Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Back to Work!

After a very seasonable winter for the first time in 7 years, the weather has finally given way to spring. With it, returns footing that is more welcoming for workouts!

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Yeehaw, good footing and jompies!

Unlike many, I do not have an indoor riding space where I keep my horses. There is a 30-foot round pen, but that's it. All of the training I put in at home is performed in a field across a creek from the main pasture area and that field has been inundated with water for a very long while. Every footfall would result in a very unsatisfactory squish, squish, squish these past many months if the temperatures weren't cold enough to freeze it.

There may be riding more but there is definitely not more sharing, sorry Taiga!

But finally, at long last, things are drying out, the water table is returning to a more normal place, and riding can commence again!

We started the month by heading to the annual vaccine clinic where I saved a ridiculous amount of money getting all three horses vaccinated and cleared for out-of-state travel for the year. As per the norm, the day of the vaccine clinic was cold and wet. I swear, if we're ever in a drought, people could pay my vet to schedule one of these clinics and be guaranteed rain.

Stan celebrated his 17th birthday by going to a vaccine clinic and getting stabbed repeatedly! Wee! But really, he got to eat a bunch of hay and wear seafoam green and chill with Q all day.

Following our exams, Chelsey and I spent some time riding in the covered arena. Griffin was on HIGH alert due to a particularly terrifying parade float (and a not-terrifying firetruck) that was parked in a far corner of the arena. I had no desire to ride a horse kite, so I just set him loose to burn off his energy and calm down.

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JL: Well, okay. If you insist...

He was more animated than he's ever been and it was hilarious to me. Eventually though, he calmed enough to trust me to lead him to the float where he nudged and snuffled it with his nose. He was a cool cucumber once he realized it couldn't eat him!

Originally, I'd planned to set up some jumps and jump, but unfortunately they're storing the jumps in a different location unknown to me (currently) and I had to switch gears to practice some flatwork. It was disappointing as I'd really wanted to jump on good footing for the first time in months, but riding Griffin away from home was the most important thing for the day.

From dressaging to teaching Griffin the cloverleaf barrel pattern! Kid picked it up REALLY FAST and I think I may need to find some fun shows in the future. I definitely understand why you'd want a longer stirrup for this... I felt rather unsteady in my short jumping stirrups when he really started scooting his butt around the turns!

The energy he had when he was scared dissipated into some lovely trot work during our ride. Overall, he was excellent for everything we worked on at the arena. I could tell that all of the lessons from last year carried over in both our work product and his mental game. Such a damn good horse.

And then I had to jump something after bringing our jumping attire. So we flopped the barrel down and tackled it.


A week later, after days of sunshine and wind, the footing in our back field was finally to a place where I felt more than comfortable putting in a solid jump school. We hadn't jumped much of anything in MONTHS. In fact, if I'm being completely honest, we simply haven't ridden much in months. (See note about seasonable winter above.) I was psyched to get out and work over real jumps and was even happier when Griffin showed up to work on the same page as I.

Not too shabby for many months off. I'll take it!

I'm really pleased to report that 2'9" feels like nothing to us now. I mean, it felt like nothing to Grif before, I'm pretty sure, but I had a mental block with it quite often. Fortunately, after months of working on my own weaknesses both physically and mentally, I'm on the same page with Griffin.

It also helps that I'm not underestimating the height of my jumps anymore lol! For years I have been miscalculating the height of our jumps, underestimating them by 3". Not a huge error in the grand scheme of life, especially when you consider I only have 4' standards and haven't pushed the envelope above 3' more than a handful of times in the past many years. All the same, I'm grateful to have recognized and corrected my error.

With accurate height measurements and renewed mental fortitude on my end, jumping is all the more exciting. I have so much trust in Griffin and my own abilities. We're not doing anything crazy (yet?), but what we are doing feels GOOD.

There is absolutely room for improvement, but damn am I happy with this new baseline going into a new season. Griffin meets me at the gate daily now, so I know he's just as happy with the work.

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I'm heading east to audit a dressage clinic this weekend. I'm confident it will light a fire in me to get to work with even greater renewed focus this year. I hope to get some lessons scheduled with a relatively local instructor in May and then get to a trainer in Virginia by June.

April 2014 to April 2018. Dirty but oh so hunky - and he isn't even in shape right now! *swoon*

Finances will certainly limit the amount of lessons I'm able to take and the number of competitions we're able to enter. Still...this year just feels GOOD. I'm so in love with this grey horse (and Q and Stan!) and really, really excited with where we're at and the possibilities that lie ahead.

He makes me so damn happy <3

But mostly? It just feels good to be out there riding and working toward improvement goals, one step at a time.

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How about you! Do you feel good with where you're at going into this competition season? Perhaps you live in an area that has facilitated an early start to your season - how do you feel with what you've done so far? Or maybe you're still waiting on some things to fall into place in other areas?

Monday, April 16, 2018

hellomylivia hop: What I Didn't Know I Didn't Know

Last week, Olivia wrote a really cool post about things she didn't know that she didn't know when she was re-entering the horse world in 2015. It really resounded with me because I've had a lot of similar moments since getting more intimately involved with horses in my time as a horse owner and not catch-riding everything possible.

I love owning horses. I love all of the responsibilities that come with it (good and bad, big and small - especially the small!) But there were a lot of things that while I grasped on some level, I didn't fully know or embrace for a long time. Sometimes you just have to experience something to gain further understanding.

I have three horses and I compete in multiple disciplines, endurance and eventing. As I first read Olivia's post, I could thing of several examples specific to each sport, but the more I thought about these, the more I realized I could group a lot of them into large categories.

Below are six things I didn't know that I didn't know before I owned and trained my own horses. And, as with Olivia's post, the below is addressed to the 2012 version of myself who had minimal understanding of what it was to train a horse from the ground up, had only competed in one limited distance ride, had minimal experience working through training holes, and had very limited equestrian experiences outside of my small rural community.

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More ride photos like this, please and thank you

Go slow to go fast. (Always. Always. Always.) I'm a goal-driven person who likes to check things off a list and move forward to the next one, but as we all know, horses don't care one iota about our "plans" and "goals" and "timelines". While a large number of sources preached going slow to go fast when it came to horse training, it took me countless times of "failing" and having to take two, three, or eight, steps backwards before I could proceed to the next stage to realize that there really was something to this "going slow to go fast" nonsense. In hindsight, the large majority of "problems" I've encountered with my horses have been from pushing too much too soon. I've had to go back to the proverbial drawing board countless times over the years as I proceed with new tasks with the horses.

As I think back on some of those experiences, I realize that if I'd simply been in less of a rush and had done things more incrementally at the time, I wouldn't have had the issues I had. I've been taking things much slower of late, especially with Q, and have been reaping HUGE rewards from doing so. It was hard to create a habit of checking my own goals/ambitions in favor of going slowly, but it's helped me remain in a much better place with the horses since I did (not to mention, a better place for myself mentally!) I anticipate a less stressful future now that I've firmly embraced this concept.

With enough time and miles, you can also have a horse who takes a nap while standing sandwiched between firetrucks with flashing lights and sirens and a line of traffic (this was for a parade)

Time and miles. Experiences will make a better horse and you've got to have patience to take the time to give the horse those experiences. Example 1: Q used to be a holy terror about loading on a trailer, but the more times we traveled, the better she became. She's now my most reliable trailer horse and will self-load, sometimes from a distance of 20 feet! Example 2: Griffin used to arrive to a new location and scream and scream and scream. Then I took him off property, alone, to dressage clinics, XC schooling, and some HTs last year - a lot of travel in a short time. By the final one, he screamed maybe 2x the whole time we were at the venue. Example 3: When we used to arrive to endurance ride camps, Q would have a hard time settling in to eat, choosing instead to remain on high alert. Years later, the mare digs into her food right away and even spends part of the evening lying down. Put in the time, travel the miles (on the horse and on the road), and you'll get there.

Countless miles and hours on this horse since 2005 have created a reliable mount I can trot through the woods on in a carefree manner with my phone in one hand and a beer in the ot

You've got to put in the work. Over the years, countless people have told me they want horses "just like" mine. Several people have gotten into horses as a result of interactions with mine; most of those people got right back out of horses in short order when things didn't go as planned. My horses are as wonderful as they are because I have spent (and continue to spent) inordinate amounts of time working with them. When Griffin became mine at 1½ years old, I spent every day of the week with him for a long time. That time didn't have to be mentally or physically strenuous - a lot of it involved grooming, hoof trimming, or simple long hikes with him on the leadline because you can only do so much groundwork in a week. The time spent and the solid boundaries and expectations I set throughout turned him into a horse I can jump on to do just about anything with! Additionally, when issues crop up with my horses, I do my homework to get them through it. Dan preaches high and low about how much better Q is for shoeing because I did my homework. Prior to putting in the work I did, it took him 3 hours to get two hind shoes on. Now, he can hot shoe all four hooves in less than half that time. You get from your horse what you put into them. If you put in the work, you'll have a really outstanding and reliable animal, if you don't? Well, I'm sure you can connect those dots for yourself.

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First dressage clinic with Stephen Birchall

A foundation in dressage will help every other riding discipline. I resisted learning anything dressage-y for years. YEARS. It was intimidating! But when I finally caved and started learning about it, I realized how amazing it was and how much it would benefit every other aspect of my horses' lives. Teaching my horses how to move and utilize their bodies properly, with balance helps them be better, stronger versions of themselves. It helps build strength to support their conformational weaknesses thus lowering the likelihood of injury. Additionally, building the proper muscling throughout their bodies makes it easier for them to: move down the trail for miles upon miles (endurance), maneuver through a tricky stadium course with greater finesse and balance (jumping), and tackle a cross country course with greater rateability due to the ability to adjust strides and gaits at a moment's notice with better balance (eventing). Certainly a lot of other training aspects are included in meeting the goals for other disciplines, but a foundation in dressage can greatly improve all of them.

A quiet moment on a day that had no other purpose than some R&R together

Don't underestimate the power of rest. Now, this is greatly simplified, but, for every tough workout your horse performs, microtears develop. These quickly heal to build more strength with time. However, if you continue to put in strenuous workout after strenuous workout without rest, the microtears don't have time to heal and may develop into bigger issues that could sideline your horse for days, weeks, or months! Or, the other side of the coin to working your animal too much (endurance is where I've witnessed this most often), you may cause them to start to burn muscle for fuel and their bodies will become too scrawny and weak to keep up with the stress of the task at hand. Rest is incredibly important to help build a stronger athlete.

Q's performance in endurance increased exponentially when I rode her less. Instead of putting in 6-7 mile rides 4-5 days a week with one hill work gallop session, I began putting in several short 20-40 minute sessions on the flat (hi, dressage!) each week, a hill work session with gallop sets once a week, and a long trail ride (12+ miles) every other weekend. Q's body looked better and her work ethic improved greatly. She attempted - and completed - her first 100-mile ride following this protocol, putting in less than 20 rides in the 6 months prior (though she did have a great baseline of fitness prior to this that is important to note). People are always under the perception that you have to ride so much more to be 100-mile fit! The reality is quite different. Rest is a critical part of every training schedule I have for my horses, and I really think it has helped them perform better.

Second HT over an elementary fence

If you really want to try something, try it! Now, I say this with caution because you certainly shouldn't jump all willy-nilly into something that could hurt you or your horse, but seriously, if you really want to try a new discipline or skill, DO IT. Don't wait on anyone. Get out there and try it. That may mean you first have to research and learn about it, then implement it in very small increments that build over an insanely long period of time in comparison to others, but that's okay! You're DOING THE THING.

For YEARS I wanted to jump - and secretly, I wanted to gain enough skill to gallop and jump a XC course. But I was afraid to jump without help/guidance because I knew what kinds of accidents and injuries could occur to horse and rider. I read a lot about it, but still held off. But as time passed and I grew up, I realized that if I didn't take some initiative to do this thing I really wanted to do, I would never experience it. And so I started dabbling little by little, year by year. And now? I'm living my dream and it's pretty fucking fantastic. It hasn't come easy, and it's taken much longer to get to this place than it may have if I had a bigger budget and lived a lot closer to trainers, but the journey has been a blast every step of the way and I'm so glad I pushed myself into the deep end and gave it a whirl!

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So, what about you? What's something you didn't know that you didn't know days, weeks, months, years ago that you know now?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Product Review: Two Horse Tack Super Grip Reins

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Two Horse Tack and I was compensated for my time in the form of a free product; all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Construction & Details

Over the winter, Two Horse Tack reached out to me to ask if I'd review their Super Grip beta-biothane trail reins. Loving anything that can improve my grip and thus my control, I eagerly agreed.

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As with other products I've reviewed for THT, the construction of these reins is very solid.

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Super grip in hand

The beta-biothane is stitched very securely the the super grip and each rein ends in a conway buckle with a scissor snap for quick attachment to your bit or hackamore of choice.

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Solid stitching, super grip, and conway buckles ending in scissor snaps

The "trail" part of the reins denotes that the reins are one solid piece without a buckle in the middle - something I greatly prefer for life on the endurance trail. It's a lot easier to have reins double as a lead rope/tie when they don't have an added point of weakness like a buckle.

My Favorite Aspects

Scissor snap ends: I especially appreciate the scissor snaps because I work Q in both a bit and a hackamore depending upon our venue (bit at home, hack on the trail). I love being able to switch between both in the blink of an eye without undoing buckles etc.

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Attached to the S-hack
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Attached to the bit, moments later

Super Grip: Without question, the super grip is my favorite part of these reins. With and without gloves in dry and wet conditions, it lives up to it's namesake and provides superior grip. When you've got a horse like Q who tends to lean into the bridle and go heavily on the forehand as her first and most favorite evasion, having a secure grip is critical!

Nice secure grip on the little dragon mare who was very eager and powerful on this day

Practical Application

Q's spooking habit may have largely disappeared in recent months, but it has unfortunately - though not surprisingly - been replaced by another issue: rushing, leaning, and falling constantly onto the forehand. We're certainly working through it, but it will of course take time! I honestly prefer this issue to the spooking one because it's one that I have a lot more patience dealing with and have a much larger treasure chest of tools to use as I work through it.

This is Q the Sass Master eagerly plowing ahead and slightly annoyed with my insistence to trot only and not canter

These reins have been a godsend this winter as we've worked through this problem. Q wants nothing more than to take the reins from me in certain moments to gain release and reward. Her idea of what is good behavior meriting this release and reward isn't often correct though! Q, dear, plowing forward at speed, falling into the bridle and onto the forehand doesn't help anyone, nor does it get you out of work sooner!

LOL to my expression and obvious talking to her to try to calm the dragon inside.

Thank goodness for the super grip; it allows me to meet Q's evasive maneuvers with a solid boundary wall that only gives at the proper time. With other reins, she's able to force them through my hands which only reinforces her behavior. Fortunately, the super grip helps me remain steadfast and more stubborn than this little stubborn mare. #sorrynotsorry, Q!

Plowing forward and taking advantage of me opening my fingers to give her a little release after she maintained a steady trot for a few strides. On this day she was such a sassy powerhouse that all small rewards were taken advantage of. C'est la vie! I was just happy she WANTED to work and offered trotting of her own accord when we were traveling AWAY from the barn/herdmates.

As time goes on, Q is offering up a softer contact and pushing more from her hind end. Things are far from perfect, but with each added second of balance and soft contact, we're making progress - and that's what counts! Slow and steady progress is better than none.

Overall Impression

All things considered, I love these reins! The construction is solid, the price ($18+ based on options you choose) is incredibly affordable, and the color options are on point. I have already recommended these reins to friends and anticipate providing that recommendation even more as the riding season picks up and we get out riding with more folks. The pink is so eye-catching that I always seem to get compliments and questions.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Of Stress and Snow: A Pictorial Journey

Man, long time no write!

Life outside of horses has been absolutely topsy turvy for me lately. March marked one year since my work life got absurdly shitty. It's absolutely shocking to me that I've managed to sustain the high levels of stress from work for this amount of time. There have been a few glimpses of "the light at the end of the [current] tunnel" lately though, which has been an incredible relief. Simply though, it just is not an easy time to be a scientist for the Federal government!

While horses absolutely help my stress levels, I've been focusing on other aspects of stress relief lately, running, doing a lot of yoga, and visiting with some childhood friends I very rarely see. I knew horse time would be plentiful in coming weeks as the weather improved, so my focus has admittedly been elsewhere!

Snow riding with my filthy grey horse.
I freaking LOVE this riding skirt. I'll write a review once I've ridden it in the rain some as that's a big reason I bought it!
Jumped his first "corner". His expression speaks volumes as to how much it bothered him (not at all)
The corner and a jump that I was surprised to learn measured at 2'9" (note the "reality stick" I finally made lying askew at the base of the center standard). Apparently I've been underestimating the height of all my jumps for years. Better to underestimate than to overestimate, I suppose!
The most awkward photo of Q I've ever taken lol
The dirty feed tub (not mine) was "in her way" after she danced away from Taiga jumping out suddenly. Why walk a few steps when you could just be awkward AF?

Our classic turbulent Appalachian spring weather has been full force for the past month (which has certainly been a welcome excuse to limit time at the barn). Mud to snow and back again multiple times; I don't mind snow, but am definitely NOT a fan of mud season! My favorite local conditioning partners are either out of the country or have lame horses right now, too, so it isn't as if I can spice things up with a friend at the moment. But that's okay!

True to the norm, March was the month we received the greatest amount of snowfall with 46"! I got some fun skiing in to cap off the year and was even able to join in on one of my most favorite local ski events for 5 hours a few Sundays ago.

I love my views from home
My friend Phoebe totally rocking it as we closed the mountain after a day of powder skiing
A blurry shot of Kenai and I skiing a backcountry bowl accessible from my house. Our bowls may not be as large as western ones, but they're really sweet all the same! Getting to access them after a short ski from my front door makes it all the better!
Another shot of that evening of backcountry bowl skiing
Sunset from the same vista as the photo with the sunbeams above; I also ski past this view to access the bowl above
Dave and I at the start of our Sunday XC ski adventure
A rare selfie
Our rad leader for the day's adventure! And my buddy in the background pulling his 6 month old daughter along for the ~6 mile ski adventure
The trees were all bedecked with icicles as if they'd put on their Christmas best
The man, the myth, the legend! Chipper owns the XC ski resort we enjoy so much. You can't help but love snow when you're around this guy - his love and enthusiasm for Nordic sports is beyond contagious.
Complete magic
Red spruce dominate the highlands
Such a big group on this day!
Taking a brief moment to regroup.
Friends old and new
Passin' that white lightnin' around. It's the best way to keep warm after all!
The final Robbie's Rad crew for the season! PC: Chipper

The dogs are doing well and Taiga is steadily growing. She's really turning into a great little barn dog on the days I'm out there, hanging out close-by while I prep the horses and then running amok with unadulterated joy while I hack in the back field.

He's the happiest guy when the snow is plentiful
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Double DERP at sunset!
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I had a lot of fun with golden hour dog romps in March
Playing chase, Kenai's favorite game!
This is his ERMAGERD SNERR! face, in case you wondered
Tearin' it up
XC skiing around home with the dogs because how else do you travel in 15" of snow?!
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What is becoming her signature shot
And again
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Loving life
Enjoying the sunset <3

Blog content should be picking up to a more regular pace in coming days! I'm looking forward to getting out and about with the horses in the very near future, finally getting some product reviews up, and auditing some clinics!