Friday, October 27, 2017

On the Trail Again

Friday the 13th, Q and I trailered out to hit up some nearby trails. It was a beautiful day, the colors were just past peak, and it was high time to get the mare off-property.

I didn't really have a plan on where to go - the options are endless! I could cruise the ski trails nearby or the ski trails a little further away, ride Dolly Sods wilderness area or other trails on National Forest elsewhere, or even a few trails on the wildlife refuge, or maybe the State-owned wildlife management area. Too many trail options is the best dilemma to have!


I ultimately decided to go with the closest option a whopping 4 mile all-uphill-drive from the barn, just past my house.

Q unloaded, looked about, and then stood calmly as if saying, "Oh, this again." I freaking love this mare away from home!

I stashed my keys, helmeted my head, and Q and I set off.


I kept the majority of the ride to a walk, just wanting to get Q out to see the world on trail solo again since we hadn't been out on trail since August 2016.  We did a lot of stopping to look and consider as we made our way up the mountain on pristine footing - nary a rock in sight!

The first third of our ride was straight up climbing. We gained several hundred feet in very short order, weaving our way through hawthorne trees and downed logs as we waded through goldenrod and wingstem that was as tall as Q's back (she's 14.1hh).


After awhile, we emerged from the wooded portion onto the partially mowed/maintained ski slope. Q hesitated a bit at this change in scenery, but eventually gave a big exhale and we marched onward at a nice 4.5 mph walk, enjoying the 100-foot bench that gave a short break in our power climb up the mountain.

Surprisingly enough, she didn't balk at all at any of the man-made objects in and around the ski slope. Blue barrels, fluorescent orange tape, snowmaking nozzles and guns and sticks - none of it bugged her.

As we climbed higher and I saw that the scenic chair lift was indeed operating, I opted to turn back down the mountain. I had zero desire to field tourist questions.

We wound down one slope, up another parallel one, and then down a third before traversing back to our original path. We trotted in very short spurts along pieces of the trails, but mostly kept to a nice marching walk.


Back on our original trail, I opted to follow a newly mowed section to the bottom instead of bushwacking the tall vegetation as we'd done on our way up. I knew about where the mowed section would end, but had never traveled this exact path between the two points. I suspected I would veer away from the mowed path at the bottom to complete my circuit back to the trailer, though I didn't anticipate just how high and overgrown the area would be!

Nonetheless, I legged Q forward, off the mowed path and into the sea of tall vegetation topped with glistening seeds waiting to be disturbed and released airborne.


Different from the vegetation we wound through on our way up, these stalks were as high as Q's pricked ears! As we disturbed the vegetation, the seeds stuck to us and swirled about in the air.

It was absolutely comical to watch Q navigate through. She wavered back and forth from putting her head/nose low below the top of the vegetation and then way up above as she tried to gain a better vantage point on the seed swirling chaos around us.

I giggled endlessly, laughing harder when she finally started sneezing every 8 to 10 steps from the seeds in her nose. We were absolutely COVERED in the things!


With time, we emerged from the chaos, crossed the road, and enjoyed trotting a nicely mowed trail back to the trailer.

All-in-all, we tackled 3.75 miles in an hours time, climbing somewhere around 900 feet during our venture. Q was hesitant at times, balked twice, but was otherwise a very good girl for the whole outing.

It wasn't much to write home about, but it was really nice to finally get back behind those dark ears on trail after so much time off. Hopefully we'll luck into more such ventures in the next few weeks before the snow really starts blowing.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Plot Twist

Horses will be horses.

They saw me arrive and promptly went to hide in a remote corner of their field. Spoiler alert: it didn't work.
All I wanted to do was groom them and grain them on this day. The next day they were waiting in the barn for me
when my car pulled up!

And life is ever busy.

2017 WV Autumn-50
Never too busy for doggy hikes though!

And thus, my plans to attend the final starter trial at Loch Moy have come crashing down.

Lurking while I mucked stalls.

I harbored grief over it for about one minute, then bounded forward with new plans. Water under the bridge and all.

So shiny - even in his ungroomed state. Super pleased with the weight he's been gaining this month.

See, Grif has been on again, off again with mild lameness since October began. Our unseasonably warm weather (70s-80s °F) coupled with periodic bursts of seasonal (30s-40s °F) weather has been the perfect recipe for abscesses and he's had at least two. The first was more major resulting in a nice quarter-sized blow out on his heel near the coronet band, the second was much more mild and in the opposite front foot. He's still ever so slightly off when he's on gravel on the foot with the most recent abscess, so whether that's to blame or perhaps he's garnered a stone bruise is yet to be determined. Farrier will be out for second opinion this weekend. He's had zero swelling and his legs look great, so I'm not really freaking out about anything at this point - no point looking for a zebra in a herd of horses. It is what it is and we'll get 'er figured.

I think he totally rocks the leopard print and hot pink, yes?

Due to the abscesses, especially that first pesky one that lasted a good 10-14 days (just like last year's), we really haven't been riding much. Haven't even jumped a gahdamn thing since our last HT.

Well, kind of.

Our current temporary boarding situation closer to my house has this sweet field to ride in. It's in a bit of a bowl on the landscape - flat in the bottom with steady upward rise on three sides. As it rises upward to the ridge above, there are a few limestone rock outcroppings that are perfect natural banks! So, while we haven't jumped colorful sticks or solid obstacles, we HAVE practiced up and down banks. Skinny AF banks at that because these rocks aren't much more than 3-4 feet wide. Yay?

The bowl mentioned above is pictured here. Some outcroppings are present above Q's ears.

The limited riding - especially jumping - had me feeling not-so-awesome about the final HT anyway, as I'd originally planned to compete at BN instead of elementary. Limited jumping since our last outing made that plan sound quite unfair to Grif and myself. My contingency plan was to just repeat what we'd done last time: compete at the elementary level and school the BN XC course after. This would give us show miles and would be well within our abilities.

I was ready to pull the trigger on this plan when I returned from my vacation and found Griffin to be 100% when ridden on good footing. I pulled up the website to register the following morning to find, oops, I'd done a dumb and forgotten that the sign-ups closed the day before. D'oh!

I could have gotten on the wait list, certainly. But you know what? I'm really blissfully NOT stressed out about a damn thing at the moment, and the thought of sitting around waiting to hear will I/won't I get to go just wasn't a game I felt like playing at the moment. There WILL BE other shows and we WILL make it to them. Of that, I am certain.

Evening wanderings on remote roads.

So for now, we're gonna settle into winter plans. It's a bummer to not fulfill this goal, but that's just life sometimes, y'know? I'm excited to have some pressure-free months to fine-tune my riding and the fitness of myself and the horses.

We've got some fun, easy-going plans the next couple of weeks - trail riding and the like. Then we'll all enjoy a vacation for the better part of November 'cause I'm leaving the country to head to warmer latitudes for one last hurrah before settling into winter (first snowflakes last night! first snow predicted for Sunday!).

Two weeks after the photo above - definitely winning the weight gain game!
Ready for winter...

Anyone else recently have a plan fall through and/or their backup/contingency plan fall through? Did it feel right in the moment or was it harder to swallow the loss?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Goals

Last week was my annual raptor banding trip in Cape May, NJ.

20171017 Cape May
Second year female peregrine falcon

It was a fantastic week because not only did I get to see my best friend who lives in California and interact with raptors, I was truly at peace mentally for the first time in MONTHS. Two huge things came to resolution right before my trip and I was thus able to completely check-out mentally.

20171017 Cape May-2
Hatch year female northern harrier

I feel so incredibly revived (mentally) as a result! Such a great place to be knowing that I still have a lot of tough work projects coming up in my near future. They're not going to be easy, but they're not going to be anywhere as stressful as what I just tackled!

20171017 Cape May-10
After second year male kestrel

During my week of vacation, I had a lot of time to think about things I haven't thought about in ages. I pondered future goals and other dreams that I haven't been able to focus on with any sort of gusto in a long time.

20171017 Cape May-13
After second year male Cooper's hawk

As I pondered what exactly I'd like to focus on for myself and the horses going into winter, I kept coming back to two main things. And as I thought more (and read a lot of equestrian books/magazines that were on the back-burner for the past 6 months), I realized the two things I kept coming back to fit rather seamlessly together: yoga for me & dressage for the horses.


The advent of a primarily desk-job entering my life 6+ years ago has led to much more sitting than I've ever done. My hips and lower back have cried foul at this since the beginning. In an attempt to ease the pain, I don't sit in the traditional sense much these days: I have a vari-desk that adjusts from sitting to standing and everywhere in between, and I sit on a yoga ball or an adjustable saddle stool when I'm not standing. However, despite these wonderful mitigation measures, I'm still battling tight hip flexors and anterior pelvic tilt more than ever before!

Enter yoga. It's something I have pursued with intermittent regularity over the years. Like any human, I definitely have a weaker side and yoga is one of the few things that helps me build that weakness while stretching and adding flexibility to the strong side. I always feel better afterward and I love how my body awareness increases along with added strength to my weak areas.

20171017 Cape May-17
Second year female rough-legged hawk, a rarity for us

Yoga takes a lot of time and miles. It's akin to dressage in many aspects, you can't really cheat your way into the fancy "tricks" like handstands and other inversions. To truly execute those maneuvers, you've got to have a lot of body awareness and focused strength. If you've ever watched a skilled yogi flow through hand balances and inversions, you can't deny the raw strength present in their practice. The minutia behind the strength involved in such practices is both awe-inspiring and fascinating to me.

My two big goals for myself with yoga have always been splits and handstands. I know both are well within my realm of ability, I just have to take the time to pursue daily yoga to advance my flexibility and strength within poses. With a focus on splits first and handstands second, I will strengthen the weak aspects of my physique: hip flexors and lower abdominal muscles. The strength I'll gain along the journey will benefit my posture, my riding, my skiing, my rock climbing, and so many other aspects of my life.


Since learning more about dressage, I have believed firmly that it will help my horses more than nearly any other pursuit. Teaching them how to build their bodies to be strong in the correct places and use that strength in the correct way will only help in the journey to pursue any other sport I choose to dive into.

Dressage is a journey though; it takes time and miles to build a horse up to be able to properly execute the proper steps through each level. Like with yoga, you can't cheat your way to the fancy trick-like maneuvers. If you do cheat your way there, you're bound to encounter other issues that will prohibit lasting success.

Riding dressage, being the partner your horse needs you to be, isn't easy. It takes a certain amount of "feel" along with proper body alignment and strength.

20171017 Cape May-18
The rough-legged hawk's namesake, feathered "rough" legs - and tiny feetsies!

As I dove into a lot of dressage-focused reading on my vacation, I was reminded of just how not easy it is to properly ride a horse. Keeping your sit bones properly aligned underneath you, maintaining proper leg position, and then independently delivering a variety of aids to cue the horse quickly becomes downright complicated. Add in body weaknesses like tight hip flexors and weak lower abdominals and, well, frankly, you're a bit screwed.

But you know what I kept noticing as I read about the minutia involved in proper riding? So many of the notes about how to achieve proper body alignment and involve the exact same things I'm pursuing with yoga in my quest for splits and handstands. "Zipping up" your abdominals and tucking your pelvis will not only help you sit in the saddle properly, it will also help you hold a handstand.

Touché, Universe, I see what you did there.

Goal Unity

And thus, my winter goals for both myself and the horses have collided into near-perfect unity.

I will be pursuing stronger lower abs and greater flexibility in my hip flexors among other added strength gains to my body through yoga and also ask the horses to carry themselves with more balance and precision through dressage-focused exercises. With any luck, we'll advance together through these pursuits, building strength and skill along the way.

It's my hope that putting these goals into writing in a public space will help increase my accountability toward their pursuit. Only time will tell!

20171017 Cape May-22
How amazing to have such a rare-for-us bird in hand! Sporting my Rolex hat, of course.

How about you - tell me about a time you pursued separate goals only to find that they benefited one another. Did you find it easier to pursue those goals because they supported one another? Or maybe you don't care one lick about goals and you just came here for the pictures of raptors 😉. Totally okay, if so, and know that I'm happy to field any questions you may have about them/the project - so ask away.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 10 Questions

Well, I'm on vacation in Cape May enjoying a quiet mind for the first time in MONTHS. I'd love to update you on a number of things...but wrapping up all of the accompanying media is more than I can handle at the moment. I also may or may not have solely vanquished a bottle of prosecco that gave me extraordinary squirrel!brain. So, instead. I put together a list of 10 October-esque Questions! Feel free to hop along with these, I'd love to hear other's answers!

    1. Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?
    2. Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer? 
    3. Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?
    4. Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?
    5. Pumpkin spice. It's everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse? 
    6. We're getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few "big-bang" shows to look forward to?
    7. Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?
    8. Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?
    9. October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?
    10. What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?

My answers:
  1. Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?
    Fall is absolutely my favorite season to ride. Uncharacteristically dry weather and trails exist at this time. Couple that with the vibrant fall foilage that persists throughout the various elevations this month and you've got a visually-attractive experience wonderland. The smell and sound of fallen leaves also wakens a special part of my soul. Horse camping in the fall is also the absolute best with the crisp mornings: you wake, smelling the smoldering coals of the fire the night before, you unzip your tent to check the horses and see their calm exhales lift a misty fog into the crisp air as they rest head to hind, a hind leg resting on each animal in relaxation, as the rising sunshine strikes the mountainside above making the fall foilage light aflame like the most brilliant fire.

  2. Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer?
    Typically, I don't clip yet. However, as competition goals expand into this time of year, I absolutely will/do. They've already got hefty between-season coats, it would be unfair to make them workout in them on high-humidity 70-degree days.
  3. Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?
    We don't have any events lined up...currently. With Q, I've always dreamed of dressing up as Princess Merida from Brave (I have the dress somewhere). Q is marked like Aengus. Just, you know, about 5hh shorter! With Griffin, we'd be some kind of epic battle pair in one of the LOTR films. Or perhaps a mythological character of old. Stan? No question. Ruggedly rustic outlaws from the wild west days.

  4. Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?
    Q is offended by vibrantly royal red berries/leaves. The geldings just quit desperately snatching green things while on trail rides because clearly, trail rides mean death-marches-to-purgatory-must-eat-all-the-things. 
  5. Pumpkin spice. It's everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse?
    The horses have always been given the old jack-o-lanterns and decorational gourds/squash after the holiday season. I'd say they benefit quite a bit from this time of year.
  6. We're getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few "big-bang" shows to look forward to?
    Hoping to make the MDHT Fall Starter #3, the final one of the fall series in November!
  7. Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?
    Trailer is getting a big remodel, so that's helping a lot. Also getting tire covers.
  8. Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?
    I try to go on one beautiful autumn trail ride ever year since 2012. Q has been my partner in many of those, but the annual tradition really started with Stan back when I was a sophomore in college trying to impress my relatively-new-at-that-time boyfriend of how beautiful and fun horses were for adventure (photos of this endeavor featured in this post).

  9. October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?
  10. We wear a lot of blaze orange and sometimes avoid riding at certain times of day (dawn/dusk) as much as possible.
  11. What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?
    Final event with Grif; snowy rides with all; beginning our solely dressage-focused winter workouts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Deconstruction of Q's Spooking

Deconstructing the why/when behind a spook isn't the simplest of tasks when you've got an intelligent, highly opinionated, incredibly stubborn pony mare. [Un]Fortunately for her, I'm just as stubborn!

Setting the Stage

A Different Saddle

Step one was scratching the treeless dressage saddle. As much as I adore that saddle and the contact and connection it provides for riding, it does jack shit so far as helping me stay aboard during a Q-spook. Since Q has been back under saddle, we've been riding exclusively in an Abetta western saddle that had been gathering dust for years at my BO's barn.


The saddle is an inch too small for me, but that's fine for now. It's a great interim saddle that provides what we each need in this part of our training: security for me and consistency for Q. I feel secure that I won't fall off during one of her spooks, and Q has more consistent riding from me because I'm not tensing up as often in fear of falling off.

Pausing for Processing

Step two was taking things slowly at first, doing what I could to provide Q more time to process the world before she worked herself up to the point where she would spook. I spent a week and a half stopping her and feeding her a peppermint from the saddle. This refocused her mind on something pleasant while allowing her more time to process things.

In no time at all, she was much calmer during our riding sessions and the peppermints weren't doled out as often. Simply halting when I noticed her starting to get tense was enough for her to calm herself so we could move forward again. She began to anticipate being asked to halt and figured out very quickly that the right answer was to relax and not move her feet.


Slowly, we started adding brief trot sets. It started as just a few strides and evolved from there. The transitions to a walk took the place of our halts to refocus her fretting mind when it emerged. She would still give things the stink eye and throw out a spook maybe once a ride, but by and large, she was improving and learning.

Working Through the Wiggles

One of the biggest things I noticed bringing Q back into work under saddle was how freaking wiggly she is! Griffin and Stan are both so solid and straight feeling. Not stiff-straight, just focused-straight. Q wiggles throughout her whole body bending like this )) and then like this (( constantly as she looks all about. She is just so fluid compared to the geldings!


I began noticing that those wiggles would increase during the trot. I also noticed that they would often become exacerbated right before she'd offer a spook, so I began asking for a downward transition right in those moments. After repeated downward transition, Q would settle and relax and wiggle less.

Deconstructing the Whens and Whys

Sticky Spots

During the first few weeks of riding, while spooking wasn't common, it wasn't absent altogether. I'd end up riding one minor (for Q) spook every 2 or 3 rides. Fortunately, thanks to the western saddle, I hardly budged.

I began noticing that Q would spook the most at the beginning of a workout. One particular board was cause for a spook right as we left the barnyard (200-feet into our ride) and the burn pile right before the creek crossing (500-feet into our ride) was the second common spot. As soon as we crossed the creek into the field where I work the horses, while she'd be on high alert, give things the stink eye, and high-step a wide berth around suspicious grass, her full spooking behavior was rarely offered.

Over time, the two sticky spots at the beginning of our rides became less sticky. I made sure to sit tall and centered for these areas, and Q would sometimes look at them, but the spooking ceased. She returned to her behavior from days of old, picking up a swinging, marching walk as we headed to the field.

Some days we'd get through whole rides without any spooking. Other days, she'd present balky behavior but nothing more. How novel! Progress indeed.

A New Problem and a Breakthrough

However, progress means new problems crop up as old ones disappear. Progress in this case also meant that our rides grew in length from 20 minutes to 30-40 minutes as time went on. Q's patience for work and being away from her friends (OMG!) grew thinner near the end of our slightly longer workouts. She began spooking at the end when she thought we should be done but I deigned otherwise. Shame on me!


See, I know she's herd-sour and loves her friends. It's always been her MO. If I'm riding at home and can get 1-2 miles from the barn, she settles. If I haul out, she's always better. The gravitational pull toward the herd when we work in the field adjacent to them is nothing new. Knowing this, and knowing that she's much more forward marching in the direction of the barn (and the end of a workout), I always try to add small easy tasks (serpentines, circles, halting and backing, halting and waiting) as we wrap up to assuage some of her urges to be done. right. now.

One day, Q really thought we were done. We were definitely heading that way, but I never want her to think her decision to be done with work is the reason we quit. We can stop because she's been exceptionally good, but not because she is ready to be back with her friends.


So when I continued making her do the walk-trot intervals we'd been doing instead of turning fully toward the barn to call it a day, she tossed me a huge spook. I didn't budge or change my tune at all (funny how spooks are easy to ride when you're already riding properly and not anticipating the spook). Well, Q was PISSED. She pinned her ears, snaked her head, and slammed her forefeet into the ground with more force than she'd done moments before as she trotted.

I roared with laughter. Sucks to be you, Q! Life is so hard when things don't go the way you want them to. Woe is the life of a fat pony mare doing work that doesn't even cause her to break a sweat!


From that moment on, I noticed that Q was more liable to spook when she had an opinion about work that I didn't agree with. I'd ask for something "hard" or "complex" (air quotes because these are truly simple tasks like walk-trot transitions, circles, etc.) and she'd spook to try to get out of doing the task. I'd act as if she hadn't even spooked each time. The more I ignored her, the less she offered the behavior.

Having deconstructed her behavior to this point, Q began trying to seek the answer she wanted in other ways. I began noticing that she would often speed her trot up or try to break into a canter right before spooking. She would use the increase in speed as an excuse to spook. Upon realizing this, I introduced oodles of half halts into our workouts to check her before she wrecked us.

Suddenly I had a very fun horse to ride! She would still look at things, but she was doing it with far less frequency than she had been. She also really started to relax into the work and the environment, asking often to stretch her back during trot work - something she would never ask to do when she was nervous about monsters getting her. It was such a pleasure to be able to do multiple laps of the field without a single spook! We even reached a point where we could trot a whole lap without a spook - a true testament to our progress.

Conclusions and a Path Forward

While I'm a long way yet from having the horse I purchased in 2012 behavior-wise, we're definitely making great strides in that direction. The de-evolution of her spooking behavior in the time I've had her is 110% human error on my part. I'm grateful for the chance to resolve it and build our relationship back to a better place. Q's a hot, athletic little thing and I have no notions of her being completely spook-free, but I do have hope that her former dirty spooking behavior will evolve into something much more acceptable and that we will be able to enjoy our time together again instead of silently warring with one another lol.

She's starting to exhibit Griffin's trademark pose of resting her nose on my cheek

Her confidence is a huge factor in this whole equation, but our slow reintroduction to work is helping her to build that as we go along - my plan from the beginning. The longer I work with her, the more I realize that she isn't the type of horse who appreciates being rushed in any sense. Keeping things slow will allow us to go "fast" later and allow Q to build more trust in me and confidence in our work. She's already interacting with me in ways that demonstrate success in this department, which is so, so encouraging.

We're a work in progress, but progress is evident. I'm looking forward to continuing our forward path together.

So how about you - have you ever deconstructed spooking behavior in a horse? What did you find? Did your horse only spook at certain times/certain places or due to certain stimuli?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Oy With the Poodles Already

Oh man. Where has the time gone? I'm making an attempt to ease back into blogging, but beware, my stress-addled brain is still forgetting things and boggling words in all manner of ways.

The nonsensical things I've said lately baffle even me and demonstrate to myself and the world how much clarity and logic do not exist in my mind. For example, I told my chiropractor I am at my job "40 days a week", and when I left the autobody shop with my keys in my hand  after paying for the repair, I turned back around and asked them to please give me my keys. #somekindofspecial And then, despite slowly writing and scheduling my recap posts from our last event, I totally botched including the placing in the final post until Teresa asked how about it. D'oh!

Work AKA the Reason for the Hiatus

My job since March has been...character building? ...made me a better biologist? ...helped me think and write more critically? ...taught me how to push out quality products in highly expedited [and unreasonable] time frames? Maybe. Mostly. But despite those silver linings, it's been stressful as hell and is resulting in me being a bitter, bitter person.

Most work days I'm ready for a drink by lunch, if not 10am. My dad, whom I eat lunch with most work days when I'm not teleworking, now commonly asks me 1.) how the day is going and, 2.) depending on that answer, offers me a drink - which I typically decline, for the record.

But the majority of the time I'm laughing to keep from crying or tearing up because I am so overwhelmingly frustrated and angry with the direction I'm forced to march. It is what it is, and frankly, "it" sucks!

However, despite the stress (and the absurd number of things I say daily as a result), good things abound in my life and I've been doing my best to focus on them.

The Horses

The horses are all doing well.

A post shared by Liz Stout (@estout18) on

Long-time readers and keen observers may note that the scenery in the video above isn't the norm for my three. That's because they've been temporarily relocated to Canaan Valley for a month!

My "neighbor", used loosely as we live 4 miles apart, offered for me to bring them up for the month of October and keep them at his house. His two horses are on their summer pasture elsewhere in the valley and he's done haying for the year at home and had plenty of grass to spare.


I jumped on the opportunity and have fully enjoyed seeing my creatures daily again.


I've been getting a lot of rides in on Q since September began, averaging three per week. These rides fluctuate between focus on dressage and hacking out. Originally, I'd wanted to focus solely on dressage with her, but with the realization that I will have only that option in the winter months when it's harder to trail ride, I've decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy some time outside of something resembling an arena.


I've been making steady progress in the "spook deconstruction" department. While I don't have it all figured out yet, I do know with much more certainty about the nuts and bolts of why Q spooks. It's helping in our work, but we certainly have a long way to go.


She frustrates the living hell out of me more often than not when we're working under saddle, but I know my focus on those negatives is partly due to my mindset about much of life due to work lately. I don't always see the positives at first and, especially with this mare, the positives are measured over weeks and not days right now. You have to go slow in order to go fast later with some things, and Q is definitely one of those things. I do know how awesome this mare can be, so I'm happy to take the time to bring her back around to that place.


Following his successful run at Loch Moy on September 10, I gave Griffin a week and a half vacation. Then, Griffin had a bout with an abscess last week and thus had a bit more time off. He was progressively closer to sound from Wednesday to Friday last week, when I finally observed that the abscess was blowing out (yay!).

ZomboMeme 25092017190240

Sunday was my first focused ride on him following vacation and the abscess. We focused predominantly on dressage, but I did reward him with a bit of a gallop across the field afterward.

Griffin was very forward and focused in our dressage work which made it easier for me to focus on what I was doing and how I could improve myself. I know there is a very fine line between what the rider is doing and how the horse responds, but when Grif is overly-relaxed/slow, I have to throw my focus on myself to the wind in favor of giving him my full attention. When he is in an overly-calm state, he becomes a "push" ride that really alters what I'd like to do with my body because I'm spending so much of my efforts on driving him forward. On Sunday, I got to really work on opening my hip angle more and cementing that feeling into my brain. Austen's been after me to do more of this and I was so happy to finally work on it. 

THIS frame is what I commonly work with at home! So different from the show version.

Following what felt like a very productive dressage-focused session, Grif and I galloped around a bit. He was feeling exceptionally good and we had two hairy moments where he wanted nothing more than to display some gymnastics above the ground in his joy of galloping. The first was coming up a hill and I was able to get him calmed down relatively quickly. The second though was on a slight downhill and dearsweetbabyJesus I thought I was going to hit the ground from that one! I wish I'd gotten it on film/had a witness because it had to have been quite a show as he dolphin leaped and wiggled left-right-left-right-left-right as I squawled at him, "GRIFFIN, YOU SHIT! STOPPITRIGHTNOW! GRI-FFIN! DAMNIT! STOP!"

Ah, the joys of horses...


Stan is doing wonderfully, too. He's packing on the pounds and fully enjoying the lush pasture.


He did have a mild colic scare yesterday, but fortunately this BO is very observant and tackled things quickly, giving him some banamine that cleared him out. It still didn't stop me from leaving work in a panicked flurry to go sit out there and love on him for hours! 

I have a really unique and exciting story to share about Stan in the near future, but that will need it's own blog post once I have a little bit of media to accompany it. Suffice to say, I loaned the big guy out for the better half of September and he had more of an adventure than any of my horses have ever had or probably will ever have in the future. As a result, he's earned a bit of time off now to put on weight and be a horse.

So, stay tuned for a fun tale on Stan in the near-ish future.


Autumn blew into the Mountain State during early September in the higher elevations and it was really magnificent.


Unfortunately, with all of the amazing weather (low humidity, highs in the 60s-70s) there has come a complete lack of rain. In order to get really incredible, vibrant autumn foilage, you need rain. Without it, the colors become dull and the trees that haven't changed will ultimately crisp up and fall without any blast of color.


And thus, I've tried to make the most of the moments I've enjoyed in areas with peak color while it lasts.

A couple weekends back, Hannah breezed through for a weekend visit with the dogs. It coincided with the local Leef Peepers Festival which is accompanied by multiple social gatherings (3 potlucks) and a 5k for charity (off the couch 5k for me @ a shocking 28:09 on a very NOT FLAT course) so I was hither and thither.

Fortunately, we did fit in one hike together! And arguably, the best hike in this region at that...


I'm continuing to get out and about in this beautiful weather as much as time and scheduling allow. It's such a beautiful time of year!


I made a goal for myself at the beginning of this year that I would have a public portfolio of my photography on a website by the end of July August September. So many friends have encouraged me to do this over the past several years and I've put it off, not confident enough in my skills. 

This year though, I'm absolutely in love with photos from each shoot I do. Every new shoot becomes my "favorite". I'm learning so much more about the art and honing my craft as I go along. And most importantly? I'm having a freaking blast doing it!

And so, I'm proud to announce that my photography website is finally live at

It's been well-received so far, and I've managed to score some paid gigs as a result. Nothing crazy - this is a side hustle after all - but hopefully I'll be able to meet my unspoken goal of 1-2 paid shoots a month so that the hobby can support itself.

I'm really enjoying the mental break from structured scientific and technical writing that photography brings. Honing the artistic side of my brain helps balance the critical thinking/critical writing side that I utilize more often, which helps me keep sanity.


The blog is long overdue for a Kenai update!


He's doing really amazing following our bout with multiple knee surgeries in 2015. I get queries weekly from people about whether or not he's okay to hike/play/run/what-have-you. More than two years post-op, I can say he's pretty damn fine to do whatever he pleases.

I swear he becomes more puppy-like with each passing month. He's got boundless energy and life in Canaan Valley really suits him well.

But he isn't without a strange malady that plagues him! He's a textbook perfect case for alopecia.

Note: back of hind legs, tail, and not visible in this photo but can be seen in previous photo,
the back of his neck is also hairless and NOT due to collar rubbing!

Despite my efforts to treat it (coincidentally at first and then with purpose), it is persisting and growing. The only treatment options remaining are hormonal and tend to have more risks than benefits associated with them.

He isn't in any kind of pain from his rat tail, bare bum, and scrawny neck - hell, he's moving better than he has since early 2013 when his stifles started having trouble! My pride and vanity are the only things saying he needs all that hair, and I can set that aside (albeit, grudgingly at first) knowing he's the happiest guy despite his hair loss/appearance.


He's very much looking forward to winter, and I'm hoping that my gut feeling that we're going to have a legit winter after 5 crappy winters comes to fruition. I'd love nothing more than to have epic conditions for alpine and nordic skiing with this guy!

: : : : :

I have been reading along with many of your adventures during my hiatus. I'm commenting here and there, but I'm afraid my comment game is seriously lacking with the whirlwind that is my life (see: above). I'll continue to do my best to catch up/keep up/live vicariously through you! Looking forward to my life settling a bit as we move into this final quarter of 2017. I'm so ready for my vacation...

I've got lots of updates for y'all in the coming week that I'm excited to finally share, so stay tuned!