QQ's year began with a focus on activities that would build her confidence. I completely removed most activities that were not trail-based from her repertoire and did all I could to build our relationship to a better place.
We began with in-hand walks and hikes, progressed to some ground driving, and then hit the trails again, first with buddy horses, and then solo. New additions to tack included a hackamore for her and a dressage whip in my hand at all times. I affectionately refer to the whip now as The Confidence Stick. You see, Q is the most looky horse I've ever witnessed; she actively scans the terrain with big sweeping motions, not just her eyes. As a result, she forgets about me a lot in her worry with the world around her. However, when The Confidence Stick is tapping her shoulder, flank, and neck periodically, it helps bring her mind back to me. (No, she could give zero f*cks about my voice. I've tried. The whip registers more with her and will give me an ear flick of acknowledgement much more often than I ever get with my voice.)
she began to excel on our rides.
Beyond frequency and length of rides, changed tack/aids, and my mindset, the only other major change to how I conditioned Q was that we finally added downhills with speed to our rides (when footing wasn't technical). Building strength and skill with this was the last piece to our conditioning puzzle that really helped to make a huge difference for us this year.
Beyond finding success at building my relationship with this horse this year, my favorite memories all involve riding her in Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods. I trailered her away from home for the majority of our training rides this year and those two places were often our destination. The terrain is rugged, unforgiving, and outstandingly beautiful. I foresee many, many miles there through 2016. It doesn't hurt that our favorite "local" riding buddy is there either!
Due to financial restraints, Q only competed in the RBTR 50 and then, on a last-minute whim decision, October OD 25. She finished STRONG with PLENTY of gas in the tank at both events - even finishing 4th and showing for BC in the 25. I plan to move her up in distance during the 2016 season at some point as we continue to march ever onward toward the goal of joining the Decade Team. Three years at endurance distances are under our belts now!
2016 will likely involve many more training miles AWAY from the barn as Q gives her best efforts when she is trailered away from her herd. I foresee a lot of time spent in the valley and hopefully some weekends over on the Old Dominion trails. I feel like I'm finally unlocking some key pieces of this enigmatic mare. She's been a really hard nut to crack, but I'm enjoying the journey of figuring her out - even though it frustrates the hell out of me sometimes! Fortunately, I'm more stubborn than she is and time is in our favor. =)
[525 miles logged riding this year, large majority on Q as I didn't track Griffin's jumping/flatting]
GriffinIn 2014, Griffin spent a lot of time on the trails. It was the perfect environment to introduce him to how to best handle life under saddle outside in a way that was least stressful to him. He almost always had a buddy horse to look to and the nature of trail riding lent itself well to his developing brain so that by the time 2015 rolled around, he was much better prepared to tackle the more mentally (and physically) stimulating work I threw at him.
I spent a lot more time jumping and flatting Griffin as opposed to trail riding this year. He has always hunted jumps and poles that were lying about in the barnyard/field and I was waiting until he was a long 4 year old to really start playing with them.
At the beginning of this year, I was more focused on Q than Griffin as I originally had a full endurance season planned for the mare before my financial woes began. I'd tool around with Griffin here and there, but nothing of great significance. Once my financial situation reared it's head though, I couched nearly my entire ride season for Q and with the time that opened up, I began having fun with Griffin.
To provide more direction and structure to my chaotic [by choice] schedule, I decided that I would give each horse a set discipline of focus for an indefinite period and see how that worked. In the past, I have dabbled within multiple disciplines with each horse because my tastes are so varied. Not this year. Q would be trail-focused for endurance and Griffin would be flat and jumping-focused - it's work he really enjoys and has wanted to do since I put him under saddle, so it seemed perfect.
With the start of April, I consistently worked Griffin several days a week. We began with a lot of flatting that involved many bending exercises, a lot of circles, serpentines, and figure-8s. Griffin mastered that very quickly and really excelled; I could practically SEE the cogs in his brain whirring and turning as he figured out the "right answer" to each query. As he figured out the flatting, I added in ground poles to make him think even more. We began these exercises (and all later jumping exercises) on the lunge so he could figure things out without me on board first. I always tried my best to set him up for success and he excelled time and time again.
From those exercises, we added in cavaletti and finally jumps. We kept things mild at 18" for a few months, throwing in the occasional 2' standard. When Griffin began cantering over the 18" cavaletti more and more often, I added gymnastics. Lots of bouncing and additional ground pole work between cavaletti/jumps. That led to gymnastic lines with a 2'+ jump at the end which then led into micro "courses" that involved 2-3 jumps in some kind of pattern. By August, we attempted 3' for the first time; Griffin said NBD! I didn't jump 3' again until October - and when we did it then, we even went up to 3'6" one time. For a 15hh horse, he makes it so easy!
Now, we've been schooling 18" - 2'6" pretty regularly through all of my jumps and cavaletti to create a 9 jump "course" complete with 1 skinny and two or three rollbacks. In December I began adding in a 3' jump a little more regularly (often 3-4 times in the last half of our workouts). Griffin and I both have to work together more over that height. It's perfect for pointing out areas we need to finesse more and I'm enjoying how it is making us both grow.
Of course, in between all of his jumping progression, we were also working on more dressage-focused concepts on the flat, most often with a bareback pad. 95% of that work was at the walk and trot. I am learning as I go as much as he's learning from me. It was a lot of fun to get him to where he was listening to my seat more than anything else. It's fortunate that he has such an easy riding trot that I can sit without too much issue. It's been hard translating things from bareback pad to saddle, but we are getting there. With the bareback pad Griffin will transition from a tiny, collected trot into this huge lengthening trot purely from my seat. I can't tell you how much fun it was for me (both of us, I think) to figure that out! I was focusing on NOT MOVING MY HANDS ANYWHERE while Griffin's little brain whirred away trying to figure out the new "right answer". I think a choir of song birds was singing amidst a herd of unicorns under a rainbow when that clicked for both of us.
All of the flatting and jumping has done so well by Griffin. He's really bloomed into a gorgeous creature this year. About 2 months shy of his 5th birthday, he started bulking up and filling out in a whole new way - there is so much substance to him. He's so SOLID, a fact that is VERY evident when I ride him right after Q. While Q has a huge stride, it's lofty and dainty in it's execution. There is power behind it, but it's the kind of power you see in a yogini as she flawlessly executes a series of difficult poses. She is a strong, highly dynamic and flexible athlete. Griffin though? His solidity and power is more akin to mid-distance Olympic swimmer. He's powerful and strong with perfectly timed and executed efforts that help him meet his goals without making it look like he busted his ass to do it in a record-breaking manner. His strength is visible in his physique, but despite that strength, his movements also have this unwavering grace to them.
While I have no solid plans for Griffin in 2016, I'm really excited to see how things will fall into place. I'd like to enter him into one or two competitive events of some kind. Discipline to be decided later. He possesses talent in multiple areas, so we'll just see which one we dive into!
KenaiWhen Facebook offered up the "your year in review" this year, mine was 90% KENAI. This has been the year of Kenai. And not for the greatest of reasons.
Kenai entered 2015 lame. I had him on and off crate rest with limited leashed activities for a long while, in fact. We visited the vet in January and she confirmed that we should keep doing what we were and added some pain killers to the equation. By March, he was no better and so we did more analysis and discovered that the surgery he'd had in 2013 had failed on the right stifle and his meniscus may be torn, too.
We scheduled TTA surgery for April. There is a 0.5% chance of implant failure with the device used. Well, you guessed it, luck didn't favor us and we fell into that small percentage - it failed. Kenai went back to have another surgery to repair the failure. THAT surgery failed < 24 hours post-op while he was still at the hospital. Yet ANOTHER surgery was performed within a day of the failure. It was a fucking SAGA. (If you're behind on the story, please just click the links because I simply cannot bring myself to relive it by writing it great detail.)
To say I was stressed would be an understatement. The financial burden of all of this coupled with worries about if he'd ever be okay again consumed me. Crowd-source funding (started by Saiph) helped raise about a third of the ultimate cost of surgeries/rehab - and I cannot say thank you enough to those who helped us during this time. The generosity of others blew me out of the water. THANK YOU, again. Kenai is loved by so many near and far.
In July, Kenai began the physical therapy rehabilitation (rehab) process. The lady we worked with through it all was absolutely incredible. What an amazing human.
I drove to Morgantown (3-hour round trip) multiple times a month from July - December for Kenai's rehab. In addition to those visits, we had a lot of homework to keep up with. We'll have homework for life. But it's worth it. And it's paid off. On December 2, Kenai met the discharge criteria. He's been cleared to return to normal life. It is such a relief and blessing. I am SO HAPPY to have my best adventure buddy back in action.
All I wish for 2016 is to have a healthy adventure dog. If it snows, we plan to pursue a lot of XC skiing this year.
If you're the instagramming type, feel free to follow along with Kenai's adventures at #kenaithehuskydog .
AdventureSkiing - The 2015 part of winter 2014-15 was absolutely outstanding. I began working at Timberline in addition to Canaan. Both resorts are in Canaan Valley and while they are mere mile or two apart, the terrain at each is drastically different. Canaan boasts wider slopes with less steep terrain while Timberline has a wealth of steep slopes that are much narrower. Working both mountains was an exercise in time management and involved me becoming very skilled at driving my car with ski boots on as I would work shifts on both mountains in one day!
I was schooled more heavily on my telemark technique this year than ever before. I spent a lot of time focusing on HOW I was skiing and did a lot of things to tweak my style. This was my fourth season on tele vs. alpine gear and it was a good year to really begin buckling down and getting more technical with my form.
|Ski, bike, climb - I have many passions|
finesse of tree skiing, but I'm getting there a day at a time! I'm really thankful to have such an outstanding group of tele skiers to ski with now (an added benefit of patrolling at Timberline).
Climbing - My unwritten goal for myself this year was to climb as many days as I skied. At last tally, I racked up 27 days climbing this year, give or take one or two. It didn't hurt that I had a full-time climbing partner all year! Dave and I were motivation for each other to get out and climb more. A lot of excuses I've made in the past about climbing revolved around not having a partner to go with - and a partner is critical in this sport!
Dave and I climbed in all of the WV areas (New River Gorge/Summersville Lake, Seneca, Smoke Hole, Nelson, and Franklin) and also made it to the Obed in Tennessee for a week. It was a very enjoyable year in which I managed to lead a few more times. My head is progressively in a better place for being on the sharp end and I'm optimistic that I'll maybe one day meet my very modest goal of leading a 5.10a.
Mountain biking - This sport was a new addition that I never saw coming. It surprised me and I fell in love almost immediately. I'm really excited to pursue more of it next year and have plans to get a new bike that will better hold up to the beating that Tucker County trails put on a bike and body.
Mountain biking augments my fitness unlike any other sport since swimming (I swam competitively for 10 years and had scholarship offers for college but decided to head in a different direction - one I don't regret). The cardio and general fitness I gain from mountain biking is so awesome; I missed burning calories like that (swimming was the best for a secondary reason of I could eat whatever the hell I wanted whenever the hell I wanted lol). My rider fitness SOARED this year because of mountain biking. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I'll stick with the sport into the future - the things it does for my [endurance] riding are so incredible. [177 miles logged on the bike this year]
Hiking/exploration - Living in Canaan, a vacation destination, half of the year (weekends/holidays) was motivation in itself to get outside more often for exploration. The people up there are such an active group of individuals. I LOVE it. (Shocker, no?) I hiked more and explored more and saw more of West Virginia's beauty than I have ever before (gah, just look at the collage image above). The amount of awesome I fit into my life this year with regards to outdoor exploration was incredible. I don't think I'll settle for less ever again.
It is one of the most beautiful places, hands down. Don't believe me? Come visit. I'll show you first hand. Just ask Dom or Saiph, I think I've made them believers. ;-) I'm happy to be your host/guide for West Virginia mountain adventure any time. [63 miles logged hiking this year - definitely missing some; at least 22 nights spent sleeping outside]
TravelThanks to work, I saw a bit more of the world this year than I have in awhile. At least more of the US with a big emphasis on the East Coast. My travels to me to or through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri this year. I racked up over 17,000 miles on the road.
coast of Maine (work), Cape May (workcation) banding raptors, and Tennessee climbing.
My travel budget & plans next year are very up in the air right now, but I'm excited to see where they will lead me. Puerto Rico? Mexico? A road trip through the south and into the west for some adventure? The PNW? Montana? It's all in flux at the moment. I know the right things will fall into place. European and South America are travel plans I'd love to have, but I don't think they'll fall into line for another year or two.
ConclusionA really outstanding year. I jam packed it with a ton of West Virginia adventures and time spent with absolutely amazing people. I hope to continue these trends into the future and make the most out of every opportunity.
See y'all in the new year.