Friday, January 31, 2014

Powder Days: A Photo Journal

Headed up the lift. Man made snow flyin' up ahead

Tips of my skis

Headed into the cloud of man made snow that was blowing

Minimal visibility in the cloud of man made snow

Looking down Upper Spruce

Headed toward Dark Side of the Moon and Prosperity

Looking back up Upper Spruce

Allll bundled up. It only reached 1 degree ABOVE zero for an hour or so this day. Most of the day was below zero!

Jeremy following along my tracks

Makin' his own tracks

Majestic and noble husky on a sheepskin


The happiest dog

Gooning as I hit the rail (yes, a rail over a car!)

Panicking after gaining speed at the end of the rail (yes its over a car)

Shannon hittin' it

Our patrol director screaming with glee

Buncha patrollers kids lovin' on Kenai down in the aid room at the end of the day.

Crazy mad snow drifts on my road; the rough snow in the middle is a result of my car bottoming out - in other words, despite my insane clearance on my 2001 Toyota 4Runner, the snow was high and deep enough that it was scraping the undercarriage

Further non-plowed, drifting snow!

Kickass snow drift in my front yard forming

Hodor found a great spot to clean and sun himself

At least he had a great view!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Skijoring *update: video fixed*


A first for all involved!

"I'm going to do WHAT today?"

Suited up ready to go. Two ropes attached to a sum of 4 rings on the back of the saddle. These were connected to a carabiner
which was then connected to the tow rope that Mike held. Best set up to date! Very happy we had the breast plate, too!

Gooning in the safety glasses; forgot his ski goggles

I'm thrilled. Kenai is psyched. Q is wondering what the HELL that thing on the ground is...and why its ATTACHED to her.

I asked Mike to take this picture for both the beautiful scenery of the snow and tall grass AND to show you the hill I do my
hill sprint workouts on. The base of the hill just out of the frame on the right side of the photo is where we begin the sprint.
We work our way up to the peak of the hill (traveling left across the photo) and then turn and walk down to repeat.
If I want to really work her hard for a rep or two during the set, we'll sprint up the side that is directly facing you in this shot.
As you can see, it is a much steeper incline than the other. Its a GREAT area to practice finesse with steep downhill footwork.

Q was an absolute doll for our 2.5 miles of skijoring play (yes, I turned on Endomondo to track our trot/canter/gallop pursuit). She was sassy and forward, but she did listen to my requests (at speed!) very well. She also wasn't super spazzy about the very strange thing that followed her everywhere.

I had a hard time dealing with the Aussie saddle - I'm so used to posting and being in two point for antics such as these. I never realized how much I posted and stayed in two-point until my movement was impeded by the saddle. I figured it out after a time though!

We raced big circles around the open back field for awhile. We even did one hill sprint where Q hauled Mike on his snowboard UP the hill!

After the hill sprint we did two more full laps of the field at speed.

Q was a little sweaty and definitely huffing and puffing after! I was very encouraged when she stopped to drink at the creek after - taking in a minimum of 20 swallows of the cool water. Good girl.

Enjoy this semi-crazy video that Mike filmed while being pulled. <3 my mare. (Let me know if the video doesn't work!)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Horses Who Made Me: Demo

Demo (dee-mOH)

Demo was the first horse I spent longer than a few lessons getting to know. He was an Arab X of some sort; he initiated my love of the Arabian breed.

I began my adventures with Demo when I was in 3rd grade. My mother somehow got wind of a girl in a neighboring county who was offering lessons. Phoebe and her family lived on a beautiful piece of land about 45 minutes from my home. It was very rural with plenty of room for trail riding on abandoned strip mines and through the forest. They also had a ring, which in my memory is huge, but likely isn't as large as I remember.

Phoebe's family was very large and they always had several exchange students living with them. They had 3 horses, a multitude of dogs and cats, some reptiles, a pond with fish and amphibians, a huge garden, and a pottery studio where her mom worked. Needless to say, my weekly visits to their home were full of more than just horses. My mom was even able to include my little brother in our visits, as he took pottery lessons while Phoebe and I would ride.

My first forays with Demo began in the way of a 3-day mini-camp with two other girls who lived a few miles away from Phoebe.

We were all introduced to the horses, introduced to the proper etiquette of how you should behave around large animals, and then took turns receiving a lessons on Demo. (I can distinctly remember having to take my index finger and waggle it at Demo's nose while saying - with emphasis - "I'm the boss, buster!") We all helped to give Demo a bath (the big grey gelding standing blissfully ground tied in the hot summer weather as the four of us lathered him up and rinsed him down) and then, the highlight of those three days, we went on a "trail ride" up Phoebe's long driveway (at least a mile one-way) riding bareback and double on Demo and their other horse Ebony.

Superior concentration. Turtles on my shirt. Classy.
Also? I still own those boots somewhere. Yes, my foot has not  grown since I was in 4th grade.

Phoebe's rapport with me over this brief period, coupled with my ecstatic joy of riding, led to my mom setting up continued riding days for the fall.

Phoebe went to school in my county instead of hers. The high school was across the street from my elementary school. Once a week, mom would pick Phoebe up, give her a snack, and they would wait for my brother and I to be released from school (a 45 minute delay). Once released, we'd all head to Phoebe's.

In the beginning, I would receive a lesson in the ring. However, within a few visits Phoebe and I were heading out on trail rides together.

That big grey gelding was always a sweetheart with me. I imagine I must have been dreadful with my beginners hands and seat, but my small frame couldn't do too much harm to him, so he put up with me - the over-large fly perched upon his back for hours at a time.

Phoebe, and Demo, taught me to fend for myself and make my own decisions while riding. Phoebe loved to run. Her favorite ride, Ebony, was as stubborn as they come. He would buck and rear and bite and throw an ever-loving fit almost every single time we were out. She always rode him bareback, too, despite all of this!

Phoebe and Ebony would always lead our rides. Demo followed along behind them with me. Phoebe would always ask or - at a minimum - warn me when she planned to set off at a canter or gallop - girl loved to run. As a then 4th grader, I was still intimidated by anything faster than a trot! It was up to me to keep Demo to a trot as Ebony and Phoebe shot away down the trail for a hundred yards or so.

Demo always listened.

A sweetheart of a horse.

Hours and hours on the trail with Demo, always following the fearless Phoebe, really taught me to ride. I learned to dodge branches while in the saddle, to direct Demo around sticky places, and to pick my speed as I desired. I learned to make decisions and take control of what was going on.

Nothing can replace these lessons. Nothing. The time I spent with Demo and Phoebe built the huge foundation upon which all of my riding is built upon. Practical experience outside of a controlled environment is like nothing else.

I will forever be grateful to that big grey gelding and his gentle nature with me no matter what we got ourselves into (and we did get lost a time or two!). Phoebe, as well. The time she spent with me was integral to the horseperson I have become.

And now have a myriad of pictures from my phone that I took of pictures from the past:

Phoebe on the ever-challenging Ebony
Phoebe's mom making sure we're all ready to go. Don't ask what the hell I'm doing with my heels...I don't even know.
Off we go! On one of our many trail ride adventures. Note the many dogs.
Phoebe and I. This photo meant SO much to me as a kid. I looked up to her
more than just about anyone.
The trail ride during the mini-day camp. We rode double and traded who got to "steer" the horse.
Demo was blissed out.
Happy girls; happy horse.
On the forehand much? Haha. It was all I could do to ride that trot at the time!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Griffin: Superstar

Mike and I did a short 2-mile jaunt that was mostly walk yesterday afternoon.

Griffin. Was. A. Superstar.

He led the whole first half of the ride like a champ. Forward walk. Alert ears. Eager to be out, but 110% respectable about his excitement. He just snorted and blew air, but there was zero tenseness in his body.

The depth of the snow hit him about mid-cannon bone. No problems for the little guy!

We even did the short, steep stretch of hill I usually avoid because it is exceptionally tricky footing. Griffin had zero issues! He actually faired better than Q did on it -  much more precise and deliberate with his footfalls. This from a horse who in the past has fallen down from tripping over trot poles as we WALKED over them (after a lengthy session where he'd been w/t/c on the lunge over them...) last summer! I was so impressed.

By and large though, the best part about the 2-mile jaunt through the woods was his willingness to trust and listen to me through tricky, sticky places.

I absolutely LOVE that he is A-OK with me leaning down onto his neck to pass under low branches. Even when we have to weave between low branches, which involves me leaning down over his neck and steering him around. He was SO responsive. Q struggled with me leaning down in this manner when we first started exploring new, messy trails together. The fact that Griffin is completely accepting of it thrills me beyond words.

Looking toward their field and the barn; standing atop the hill I do sprint workouts on

Happy horses in their halter-bridles I tied.

When we turned to come home, Q led until we'd reached the main property. Griffin was happy to follow along for a bit. He was much more gentlemanly about things for once, making very few attempts to playfully nip at Q to incite play. This was really encouraging as the distinction between play time and riding time has been blurred for him. His play-tactics under saddle aren't aggressive or over-strong, so I've never really noted them or been greatly concerned. It is nice, however, to observe him moving beyond this.

We trotted and cantered up the big hill as we returned. Griffin led the way down it, not jigging at all after the short speed session we had. Q always jigs. And after we crossed the creek there is another very short hill that I always canter Q up (about 4-5 strides of canter and you're at the top); I asked Griffin to canter it this time. He executed the hill with a very nice, balanced canter, slowing appropriately at the top to walk the remaining 100 yards to the barn. GOOD BOY.

I am so happy with this little guy. SO happy.

"No big deal," says Griffin.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Christmas Surprise Horse Update

K and Tempest - as he is now known - have been much on their own since Christmas Eve. I've been incredibly busy working two jobs 6 - 7 days a week. Its all I can do to find time for my own horses these days, let alone helping the two of them out as they begin their journey.

I purchased the book that helped me begin my pursuits with Griffin, The Modern Horseman's Countdown to Broke. It provides 33 steps with basic groundwork skills that lead to introductory riding exercises to introduce a new horse to work under saddle. Its simple and basic without all of the sillyness that can often accompany some of the natural horsemanship work. That book, coupled with guidance from Dee, Jeanna, and another trainer in our area, really helped me to work through things with Griffin.

I gave the book to K and left her with instructions to work through the first several steps over the next month with Tempest. I told her we'd re-assess at that point to see about riding. My goal was for them to spend enough time together working with those concepts that they would be able to begin to form a relationship with one another along with some crucial groundwork.

Tempest knows everything required in the first few lessons (how to lunge, how to stay away from the trainer at the center of the round pen, how to perform a circle to the inside, how to transition between gaits). More than anything, I hoped that this book would help K to learn how to get Tempest to respond. The book is good about noting "red lights" and "green lights" for moving forward for both the person and the horse.

 Once brushed out, K took Tempest into the indoor round pen. I had told her that I would observe intermittently as I trimmed Griffin's feet. I tend to take a short break between each foot to give Griffin and I both a moment of recess. It was perfect for watching K without giving me time to try to micromanage and step in where I really don't need to. I'm a worrier and over-eager to help when I shouldn't. This situation kept me at bay in the best way possible.

K started by walking Tempest around the round pen with the lead rope. K would stop walking and Tempest would stop with her...a little too far forward and in her box than what I'd ever allow my horses, but he wasn't being pushy about it and this was what she was happy with at this point in time, so I just kept my mouth shut. I've shared my view on this behavior with her numerous times, I don't want to force the subject any more. I was pleased to see that she did back him up a few times when he was even more forward than usual. The foundation is there.

I was very pleased to see that K had really done her homework with Tempest in the realm of practicing the round pen exercises I'd suggested as she transitioned from just leading him around the round pen into liberty work. She had him staying away from her, changing directions with inside turns, and changing gait between a walk and a trot. She'd begun trying to get him to approach at her bidding, but he was very hesitant about it. She was offering a peppermint if he'd walk to the center with her.

This was the point where I did step in a moment. I pointed out to her that her body posture when she was asking for this was still very "aggressive". She had her shoulders squared toward him in the exact same way as when she was asking him to move his feet around her. He was confused because he knows this posture to mean "stay out there; move your feet". I suggested that she turn her body into a more neutral/passive posture, perhaps adding a tiny bow to it when she wanted him to approach. (The way I work with my two - Griffin in particular - is that if I turn to the side, bow a little, and cock one of my feet onto a toe that they should approach and come in. If I merely turn to the side, and unsquare my shoulders I'm just asking for a halt, not permission to approach. I know many caution ever "allowing" a horse into your space, but this is something that has worked very well for me. I've even been able to use it in the field when my horses decide to play games about coming in and had them respond to it, approaching me and allowing me to halter them.)

K nodded assent to my suggestion. I told her then that I was really impressed with the work she'd done over the past month-ish. I could see real improvement and a definite relationship between human and horse. They'd really accomplished a lot from the last time I'd seen them together.

I told K that I thought she could definitely ride her horse for the first time that day. But before we did that, as even further precaution (even though my gut was telling me that this was going to be 100% okay because this horse truly, truly, truly has one of the sweetest demeanors I've witnessed in awhile), I wanted her to work him at a trot with lots of changes in direction for 15 minutes. Really make him work and move his feet. If he sweated a little bit, great!

I finished Griffin's feet while she did this. There was a little bit of an issue with Tempest being lazy as she started the exercise. I told her to not be afraid to reach out with the lunge whip and give him a tap or a pop with the end of it. He was being lazy because he knew she wasn't going to touch him. I promised her that a flick of the line on his rump wouldn't hurt him. It would merely enforce to him that yes, K could indeed reach out and get him if he didn't listen. I told her that if she just did it once that she'd likely not have to repeat it. He is a very smart horse and he'd know how to prevent that experience from happening again. And that is just what happened. One flick and he sped up and got a lot more focused on her.

At the end of 15 minutes, K brought Tempest out and her dad and I helped to tack him up.

I again had her send him around the pen for a few circuits with all of the tack on, explaining to her that it was important to do this because he might not be okay at first with the tack. If he was going to be startled about it it would be best for him to work it out without her riding.

Tempest jogged around the pen lackadaisically without a care in the world about the little saddle and the hackamore.

I helped K fit a helmet to her head, grabbed the stepstool from her dad, check the girth one last time, and held Tempest as she mounted him. Once both her feet were in the stirrups and her hands on the reins, I looked at her, noted the huge grin she was trying to suppress and the sparkle of excitement in her eyes and said, "You ready?" A nod. "Okay!" And I dropped my contact with the reins. "Put him on the wall at a walk."

And so, K was riding her horse for the first time.

She did a few circuits around the inside round pen for a few minutes while I exited and finished tacking up Griffin.

Once Griffin was good to go, I gave her dad options to lead her and Tempest out to the outdoor pen, to have her dismount and lead, or to let her follow Griffin and I. He chose to lead her.

I grabbed Q and Griffin and led them with K on Tempest, led by her dad following.

I tied Q nearby and entered the outdoor round pen with Griffin and K and Tempest. Once all inside, I instructed K to put Tempest on the wall again at a walk while I mounted the little grey horse.

While I was splitting my attention between Griffin and K, I was always aware of how K and Tempest were positioned within the ring. I was able to observe her body movements, posture, and requests of Tempest. I was also watchful of his responses to her requests.

He's such a sweet, sweet boy. He's got a really great foundation under saddle coupled with the kindest demeanor. He tried so, so hard to understand what she was asking. Unfortunately, K is very green. They're both green. Its not ideal. But it is what it is and its going to be a really good learning experience for K. I have a couple other close friends who are my age who came about their first horses in the same way. I'm happy to report that both of those stories have terrifically happy endings, too.

In a matter of seconds, Tempest wasn't on the rail. K tried and tried to keep him there. I explained how she needed to keep her inside leg on to push him over and apply a bit of pressure to that outside rein, too, if her leg aids weren't enough. She tried and tried. There was improvement, but not perfection.

She asked if she could trot him. I acquiesced. It was her first time on HER horse, of course she wanted to trot! I could empathize with that. It was a very exciting day! I didn't want to lesson and lecture too much. I wanted to let her have fun, too.

And so they trotted. And her smile grew again. And then faded when Tempest wouldn't remain on the rail. He kept trending toward the center. He's no dummy. He knows that middle of the ring means stop!

K's smile was more and more intermittent. I racked my brain for the best way to approach this situation. I was so worried her first ride wasn't what she thought it would be. And it probably wasn't. This wasn't going to be the easiest thing, green and green. So I brought Griffin to the middle and stood him there; I began breaking concepts down as best I could, instructing from horseback, demonstrating things with Griffin as I explained them to her.

I broke down what the jargon meant: inside leg, outside leg, inside rein, outside rein, pressure, release. She applied these concepts as I explained them. They were getting better. But every time she'd halt him he'd start backing up. He's most excellent at backing! I cautioned her to not let him do this. If she did it would form a nasty habit that wouldn't be fun to deal with later. Her dad agreed.

And so she tried to get him to stop. There were a couple successes, but with those successes there were many botched attempts. I could see her frustration growing.

It isn't easy learning all of these things! I remember being that young girl just starting lessons. In my mind everything was supposed to be rainbows and unicorns. It was supposed to be effortless and beautiful. A perfect partnership. But it wasn't. It was hard. I couldn't keep my heels down. I couldn't keep my eyes up. I didn't cue things perfectly. I was afraid to try other things. It was HARD.

Its because of this that I empathize so much with K. I really, really felt for her as I saw her frustration growing. So when Tempest wandered away from the rail again, I asked her to dismount. I noted to her how I hadn't even ridden her horse yet. How I'd had my friend Mike ride him when we "tested" him out. I noted to her that I could see her getting a bit frustrated, and maybe watching me demonstrate some concepts as I narrated them would help. I also noted that maybe I could find out why Tempest was being weird about being on the wall and backing up. I really hoped he'd act out a little with me so she could see that it happens to everyone.

And so I hauled myself up on this horse who is a hand-and-a-quarter taller than both of mine. It'd been awhile since I'd been so high up! Haha.

With a cluck and a tiny squeeze, he walked off toward the rail. I applied only the tiniest pressure with my inside leg for a few moments and released. He remained on the rail the whole time thereafter. I showed K how I would drive down with my seat, sitting deeper, pushing my legs ever-so-slightly forward to cue a halt. Tempest halted. I gave a cluck and a tiny squeeze, explaining myself and my actions to K. Tempest struck out at a walk again. I noted that with the slightest of flicks from my fingers, I could apply pressure to the hackamore coupled with an aid from my inside leg to encourage a turn to the inside. Tempest rounded and turned. Once back on the wall, I noted how to cue him into a trot with yet another tiny squeeze. Tempest trotted. I noted the halt cue again and sat deeply. Tempest halted. I cued with my legs and slight pressure on the hack for him to back, explaining all of this to K as I did. He backed.

He's incredibly responsive to everything. He's nearly as sensitive as Q about things! I was so surprised.

I dismounted and further explained his sensitivity to K. I compared it with how Q is. I contrasted their personalities with this shared trait of sensitivity. I waxed and waned a little about how this journey she and Tempest were on together wasn't going to be easy, but it would be worth it. She was lucky to have such a kind-hearted horse to help her learn. I shared that in all honesty, it would be best for her to work on everything at the walk for awhile. I noted how my dressage work with Q is going well at the walk, then I get eager about wanting to trot and it falls apart. I tried to use myself as an example for going slow and mastering things before moving forward. I'm not perfect at it, but when I practice it, it really makes a difference. I lamented at the lack of trainers to give lessons in the area. I shared my worry that I wasn't going to be enough to help her - after all, I had a multitude of instructors through the years, none of whom teach any more. I told her I would do my very, very best to help her though. This journey in teaching is new to me, but I would do my best to offer everything I can.

I gave K a leg up onto Tempest again and they worked some more at the walk, staying on the rail and halting without backing. The brief break really helped them both. Success after success. I congratulated her on each of them.

We ended there, on a good note, and called it a day. I had to meet Jen and we'd been at it for nearly 2 hours by this point. (No, not 2-straight hours of work, but 2-straight hours of being at the barn with the horses.)

I congratulated K multiple times on how well she'd done today. I noted again how it wouldn't be easy, but I knew she could do it. She can. And she will. And she's got a really sweet horse to work with.

I don't know when our next session will be. I've been thinking a lot about what kinds of things I can say and do to help her for the next time. What kind of homework I can give her to focus on for when we work together again. Busy schedules on both our parts don't lend well to constant, steady forward progression. But this is what we've been given, so we'll make the best of it!

I sent K a text later in the day with further congratulations coupled with the photos of her riding. It wasn't the most perfect of first rides, but it was definitely a good one. We can only build from here!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Q: Training Ride

Part of my marathon horse time this past Monday-holiday was consumed with a training ride on Q. An 18.25-mile training ride at that!

Jen, who is a local (for me) endurance rider, who has also competed FEI in the past (before the chaos began, sigh), and who is often competing in 100-milers on her gelding Eagle (which they have done 100% barefoot the past several times), needed a buddy for a training ride on the rail trail. She planned to do 30 miles with Eagle on Monday and was hoping for a buddy for the final 15 miles - planned average pace? 9-10 mph.

Hmm, I though to myself, Q really hasn't done a ton lately. They do say that pasture kept horses keep their baseline fitness better than most though. And its only been about 2 months since our 50. And she has been working still. Two trail rides lately, actually. With a rider + a saddle that are far heavier than what I'd be in on this ride. And this ride would be flat. Basically zero elevation gain/loss. Q has a very solid 8-9 mph trot on the flats. A 9-10 mph average pace just means cantering every now and again. And she'll have an easy 2-mile warm up and cool down where we can walk/slow trot. Yeah.... Yeah. She can do this. She'll be getting ample time off in the week after with the dramatically low temperatures anyway. Perfect training ride/LD opportunity with appropriate rest afterward.

Cute mare standing in the middle of what remained of the old round bale.
This was right after she nickered at me. <3
So, I agreed to meet Jen at the trail at 1p that Monday to catch up with her for the second half.

I apologized to Q as I fetched her from the field Monday morning (she even nickered at me as I approached her on this day - she NEVER does this at home, EVER). I knew she probably thought she was coming in for light work at best + her grain. She's really grown accustomed to this routine this winter. She's a fan, too, evident by her increasing interest in me when I arrive (e.g., meeting me half-way when I fetch her from the field, meeting me at the gate, and - now - nickering upon arrival). Poor little mare didn't even know she'd be trucking fast with Eagle for ~15 miles + the 4 mile warm-up/cool-down we had to do to and from the barn (2 miles one-way; 4 total).

Due to the myriad of tasks at the barn on this day, Q ended up just standing around for the first 2 hours as I trimmed Griffin, rode him, and helped K with Tempest. About an hour into this time, I put the Woolbak with *frozen* memory foam inserts on Q with her saddle so that her body heat could slowly warm the foam during that time.

I love this pad - especially with the treeless Ansur - but I don't enjoy that the foam becomes frozen/hard when the temps are low. It always requires forethought and planning to be able to tack up as I must allow for time for the foam to thaw/warm. Yes, I could take the pad home, but taking things home makes me more apt to forget them when I make impromptu visits to ride.

Packed powder. Slick as snot.
By 12:40p, when I needed to leave to meet Jen and Eagle, the foam was warm. I tightened the saddle, tossed reins on Q's halter-bridle, and with a wave to K, her dad and sister, I set out.

I was beyond ecstatic to finally be behind those brown ears again. I've had so much fun riding Griffin lately. SO MUCH. But I've dearly missed being behind brown ears, riding a big trot, and enjoying a balanced, usually collected canter.

Q was willing and forward as we left the property. She was a little hesitant about the very icy section preceding the creek crossing, but we worked through that quickly enough. Once in the field across the creek, she picked up a very collected canter (slower than her fast trot). She kept this gait until we reached the base of the first (and only) hill, where she extended her stride just a titch for the uphill portion.

She was very alert as we headed out, but not a bundle of nerves like she's been in the past. I was cautiously optimistic at this point. The rail trail has been a source of frustration for Q and I the past 6 months. Its where she spooks the worst at things I cannot even predict any longer. I have been able to learn and anticipate much of her idiocy, but last fall we reached an all-time low with our relationship as far as her spooks. Monday's ride was a big test for us.

The connector road we follow to the rail trail was packed powder. A slick sheen of white that could down Q in a moment if she spooked at all. We walked nearly the entire thing, me talking to my ever-alert little mare as we went.

Within 20 minutes, we'd reached the rail trail where Jen and Eagle awaited. Jen and I exchanged greetings, as one does, and then I cautioned that for cantering portions of our ride I'd really prefer not to lead because Q had really been wigging out at things in our recent rail trail pursuits. Jen noted that it wasn't a problem. She also shared that Eagle had done the first half of the ride faster than she'd anticipated, so this half may go slower, we'd see.

And so we headed out. Q in the lead for the first mile with a very forward trot. Alert and looky, but not spooky. The one "monster" she found (a bench) only merited a few lilting, lateral steps as we passed. None of her former horizontal teleportation moves. Good girl!

Following Jen and Eagle.
Around the second mile, Jen passed and kept the lead for the next 6 miles to the turn around point. She and Eagle kept a fresh pace for Q and I to follow. Cantering with intermittent trotting.

Q followed Eagle quietly. She had no issue with the pace. She didn't look around her to try to create monsters where there were none. She'd do a flying lead change as she saw fit to do on our longer canter stretches.

And the day was GORGEOUS. Blue sky, partly cloudy, a brisk breeze, and SUNSHINE.

Bliss. Pure bliss.

At the turn around point, Q and I took the lead again for a mile or so. Trotting with intermittent cantering. She was once again alert, but not a bundle of nerves over things. I observed her watching things, then moving on past them as she worked through what they were in her head. I could almost hear the cogs whirring as she figured through things in her mind.

THIS is the mare I used to know! Yes!

Jen and Eagle took the lead again after a time, picking up a solid canter with intermittent trotting for the rest of the ride.

Q began to slow for a period toward the end of the ride. Her mojo was beginning to fade. However, when Jen urged Eagle to canter the entire last mile of our ride, Q picked it up with gusto behind him, powering through to the end.

I was so proud of my little Q mare!

Beautiful day for 18.25 miles on my Q-mare.

Jen hopped off Eagle immediately at the end to check his pulse with her heart rate monitor. He'd dropped below 60 in less than 2 minutes despite that last mile canter. Impressive! Q was at 84 immediately after, but I wasn't overly concerned with this as she hasn't been training as heavily as Eagle (who has a 75 in 2 weeks and a 100 in March). Besides, Q still had a 2-mile cool down ahead of her.

I definitely plan to get one of those hand-held heart rate monitors in the future! What a great training tool! And at $80, they're really not unreasonably expensive. Being able to get Q's heart rate so quickly like that, in training or at a ride before heading to the vet check, would be really wonderful and totally worth the $80! It would be a relatively cheap investment! (I tend to purchase things that I know will be very useful to me. Cost isn't such a huge thing if the item is something that I am going to gain a lot of use out of over time. I look at these things as investments and think of cost per use over time. I guarantee I'd use something like this countless # of times. If I use it 80 times it'd be like $1/use. 160 times, $0.50/use. And the likelihood of using it >160 times is very high. Totally worth the initial purchase to me!)

The 2-mile jaunt back to the barn went without issue. Q was so calm the whole way. She was still alert, as she always is, but she plodded forward without concern. I was SO SO SO happy and proud of her. All of the time we've spent doing ground exercises these past 2-ish months has been so worth it. I plan to keep up everything we've been doing into the future, adding in trail workouts as we head into ride season.

Q may never be super chill about everything like other horses are, but the change in her lately - and especially on this ride (albeit with a buddy) - was very encouraging to me. With time, effort, and patience, I think I'll be able to have the mare I fell in love with when I met her nearly 2 years ago all the time.

The stats for this ride:
  • Total ride distance: 18.25 miles
  • Average pace for our warm up and cool down section: 4.8 mph
  • Average pace for the working section on the rail trail: 9.6 mph
  • Fastest average pace (that last full-canter mile): 12.2 mph