Thursday, May 28, 2015


Life lately is busy and beautiful. I'm constantly on the run and more in love with West Virginia than I have ever been.

I've been running away to Canaan Valley nearly every weekend since January. First it was ski patrol that kept me there; I had an obligation. But now? Now I flee there for a reprieve from the work week; a reprieve from the world. 

I find myself more wrapped up in outdoor adventure than ever as I spend time up there. My weekends consist of watching sunrises and sunsets from porches as I sip my tea in the morning and my beer/wine/cocktail in the evening. Long lazy walks occur as well  as faster paced hikes through beautiful terrain. Sometimes I trail run, but most times when I'm traversing trails with speed, I'm on a mountain bike.

I'm falling head over heels (not is inevitable, I fear) for mountain biking. Tucker County has some of the best trails in the country for the sport along with some truly outstanding athletes. I never ever expected I would enjoy mountain biking as much as I am. It's a rush. It's insane. The trail consumes my thoughts wholly and I'm able to completely lose myself in each precise moment as I traverse the trail, my worries about the rest of the world completely absent for the while.

Over the past holiday weekend, I traded back and forth between horse and bike. I trailered Q up for the weekend to ride with friends in the valley. Over three rides, we covered around 28 miles with over 2800' climbing. The middle ride was short with nearly no tricky terrain, but the other two involved 1000' climbs.

About to drop off the edge of the 1000' descent; we'd climbed it previously

Riding in and around that area is so stunningly beautiful. The greenery is outstanding right now, so crisp and vibrant. I discovered that my little mare has gained more confidence than ever of late. She adored the single track trails and the pipeline right-of-way. During the weekend we only had one spook event that sticks in my mind - this is amazing when I think back to this time last year where I was lucky to get through a ride with fewer than 3 events!

The high elevation valley air is as good for Q as it is for me it seems. Her forward, confident nature - especially on the single track - blew me out of the water. All I could do was giggle as she nearly pulled my arms out of socket in her eagerness to blast down the single track when we finally arrived to it. If the behavior continues, it will certainly become more of a handful and something worth curbing, but for the 3 rides over the weekend it was absolutely wonderful to experience such behavior exhibited from a previously fearful and timid mare.

If you "embiggen", you can see vague outlines of ski slopes on two different peaks in distance. The left one is Timberline and on the right is Canaan - both resorts I work in the winter.

To mix things up, I helped sweep a mountain bike race course on Saturday. Much like an endurance event, there were multiple loops and multiple distance echelons which competitors chose to race. The trails are marked similar to an endurance event. I helped sweep the "long" loop with the gnarliest terrain. I was "hike-a-bike"-ing most of the loop as I couldn't handle actually riding it. This was perfect as I needed to remove markers frequently along the path.

I spent my time both amazed by the beauty of the area and flabbergasted that people were actually riding bikes - at speed! - on what proved to be one of the hands down gnarliest trails I have ever traveled. To my endurance riding friends, we ain't got nothin' on this shit! These guys take the trophy for most insane trails traversed. I will never complain about a gnarly horseback riding trail again unless I've found myself on some of this mountain biking single track.

The trail afforded me with some beautiful vistas I'd never laid eyes on before. It was so rewarding to travel across terrain I'd never seen.

By the weekend's close, the statistics were something like this:

- 28 miles on the horse
- 11 miles on the bike
- 5 miles hiked
- many miles traveled on new-to-me roads and trails
- one new swimming hole

It was certainly a weekend for the books.

The company kept throughout all of the activities was rich and wonderful. Capping off my days sitting outside eating and drinking with friends new and old as beautiful vistas surround us keeps me humbled and happy.

As the delicately sweet scent of black locust blooms wafted through the air each evening finding it's way to my nose, I breathed deep, taking in the sight of the first fireflies blinking in the distance, listening to the crickets sing during the breaks in what tended to become quiet conversation with the falling darkness.

I am beyond fortunate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

These are Mine

Last night the lighting was beautiful and Q was particularly CLEAN following some passing thundershowers. Her early summer coat - pre-sun bleaching - is just so remarkably beautiful. She is SO DARK in comparison to how she usually is. I decided I simply had to try to capture it.

A bonus? Q was being exceptionally cute last night. She followed me with her eyes everywhere I went, stretched her nose toward me to investigate my person every time I passed by her as I moved about between the tack room and both horses. She was also exceptionally calm and relaxed, something that is fortunately becoming a new norm for her!

Griffin, the boy he is, had rolled in the dirt right before I arrived judging from his appearance. I dusted him off for some photos, too, but it just wasn't his night photo-wise. He's been more prevalent in photos of late, so it's high time Q had her chance, too.

As I snapped away, I took a great thrill in the thought and knowledge that, Wow,these are MY horses. Mine. My childhood self would be ecstatic right now...hell, I'm ecstatic right now!
So, without further ado, some photo spam of my critters.

That shine. That booty. That face.

Dapples are still in full effect for another year!
Lighting does not accurately represent how dark she is in this photo,
but I love the soft brown highlights where her leg meets her abdomen.

Hai laidee, give me apple?

Even in this photo of his eye you can see
dirt... He was a mess!

So much shine! And again with the light brown mixing with the dark.

Further brown blending.

Dat nose doh.

Still investigating me for treats.

Her blaze <3

A much more accurate representation of how dark she is; lighting better here.

It was scary, then in less than 15 seconds
it was boring. Good mare.


Plodding along.

Caught her peeing...took photo.

"Friends. I have friends. My friends are over
there. Did you know I have friends? Do you
see my friends? My friends are over there. I
love my friends. I have friends..."
-Q's mantra. Always. Forever.

Friday, May 15, 2015

From Failure to Success

Lately my first instinct when I go to the barn is to ride Griffin. My recent rides on Q have been wonderful, but really all I desire is to ride my grey horse. I don't know why. Maybe because he's typically the easier one of the two to deal with and I've got enough other things going on that I want to go out to the barn and enjoy an "easy" ride.

...except Griffin has been anything but easy lately!

I have fully arrived at the conclusion that Griffin is just a horse who needs consistent work. I need to make more of an effort to put in 3 days a week on him. (Because I simply cannot regularly strive to fit in more than 3 days. I'm far too busy; if I had one horse, it would be different.)

All the same, I've managed to turn our rides from horrible into good recently. It's a testament to how much calmer my mindset on life is in recent months. A rough start doesn't send me into a tizzy, I just rewind and work back through things in a different manner to best help my horse to find some success.

I'd hoped to do primarily jumping last night with Griffin. But best laid plans are just that, plans.

I set out two parallel ground poles for Griffin, an exercise from the 101 Jumping Exercises book, that we would use at the intersection of a figure-8. First we just walked through the poles as we bent around the 8. Then I changed it up to be a downward transition within the poles. A walking figure-8 meant we would halt between the poles; Griffin excelled. A trotting figure-8 meant we would walk between the poles; this started well and then fizzled into a mess.

Griffin initially picked up this LOVELY little western pleasure jog. He was reaching into the bit and listening so well. I praised him immensely. He'd slow to a walk between the poles, NBD. But as is becoming routine with this horse, he became more and more bottled up that he *gasp* wasn't allowed to go faster.

By our 4th round of the trot to walk figure-8, he was giving these grunts and tiny squeals with every walk to trot transition. He literally sounds like some kind of mutant guinea pig when he makes his little squeals - they're abbreviated in length, and muted in comparison to many noise a horse can make. They're also indicative of the high potential for an outburst from him in the near future.

By round 5 of trot-walk, he was popping his front end up into one or two canter strides in protest as he departed into the trot. Grunt. Squeal. Pop the front end a couple times. Then settle, but with an attitude about it. Rinse. Repeat. -_-

I decided to move the exercise into canter with a downward trot transition to see if a round or two of this would settle him a bit. Perhaps if he got to move out he'd just calm the F down?

*buzzzzz* WRONG.

What a shit.

Cue epic flailing, crow hopping, and baby bucking.


After the pictured flail, I dismounted and lunged his sassy ass for a moment or two to reset him.

I then remounted and took him over to the path that the tractor takes to the upper pasture and made him canter up it and walk down it twice. He was a saint for that.

However, reentering the field, his attitude returned.

I know the horse likes to canter, but we've already established that cantering isn't the answer. It's worth noting, he only thinks cantering is the answer when we are flatting. If we're on the trail he's game for many other options. Additionally, his newest attitude trigger is *gasp* pressure on his sides from a rider's legs. Heaven forbid I provide any inkling of a leg aid. Any leg pressure clearly means CANTER RIGHT NAO. No, no it doesn't you silly grey horse. And once again, this is a problem only intermittently presented when we're doing flat work that never presents on the trail.

I'm fairly confident it's just his newest way of testing his boundaries with me. The past year or so it was any pressure on his mouth, now it's any pressure on his side. He picks something to overreact to and see how far he can get. It's been his way with basically everything ever in hindsight. *waggles finger at Griffin* You silly horse, I'm learning your ways!

And so, with attitude firmly reestablished, I rewound back to the beginning of riding exercises.

Flex left. Flex right. Rinse. Repeat. Give to the pressure and stand quietly.

Except he couldn't be quiet about it. Instead, he spun in manic circles in each direction for the first attempt at each side. *sigh* However, once the light bulb came on, it stayed on.

We then walked. We walked a lot in a straight line. And then we halted and stood. Walk on. Halt. Stand. Walk on. Halt. Stand. Rinse. Repeat.

We continued to repeat the above, except we added backing after the halt before we walked on. He had a bit more of an attitude about that, but grasped it after a few repetitions.

I omitted the backing and the frequency of halting after he'd calmed. We walked and added some bending to our walking. Slowly, Griffin became more supple, lowered his headset, and reached for the bit. Much better.

So we began working over the ground poles at that very pleasant walk.

The camera angle doesn't do much for his hind end...

That was much better. So much in fact, that after several more circuits, we added the trot back in.

Much more control, focus, and steady rhythm now!

So then, because I knew it was really all he wanted to do, I rewarded him with a little jumping before we called it a night.

Yep. There's the horse I knew was hiding under all that attitude.

Much better. And talk about a turn around from the beginning of the night!!

To review:

Beyond rewinding to basics before building back up, the biggest good thing I did tonight was to continue to work him after he began to turn around his attitude. Gone are the days of quitting after the very first good note I can find in order to reward his ego without over working him. He's old enough now that I can't always cease our sour sessions with the first small good thing. He's picking up on the fact that he doesn't have to work very hard when I do that. It's time for him to learn that quality work is expected on a regular basis. Quality can be a quality halt, a quality walk, or quality work doing faster gaits or jumping. Attitude will not be accepted, it will be redirected.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Time and Miles

Q seems to be growing more of a brain finally. With added time and miles on trail, she's becoming much more reliable than she's been in the past. It seems as if I'm finally regaining the mare I brought home 3 years ago. I'm also unlocking more about her personality every day, and it seems I have a much more confident and sassy horse than I ever expected - something I applaud and encourage after worrying she was the polar opposite!

Of late, Q has been forward and confident on trail. She will give a wary look to certain objects, but by and large, she doesn't spook any more. At least not like she had been doing over the last year. The only spooking I deal with now seems to occur largely in new-to-her locations - and I'm okay with that.

Her default absolute-panic response is still to SLAM on the brakes and whirl around (always to her left), but the frequency of such spooking is much diminished. The whirling aspect of her spooks is also dropping in frequency, as well.

We had a particularly phenomenal 10.5 mile ride Sunday:

She was forward and eager to move out from the moment we left the barn. She knew she had a job to do and she did it. I was beyond thrilled. Every climb was tackled at a minimum of a trot, but often at a canter. She ate up the vertical like it was nothing!

After a brief respite at the peak of the hill, we'd resume trotting.

She put in a solid 4 or 5 miles before she gave me a legitimate spook. It occurred in an area she'd only been in 2x prior (both occurrences on the same day within 20 minutes of each other). Fallen logs on either side of the cleared trail were clearly a cause for alarm and she exhibited a hard stop from the canter with a moderate attempt to whirl to her left and run away from the perceived danger.

As Newton's first law dictates, an object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest remains at rest...unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Well, I stayed true to the act of staying in motion while Q exhibited an unbalanced force and stopped. I somersaulted off her right shoulder and onto the ground, my eyes staying on Q and my hands which were clenched to the reins throughout my fall. No way in hell was I about to let go of the damn horse when there was chance of having to travel home on my own two feet while she fled pell mell through the woods!

Q staggered back a bit, eyes wide and shifting from the logs to me and back to the logs. I grunted and slapped her on the coronet band with my dressage whip in my frustration as I clambered gracelessly off the ground muttering under my breath and climbed back into the saddle with nary a word to her.

Settled in the saddle, I turned her toward the logs and the direction I desired to go and told her, "Little girl, you ought to be more scared of this rider on your back than those fucking logs," and popped her good on the rear with the dressage whip, spurring her forward. She rocketed up the trail, taking my suggestion to heart and placing her fear in me instead of potential log monsters for the rest of the ride. (I say fear and not trust because there isn't trust from this horse in tricky moments...yet. I think it will come, but right now I'll take having her attention on me instead of things she's worried about in whatever form I can get it. At least she's giving me attention where she used to give me none!)

While I still lost my temper, I'm proud of myself for not yelling at her or hitting her more than I did; anger is a tricky emotion and resisting the urge to lash out is very hard in the heat of the moment. Honestly, that little crack with the dressage whip was very minor and likely not any worse than getting popped with a stick as we wind our way down rough trail. Or even clipping a pole over a jump. Ultimately, violence wasn't the right answer, but I'm still proud of myself for only having that much of an outburst instead of acting on the fire hot anger I was experiencing in the moment.

Controlling my reaction proved to be the proper answer however, as I was gifted with a wonderful remainder of my ride.

We have begun trotting all of the easy-moderate downhills where the footing is good. In the past, downhills at rides have been our downfall (pun intended) as I don't train them with any speed at home. Even though we walk them in competition, Q's legs will be stocked up significantly more post-ride if there were a lot of descents.

Downhills are hardest on a horse's legs I've always been told. But they are inevitable in this part of the world. And for many of the rides I've done, if you can't move out on the downhills at some rides, then you're going to be suffering significantly to meet the time limit for the ride! Sometimes they are the ONLY places you can move out - especially at some of the OD rides.

The downs that we are training on are definitely easy in comparison to many downs. I'm still walking down everything moderate, moderate-hard. But I'm hopeful that pursing trot training on the easy-moderate downs will help to further strengthen Q's legs. And besides, it isn't as if I'm pursuing this type of thing on a horse who has no fitness base built! We're coming to a close of 3 whole years of conditioning for endurance at the end of this month! (Wow...) That is a good amount of time for her muscles, tendons, and bones to have build up in response to conditioning.

Through our 10.5 mile ride (which included some significant climbing over a short distance) we maintained a faster pace than ever before averaging 6.45 mph. The route we took was a new one and one that I plan to tackle again and again in the future. I wasn't going for time when we set out, but I do value the stats gathered from this first ride as they will be valuable to compare with future efforts over the same course. I love data and am always interested to see how rides on the same terrain change over time.