Thursday, July 26, 2018

New Friends & Rugged Trails


Sweet, sweet Canaan Valley summertime. Not much is better than this!

Canaan is considered "high elevation" for the east coast and Appalachians. The valley floor rests at ~3,200 feet while the mountain top plateaus surrounding the valley are anywhere from 3,700 to 4,200 feet.

Our high elevation valley surrounded by higher peaks and plateaus

As such, winters are more "wintery" and summers are mild. Our average summer days have highs in the 70s°F and lows in the 50s°F and the humidity is quite bearable in comparison with lower elevations. Overall, it's quite blissful!

With my travel and show budget completely blown (twice over, now) by unexpected vehicle-related purchases, I've been relegated to whatever horse-related fun I can find locally. Which really doesn't suck! Sure, I'm not honing in, tweaking, or vastly improving certain aspects of dressage or jumping like I'd hoped to do. Nor am I testing our eventing prowess against peers. But we sure as shit aren't just sitting around doing nothing!

In fact, with the aid of friends new and old, all three horses are getting out on trail, building fitness a few times a week. It's been pretty fantastic.

Our ride track in blue, public lands trails in red and green

The most epic ride so far was this past Sunday. Though it didn't quite go as planned! The beginning was fraught with miscommunication and the end was a mess with some uncertainty finding the correct trail home. Fortunately, everyone and animal made it back in one piece and the whole experience made my heart SO happy.

Two huge and exciting things happened as a part of this ride: (1) I finally got to meet the new endurance family that moved to Canaan after years in Brazil, and (2) Q was a fucking rockstar.


Originally, I was to meet the new family and Dan at 5pm to strike out on our ride. Instead, I left my house at 1pm to get Q ready and then met Chuck around 1:30pm and we rode 4 miles across the valley to the family's new farm.


Upon arrival, I was so delighted to finally meet Chris, Aimee, and Annamaria. They're very into endurance and will quickly become well-known within the region, I expect! For me, it means more opportunities to share travel to rides and company for conditioning rides. Between Dan, this family, and myself, we've got quite the endurance contingent in Canaan again for the first time since the 70s and 80s.


While waiting for our meet with Dan later, Chuck talked us all into seeing a few "shortcuts" within the Timberline development. So Annamaria, Chris, Chuck, and I all headed out for a pretty easy 6 mile meander.

Chuck's horse was increasingly difficult to deal with as the ride went on. Over the course of the day he broke the reins twice and Chuck fell off at least once. As a result, Chuck opted to head home while Chris and Annamaria and I headed back to their barn to await Dan's arrival.


Waiting for Dan coincided perfectly with the only rainfall of the day. While I don't mind rain, I'll admit it was really nice to get to chill under a roof for those 30 minutes!

Dan showed up as the rain slacked off. He'd brought an extra horse along for Annamaria to ride so her mom could have her horse back.


The five of us struck out from their house to the closest trailhead, the same one I'd navigated to a few weeks ago on Q.

Dan, riding Butch, led us to the trailhead and down the first mile or so of trail. Throughout this time, he remarked to me how good Q was being. "Thanks," I replied, "I've really been working with her to build her confidence!"

"Want to get her out front for awhile?" he asked.

"Sure, why not!" I answered.

And like that, Q pushed into the front for several miles of trail. She was alert, but the feeling of sitting on a powder keg ready to blow and spook hard at any moment was absent. She didn't move out quite as fast as Butch does (Dan has an uncanny ability that enables him to put a 12-14 mph trot on every horse he works with), but it was a very respectable pace nonetheless!


Eventually, we reached a junction in the trail. Chris wanted to head to the right which would take us up into Dolly Sods where we could then loop back to Timberline. I've looked at this route on maps but hadn't yet traveled it, so I quickly agreed with his plan.

Q and I took the lead again and headed down a completely new-to-us trail!


As with many trails throughout Canaan and the Sods, we quickly came to a short boardwalk bridge gapping first a wetland and then a small stream. Fortunately, Q has never questioned bridges like this. We tackled the first one with no issue, but the second one was a bit more precarious, so I opted to dismount and lead her over it.

Crossing the first bridges

The others dismounted for both and all but Chris on his new horse Beijo crossed with minimal issue. Beijo was NOT okay with the bridges or the water though! Trolls clearly live under them, if you asked him. Chris and I worked in tandem from the ground to get Beijo across. It took several minutes, but he did finally cross.


As we struck out again, Dan and Butch took the lead for a time. But then we came to another bridge where Butch expressed strongly that he agreed with Beijo's view about the potential for trolls. So I leapfrogged Q around him and we struck off in the lead again.

That bridge would be the first of nearly a dozen! Every horse was quite confirmed with crossing by the end, most following Q's lead and trotting across with no hesitation.


Finally, we reached the end of the bridge-riddled trail and climbed up Cabin Mountain into Dolly Sods.

We knew roughly where we were, but weren't 100% certain about the best way to link back to trails we knew. My inner compass screamed to go one way, and Chris agreed, but Dan insisted another. As Dan knows the Sods best, we went with his idea first.

After reaching a certain viewpoint along the trail, Dan changed his mind and we all turned around to head back the way Chris and I thought was right.


Well, it turns out Dan's hunch was correct. If we'd only continued another ½-mile, we'd have confirmed that! As it was, we ended up conquering a new section of trail that horses most likely had never been on before - at least not on purpose!

A normal type of rugged trail

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you've seen the kind of terrain I often ride. It's riddled with rocks and often resembles a creekbed more than a trail. As a result, I don't often complain about rugged trails or balk at much of anything. It is what it is, and it's what I'm used to and my horses are adept at dealing with it.

Also a normal rugged trail

So it may come as a bit of a surprise when I tell you that the pieces of trail we crossed in error to get home amidst a quickly darkening sky on this ride were FUCKING RUGGED AS HELL. Like, I would NOT have done them without Dan present, and if I find myself in that situation again I will quickly turn tail and retrace my path no matter how long it may take.

ALSO our rugged norm

You see, we found ourselves amidst one of the several boulder fields that make up this area of the Sods. These areas aren't hard for hikers who can adeptly hop the gaps between the boulder tops, which are anywhere from 5 to 30+ feet high. But with a horse? Yeahhhhhhhhh... Not so much!

My husband for scale...definitely not horse-friendly terrain!
On the day of our ride, we unfortunately found ourselves on a trail that led to the tops of boulders that had drop offs like these

Dan in the lead on Butch quickly dismounted upon reaching the first tricky section. He handed me Butch's reins and scouted ahead, calling back to us, "This is a no go. I'm going to try to find a work around." *cue rustling of shrubs, trees, and other vegetation as Dan scuffled through the very dense understory*

Once again, the type of rugged trail we're used to

With a few broken branches to provide passage, Dan found us a workaround for the boulder field. He had each rider lead their horse to him to lead down in turn. With Chris et al. in the clear, Q and I queued up.

I stepped off the trail toward the workaround and squatted down to pick some blueberries while I waited for Dan to walk back up. Q, interested in following the other horses even though Butch was still behind with us, followed me and sidestepped me as I was picking blueberries. I cautioned her with my voice and she stopped, but not before her right hind broke through the thin humus layer atop the rocks that make up the Sods, sinking down to her hock into a very rocky void.

For context: Dolly Sods and the surrounding areas (and most of West Virginia) were heavily timbered in the early 1900s. In order to get the timber to surrounding cities, it was floated downstream on the Blackwater River where it was loaded into waiting trains in Davis. The steam engines that powered the trains often flung still-burning coals from their chimneys as they traveled through the mountains; these coals often started forest fires that would smolder in the rich, organic humus layer for months and years on end. The only thing that would truly put them out was a long, hard winter of heavy snow. The present day result of those long-smoldering fires is a lot of exposed rock and a thin layer of humus and soil with hardy trees that cling to rocks under the shallow layer of humus/soil.

Questioning my life choices.
Stirrups tossed up on the saddle to avoid getting caught in spruce branches
You get an idea from this photo how narrow the areas we passed were - and this is a GOOD section!

My eyes bugged out of my head as I watched Q's hind leg sink down to the hock in that void. In a matter of milliseconds, my brain conjured up images of Q breaking the leg and the resulting tussle as she thrashed in pain as I inevitably screamed for Dan to come help calm her and then put her down (how?!) right then and there in the backcountry.

As my shocked brain took all of 1 second to process and another second to fire the synapses required to reach out to Q and open my mouth to talk to her, my Very Smart Mare carefully extracted her hind leg from the void and set it down in a safe place.

I quickly led her away from the area back onto the trail where she then took weight off of the right hind as I watched blood bubble to the surface along numerous scrapes. In no time at all, I was sitting underneath her in the tight quarters assessing every inch of her leg from the hock down. The skin was broken, certainly, but only the upper layer(s) of epidermis. Nothing had punctured below that, there was no swelling, and the bleeding was minimal and roughly the equivalent of turf burn.

Grateful to be in a much more open and clear area!

Confident that Q was okay, Dan led her down through the workaround and we all continued handwalking the horses down the trail.

We had two more boulderfield workarounds - neither as tricky as the first! - before finding a trail Dan and I knew. We all remounted on this trail and were once again able to intermittently trot as we picked our way through the typical rugged mess we knew.


Finally, we came to the section of trail we travel every time we visit the Sods on horseback and were able to really pick up the pace.

The sun was setting in earnest by this point!


It sucked to have dealt with the tricky section of trail, but damn if the sunset didn't make it all okay in the end.

This photo gives you a sense of the scooped out valley, thanks glaciers!

After riding along the ridgeline edge, we opted to dip down into the Timberline development roads to head back to Chris' place instead of doing another 2 miles of Sods trails to the ski slope. As it was, we still didn't reach Chris' place until ~9:15pm!

I was SO proud of Q in those final dark miles on the gravel road after we parted ways with Dan. Despite fleeing deer and one field of very excited strange horses, she led the way alert, but confident and trusting in my guidance, floating along in her biggest of trots.


Back at Chris', I praised Q immensely and hand fed her some hay while I waited for Chris to take care of his horses before trailering us back across the valley. I could have ridden Q, but knowing we had at least 1½ miles of paved road travel in the dark AND the fact that she'd already tackled nearly 30 miles that day, I had nothing to prove and was so grateful for the ride.

All in all, while not to plan the whole time, it was a really fantastic day. Q not only proved she's got the ability post-injury to go the distance, but that she's also come SO FAR with her confidence under saddle on trails. I honestly cannot put into words how absolutely over-the-moon I am with her! I had so much fun. I can't wait to get back on trail with this little mare and my new friends.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Product Review: Shoofly Leggins

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this review nor have I received any form of incentive or compensation for doing so. All opinions are my own and given voluntarily.

Product reviews are few and far between for me. Mostly because I'm not someone who spends money often and most of what I purchase is straight-forward, utilitarian, and often well-known and already well-reviewed. But I feel obligated to write this review after another blogger's write-up (hi, Sara!) influenced me to purchase the product!


Since moving my horses onto smaller acreage near home in June, I've had things like fly masks/boots on my radar for the first time ever. The horses are in a herd of 3 instead of 10, don't have as many places to move around and escape pesky flies, the deer flies blow in Canaan, and I knew that on smaller acreage I wouldn't mind finding a mask or fly boot that had been casually discarded by one of them over the course of time between my visits (because to hell with searching for a lost boot or fly mask on the 28 acres they were previously living on).


Considering the Options

It's worth noting, as I'm certain I'll get questions otherwise, why I didn't consider a fly sheet or put them all in masks instead of/in addition to the leggings:

With regard to sheets, I had concerns that they'd sweat in them. I know how even my light sun protective layers cause me to sweat and I just didn't want that for the horses. Additionally, they all enjoy rolling quite often, clothed or not, and I just imagined the fine mesh of a fly sheet getting nabbed by an errant piece of vegetation and becoming torn in no time at all.

And with regard to masks, I'd honestly planned to put them in those in addition to the leggings. But when I spent time really observing them in the field while I was there over the course of several weeks, I noted that the flies in Canaan are not the type to really flock to their faces. On the contrary, these flies go for the legs (especially the lower leg where they're more out of reach from the horses' defenses) and belly more than anything. My observations suggested that the Shoofly Leggins should resolve much of my horses' fly-related stress.

Product Selection: Shoofly Leggins

While many other fly boot products exist on the market, I've always been skeptical of them. My horses live in a 24/7 turnout situation on pastures that are not perfectly manicured. A classic boot with multiple velcro strips and fleece-covered hemlines didn't seem like a great option for our mornings ripe with heavy dew on the grass. I didn't relish the idea of that wet being contained so close to their horses legs for hours until they dried. 

Additionally, I didn't love the idea of boots that dropped below the coronet band because I just foresaw those getting shredded from inevitable overreach. Could I put bell boots on to help prevent that? Sure, but that's just adding more crap to their legs which didn't thrill me for a variety of reasons.

Finally, I questioned the durability of some of the mesh used in some boot designs. It looked like something my horses could tear up in no time at all, and I had no desire to spend money on something so easily destroyed.


Shoofly Leggins loose, simple design that provides for a lot of airflow was very appealing to me. Overall, the description of their construction sounded promising for my needs. Per their website, "Breathable plastic mesh with sewn-in stays to eliminate sagging. Heavy-duty Velcro ensures durability and wear-ability. Lower edge finished in felt to eliminate embedded wild oats, burrs, and foxtails."

And so, as summer hit it's stride at the end of June in the Valley, I bit the bullet and nabbed 3 sets of Shoofly Leggins from Stateline Tack when they had one of their many sales. Sum total for 3 sets + shipping? $145. Not a bad investment if the horses would keep them on and if they'd last me at least one summer if not two!

Initial Impressions

The evening the leggings arrived, I hurried over to feed the horses and put them on.


They went on simply and easily and I saw an IMMEDIATE change in each of my horses as they were applied. Prior to wearing them, as the horses ate their meals, each was stomp-stomp-stomping constantly with one foot or the other. As each horse donned the leggings, the stomping ceased. Immediately. It was a very cool cascading diminuendo sound effect to go from a trio of stomping horses to a duo to a single individual to NOTHING in a matter of a few minutes.


None of the horses protested to wearing the leggings more than a few elevated leg raises and startled stutter-steps in place where they were tied. Each was alarmed for a second or two before accepting the leggings as their new normal, and then proceeded to happily swish their tails and occasionally nip at their bellies if a particularly evil fly found its way there. 


With such promising initial results, I crossed my fingers and toes that the product would withstand the horses daily movements, stay on, and not rub or cause distress to the pastern area.


The next day I was THRILLED to arrive and see 12 leggings precisely where I'd left them. Barring the one day someone other than me replaced them when only one came off of Q's right hind, they haven't budged once since I've been using them - which has been daily for 10+ days now. Every day I arrive the horses have them on; such a satisfying thing!

Big selling points for me with this product:

  • Loose design to allow plenty of air flow so they dry quickly from morning dew and do not hold moisture against the horses' skin
  • Simple design that stays on for horses who are on 24/7 turnout
  • Majority of reviewers didn't not have issues with rubs - and I haven't either
  • Color options (I chose what would be easiest to find when discarded) 
  • Affordable - a set of 4 for $46 (on sale); looking at the construction of these things $11.50 per legging is very fair!


So far, I'm very, very pleased with this product. The horses seem SO much more content - the biggest win. But beyond that, I'm very pleased that the leggings stay put where they are supposed to, aren't rubbing any raw spots, and seem quite durable to the rigors of daily life for my little herd.

This photo is the most recent of all of the above.
The only visible wear is the now off-white felt at the base and a slight sag to the previously very upright leggings.

Though the true test of time will come this autumn when I put these things away until next summer. I'm optimistic that they will still be in great shape, but I'll certainly have to check back in at a later date and let you know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Griffin Logic: Ditches ≠ Ditches

You all know Griffin.

Tall, grey, and handsome

He's my raised-and-trained-by-me dabbles-in-everything-with-a-focus-on-eventing horse. Part of that whole "raised-and-trained-by-me" bit means he spent the better part of 2 years doing more trail riding than anything else. It helped him learn how to be a riding horse, balance himself with a rider in oodles of situations, and helped build a really solid, balanced body as a result of all that terrain.

On a trail. In water. Happy.

He's also been a lover of water since I introduced him to it as a babe. He loves drinking from the hose, playing in the trough, and we've recently been doing a lot of swimming in the pond (which I need to get media of because it is THE MOST FUN).


But apparently since we've hunkered down and focused more on eventing these past few years, Griffin has forgotten how to be on a trail. In particular, he's decided he CANNOT cross ditches on trail. Not even when they're LITERALLY 6 inches wide with a trickle of water. Cue: rearing (fortunately not too big!), crow hopping, squealing, head flinging, giraffe imitations, turning and trying to bolt in the opposite direction (yes, even AWAY from WTF horse, the barn is the other way?), and general athletic outbursts of protest.

I mean, okay, I get it, dude. You're a fancy sporthorse now. You don't "do" trails.

But like. Can we just reframe that for a second? Maybe with some photos for emphasis:

Tackles ditches with ease.

C ECS17-0905136
And log-like things aren't a problem either!

Because last I checked, as a fancy sporthorse he's tackled his share of ditches and logs. And he tackled them all with ease. So, Griffin, while you may have Opinions with a capital "O", your argument is invalid. So invalid, in fact, that it amuses me more than it frustrates me!

A pretty picture but OH the argument we had 20 minutes before this!

And thus, last weekend when I had the opportunity to get all three horses out on a trail ride on the trail with the godforsaken 6-inch wide ditches on repeat for the second mile of trail (seriously, there are about 8 of them), I decided Griffin was going to Get Over his opinions. And if he simply Could Not, then I'd let him follow Stan or Q and work with him again at the subsequent ditch.

I really didn't expect him to have too big of an issue following the ride pictured above, I just needed to bring the right mindset and the proper tools with me to better address the issue before he could escalate to such a point that I suffered another injury. Because yeah, his Opinions and subsequent outburst preceding the above photo resulted in what I can only conclude is a minor fracture to the joint on my right middle finger as it's been swollen (though less over time) and painful for 3+ weeks now.

Happy ears checking in with me

Leaving the barn the other morning with my friends, I think Griffin could tell I meant business; but I also think he was excited to get to go on an adventure with his friends. And he responded appropriately, striking out in the lead of our little trio with admirable confidence. I couldn't help but grin. This was the trail horse I raised. The confident little front-runner who loves to get out and tackle whatever terrain I put in front of him.

He carried that confidence and marched proudly in the lead clear to the first ditch where he promptly stopped, snorted, and expressed his Opinion. In anticipation of this moment, I had not only warned my riding partners that I'd be schooling him, but I also had a dressage whip in hand and ready.

I have no idea why this photo came out looking like the dead of night, but it wasn't. And also, this was the turn around point
for our ride. Grif didn't give a hoot about the river.

I put my leg on and told him to cross the ditch. Griffin snorted. He flung his head in the air and body to the side. I put my leg on and told him no with my voice and body language and asked him again to cross the ditch. He reared. I popped him one and told him no and asked him to cross again. He spun, reared, kicked out, and generally threw a little fit. Fortunately, it was a very well-balanced fit that was easy to ride! I popped him once again as he escalated his fit, told him no, and represented him to the ditch where he then stopped and snorted, staring at it.

I asked him to go forward. He hesitated then tried to back up. I applied leg and annoyingly and persistently tap-tap-tapped him on the shoulder with the whip. Any movement away from the ditch earned more annoying tapping; any movement toward the ditch earned praise and an immediate cessation of tapping. He evaded and I tapped until he'd take a step toward the ditch where I'd praise and cease my annoying taps. We repeated this only a few seconds more before he overjumped the hell out of the ditch to cross it. I praised him LAVISHLY, laughing at his excessive jump.

After that, he protested mildly at one more crossing and was an angel for the rest of the ride, leading confidently the whole way just as I knew he could. I continued to praise him with exuberance each time he crossed a ditch and after the second I didn't have to use the whip again the whole ride - except for shooing deer flies away from us both!

All smiles before heading back.

And so, more frequent trail riding is now on Griffin's agenda. It's so obvious how much he truly LOVES his trail time, and now that I have trail access again, I want him to have it, too! He's forgotten a bit about what life is like outside of dressage schooling and jumping and has developed a more "sporthorse" reaction to express his Opinions (which I can only blame myself for because I've worked so hard to build such an athletic little creature who uses his body correctly lol). His sweetheart-need-to-please core personality is still there. I just needed to set as firm of boundaries during the trail work as I set elsewhere in his life, which totally makes sense!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Endurance with an Iron Horse

This past Saturday I did something I've never done before: a bike race. As if that wasn't a big enough "first", it was the furthest I've ever traveled under my own power (read: not riding a horse): 53.7 miles per my GPS watch. Another "first"? I climbed over 5,300 feet in the course of those miles, including to the top of the highest point in WV, Spruce Knob. But wait, there's one more "first" to log into my personal record book: I did well enough to squeak onto the podium!

I'd have brought my jersey down if I thought I was actually going to end up on the podium!

After a friend tackled this race last year, I put it on my calendar for 2018. I knew the roads we'd travel on this gravel grinder and felt comfortable with the idea that I could bike them. I knew I wouldn't be the fastest, but that was okay! The AERC motto of To Finish is to Win embodies all of my endurance attempts in any sport.

On top of the world

And so I signed up. I trained some...but not as much as a should have or could have. In fact, I tore one of my quad muscles 3 weeks out from the race and rode a minimal amount leading up to it in an effort to have the muscle healed enough to race. And miracle of miracles, it was healed enough to not bother me [much]!

Starting line chaos

A huge contingent of friends from Canaan were competing in each of the three distances (72, 53, and 32 miles; the 72 mile course climbed over 8,600 feet!). It was SO FUN to see all of them at the start, through parts of the course where there was two-way traffic, and have them cheering/cheer for them at the finish.

Smiles with friends pre-start

I impressed myself powering through every mile of the race. Without a horse's well-being to account for, I could unleash my competitive nature more than I've done since I was a swimmer. Of those women nearby, I was only confident that two were in my category; I fought to chase one and stay in front of the second. I didn't know how many were ultimately in my category, but I did know that the podium would recognize and award the top 5, so I pushed my legs to handle all they could with hopes that I'd make it in.

Eager and ready to rip-roar down the road

I nearly cried when I reached the summit of Spruce Knob and knew I only had one final climb ahead of me after a solid 9.5 mile downhill where I was able to rest and recoup. But boy was I dreading that final climb! My legs and body were really hurting. But I knew I was going to meet my goal of finishing within 6 hours even if I walked my bike up that final hill!

My first bike race number ever

Lucky for me, my husband was waiting at the base of that final climb! As if seeing him wasn't enough of a pick-me-up, he then proceeded to run alongside me for the final two miles to the finish - all the way up that 1 mile climb. It was a total surprise in the best way possible and helped me power forward a little more than I thought I would be able to.

A short section of paved road by Spruce Knob Lake

All of my friends who had already finished were clustered by the finish line and cheered and whooped and hollered as I came into sight. It was so awesome!

Looking toward Cunningham and Yokum Knobs as I descended from the summit; crooked horizon because I was zipping
downhill with one hand on the brake and one hand taking the photo lol

I am surprised how much I enjoyed this race and absolutely plan to participate next year (Dave, too)! While I wish I'd trained a little more and eaten a little better the morning before the race, there isn't much else I'd change about the experience. The mental side of endurance is definitely the hardest part for me and my headspace was remarkably positive even through the hardest parts of the course. I surprised even myself in that regard!

Copious sponsor banners and tents setup where the dinner and awards were held. Aside: This facility is my absolute most
favorite spot in all of West Virginia. I credit my time here as a kid for my love of outdoors sports, conservation, and West Virginia.

It's been a long time since I've felt this fit (my body literally bounced back from the abuse I put it through in < 24 hours) and it feels GOOD. I'm excited to get back on my bike to maintain and improve my strength. I don't know if I'll do many more races, but I definitely foresee many more training miles in my future!