Monday, November 30, 2015

Success! And yet, failure - Carolina 100

Because I'm some kind of special (or maybe just a masochist), when my friend and endurance mentor Mary Howell mentioned needing a rider for her Siena mare less than a week out from the Carolina 100, I quickly filled out my entry form and fired it off to her.

I've been plotting and scheming when to attempt my first 100 for nearly a year now, but the time just hasn't been right yet. We'd originally attempted this plan in March, but weather moved in and the plan was flushed down the drain. In the time since, Siena has completed numerous 50s (one with me aboard) and multiple 75s. I knew also, she was in peak shape under Mary's training program. I enjoy riding the mare, evidenced in my 3 50s on her since 2013, so a 100 sounded just fine!

My drive to SC was with minimal issue on Friday. I caught up with Mary upon arrival and chatted with some other endurance riding friends of hers before the ride meeting and dinner.

At the meeting, I learned I would be starting with 27 other 100-mile riders at 7a. There would be five loops of the following mileage: 28.7, 14.2, 28.7, 15.5, 15.5. The first three checks would be 50 minutes and the final check would be 30 minutes with optional tack-on.

The big loop sounded a bit intimidating, but I knew it would go by quickly enough. The second iteration of it during the heat of the day would definitely be trying though!

I, very surprisingly, slept VERY soundly that night. I even dreamt of starting the ride and riding several miles. No anxiety!

Temps that morning were in the mid-upper 40s - which had been the high in WV! Highs for the day were predicted to be in the low 70s with no precipitation in the forecast. Perfect.

I used my orange tack on Siena with Mary's newer model Ansur saddle. Oh. My. Goodness. That saddle is a dream! I felt so balanced and secure in it! I rode in an older model Ansur on Siena in 2013 and fell in love - it's why I now ride Q in an Ansur! I told Mary she'd cursed me again, now all I desire is one of the newer model Ansurs...unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) they can only be had to the tune of $3900. Even a lightly used one chimes in to the tune of $2500 - both way out of my price range! Maybe one day.

Mary and I started near the front of the pack. The only two folks in front of us at the start went on to complete the ride in first and second place.

The trails were predominately sand roads and trails, all wide enough for a vehicle to traverse. Deep sand was intermittent throughout, but nothing crazy for very long. Fortunately, the heavy rains SC experienced earlier in the month lent plenty of water along the loop!

Siena and I on the first loop. Photo by Becky Pearman

Mary and I along with Amy Stone aboard her Anglo-Arab mare Kricket settled into a nice ground eating 10-11 mph pace. A lady on her 14hh POA/Appy mare rode with us for a time, but eventually moved out beyond us. (What a little engine that mare had! She would go on to complete.)

A group of 5 or 6 ladies rode along with us for a mile or two, but we let them pass after a mile or so, opting for a slower pace. There was plenty of day ahead - no need to burn up the horses on the first loop!

We ultimately took 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete that first big loop. Almost a third of the way done with the mileage for the day!

Unfortunately for me though, Siena trotting out lame at the first hold. Slightly off on her right front. A 48 pulse and all As on everything else. And thus, as quickly as it had begun, my 100 mile hopes for the day were dashed!! The lameness was subtle; Mary suspected it was likely a stone bruise from a misstep. Regardless, better to quit while we were ahead before it became anything worse!!

Honestly though, I wasn't too bothered by the pull. It was the right thing to do for the horse. I was grateful she wasn't in any worse a way. (I re-presented her to the vets around 3p and they all said the lameness, while still present, was even more subtle than it had been previously. Encouraging!)

I quickly reverted into crew mode for Mary for the next couple holds.

Mary's account of the rest of the ride is here.

Ultimately (spoiler alert), she and Amy completed at 12:15am in a 4th place tie!


One of my 30 before 30 goals was to *compete* in a 100 mile ride. When I originally wrote the goal, it was to complete a 100-miler. Within hours of writing that, I modified it. 100s are tricky. Beyond the combination of a good, fit rider on a talented, fit horse, 100s require some luck. There is a lot more time for things to go awry.

So, while my first attempt at a 100 was foiled, I still count the whole experience as a success. I had the initial cojones to sign myself up and start the ride. It didn't go as planned, but I still had a blast. I'll definitely be seeking out my second attempt at a 100-miler in the near future!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A fun comparison

Well, here's a fun comparison...

Spring of 2014, I was finally getting some consistent work with Griffin under saddle with a bit in his mouth. While he would accept a bit, it took him a good while to be 100% okay with the pressure of it on his mouth. I outlined the issues in this post.

I introduced video screenshots in that post, but never actually shared the videos as I'd said I would.

Well, while perusing my YouTube uploads over the past few years, I was noting to myself the wealth of Griffin videos. There are so many! It's really fun to be able to look back on where he was so long ago. This January will mark 4 years together (!!).

Realizing my mistake in never uploading the videos from March 2014, I thought I'd share one now along with a comparison video of where Griffin's canter work is these days. He's changed so much in 20 months.

It's visible evidence like this that absolutely blows me away. He's come SO far. I've spent SO much time working with him to get him there, too.

And it isn't just his canter that has improved -- his jumping really has, too! Here's a 64 second video of a small 9 jump course I've recently strung together with him. Each cavaletti is 18", the skinny vertical is ~2'3" (yep, he's jumping a 4'-wide skinny with ease now!), and the standard verticals are at 2'6" -2'9".

I was realizing it for the first time in the post from March 2014, but the sentiment really rings true 20 months later: He's SO MUCH FUN. I really love working with and riding this grey horse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Raptor Banding Trip 2015

If you are fascinated by birds of prey, this is a post for you. If birds ghoul you out, then click on past.

I inundated my Instagram and Facebook feeds with photos and videos last week, so time to top off the trifecta of social media and share them on ye olde blog.

I have aided with the raptor banding efforts for the Cape May Raptor Banding project since 2011. One of my best friends is permitted and I assist her (and other banders) to trap, band, process, and release these birds. The project has been monitoring the status of raptor migration every fall since 1967. It's a fabulous long-term project and I'm really grateful to get to be a part of it. It's a really great way to celebrate the 1x a year I get to see Mandy (as she lives in CA and I live in WV); it also makes for a really epic Girls Trip. No, this is NOT a part of my normal job and no, I do NOT get paid to do this. I take a vacation to go and volunteer with this project and spend quality time with my bff.

Hatch year (HY) coopers hawk
Team Redhead selfie!
HY red tail hawk (RTHA)
Kenai beaching it up
One happy dog!
Added Arthur to the blind for a day
An epic pose with an epic bird - HY peregrine falcon
A non-epic pose with the epic bird
The box we sat in for nearly 10 hours every day
Mature coopers hawk - ain't 'e a beaut'!
Selfie with a female sharp-shinned hawk -- she looks so quizzical
And now, the onslaught of photos of the second year (SY) male northern harrier (NOHA) I trapped -- I've been wanting one of these in hand since the very first year we went
See that little brown feather? That was how we ID'd him as a SY bird
This accurately describes my excitement about finally having a NOHA in hand
Such an incredibly cool bird
Beautiful "grey ghost"
Look at his long legs! Better for snatching prey out of grasslands/marshes
Another epic sunset night on the beach for Kenai
Mature adult RTHA -- a GORGEOUS bird
She was stabilizing herself in hand against the wind gusts (> 20 mph)
So gorgeous!
Talons! And her new jewelry - a band.
Another RTHA later in the morning - and Mandy's sassy face apparently.
I LOVE the eye color of these birds
Shot of a HY RTHA release from my hand -- see the band on its right leg?
Redheads with redtails. Both HY birds.
And finally, the most epic release photo of a HY RTHA.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Happy Horse Progress Report

Writing this year has definitely been minimal in comparison with former years on this blog. I've been making a very big effort to live a little more richly and get away from technology this year and in that, I have had quite a bit of success!

Regardless, I do enjoy looking back on the chronicles of my adventures and horse training, so I will continue to write, though it will likely be without the frequency I originally did.


Both horses have been a part of my life for >3 years now and while training never truly ceases, the noteworthy parts of training that were once a daily conversation are now more of a weekly/monthly conversation. Now, it's more important to me to observe trends over periods of time than to note every individual daily happenstance. My partnership with each horse is ever-changing and constantly moving forward -- that's what matters most.

Still, I believe it is important to note these trending changes and the high points of them so I can continue to look back through this blog and remember them. I'm always astounded how far we've come when I take time to look back on my journey with both horses as chronicled through the blog. It's a great resource to keep me grounded and heading in the right direction with things which is awesome because that was the reason I began blogging!

In a snapshot --

Griffin came to me as a gangly youngster with nearly no learned skills, now (because of me! -- something that never ceases to amaze me) he is successfully under saddle, can travel successfully down the trail, is learning basic dressage concepts, and has beautiful form over fences.

Q entered my life with quite a mysterious background, but after a weekend trial I knew I had to try my hand with her to see what could unfold within the realm of endurance riding. Three years later she's got nearly 300 competitive completion miles and countless hours spent on trail and our relationship is stronger by the day.

Ups and downs have existed along the way, of course. And I know they will continue to, but I am really proud to say that by and large the journey has consisted with quite a few Ups this year. You see, my "live more, write less" lifestyle has been great for not only me, but the relationship I have with both horses.

I'm seeing each horse for what they are better than ever before and because I'm able to do that, training sessions (and all interactions, really) go so much more smoothly.

A big factor in this is that I've really truly been able to remove my emotion from situations with the horses that once caused me frustration and grief. The only times I can think of offhand when I lost my temper recently were when my safety was put at risk (Griffin uncharacteristically rearing up on me while we were doing work in hand from the ground -- the session ended very positively after he realized that was NOT allowed).

The biggest changes this year --

- Q's calmness on the ground is the new norm for her. She stands tied and calm for various periods of time with no issue and is cool and collected for all handling from the ground. When I introduced her to lateral work in hand the other night, she got a little frazzled, but settled quite quickly and had a great introductory session. It helped that I kept my cool during her momentary worry so she calmed quickly.

"Oh, what's that? Stand ground tied in the middle of nowhere by this bike that I've been following for 12 miles? Sure. No problem." -Q

- Trailering issues are a thing of the past now. Our new norm involves Q getting on the trailer immediately upon walking up to it and then I close the door. Of course, the time I go to actually film this, she backs off twice, and then she gets on and turns around to face backwards, a practice she rarely does anymore. (I would insert the laugh-crying emoji here if I could.) That's how filming works though, things never go as you plan! Regardless, you can see how she gets on without hesitation. In addition to the whole "if you're filming things won't go to plan" rule, I think Q knew we weren't actually going anywhere as the trailer was in it's parking spot and not in the "hooked up ready to leave" spot.

I'd say at least a third if not half the times I rode her this year involved a trailer ride, so she learned quickly that the trailer isn't the end of the world. It's such a welcome change!

- Q's strength and skill at distance riding has also continued to improve. While our competition season wasn't nearly what it was last year, she absolutely excelled at what we did. Her recoveries at check/holds were pretty outstanding. Her post-trot out pulse was pretty routinely 4 beats lower than her pre-trot out pulse.

I think I've found what kind of conditioning works well for this little mare. I'm going to be adding some more downhill work to the regiment, but beyond that, I'm really pleased with the way we're going about things. If I can get our gear tweaked we will definitely be moving up in distance next season.

- Stretching, leg handling, and trot outs are things in the "we really need to work on this" category. Already though, I'm seeing improvements in these areas. We've practiced each only a handful of times since I decided to begin focusing on them and Q is already much better about them.

Here's several shots of us trotting back an d forth in front of the camera followed by a faux trot out (in which she bobbles as she considers spooking at the camera on our return...we need to work on our straight lines, haha). What do you think of her movement?


- Griffin is absolutely leaps and bounds from where he once was. When compared to the beginning of his US work (March 2014), there is such a huge difference. Even the comparison of where he was last fall vs. this fall is very notable (October '14 - October '15).

March 2014
March 2014
November 2014
October 2014
October 2015
October 2015
October 2015 - amazing what a sunny day does in showing off how much his grey has lightened!

And of course there's the notable improvement in his jumping form and ability over time:

October 2014 first time at 18"

April 2015 2'
May 2015 18"
June 2015 22"
July 2015 3'
October 2015 3'

The quality of his gaits and his jumping ability has improved immensely. I can't speak highly enough of how pleased I am with this little horse. My only complaint is that he's still a bit rotund around the midsection! I'd like to slim him down just a hair.

Could still stand to slim up a bit.
Can't believe how light he has become despite knowing he'd be lighter every year.
He's still got a cute face, though I miss his blaze </3

Overall, he's more mature, stronger, more able of body and mind. The kid hasn't had a workout longer than ~ an hour for nearly the whole year. Our frequency of workouts is much higher than what Q does, but the intensity and length is much less. It's the perfect place for his mind and body -- as evidenced in the photos above!

To conclude --

I'm really pleased with the direction Q and Griffin are going. We've made a lot of progress in a lot of areas so far this year. Griffin's progress is more visible (and easier to capture via media) than Q's, but Q's progress is right in line with my goals for the future. Having a calm, happy horse is the most important thing and she's definitely much calmer and happier than she once was in her interactions with people.

Our winter promises to be successful as I have set multiple goals that are more than attainable. Setting the horses and myself up for success is the only way to go about things.