Thursday, September 17, 2015

Northern Travels

I headed north to Maine for work and found some fun along the way. Here is a glimpse into the trip.

Paused in MD to see these ladies.
Gracie played, too.
The canal in downtown Frederick is very picturesque
Finally crossed this state off my list
Killed some Ethiopian with Hannah and Amanda in Mass.
Walked the breakwater (7/8 mile) out into the Penobscot Bay near Rockland, ME
I love the fishing / lobster boats so much
And the rocky coastline...I love that, too
And the conifer trees on the rocky coastline
I also love sailboats paired with the rocky coastline
And sunsets along the water
See the mist receding in the distance? I can't look at this photo and not hear music from the score for Pirates of the Caribbean. I feel like the Black Pearl is going to emerge from that mist at any moment.
This photo and the following one taken at Schoodic Point - newly opened/acquired NPS land.
Wish the mist hadn't been there so I could have seen the islands in the distance. Did you know there are over 4,600 islands off the coast of Maine?!
And again with the fishing / lobster boats. I adore them. Oh, and a lighthouse.
This bog not only looked like high elevation parts of WV (Dolly Sods/Canaan) it also had the same familiar smell.
This trail, too, reminded me much of the Sods/Canaan.
Except that trail ends with a view like this where my mountain trails would end with a cliff into a mountain vista.
Again with the mist... Again with the Hans Zimmer score...
Downeast Maine, I seriously love you.
The very rare photo of me attired for work.
South meets downeast Maine. Because YUM.
Two 2 lb. lobsters. Do you know how much they cost me? $19.94 that's not too bad at all. And they were delicious.
Sunrise over the Penobscot Bay.
A beautiful morning over calm waters...
...which was great because boat travel was much smoother! Island hopping time.
Metinic Island owned and managed by USFWS for seabirds - common, arctic, and federally listed roseate terns in particular.
The Owl's Head lighthouse with schnooner
The hell that was driving over the JFK bridge into NYC during a deluge at 11p.
I knew city folks sucked at driving in inclement weather, but dear god.
Driving 15 mph and stopping dramatically with no warning is a little excessive. Fortunately, I and my car survived.
(The dreaded bridge in the sunlight.)
I was in the city for the 14th anniversary of 9/11.
The Irish Rover in Astoria where beer is cheap (for the city) and I got into an argument with the two Irish owners about steeplechase horses...and it earned me a beer on the house!
Mi hermano y yo.
A very poor picture of the very best salmon I've ever had. Check out Isabella's on the Upper West Side.
Empire State showing off at night.
Technology vs. paper. Everyone biding their time on the subway in some fashion.
And then I made it home again. Where it was in the 40s (observe our attire) and rained for the first 3 hours I was back.
But it cleared up right before sunset making for a beautiful, beautiful [windy and cold] evening.
And it was so good to be home with this kid again. I missed him.
My mountain momma showing off why she's wild, wonderful and almost heaven.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

State of the Grey

Griffin is doing well. We're still plodding along steady as ever. September is total and complete chaos due to work (I'm gone something like 16 days this month due in some fashion to my job). I'm not riding as much as I'd necessarily like to, but c'est la vie. All is well regardless.

Our rides

While the frequency is erratic at best, I'm striving to ride Griffin at least 1x a week, though I always try for more. We'd been more focused over jumps for a month or so, but as more bobbles presented themselves in certain areas (nothing major in any fashion), I decided to dial back to more flat work for a time. (We always spend at least half the session (emphasis at the beginning to warm up) with flat work regardless.)

The back and forth nature of focus on flat vs. a blend of flat and jumps seems to be really good for Griffin's mind and body. He's grasping concepts more easily and his body is keeping up better than it did before. Areas where he would protest either mentally (herd members nearby distracting him) or physically (not strong enough) are far less than they were. We're both enjoying this as it is allowing me to build with new blocks now.

But I don't want to try to build with too many new blocks before I have some formal dressage lessons (coming in October, I hope!) just so I avoid building up bad habits that are harder to break in the future.

Top: June 11, 2015
Bottom: Sept. 15, 2015


Griffin is a lesson horse 1x a week. I've got my 4 year old student on Q (there is a lot of adoration on both sides of this partnership) and my new student, a 7 year old, on Griffin.

It's quite the case of kismet, these two paired together as they are. See, this little girl's mom was the one who gave me Griffin years ago. When the girl was little, I held her astride her first big horse for her first trotting moments. And now, the first big horse she's successfully ridden is Griffin.

She's had a miniature horse for several years now (complete with itty bitty bridle, itty bitty English saddle, and itty bitty breeches and boots and the whole get up...*cue "awww"*). She is right on the cusp of out-growing that mini though, and he's been thrashing her about as a result.

She didn't have great luck with "big" horses before Griffin. She's so very thrilled with him. He is attentive to her requests and they're becoming a good team. It helps that I am there to set both parties up for success, too.

I'm excited to see where things will go with these two. I'm also really proud of Griffin for being such a doll with a new rider aboard.

Yes, we mix it up with saddles all the time. It depends on what the goal of the day is. As of last night, she is trotting
on the bareback pad with arms extended out like a plane for up to 20 seconds. She's stable in her position and comfortable
with the Griffin's motion. A big change from 5 weeks ago when she was anxious about trotting more than 3 or 4 steps.

First float

Griffin got his first tooth float at the end of August. We've been over due for this since March, but with no great objections from Griffin so far as discomfort went, I wanted to wait until my vet's new 5,000 sq. foot facility opened up so I could trailer him over there for the float. I knew it would be easier on all involved.

Then summer happened and we all got busy for a time, but we did finally make it over.

It was quick and very routine. Griffin even walked right into the stocks first time with no more protest than giving it the stink eye at first. Griffin seemed to be a pretty cheap drunk, though he wasn't a sloppy cheap drunk. ;-) He just kind of blissed out and went with things. He didn't sway and flop about either during it all despite having some leeway with which he could have moved about in the stocks.

While we had him on hard, level ground, we sticked him so I could ascertain his true height. (Tape is always so questionable seeming.) He was right at 15hh. When he was a youngster, we string tested him to end up somewhere in the 15-15.1hh area at maturity, so he's right where I'd expected. It's still a little shocking that he's grown so much!! While I held hope he would be that big, I (and others) never thought he'd actually reach such a size.

Ugly duckling to beautiful swan indeed.

Investigating the hospital

"Lady..what are you doing back there?!"

I know I sound like a broken record, but I'm really, really pleased with this horse! He's so much fun. I love his temperament and his work ethic.

It's certainly taken a lot of time and effort on my end (and his!) to get to this point, but it's been so very worth it. I know starting horses from scratch when they're young isn't for everyone. It is a lot of work. For me though? I love the process of it and I love the rewards I'm gaining along the way. It's been, and continues to be, an absolute blast.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Saiph wrote recently about mental status/emotions with her mares and it really got me thinking and gave me the inspiration to write this post.

An Unspoken Goal, my History, and the Present

An unspoken goal of mine this year has been to remove my emotions from situations where my horses are just being horses. It's been a habit I have had to form, but I've been quite successful. Things are infinitely better as a result.

As a scientist, I think very analytically. I'm aware of the dangers of anthropomorphizing my animals, too. However, as a pet owner and one who is so involved with her animals, it's hard to keep the anthropomorphism at bay all of the time. You want to humanize something you spend so much time with, especially when you're spending as much or more time with them than


As a teenager, I never took the horses I rode so seriously. I wanted a "bond" with a horse, certainly, but I wasn't emotionally involved nearly as much as I became when the horses I rode became *mine*. I rode Stan for 4 or 5 years almost exclusively. I had a really great bond with that horse. But even then, I wasn't emotionally vested in a sense where I would take personal offense to his misbehaviors. Oh no. That didn't begin until I had horses of my own.

I suppose it began because I had so much time and money wrapped up into my own animals. I knew they were mine to do with what I pleased. Stan and the other horses of my past were owned by others. This fact kept me - and my emotions - a little reserved at all times in order to protect myself from ever getting too attached. With my own animals, I could finally allow myself to get attached.

And I did. And despite knowing I shouldn't, despite trying not to, despite denying it, I anthropomorphized the shit out of my horses.


I spiraled down the anthropomorphism vortex HARD. Caught up in that vortex, my emotions became incredibly attached to my animals' every action. Imperfections and misbehaviors on their part became personal assaults against my very being. And that's just silly.

It became exceptionally silly when, due to a myriad of other life stresses, I was in a constant state of fretting and anxiety last year. I couldn't ride Q without angry outbursts. I took personal offense to her every spook. This snowballed her behavior because she grew afraid of me. Griffin is a far more stoic critter, and thus had greater patience with me even when his occasional misbehavior sent me off the edge. Fortunately, my interactions with him didn't suffer so much.

Seeing them for what they are

Q for various unknown reasons in her past interaction with humans has a great tendency to be a very fearful animal. It's how people have made her; they've conditioned her flight response in an extreme way. It's a shame that she has experienced things that have left such an impression years later, but such is the nature of a traumatic experience for most living creatures.

Time, patience, proper training and positive reinforcement have largely resolved her suspicious and spooky nature when you work with her from the ground. Under saddle is still a work in progress, though we are getting there. Admittedly, it is more difficult to train through her issues under saddle because her favorite form of outburst is a wicked spook that unseats me a minimum of 50% of the time.

She doesn't purposefully try to unseat me; she isn't a horse who tries to unseat its rider - in fact, she's never even bucked or reared under saddle! However, she is genuinely fearful of a perceived stimulus and she reacts with gusto to escape it. Her instinctual response is so hardwired and acute that my human brain and body can rarely react in time. My body objects greatly to being tossed so often, as most would; even when I remain mounted, it is still a toll on my body. Arabian chiropractic adjustment anyone?


Griffin is a far more stoic critter. His past is largely known to me. He came to me as a nearly blank slate. I am almost 100% certain he was never ever mistreated in his life. As a result, he fosters no great fear of people. He experiences no anxiety about things like Q does. He doesn't anticipate something horrible from the world. He's exactly what you'd expect from a healthy animal with positive human interactions. He's a joy to work with as a result.

Griffin's outbursts are purely those of a young, green horse learning the ropes. He tests his boundaries time and again when training takes the next step up in difficulty. They're almost always very mild and we move past them in seconds. He reacts if he's in pain of some sort, too, as most horses do. His painful stimuli almost always is a result of a bug as he has a very small tolerance for the bastards.

Reacting with logic and not emotion

The frequency of Q's outbursts and the magnitude of her fear about  the world around her under saddle is troubling as a rider and trail partner. It's difficult to enjoy my ride when I'm under constant fear of hitting the turf. However, while the frequency of these spooks is frustrating, they very rarely infuriate me as they once did. I don't take personal offense to them any more; if I do get angry, it's because her constant reactions are causing me pain and it's more difficult to stay calm when you're in pain (often from being whipped back and forth from riding out her dodgy spook). Though I rarely react with anger the times I've actually hit the ground; when that happens I just bounce back up into the saddle without a sound because this confuses the little horse to no end which amuses me greatly.

Training through this issue is definitely not as black and white as other training issues, but we are getting there. Riding with the dressage whip helps greatly. She isn't inclined to listen to my voice when her instincts are peaking, but she does feel the tapping of the whip on her shoulder and that helps bring her down from the brink of her flight response. The tapping also helps to subdue a reaction before it builds at all.

A very game horse who is relaxed about her job...despite the water in her ears!
Photo by Becky Pearman

Depending upon the terrain, the trail, the company or lack thereof, and the type of reaction Q is having/building (mild, moderate, severe), I know to employ one or several various tactics: speed up, slow down, tap with a certain frequency, pop her one good one to snap her back to the present moment, or let her follow behind others. Always though, it helps to talk to her in a positive tone of voice - she likes that a lot and responds to it well.

So, instead of pushing the issue and forcing her to work through every moment of trepidation (and potentially leading myself down a path of blind fury), I just do what I know will work to make the ride less stressful for all. As a result, we've gotten a lot of great miles in this year. I know that with repetition and miles, Q can be a really fun, reliable trail partner. She also really does relax into her job once her confidence is built up. That's the most rewarding thing of all - watching this horse find success and - to anthropomorphize - enjoy her job.


Griffin's outbursts don't end our workouts with a fit of fury on my part any more as they have int he past because I'm able to dial down and refocus to help him succeed.  I recognize that he isn't reacting to piss me off on purpose, he's reacting because he really wants to succeed. If I haven't rewarded Griffin with a pat or a "good boy!" for awhile, he's more likely to have some kind of outburst. These are often super mild (shaking his head), but it's enough to trigger me to realize I haven't rewarded his efforts recently.

Griffin wants so badly to please. I've never met a horse who tried so hard. He picks up on things insanely fast. His training with me has always been so full of rewards for doing the right thing that he now actively seeks out the reward. If he doesn't get the reward, he has a bit of an outburst because he isn't sure how else to respond/communicate. To anthropomorphize this, he's confused and frustrated.

If I'm good about rewarding him and setting him up for success, he does better and better. Setting him up for success means dialing whatever we're working on back down to square one following bigger outbursts. He has to find success before he can try new things.

Trying something new and finding success.

His intelligence leads to some comical moments sometimes because he anticipates what the answer may be based on other things we've done. When he's asked to try something that is similar yet different & new from the old answer, he tends to have more outbursts because he can't figure out what the "new" answer is. He tries the "old" answer, and maybe an even older one, and when those don't work, he has *a moment*. As the trainer in this situation, I have to figure out how to ask for the "new" answer in a better way so he can succeed. It's a puzzle! But it's a fun one.

If anyone ever watched one of my rides with Griffin, they'd easily observe how content this horse is with his job. To anthropomorphize, he's happy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Riding the Valley & the Sods

I brought Q along for my weekend in Canaan with plans of spending a few hours each day on the trails with her. It's so nice to have the luxury of a pasture to dump her in for the weekend. I can easily enjoy a weekend away with my horse with little effort on my part.

I'd planned to ride with Dan most of the weekend, but he ended up only being available on Saturday. Instead, I rode with his intern Lena who is from Germany each day; Dan joined us on Saturday.

Before I continue, I want to note how absolutely incredible Q has become with trailering. She used to be such a terror about it, refusing to get on, whirling once on to bolt off, getting on only to back off immediately, etc. And while I'm sure we'll come across some rough patches in our future, we've passed a big hurdle this year. Q reliably self-loads now; sometimes she gets on and turns around to face backwards immediately, but more and more often she's choosing to just face forward.

At the beginning of the year she was self-loading reliably on the third attempt (third time I asked). Now she walks up and gets straight on with little to no hesitation straight from the field. She'll get on by herself or with another horse. On our third day of riding this weekend when we trailered a short distance to access the trail access, she was trying to pull the lead out of my hands to load herself on the trailer when the ride was over! WHAT a difference in this little horse.


For Friday's ride, we headed up to Canaan Mountain. Due to a bit of contention due to some misunderstandings about an area we rode my last time up there, we had to ride along a road for about 5 miles to reach the trails. Not ideal, but no big deal. Plenty of areas on either side to get off the road - and it isn't heavily traveled at all.

Lena rode Dan's mare Nell and led the way. She and I gabbed for the whole 3.5 hours pretty steadily. We trotted and cantered a fair amount, walking the tricky single track as necessary.

Q did very little leading all weekend. Largely, I didn't know where we were going a lot of the time, but I also had zero desire to deal with her spookiness. She's been a bit more uppity under saddle this past week either due to being in heat or perhaps another episode of uveitis is paining her. Regardless of the underlying reason, I didn't care to push things. She was oggling at enough things (oh god, a ROCK, oh god, a HOLE, oh god, a BUTTERFLY, oh god, a POST, oh god, a BOTTLE...) following a leader that I was quite content with my decision for the weekend.

We racked in a 15 mile ride Friday in about 3.5 hours. Not too shabby. Q was booted in front and bare behind for this ride.



On Saturday we got an early start. I met Dan and Lena at the field to get ready, choosing to boot Q all the way around on this day in anticipation of a very rocky Dolly Sods trail.

Charlie, a neighbor and another local, joined us for this day's ride. Her gelding has >4300 AERC miles, mostly from rides out west. He's an absolutely stunning horse, even at 20. He's got a lot more substance to him than a lot of Arabians do, which I like a lot. Cuidado is booted all the way around as Q is, but with EasyBoots. Unfortunately, Charlie was having a hell of a time with her boots on this day, and half way up Salamander - a ski slope at Timberline we use to access the Sods - she called it a day after losing her 3rd or 4th boot. She noted that there are only so many signs one can ignore before calling it a day.

Dan, Lena and I went on to have an absolutely outstanding ride in the Sods. It was a BLAST zipping along those trails with someone (Dan) who knew the area so well! Q's last time in the Sods was nearly a year ago. She was barefoot for all of it and the trail I did required us to walk most of the time due to the gnarly footing. Quite the feat of barefoot power when you consider the rocks!


Prepared for gnarly footing, I'd booted all the way around for our second visit. Fortunately though, the trails Dan took us on were much less rocky by and large. Still gnarly in many sections, but not so bad as the trail I'd done previously. Big bonus right now - we've had little rain for over a week so the trails are drier than usual making for fabulous footing in a commonly-sopping-wet area! Q did have 3 mishaps where her front boots twisted off after we'd gone through some mud, but beyond that, no issues!

We kept a great pace all through the Sods. Dan's gelding Dakota is a standardbred x morgan (Störgan as coined by Dom) and can really move out at the trot (not surprisingly). Q picks up the most enjoyable canter when he does this, which is what we held for much of the ride.

I thought merely riding in the Sods during peak autumn last year was more than amazing - and it was! - but riding in the Sods at speed? Oh goodness, that neatly topped it. Seeing so much stunning beauty in one go was so outstanding.


We ended up clocking a good 19 miles on this day. 10 of it was accessing the Sods from the pasture, but a solid 9 was actually in the Sods. Q was perky and strong still at the end of this day with 34 miles completed in two days.

We galloped the horses for a short stretch about 3/4 of a mile from the end of this ride so we could see how fast Dan's horses would pulse down. Gallop for ~200 yards, walk with a little trot for 3/4 mile, and then untack and take pulses.

His two non-Arab's were around 70 and dropping. Q was also at 70, but then peed and dropped to 54, haha. Fit horses all the way round! I think I've got Dan talked into moving up slowly into 50s with me next year. 


Sunday Dan was way-laid yet again, though a bit unexpectedly this time. He sent Lena to ride with me again though, with direction to ride Dakota and give Nell a rest.

Not wanting to ride on the road to access Canaan Mountain again on this day, we hooked up the trailer and trailered Q and Dakota to the top where we tacked up and headed out. MUCH nicer.

Lena and I were both pretty tired by Sunday morning. Q took a little longer to get her head in the game, too.

We set off down Loop Road at a nice little trot/canter for a time, but eventually slowed to a walk. We decided to just ride the pipeline as it was a weekend and running into mountain bikers on the trails was much more likely. The trails are tight single track used primarily by mountain bikers, so it's common courtesy to stay off them during likely times of higher-use. (It also saves the risk of a nasty wreck on our part or a biker's!)

We walked and walked and walked down the pipeline. We eventually decided to see how far we could go as I had been thwarted by the boggy conditions in May after only a few miles. Fortunately though, the dry conditions of late lent themselves well to allowing us passage. We rode clear to the Blackwater River.


Both Lena and I were curious to see where the pipeline would continue (the river was totally crossable) and were also curious as to where the dirt road we'd crossed right before the river headed. But alas, I had evening commitments and couldn't explore. We vowed to explore next time and turned for home.

The whole journey back was a slight uphill. The footing was impeccable and soft. Q had begun the day with boots all around (for the gravel road), but I'd taken her boots off half-way down the pipeline as Lena and I had planned to just canter it all the way back up.

Well, that canter turned quickly into an all out gallop for about 5 miles! 3 up the pipeline and then a short pause to boot Q all the way around before galloping the final 2 miles on the road.

What. A. Rush! The whole way up the pipeline both horses launched over perceived obstacles like the small erosion cuts in the slope, small rocks, and the two more significant creeks (quite the jumps over these!!). I had a grin plastered to my face the whole time.

I have not traveled that fast for that long on a horse ever. I haven't traveled that fast on a horse for any length over a half mile or so since high school probably! Q was eager and happy throughout, too.

Back at the trailer after a short stretch of walking to begin to cool them down, both horses pulsed in in the upper 70s. Q was breathing hard, immediately after the gallop, but she wasn't blowing like an animal about to keel over from exhaustion. In fact, during our short walk, her respirations settled to normal within minutes. Dakota's respirations didn't drop as fast, but he wasn't greatly distressed either. Quite pleased with both horses overall after such a distance @ speed.

This final ride ended up at 10 miles, putting Q around 45 for the weekend. Not too shabby!

It was a beautiful 3 days of riding in one of my favorite West Virginia locations. Thanks to Lena and Dan for helping to make it happen. <3