • Bandages. I couldn't get anything to stay on that area. I need to hypothesize more ideas for bandage stuff to carry that would adhere to such a tricky area. Duct tape? :-\
  • Quick-clot. I MUST start carrying some of that powder that helps stop bleeding. It could seriously be a life-saver in a situation like that if I'm so far out and away from help.
Lots more positives than negatives. I've definitely learned a lot from the situation. The practice of sitting down to type out these lessons has helped to both calm me and help me realize that I couldn't have done a much better job to manage things. I'm proud of how I handled the situation. From a first responder stand-point the timeline is pretty awesome. Got the patient out and advanced to higher care within an hour and a half of it happening. From the first level of higher care I was advanced to the highest care within 5½ hours of the incident. Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.

Here's to learning, healing, and moving forward.

May 19, 2012; our second ride and second day knowing one another

Monday, April 29, 2013

No Frills 30

Oh how I thought I would be writing a story so different from the one I'm about to tell. I've spent most of today recovering physically and mentally from yesterday's events. It was such a high-stress time that I didn't have much time to really sit around and let it sink in until now. I've slept 13 hours since finally getting home shortly after midnight last night. I've tended the mare twice, and now I sit here ready - I think - to tell this story.

: : : : :

Friday dawned early. I was to the barn by 7a to have Q ready for Jen's arrival between 7:30a-8a. I pulled her out of the field with little issue after the previous day's baby hormones. She was mostly back to herself it seemed. I gave her a flake of hay to encourage that good behavior and brushed her awhile as we waited on Jen.

A couple minutes before 8a Jen pulled in the drive. I could hear banging coming from the trailer and see it rocking behind her truck as she pulled up to the barn. She wasn't kidding, I thought, Eagle really does hate being on that damn trailer alone. We loaded up my water, hay, and saddle then moved to get Q loaded. She trotted around me like a little mad woman as I walked her to the rocking, banging, neighing trailer. Jen opened the window to grab her lead and tie it when she got on, and I sent her on. She self-loaded beautifully. I was so proud of her. Eagle immediately ceased all of his antics with his new lady friend aboard.

Jen showed me how her husband had built bunks in her small living quarters and she had plenty of room for all of my stuff + Kenai. We quickly took all of my things in my car and moved them to her truck/trailer and were on the road by 8:15a. Not too shabby.

We pulled into ridecamp right around 11a after only stopping one time along the way. Camp was small. Tight quarters. Designated parking places. Limited space for corrals. We were able to get camp set up pretty quickly though. We checked in after we'd settled camp and then sat around talking and snacking as we awaited the 3p vet-in. Q and Eagle fell in love pretty quick as they munched away on their alfalfa flakes. Jen ended up taking a nap and I sat reading and sunning myself. The weather was beautiful.

Q vetted in at 3a with all A's and a pulse rate of 52. She trotted out very nicely for me and didn't run the vet over. I was really proud of how well behaved she was for the entire check. Such a good girl.

: : : : :

Jen and I saddled up Eagle and Q and headed out with another rider to get in a few miles and see how the horses felt. We rode this whole time on gravel roads. I discovered that Q finds gravel roads very boring. The other two horses have really big trots. While Q absolutely can trot like that, too, she definitely prefers to just canter. It made me chuckle a bit. We did have a few stretches where everyone cantered, too. Q's inner competitive spirit came out as she surged past both of the other horses we were with. Each of us was laughing at her. She thinks she's such a hotshot sometimes.

About halfway through our ride, Jen really became concerned with Eagle. He was a little off on his left hind and she couldn't figure out why. She rides him barefoot, but puts shoes on him for really rocky rides like No Frills. She wondered if he was just mad about the shoes. He gets really angry anytime his tack is changed at all. He's been the hardest horse she's ever had to train out of hundreds she's started over the years for herself and others. He's a superstar though, so working through his difficulties has been worth it.

She had a vet look at him when we got back to camp and decided she wasn't going to run him the next day. He wasn't breaking over right on that left hind when he moved out at a walk. It wasn't noticeable until he walked downhill. The vet thought he might have felt a little heat in the fetlock, but it was so hard to tell. It was determined to likely be a minor sprain. He's set to run the 100 at the Biltmore FEI ride this weekend upcoming, so pulling him out of the running for the 30 was the safest bet.

The ride dinner and meeting went without issue and Jen and I were in the bunks for bed by 8p. The night was a little cold, but I slept fairly well despite it.

: : : : :

Saturday dawned earlier than I'd hoped. Jen and I were up around 5:30a. I putzed around for awhile not wanting to get out of bed and confront the cold. She assured me it wasn't too bad outside. I mustered up the
strength and got out of bed and headed to confront the day.

The 50s were set to start at 7a and the 30s at 9a. Talk about luxury distance! I gave Q her grain concoction and went up with Kenai to get myself a muffin from ride management. I went back to our camp to get my phone and then took Kenai on a walk for awhile away from camp so he could be off leash (he basically won't poop on leash). I nommed my muffin, drank some juice, and perused the internet with my phone while he explored for awhile and did his business. We went back to camp in time for me to tie him at our camp and go watch the 50 milers head out.

Jen left with the volunteers to go to the away vet check for the day right after the 50s left and I mosied back down to our camp to lazily get dressed and ready for my start. I rearranged and removed some of what I usually carry in my saddle bag to make it a little lighter, booted Q up, then tacked her up. She was a little antsy, not wanting to stand still, but no other antics as we awaited the start. I was really pleased with her.

Ride time reached 9a and the trails were opened. The front runners headed out and I ended up leaving with a small group of riders after that. I knew we were far from leaving camp last, but those leaving later weren't even mounted and I didn't much want to wait around, so off we went.

We had an easy trot up the gravel road to the top of the mountain where we veered left into the woods along the ridgeline. There were so many downed trees along the first mile of this trail. Q and I were having an absolute BLAST jumping them. I wish we hadn't been in a group of riders so I could have let her just tackle them all out. It was so much fun. Those jumps really pepped her up and got her into a great mindset for traveling along.

The ridgeline single track popped out at a firetower where we then followed along a FS road for awhile until turning back into the woods about a mile down the ridgeline. We were riding right along the WV-VA line. The vistas to our left were of VA and to our right were of WV. Not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze, and temps in the upper 60s. It was stunning. I was beyond happy and Q was moving out incredibly well.

The Virginia side; not the redbuds
in bloom at the valley-bottom
We crossed Rt. 55 and continued in the woods along the Tuscarora Trail that followed the stateline high up on a ridgeline. So. Flipping. Beautiful. Rocky, sure, but nothing too crazy. All typical for this part of the country.

Q was moving out beautifully. We had partnered up with another rider and her little Arab filly who was doing her first ride. Q and the filly made a great team. Both the other rider and I were snapping tons of photos as we trotted along. The pace was probably around 6-6½ mph. pretty quick but so much fun. There really weren't a lot of up and downs, just ridgeline riding with rocks to navigate.

We'd reached the rockiest section of the trail yet around 6 miles out. We'd slowed to a walk to let the horses navigate the terrain better. A rock lodged in the trail ahead like a step down looked like it would be pretty tricky to navigate. The filly in front of us put both her front feet on it and slid down. It looked rough and I hoped Q would do a better job of navigating it. I checked her speed to an even slower walk before she got to the rock. She got her front feet down it just fine, but then she got confused (I think?) with her hind feet. She lurched to the left as she took a misstep with the hinds and then as she walked away from it she was off in the back end.

I looked down to see blood on her left hind stocking. Fuck.

I got off and found a sizeable cut on the medial aspect of her left stifle. I grabbed a water bottle from my pack and flushed the wound within 60 seconds of it happening. I could see the fascia of muscle, but nothing crazy beyond that. A vein had been sliced, but it was small. Blood spurted from it all the same. I noted that the cut had missed a larger vein by less than a half inch and thanked my good fortune that it hadn't cut up there.

I told the lady on the filly that I was done and for her to head on. I pulled Q to the side of the trail, cursing myself for taking out the cravat I'd had in my saddle pack that morning. I zipped it open to find I did have a medical sponge/scrub, and an ace bandage. I tied Q to a tree alongside the trail and proceeded to try to wrap the cut.

Riders kept coming by and gasping at the amount of blood. It looked a lot worse than it really was because of her white stocking now being red. I was concerned, but not very worried. My medical training with ski patrol has taught me a lot about wounds and I was confident this was not a life threatening one - but it would be tricky to get it to clot because I couldn't get a bandage to wrap on the area.

Riders kept riding by, freaking out, asking if there was anything they could do, giving me vet wrap, asking my
The bandages a day later. These really emphasize the amount of blood.
number to report to management, etc. etc. Great folks. Big thanks to all who stopped to check on me and special thanks to the lady who held Q still for a bit while I tried to wrap the wound.

I realized after a few attempts that nothing was going to stay on the laceration because of its location. I opted to just start walking and get her to the vet check. We were 4 miles away. I flushed the wound once more and then started hiking.

She was sound on the leg and with time the bleeding slowed. The blood coagulated as it clotted around the wound and the vein. Q didn't seem to understand why we'd stopped, why I was walking, and why she couldn't keep going like she had been. She was completely unperturbed by the riders that passed and kept going. Walking up a few little hills along the ridgeline she tried to run me over so I finally opted to hop back up and ride for a bit.

I hopped back off a few minutes later, checked and flushed the wound again, and continued hiking. With time we reached the end of the ridgeline and headed down a super steep, rocky hill. Q was polite and respected my space as I scrambled down it not nearly as gracefully as she did. I even fell at one point, doing a front somersault and Q just stopped and looked down at me with a Well, that was graceful, Liz, now what exactly are you doing on the ground? look.

The steep ended at a gravel road about a mile out from the vet-check. Q's wound had stopped bleeding at this point. I hopped on Q and rode her up the road, wanting to get to the vet-check by the 11a cut off just in case the wound proved to be superficial and something we could continue with. (I really doubted it, but us reaching the vet-check by 11a was definitely feasible.) Our in time was 10:57a.

The in-timers were astonished by the blood down Q's leg. Even more than that though, they seemed surprised at my lack of great concern for it. I explained my ski patrol training to them, explained what the wound had appeared as, and told them why I wasn't super freaked. They just sort of nodded at me and I continued down to get Q's pulse. She was a little high, so I headed up to get her sponged off and find Jen to get her opinion.

Jen waved and came right over when she saw me. She agreed that as long as Q was sound that it certainly looked like a superficial wound that I could continue with (she's been around the block and then some with rides and I definitely trust her judgement). We sponged Q and she came down really quickly to 60 bpm. As Jen and I walked her down the hill we noted that she was a little off on that left hind. I wasn't too surprised and was happy that she was finally being honest about how it hurt instead of being superpony and pushing through. I called forward to the vets as we approached that I was done and we were going to need a ride back to camp to the treatment vet to get the wound looked at and stitched up. Her vet-out was Ds on impulsion, gait, and wounds, As on everything else.

With 10 miles, our attempt at the No Frills 30 was thwarted. It was starting to sink in that I wouldn't get to continue riding those beautiful trails that day and I was really sad about it. It was just so pretty! I had really been loving every second of our ride. I was really, really sad I wouldn't get to spend the rest of the day out there. Beyond my sadness though I was so thankful that she wasn't more seriously injured. That we would be able to get stitches, have a week or two off, and then plug away and be back at it for the Old Dominion in June.

I led Q back up to the area of the check that had food to get her something to eat before we headed back to ridecamp on the trailer. A volunteer got her some carrots (the biggest EVER) and some grain. She dug right in and I sat beside her while she ate, sipping on a bottle of water. I could hear other volunteers talking about "the rider with the cut horse" nearby. I guess they didn't notice how close I was. They were talking about how bad the horse looked but how awesome it was that the rider was a ski patroller and knew that the horse would be okay; they had a few other really nice things to say. Sometimes its nice to hear people say things like that. I was still sad at this point, but happy that others respected my decision-making skills.

: : : : :

Back at ridecamp, I dumped my stuff in a heap, unloaded Q, and headed over to the treatment vet. She had to finish checking on a horse from the 50 that had tied up (he ended up recovering and was okay) before she could assess Q. When she finished we moved Q to the shade, sedated her, and the vet set to inspecting the wound. She probed it and found that it the incision extended toward the ground under the skin about 1¼ inch. She was concerned that the joint might be compromised. It was hard to tell without radiographs and ultrasound if the joint had been compromised. If it had been affected, she would need to have surgery to have it levaged in order to minimize the chance of the joint losing functional capabilities.

Visible injury with dotted line
depicting the extent of the wound
What seemed like such a relatively minor injury just got really complicated.

The treatment vet noted that she could definitely stitch or staple it up, but she had to let me know about the risk of this. She offered to refer me to the equine hospital in Leesburg. I had her call the vet there and I talked to her, got price estimates for what could happen. Part of me wanted to go home to our normal vet, but she was out riding and didn't have cell service so I couldn't get ahold of her to get her opinion. I had the volunteers radio to the vet-check to get Jen to come back to ridecamp.

Waiting on Jen, I talked more with the vet about what could be happening and had her discuss my options again and again. I was really starting to get scared and was thankful I had on sunglasses to hide the tears that were forming. I really started to get scared that something serious was happening. Should I go to the vet hospital? Could I afford that? Was it worth it to potentially pump upwards of $6k into Q?

Jen arrived and assessed the situation. She called one of the other vets we both knew (the uncle to my normal vet, actually) and he noted that time was of the essence for these kinds of things. Jen told me that if this was Eagle she would definitely go to the hospital. "Okay," I said, "Then let's go."

The treatment vet called Leesburg to let them know we were coming. Jen and I packed up camp in record time. She put Eagle in the property owner's round pen. We loaded Q and headed out.

: : : : :

We were both so freaked the whole drive over. We tried to distract ourselves, but the looming question of how bad this actually was silenced our conversations frequently. I had messaged and called a multitude of friends letting them know what was happening, trying to get answers, and letting others know so they could send positive energy our way. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, all.)

With only one minor wrong turn ,we made it to the hospital. The team was awaiting our arrival and helped us unload Q and get her into the treatment room. I basically turned a very well-behaved Q over to their team and just watched answering their questions as they asked them. They ushered Jen and I out and prepped radiographs.

Jen and I wandered around the halls outside the room for what seemed like forever. She shared stories. I listened. We both danced around and contorted our bodies trying to figure out how in the hell Q hurt herself the way she did. We decided it must have been a stick or something similar.

I realized that whenever they called us back in I would find out news that could potentially change the rest of my life with this horse. It scared me to think about it that way, but the gravity of the moment wasn't lost on me.

And then they called us in.

In a British accent I heard the words, "Well, we didn't find anything wrong with the x-rays. The bones aren't compromised. The radiographs look really good."

RELIEF. Relief washed over me. They'd already shaved the area around the wound and were prepping it.

Sweet, sweet girl.
"So what's this mean?" I asked, "A week or two recovery and a month or so off?" "Yeah," he replied, "The wound extends a lot further than we thought, so probably a week on stall rest and 4-5 weeks until you put her back to work. *the doctor proceeds to insert his entire finger into Q's leg following the wound just under her skin and tracing it down her leg* I used my finger instead of the ultrasound to help save you money....*he makes an odd face as he's feeling something in her leg*...and it feels, hmm. *he mutters a few anatomy terms* Patellar ligament. She's got a knick on her patellar ligament, too."

"What's that mean?" I ask again. "Well, now we're looking at probably 2 weeks of stall rest and then 3 months off work to let that ligament heal completely," he tells me. Okay, I can handle that.  He continues, "So the way this wound is we're going to have to put a drain in. We're also not going to stitch the top closed because it will likely become very granular as it heals and would probably burst open in a few days anyway. The way it extends down her leg into this area *he points* we will need to put a drain in so that all the fluid can get out as its healing. The flap of skin hanging off of the upper part of the incision will likely die off." No surprises on that. Okay, sounds good.

Blue line shows where the injury extended
under the skin. The white is the drain.
Coagulated, dripping blood coming from
the point of exit.
The team inserted the drain (after the second doctor inserted her finger to feel the ligament that had been partially cut for learning purposes - in trying to find it she was fondling the top of Q's tibia...holy crap), prepped the leg up nice, and then left Jen and I with Q while they went to do paperwork. Jen's phone had been ringing off the hook with friends from home and from ridecamp calling to check up on Q. Between calls we discussed how lucky it was that nothing more had been affected by the cut and what the hell could have cut her that deep!? It almost had to have been a stick. And her ligament?! It cut her ligament!? How so very fortunate that nothing else happened!

Q woke up from the sedation, paperwork and instructions for care were given, and we loaded up (after a couple members of the team cooed over Kenai) and headed to get Eagle and go home.

: : : : :

We pulled into the barn around 10:30p. Fortunately for me (and Q) the foaling stall that had been set up for Calamity was never used (she had the foal in the round pen) and was prepped and ready for Q. I was able to put her in there, get all my stuff out of Jen's rig and into my car and be gone by 11p.

                                                                  SUCH A LONG DAY.

: : : : :

Sunday I went out to treat Q and give her bute once in the morning and once in the evening. D warned me that when she wen to check on her earlier this morning that Q tried to jump out of the stall when she opened the top of the door. I went down with this in mind and subdued her before any attempt at lift-off could be made. She. Was. WIRED.

I walked her around the barnyard for awhile letting her hand graze. I tied her outside and brought Griffin in
(since he was at the gate) to stand with her while I cleaned her stall. I decided to leave him in the barn in the round pen with her to help her not be so upset about being alone.

The swelling is localized around the wound, nothing crazy happening with the rest of the leg and she's walking sound on it. She's pissed she has to stay inside and doesn't really understand why. I did buy her a boombox though so she can have radio to listen to in addition to having Griffin in the barn with her. That little colt is worth his weight in gold.

When I went out tonight, Q was so much calmer than she'd been in the morning. I got both her and Griffin out, tied them, cleaned their areas, brushed them, cleaned Q's wound around the drain, buted her, fed them, put them back, turned the radio on and left.

This stall rest thing sucks, but I'm hoping we can get through it.
Time off riding/working and my whole summer season in the shitter sucks, but I'm so so so so thankful that she's not hurt worse. She's going to be okay. I'll be able to start working her late summer with the goal of trying the Fort Valley 30 at the end of October if things progress smoothly. She'll have two solid months off of riding and then in July I will start doing some light riding at the walk with a lot of bending and flexing exercises. Jen and I noted when she was on a hard level surface at the hospital that she's buck-kneed on her left front knee. Its not awful, but it is there. (This totally explains what I've been seeing in her hooves.) Jen noted that I need to be certain she's trotting both diagonals and cantering both leads because with time its likely she'll compensate for that leg with the opposite hind.  Gotta keep the little girl balanced!

I've recovered all day today and am finally able to wrap my mind around everything that's happened. It was intense yesterday. Really intense. I never in a million years thought I'd be going to the equine hospital. I'm just so so so very happy that fortune shined upon us and nothing super serious was wrong. I'm thankful for the expertise of the doctors at the hospital finding the ligament injury, too. If I'd proceeded with one of the other options I likely wouldn't have found out about the ligament and would have brought her back into work, too soon, potentially compromising the joint for life. What happened on the trail was a freak accident that could have happened to anyone. I'm just so thankful and fortunate that things weren't any worse than they were.

Love this sweet, sweet, honest little mare and I love that little colt who is taking his voluntary stall rest like a champ so far.

Watching the commotion Saturday morning

Friday, April 26, 2013

LQ? Gooseneck? Psh, no.

I don't need no stinking gooseneck/LQ trailer in my life [one day], I'll just get me a nice bumper pull horse trailer and build the following LQ for my truck: Photos from here: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/products/vardo/#ad-image-0

Look at the little lights!
And the shelf ledge and cute window!
With option for a heater or AC unit!

Seriously, how awesome is that? They even offer up the design plans!

Only problem? I'm not too hot with my carpentry skills.


Attention, attention: Now taking applications for man who likes me (duh), travel, doesn't mind horses, and has carpentry skills.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baby stealer

Actually, she's above baby stealing. She's baby SHARING. She's the mother flipping nurse mare. She and momma-horse are taking care of the little baby together. Q is the ONLY other horse allowed to touch, be near, and interact with the baby. They will sandwich the baby between them in the field and punish any other horse who dare near The Precious' space.

As a result, Q gets nearly as uppity as a true momma would when taken away from "her" baby. SIGH. That is not okay.

Q was a whole new kind of hot mess tonight when I got her out of the field. I just wanted to practice getting her on and off the trailer because she really freaked herself out when we were trying to go to Uwharrie.

She gets on and off my little trailer. NBD. Lots of room. D's trailer though? That's a whole new monster. Bigger step up. Slant load. Narrow entry. She HATES it. That, coupled with her bad memory, coupled with not being with "her" baby... Eeegads. She was a hot MESS.

She'd get on though. And she was okay being in the back slot (2-horse), but that front slot? NO sir. She would NOT get on. She'd get on, bump into the bar trying to go forward more than she could, and then back off quickly. And when she'd unload and back off from the second slot that she came to be "okay" with despite her nervous reactions, she'd ALWAYS back off waaayyy right - rubbing on the wall and everything. She ended up with two little superficial scrapes on her flank and one on her lip. Hot mess of oxytocin hormones. 

But the whole time she was quivering. And breathing hard. And wanted to back off as fast as possible as soon as she could. And has taken to pulling back and starting to rear up if I don't let her back up when she wants to. AGH. This must be remedied. This must be remedied soon.

And when I was trying to just walk around and lead her through the barnyard she was trotting circles around me. I'd tried lunging her, backing her, making her stand, but she just wanted to trot-trot-trot-trot. And so she trotted circles around me as I walked. It was slightly comical. She respected my space, but she just couldn't calm down enough to walk.

I was fortunately calm enough through all of this to be able to laugh at her a little. But eegads. NOT OKAY.

Here's hoping 30 miles will help calm her! (And that she gets loaded tomorrow morning without being a witch, hurting herself, or hurting Jen or I!)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Holy preparedness, Batman!

We're set to leave bright and freakin' early on Friday for the No Frills ride and I'm nowhere near ready. I've got my lists made and general idea of what I need etc. etc., but I'm not packed or anything. In many ways, this is due to the fact that I've camped several times already this year. I've got all my camping things figured out (most are always in my car), I know what meals I tend to always go to for food, and I know what my horse needs as far as all the basics go.

But its a real ride/race weekend! Shouldn't I be freaking out a little more? Prepping a little more intensely? Worrying about the amount of conditioning or lack thereof Q and I have put in pre-ride? Will all of these worries smite me the night before?

It's hard to say.

I've done what I was able with the weather and time available to me to get her conditioned. The gear we'll be using has been tested and proven. All four of those little hoofies have been trimmed. Renegades fit perfectly. A nice bale of alfalfa has been obtained. Additional hay, grain, minerals, probiotics, and e-lytes have been gathered. Buckets and tubs and containers for water have been obtained. My clothes have been thought out and packed. Kenai's crate (a lofty Newfie-sized crate!) is packed along with his accoutrements.

Will it be some crazy-fast ermahgerd go ride? Nope. Are we ready to complete within time soundly? Yep. Will it be really fun to gallivant through the GW-Jeff forest? Oh hell yes. Does the weather look awesome? Mmhmm, partly cloudy and in the lower 70s! Am I going to be traveling with and camping with one kickass endurance mentor? You betcha. (We're going with a FEI rider who has raced in Europe before ^.^)

It sounds as if the vet check/hold is away from basecamp and that they're providing us lunch/snacks there. Dunno how that'll bode for Q's food (??!!) but I'll be okay. It'll just be a day of encouraging Q pony to eat as much as possible on the trail just in case our stuff doesn't make it over to the check. With the slow pace I have planned, that shouldn't be a problem.

I think my plan for a slow pace that should be more than accomplishable is why I'm not freaking about this ride much. I know what a 4.5 mph pace is like. Its what my gallivanting in the woods lately has been like. I can definitely keep that kind of a pace and more. Its an easy and fun pace for Q. Knowing her attitude on rides with other horses though she'll probably step up her game. Knowing my horse. Knowing myself. Knowing the similarity of the terrain to our norm. These are reasons I'm calm.

I'm calm. Q's head has been screwed on pretty well lately. I think things look pretty promising! All I really want to do is get out and enjoy the GW-Jeff on horseback on a pretty spring day while finishing a 30 mile ride within the time limit on a happy, healthy horse. I think we should be able to accomplish that. =)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I talk a lot more about Q on here because her training is heavier and more frequent than most things I do with little man. But rest assured, he doesn't sit idle all the time. I think he wishes he were in work more often because as soon as he sees me enter the field he's usually trucking toward me. And when I walk Q to the barn he tags along. If Q and I jog the distance, he jogs, too. He is beyond eager and always wants to come out and play. Always.

I bring him in the barnyard while I do other things 3-4x/week. He has his feet done regularly and gets supplemental grain to the grass/hay in the field. I groom him. And I always eff around with him, making a point do do ridiculous things in his presence to gauge his response and make him realize very little in the world is out to get him. (Overall he handles this better than Q.) And I've promised him when he's in better shape this summer he can pony with us again - I don't want a repeat of the last time of misery. -_-

I'm content to let him really be a youngster the vast majority of the time right now - playing in the field with his friends, but I have started to try work him US 1x every two or three weeks. The sessions are short 20-30 minutes and preceded by groundwork. We've had two of these so far.

He's such a little star. Seriously. We've mostly been working on responding to pressure from the bridle/my legs. Lots of transitions from walk-stop, lots of turning, lots of backing. Kid stops like a champ. He's also far more responsive off leg pressure than anything. He's really a joy to work with (says the girl who's had minimal experience starting youngsters) compared to Pegasus a few summers ago.

Looking pretty sharp in Q's purple

The first ride (3 weeks ago now) we worked exclusively in the outdoor round pen. He focused in on the fact that that area means work and he was very forward and focused. I was pretty proud of how he handled everything.

Monday night was the second session. Groundwork first. A slow moving Griffin, focused on me and not other distractions. Good boy. I welcomed him to join me in the middle of the ring, checked the girth and hopped on up. Did I mention this horse stands like a freaking ROCK? 'Cause he does. I swear he must have been some kind of kickass horse in a previous life.

We walked and reversed and circled and figure eighted and stopped and goed and stopped and goed. I was in my t-shirt but as the sun drifted down toward the horizon bit by bit I decided I wanted my jacket. It had been hanging on the fence and Griffin had been trying to grab it and play with it each time we passed close enough to it. So I figured, well, why not, lets try to just grab it while mounted.

Ha. As if.

We walked up to it. We stopped. Praised. Then I grabbed it. It came off the fence. No reaction. But as I lifted it up more as if to put it on little-mister rock solid came unscrewed. The rapid increase of speed as he bolted away underneath me unbalanced me, so I grabbed the top rung of the fence as he scooted forward and used it to stabilize my effort to vault out of the saddle. He basically ran out from underneath me and left me standing, laughing at my stupidity and his impressive speed.

I dropped the jacket and used my body language to stop him and have him come to me. He did, his eyes wide and accusing. I grabbed the jacket again and he tore away before you could say "go". Well, damn, clearly I needed to approach this more aggressively as far as anticipating his actions. I grabbed a rope halter and lead that were nearby. He stopped and walked to me again. I put them on. And then we played the Liz-is-gonna-twirl-the-jacket-monster-and-make-absurd-noises-for-effect-and-you're-gonna-get-used-to-it game. Aaannnd in less than 3 minutes he didn't care again.

I put my jacket on and mounted back up. We walked, turned, reversed, stopped, goed. And then I flapped my jacket while wearing it. He tensed. His ears flipped back focusing on me. His step faltered, but he kept forward motion. Good boy! We did this a bit more until he was uncaring.

I dismounted. We walked out of the round pen and into the barnyard (another, larger fenced area). I mounted back up and we walked around out there for a bit. Walked over ground poles in addition to all the other activities we'd been pursuing. It was nice to have the bigger space. He really extended that walk of his. His walking horse genetics stand out in that walk. Only on a gaited horse have I felt the hind end moving like that, really striking forward underneath his body.

He's TW in his walk, but his trot definitely isn't that of a gaited horse. There ain't no gait. He popped into his little trot numerous times in our big circle of the barnyard. (And he transitioned quickly and easily back to the walk every time I asked - because kid doesn't get to trot much for awhile, no sir.) He was so peppy - but not in a ermahgerd-I-want-to-run-and-buck way. It was just this eager forwardness...especially when we got to the pole he'd been walking over. He wanted to do that again and again. I've never ridden a horse that tried to turn toward an obstacle like that.

I'm so pleased with the horse he's becoming. We'll continue to take it slow and I'm certain he'll be a superstar in years to come.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kickin' it

Had two more fair rides on Q pony over the weekend.

The wind was steady at ~21 mph and gusting ~34 mph Friday. Rain was forecasted for the whole day, but even after a lazy morning of pancake eating it hadn't begun. I decided to risk it and head out to try to slip in a ride torture the horse in the wind.

Pancakes with prickly pear syrup
(what up S. Cali?!)

Q can be jumpy as hell. She has spooked at: butterflies, chipmunks, twigs, cardinals, shadows, piles of snow, piles of earth, gravel, rocks, leaves, trees, buildings - to name a few. I decided that it would be a great exercise to get her out into the woods when the world was blowing around to see if she could handle the chaos.

She wasn't perfect, but she did do pretty well. She didn't know what to be upset about first. Trees blowing? Leaves blowing? Branches waving? Trees creaking? That rock on the ground? The whitecaps on the stream (yeah, seriously windy)? She was tense the whole ride. But she did move forward.

We only did a short 4 miles, but it was enough time for her to calm down. The whole ride was on the haul road, so that really helped to strengthen up those tootsies of hers more. She's 100% sound and free moving at a walk on it. At the trot/canter she doesn't gimp around by any means, but she doesn't move out so freely. She exerts a lot more caution. But she improves daily.


Upon return to the barn, I trimmed up her front hooves up. I tried to put her renegades on, but discovered, oh hey, those feet really need trimmed! I didn't realize quite how far I'd let her toes go until trying those boots on and discovering the poor fit. I was a little surprised and ashamed of myself for letting them get away from me. There was some flaring and her toes needed to be brought back.

I did all of the above, put her foot down and ogled at how much better it looked. I didn't think they'd been very bad before, but damn. THAT looked a lot better (shame be upon me for not taking pictures). Tried the boot on again and presto! perfect fit.

She was standing so nicely in the barn despite the roaring wind so I stopped after finishing her fronts and let her out, vowing to tackle the hinds Monday or Tuesday.

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Saturday morning I got out to the barn EARLY - like 7a. - and it was COLD. I was really second-guessing why the hell I wasn't still in my warm bed. I pulled Q from the field (Griffin tried to come, too, his urgings to do something are getting really desperate), brushed her, tacked her, cleaned hooves, booted her, and she, Kenai and I headed out on an exploratory mission.

With full leaf-out about 2 weeks off, its a brilliant time to explore and discover trails. The adjacent ridgeline and slope from where I ride has many trails criss-crossing it that I wanted to try to tackle. Every ridgeline I've ever been on in WV has a trail on it as well, and more than anything I really wanted to traverse the adjacent ridgeline.
Ominous skies above the haul road

The three of us wound our way along the haul road (despite Q's numerous attempts to turn home), up through the old hairy section (despite Q's continued attempts to head home), and finally came even with the ridgeline. I trucked Q off-trail and wove through the woods (where Q decided okay, now this is fun), keeping an eye on the topography to keep myself on track to meet the ridgeline.

We passed through the biggest patch of ramps I've yet to discover (*SCORE*) and then the ridge trail appeared. We followed it up and down and I was able to eye up a few other spur trails to explore later. Q was a superstar (again), weaving around crazy stumps and fallen trees, jumping and weaving at the same time, and taking delicate steps to maneuver tricky steeps. I called it quits and turned around when we reached one particularly steep downhill section; Q repeated all of her well-executed maneuvers.

I'd noticed one very well-kept trail downhill on the far side of the ridge from home. We popped down on it for a bit and I followed it long enough to discover that it linked up with another trail system I was familiar with. *SUPERSCORE* I've always loved that other trail system because its so well maintained, but its been such a bitch to get to before now. I was so psyched to find a quicker way to it. Hurrah for more trailage! Super successful exploratory mission - even if it did snow for most of the ride...on April 20.

Q was a pony with a mission on the way home. Both good and highly obnoxious. We clocked 8 something miles in 1h:40m. Not too shabby. Now for several days of rest before the No Frills 30.

Kenai was the best dog ever for the whole ride, too. He stuck right with us. Stayed visible throughout his side explorations. And he didn't chase any deer. I love my puppy. =) Who says huskies can't be off leash dogs?!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Killer little horse

Where "killer little horse" means this little horse kicks some major ass.

I had two absolutely stellar rides on Miss Q this weekend past. I decided to hack out onto our trails and see how bad they really are. Damage from Sandy is still present in so many areas and while the hunters have cleared some of it, clear for a 4-wheeler isn't necessarily clear for a horse. I got a helluva lot farther than I expected I would though!
My "crazy" mostly-Arabian horse. Standing calmly and idly awaiting me to
saddle her up. She's also sporting the new [used] bridle from Missy and Mare.

Instead of heading straight to the main logging road (a much more open area) I headed right uphill on one of the older logging roads turned 4-wheeler trail on our Saturday ride. Q was a fiery energy demon, but not in a manic way. I had to get off once to walk under a low lying tree and she tried to walk in front of me which is very unlike her. Once mounted again I let her tear up the hill a ways, ducking small limbs as we went. Right at the junction of two logging trails - my main one and a spur I've never explored - there was a sizable tree down on the main drag. It was positioned such that there was no [safe] way around it. I figured, well, what the hell, I'll explore the spur.

West Virginia was logged very extensively in the early 1900s. Most trails I ride that aren't int he Nat'l Forest are older logging roads. Most are narrowed down as the successional forest grows up on the edges, but some that were "main" roads for getting all the lumber out are still very established as they were cut wider originally. From my experience with these roads, the ones through the woods tend to contain a main trunk that leads directly to the old haul road and then many spurs off the main trunk that, more often than not, seem to dead end. Fortunately, many of these spurs behind our barn actually connect or were connected by hunters and game!

The spur we explored had a LOT of low branches. A LOT. However, there are huge perks to having a short horse and being a dynamic rider.

I spent much of my ride time that day ducking down and hanging off one side or the other of Q much as Native Americans would do to shoot from their horse while using the horse's body to protect their own.

Q was a super star.

I was so impressed with her forwardness, her thinking, and her willingness to bull-doze through brush and branches as I did acrobatics on her back to maneuver myself around the obstacles.

Saturday's ride

The spur eventually connected back to the main trunk trail I'd had to abandon before. Where we popped out there was a huge barrier of trees and limbs in the homeward direction and more in the away direction. However, the barrier in the away direction was very easy to maneuver around.

We continued along the main trunk without any more issues. It was nice and open. The more mature forest in this area didn't suffer from the heavy snow the way the successional forest had. I was even able to let Miss Zoomy Kahbloomy open it up and gallop a bit!

We branched away from the main trunk onto another spur I knew to connect to the old haul road. This spur had been in wretched shape until I cleared it last year. I was pleasantly surprised to find it in better shape than most everything around it. We trotted down to the haul road in short order and headed left, deeper into the forest and away from home.

The next section of trail was a total and complete mess last year. I spent a lot of time on it cutting side branches and saplings that were taking over the trail. That work definitely paid off. There was one really hairy section for about a half mile, but nothing I wasn't able to duck and dive under.

The trail turned into really well-maintained mature forest after this section. The hunters up there really got out and did a phenomenal job. I let Q tear off along the trail. She was in a right mood for speed. It was insane. I had so much horse under me. (Oooh the sexual innuendos...) But she was, for the most part, really using her brain that day to think about things and not freak out about random shit.

We flew up a steep, leveled off on the ridge, walked down the adjacent steep, and looped around back toward home. I ducked and dived back through the hairy section to the haul road and decided to take that back to the connecting trail to the barn.

The best view of the farm

There were several larger trees across the haul road. We were able to jump a few (YAY) and for others I showed Q how to walk up the steep uphill bank to navigate around them. She took it on her own to do that after I showed her once. I was literally laughing out loud when she just hucked herself up over and around the next two we had to do that for. Smart, silly mare.

Day's total mileage was 7 miles. Average pace was 4.2 as we walked most of the haul road home since the surface is intermittently rocky and Q did the whole ride barefoot! It was a very nice ~4 mph walk on a loose rein. Kenai appreciated our speed as it gave him more time to investigate smells. [Side story about Kenai: He did so, so well sticking with us on this ride. He had his remote collar on, but I only had to trigger it once beyond a beep. The beeping moments were few and far between, too. A short, sharp whistle would send him screeching to a halt, and calling his name brought him to us. He loved getting out. He didn't even chase the deer we flushed several times. He thought about it the first time. The next two instances he paused and looked over his shoulder to make eye contact with me to confirm that no, sadly he couldn't chase them. GOOD DOG!]

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The next day's ride was similar. Q was more antsy and less forward, but still thought critically about things and didn't spazz over anything silly.

I took my handsaw and struck out on the main haul road determined to hack down those trees as best I could. Until we get chainsaws out there (soon) the best I could do was cut the branches that keep the tree from sinking lower to the ground. The results of my work have provided me with about four 18" jumps along the 2.5 mile stretch of road.

We went through the hairy section of smaller road where I cleared out the more dangerous low limbs, and then I called it quits on cutting and had Q canter up the hill a ways.

We explored down and around on a trail I'd never ridden before. That section of the mountain is all mature hardwood forest. Thick canopy, very open understory. Its a joy to ride through.The trails suffered little damage from Sandy. With leaf out still a few weeks off, I plan to really explore this area as I can see for a long ways through the understory and through the canopy on the adjacent hillsides. The old roads stand out and appear to connect. I can't wait to explore.

Sunday's ride

I had Q do one major hill sprint, and then we walked the rest of the way home back on the haul road. The mileage was around 6.82 with an average speed of 3.6. This average speed includes all the stops I made and the time spent cutting. I didn't take the time to pause the GPS while I did this so there are many 0 mph minutes recorded.

Another great ride with Q though. So thrilled with her lately. Her forwardness on the trail coupled with chill attitude at the barn (although she seriously has baby-fever, she's always grazing as close as she can be through the fence to momma and foal and when she isn't able to be near them she watches them SO intently) make her a joy to work with. I think the race next week will go well (as long as she doesn't rush into heat from spending the haul over the mountains in the trailer with a very attractive gelding - more on that later).

Baby-fever evidence. Griffin could care less. Q? Q is obsessed with watching that damn foal.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Playing Catch-Up

Oh the catch-up game, I'm not a huge fan of it, but life gets busy sometimes all the time. I was away for work-related training all last week (So, so fun! I'll never look at a stream the same way again.) and I thought I'd have time to update in the evenings... But, yeah. We had a lot of homework to do. And then we had a lot of social science lab activities to attend to. And thus, things I wanted to write never came to be!

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Friday April 5, the vet came out to give Griffin his vaccines/Coggins and float Q's teeth. I was a little apprehensive for multiple reasons, but both horses soared through their exams. It was a relief for the vet, I think, to have two very easy, well-mannered patients.

I'd not vetted Griffin since owning him. He changed hands so frequently the 6 months before I got him that there was no need for me to do anything. He'd been castrated, vaccinated, wolf teeth pulled, wormed and had a fecal done for good measure. All had been done by the vet I use, so she is familiar with his history. I'm proud to say that for his shots and blood draw he barely moved. He was a very, very good boy about it all.

Q had seen the vet a month ago for her vaccines/Coggins/health cert/yearly exam - I wasn't there for it but they reported she was a very good girl. It was noted that that she should get her teeth floated - especially if I planned to compete this year.

The last horse I had floated - Orion - was an interesting experience. A different equine vet from my current one power floated him. Upon further inspection not quite a month later by an equine dentist, he still had a lot of issues. So then she floated him by hand. It was a huge difference immediately after. This led me to be a little skeptical about power floating. I'd actually planned to have Q's teeth done by the same dentist, but with some information regarding the questionable practice of this person within my state legally, I opted out.

I trust my current vet  a lot. I know that she is a very intelligent person and a very talented veterinarian. She evolves her methods with the most recent developments in the field. She goes the extra mile where many won't. Others I know that use her love her. Additionally, she's been a good friend and mentor to me for years now. As a result of all of this, I wasn't super concerned about Q's upcoming power float experience.

We had to give Q two doses of sedative pre-float. She's so damn attentive to everything all the time. D has told me that while all the other horses will be grazing in the field Q will often be looking off into the distance very attentively studying god-knows-what. I was very bemused watching her under sedation. She was still very alert to the power floater during the process, but beyond that she was drowsy as all get out. Very, very unlike my little mare. I sort of enjoyed it.

Q had no issues with the speculum. Its a newer model made from a very light-weight metal and the joints when opening the horses' mouth flare away from the face instead of toward it like older models. Overall, her teeth were in pretty good shape. She just has some sharp points forming in a few places that the vet was able to fix in quick order. I think the whole process took 5-8 minutes or so. It was really quick.

As the vet was walking me through the inspection of Q's incisors and explaining that they were in good shape, that most horses are, she asked me again how old Q was.

Me: Ten. The Coggins from cowboy man stated that she was 9 last year. So she'll be 10 this year.
Vet: There's  no way she's 10.
Me: Oh? * a little concerned she's way older and I'll have less time with her*
Vet: Nope. Look here *points at grooves and points on her incisors* see the dot there *somewhere near center of tooth*.
Me: Yeah?
Vet: Well (and now I'm paraphrasing because I can't remember precisely), you can see that on these teeth but its just forming on this one *points to outer-most incisors*. This one that is just forming crops up at around 7 years. Additionally, see the hook on this top incisor? That forms at 7 and 11 years. There's no way she's 11 so I have a very good feeling she's probably just turning 7 this year.

OH! Seven years is a BIG difference from ten years old! We've got so much more time to play now! I was absolutely giddy about this information. It means that her mystery-history isn't so long. Its reported that cowboy man trained her on and off the three years prior to me buying her. And before that she was just a baby growing up. So most of her solid experiences under saddle probably came from cowboy man. This connects a lot more of the dots for me. (I was absolutely giddy about this information for the next three days basically. My climbing friends weren't as enthralled judging from their reactions every time I tried to express my excitement the weekend following, haha.)

While Q's sedation wore off I took the time to soak her front hooves again. It was nice not having to worry about her freaking out over the bag this time. She did fairly well the first time, but it was so nice to be able to move around and not stand right with her the entire time. She basically slept through it this time. Warmed by the sun and a light breeze, she let her eyes droop closed (they'd been open prior, despite the sedative).

: : : : :

I think I briefly mentioned awhile back about having access to a trailer finally. I was uncertain about it then, but can share more now.

D's husband knew some folks selling their small 2-horse bumper pull trailer. They'd always pulled it with their 4-Runner - that's what I drive! Steve jumped on the opportunity and snatched the thing up. He told me to get a brake controller installed on my car and then confirmed that its purchase was so I could have a little more freedom!

Now, I know there is controversy about pulling a trailer with anything that isn't a huge truck, and I understand the concerns. My car is a 2001 model. It has a V6. Dad used to pull our boat/trailer with it prior to it becoming my car. It has had more maintenance in it's lifetime with our family than most cars other people own over 20+ years. Its in incredible shape. I'm complimented on that all the time. I inquired with many, many (redundant, yes, but must be stated for emphasis) folks with vehicles large and small who have pulled trailers (from horses to heavy equipment) for years. Of those with the most experience hauling, they said I would be more than okay for what I plan on doing and probably far more as long as I'm not gunning around like a maniac.

I will primarily be using the trailer to bop back and forth within the valley to go to our new covered 250' x 150' arena, meeting friends without trailers nearby to trail ride, and to access some nearby Forest Service trails. For those activities there are virtually zero hills involved between point A and B. Additionally, I won't be gunning it because I don't want to toss my animal around like a chunk of meat. And while the capacity of the trailer is 2 horses, I doubt I will ever pull more than one.

My first "lesson" at driving a horse trailer (opposed to a boat) occurred Friday evening when I returned from training. Steve and I hooked up (no horses) and headed out. He explained the technical details and safety details to me. He drove my car for awhile, too, because I didn't feel I was answering his questions about how things were going well enough. He was very, very impressed with how my car handled. He said the empty trailer wasn't challenging it at all. He noted that this could/would certainly change with an animal aboard, but in its empty state it was fine. He was very impressed with how it pulled. His biggest piece of advice that he emphasized multiple times was that I must be more attentive about my speed when I haul. He noted how easy it is to get distracted or forget that you're hauling. He emphasized the brake controller and its function. It makes such a huge difference.

He's going to get a jack and lug wrench to put in the trailer, and it could probably use more WD-40 just to make it easier for me. But other than that, we're good to go! We hope to do another dry run this week and then probably a run with a horse, too. I've got lots of work to do practicing my backing up skill, but fortunately two of the three places I will be taking it don't require any backing up at all, and the third isn't absolutely horrid, I just want to be a boss before going. I'm super psyched to be able to go to the arena though. That's the only thing I don't have access to at the barn.

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Final tidbit of information for this catch-up post, I'm officially entered into the No Frills ride. Its in a little under 2 weeks! I'm formulating preparatory lists now for food supplies, camping supplies, and horse supplies. I'm going to purchase an electric corral next week. Q seems pretty strong and I think my goal of finishing as the turtle is more than obtainable! But more on Q and her training in another post....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

First foal of the season!

I've had the pleasure of playing with this beautiful little girl at the barn this weekend. She was born early morning April 10. She's a Gypsy Vanner sporthorse, and she is for sale. If anyone would like more details on her/is interested in buying her let me know! We're working up a dreamhorse ad for her soon.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Vertical escape

After a nearly two year hiatus, I think I'm back.

This weekend was a blast. Seeing friends I haven't seen forever coupled with climbing? Phenomenal. I love the New River Gorge.

Kenai and I headed down Friday afternoon, snagged an easy evening around the campfire with friends, and caught up with those I haven't seen in a year +.  The night was cool, but with the promise of increasingly warmer days to follow - the first true spring-like weekend - it was a bearable evening.

The morning began slowly. Re-stoking of the fire, lackadaisical breakfast conversations, planning the day's climbs, the forming of sub-groups. All of this a part of an unspoken process to await the warming of the temperatures and thus the crag - because pulling cold rock just isn't as nice with the promise of sun and warmth.

I headed out with two of my friends I hadn't seen in ages plus another of their friends who quickly became a friend of  mine. We headed to the Meadow. I balled up and drove my car across what appeared to be an extremely sketchy old railroad bridge during the approach. The engineer in the car insisted that if we got out and walked it that I would be more than impressed with its stability. I chose to trust him - because he's never been wrong - despite the fact that stray rocks climbers had carried onto the bridge replaced areas where the ties had decomposed and fell away into the 30-foot streambed.

We arrived at the crag a few minutes after the terrifying bridge - which really wasn't so bad - and hike the 200 or so yards to our first climb. A warm up for all. A 5.10a, Rosetta Stone. Jeremy cruised up it. And then they deemed it my turn.

I haven't climbed since J-Tree. I haven't climbed steadily since junior year of college. The climb was
challenging in areas, but I managed it without any hangs. According to the guys, I "walked up it". I was proud of myself.

Tom and Joe cruised up it as well for their warm up and then we all moved down the wall to the 12a they all planned to project that day, Low Brow.

Tom set up his hammock where I planted myself for the majority of our time at that climb. Kenai proved to be a superior crag dog and went off away from us and dug out a nook in the dirt to settle himself for a few hours. Good boy.

I watched, encouraged, and heckled as the guys projected and eventually sent Low Brow. After Joe had sent it he and I waltzed around the corner so he could put up another 10a for me to climb. (I haven't lead since my second year climbing due to bad experiences with idiots; I hope with steady conditioning to begin leading again this summer.)

This 10a - Hope Pathology - was crimpy as HELL. I didn't have too hard a time with it except for the crux where I got myself into a pickle placing both my hands and my feet opposite of where they needed to be. I was unable to correct it and had to fall/hang to correct myself and shake out. I made a solid go and send after that brief break. I was still satisfied with my progress though considering I've done so little in the past few years.

Joe and a fourth member, Pascal, cleaned up that climb and I headed back over to see what Jeremy and Tom were up to on Low Brow. I watched Tom take a few more burns on it  before the guys decided to move from Low Brow down two climbs to a 12b - Macauley's Irish Stout.

As three of them began to work the 12b, Jeremy put up a 9 beside it for me to climb.

Enter: Liz's nervous frame of mind.

The start of the climb involved a traverse, that if you fell, would send you on a pendulum swing with a good chance of bashing your head into a block on the wall. I took one swing and was fine. Jeremy lowered me to the ground from where I stopped swinging though, forcing me to begin again.

I was 3x more nervous on this second go. My muscles were fatigued and while certainly, my mind was capable of telling my body how to glide through the movements ingrained from former years of climbing experience, I feared my body was too tired to complete the moves.

My forearms were beginning to go. I glanced nervously at Jeremy multiple times, my eyes begging him to tell me it was okay and he'd just lower me. I was too stubborn to quit outright, knowing deep down that I was capable of this, but uncertain I could overcome my fear of letting go and swinging into that block.

Jeremy had nothing but kind encouragement for me. Fueled by his unwavering encouragement and my stubbornness, I made it past those first two bolts of scary climbing. Complete with a near full split as I spanned the two foot holds that took me from scary point of pendulum swinging to point of safety and a no-hands rest. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I made it to that point and stood for a few moments getting my head into a better place.

The rest of the climb went without consequence. A straight-forward lay-back crack to a series of jugs. An easy progression to the top. I was tired, but not overly pumped. I gave Jeremy a huge hug when I reached the ground - I'm really not sure I'd have pushed through without his encouragement.

: : : : :

That evening was another relatively chill one. I was a part of the small group that headed to Pies and Pints for pizza and brews. We shared some great conversation, recaps of our days, and suggestions for podcasts. We returned to camp, some awesome home-brews from a fellow climber, and a raging campfire complete with circle of all our friends and other campers who came over to join in the conversation. Czech Republic, Poland, and France were represented. I had a fun time listening to the accents and conversation that climbing provided to us.

: : : : :

Day two dawned early. I had a lot of driving ahead of me that day. NRG to home and home to Shepherdstown for a week of work-related training. I needed to get an early start to the crag if I wanted to get any climbing in that day. 

I managed to coax - without any arm twisting whatsoever - Jeremy into embarking to Kaymoor with me before the others vacated camp.

We arrived fairly early to a very packed Butcher's Branch of Kaymoor. Fortunately one of the 10s at the start - a 10b - was free and we hopped right on it.

I belayed Jeremy as he led it. His response upon finishing, "Its a little spicy in places." Ah, yes, I remember something like that the last time I climbed it. Ah well, I put on my shoes, tied my figure eight, followed it through and headed on up.

Right away I could tell my body was fatigued from the previous day's climbing. My brain knew what I should do, how I should fluidly progress through the moves. My body? It betrayed my brain every step of the way. 

I moved through the first 3/4 of the climb without too much issue. Sloppy moves in my mind, but nothing too bad. But then I reached the crux. An undercling with high feet. I struggled here years prior. While I knew what to do this go round, my arms couldn't handle my brief mistakes and I had to hang. My forearms were so pumped and exhausted. My legs were beginning to really betray me, too. 

After a long hang, I worked through the undercling move. 

My forearms were so pumped post-crux that I ended up taking multiple hangs after that. The shuts were 2 bolts away. But I just couldn't get there as easily as I should have. My movements got more and more sloppy and desperate. With time though, I made it to the top. Whew.

Jeremy mocked my poor pumped forearms when I came down. Of course. But damn did that burn feel good.

It was the only climb I did that morning. Partly due to crowds, but mostly due to my exhaustion. I watched the guys take a few burns on a short 12a. After both Joe and Jeremy sent it I said my farewells and headed home.

Four good climbs on the weekend. Two 10a's, a 10b, and a 9. Not too shabby at all for a girl who's barely touched rock in two years!

Plans are in place for at least two weekends in May. I think I've found my balance for climbing + riding this year. Bring it on.