Monday, September 24, 2018

Life Lately

For the second summer in a row, work absolutely consumed my life. As of this past week, I was able to venture out on the "other side" - at least for a time. I'd like to think it's for good, but I'm not that naive - especially with current trends, leadership, and society's penchant for lawsuits these days. I've been fitting things in here and there with the horses, but overall, August was a pretty slow month for us.

Don't let his ears fool you, he begs for these cuddles and smooshes his nose into my shoulder/face to assure he gets them

Stan had a tragic (for him) abscess in his left hind that sidelined him for 7 to 10 days and ultimately resulted in me pulling his front shoes. If he was going to be lame, he may as well be barefoot and lame so his feet could have a break from shoeing cycles. He came sound shortly afterward and we're now into our second and final shoe cycle for the year as I know the weather and temps will take a dive near the end of this cycle. I've enjoyed a handful of carefree rides on the big guy of late. Nothing makes me smile quite like a ride with him.

Post-ride one day right before fighter jets buzzed us 200 feet off the ground for their usual training exercise through Canaan
Are your horses fighter jet proof? Mine are! lol

Q is doing great! Big spooks seem to be a thing of our past and she's much more reasonable about life these days. We're in a much better place with one another and it feels so good to have arrived here. Every ride we have is better. We still have a lot to work on, but now those things are more fine-tuning and actual physical work as opposed to confidence-building mental exercises. I'm excited to work through new exercises with her in the very near future.

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Endless giggles trotting through the pond. 

Griffin is also doing well. I've slacked off on his workload partly due to lack of great facilities to work in, but also because I don't have a future competition on the calendar to help motivate me to get out and structure my rides with him as much. These days, we head out on happy meanders, maybe some gallops, perhaps a bit of structured dressage playtime or a jump here and there, but mostly just enjoy time spent with one another. He hasn't forgotten anything, we're just enjoying this little plateau for now instead of continuing to climb the many mountains on the horizon.

This is what so much of summer has looked like here! I pulled Q and Stan's fly leggings right after this photo.
Grif and I had just returned from a ride in which we were thoroughly and completely soaked by a pop up storm.

While the horses are all 50-75 lbs lighter than I'd like to see them, they seem happier overall this summer than in past ones and my relationship with them is better than it's ever been! I moved them to Canaan for good in June. We were at one place for the month of June and part of July, and then we moved down the road 'just a titch', as we say in these parts, to another friend's place where they've been to date.


This is the first time in my history of owning horses that they've been on anything other than 28 acres of amazing pasture. This time last year, I had them in a diet pen for about 2 weeks trying to get control of their weight! Now, they're on 2-3 acres of pasture and, not surprisingly, they definitely don't need a diet pen!

Riding in a field of golden rod before mushroom hunting

They're not in the sorriest of states by any means (despite my continual stress over it), but they certainly don't look as plump as I'm accustomed to and are not where I prefer to keep them weight-wise. Anything beyond what I consider "normal" makes me fuss and fret. But the good news is that I'm learning, and I'm definitely grateful for relatively easy keepers whose weights bounce back quite quickly with the proper amount of calories! They've been maintaining/slowly gaining for almost a month now which is a great indicator that I'm nearly "there" with a feeding regiment that works for them! Despite the worry figuring this out has caused me, it's been a pretty fun puzzle; nutrition is so very fascinating to me!

Club ride! LC on Stan

I finally made it out with my riding club for a ride this past weekend. It was in Dolly Sods which made it much easier on me to attend! I had a prior commitment in the morning that meant I would have to play "catch up" to the ride, but that was fine by me! It enabled me to ride fast for a time instead of walking the whole day.

Stan navigating Dolly Sods with LC

Dan asked if I would mind if LC, a new trainer to the area who hopes to stay long-term, rode one of my horses for the ride. I happily agreed, eager to finally meet this woman I'd heard so much about from Dan, Chris, and Aimee who are smitten with her. Long story short, riding with her was WONDERFUL - and she adored Stan (just like everyone). Everything she said about horses and training resounded strongly with me, and her resume is impressive to boot with ample experience in hunters/jumpers, eventing, dressage, sane natural horsemanship, and some western disciplines. I'll consider myself lucky if my knowledge of horses is where hers is in another 30 years.

SETTLE DOWN, Q! (She stood here for 15 minutes calm as a cucumber.)
Dolly Sods interior stretching out behind her. Reminds me of the Badlands

Pending a more permanent living situation, LC is hoping to remain in Canaan for the foreseeable future. She sees a niche she can fill with horse training and lessons; I couldn't agree more! She'll not only benefit beginners, those seeking someone to start young horses, and those with problem horses, but she also has a skillset that will benefit more advanced riders and horses. It is my hope that I'll be taking lessons from her in the very near future - something I am absolutely over the moon about.

Our typical vista of Canaan Valley.

I love living in this area so very much, but it definitely makes improving my horsemanship and riding much more difficult because my access to quality professionals is very limited and comes at a cost (both time and money). It seems I may have the very thing I've hoped and wished for for so long plopped right into my backyard. Fingers crossed that LC can find a good place to rent and ample clientele to remain here for awhile!

When the mountains on your wine glass match the mountain views in front of you

Beyond horses and work, I've found time to bike a lot, climb a little, hike with the dogs, book some photoshoots, travel a little for work/play, and spend a copious amount of time with wonderful people who make me smile and inspire me to be a better human.

Baby bakasana on top of Seneca Rocks. If you think it should be a full bakasana, I welcome you to give it a go while staring
 down at a ~900-foot drop! The fin of rock I'm standing on is not more than 5 feet wide at any point. This is Seneca's south summit,
the north summit is behind me and is accessible by hiking.
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A moody landscape. Seneca Rocks is just behind the tree in the foreground down in that valley.
Photo taken from Roaring Plains Wilderness in Dolly Sods.
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Dave and I from our campsite enjoying the above view.
Kenai (and Taiga!) ready for an adventure.
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She is the posing-est little dog. Golden hour light looks so good on her.
Yeahhhh... I'd been inside working and came out to the porch to find this. Dave reports they'd been this way for 30 minutes or so.

I've got a bit more travel coming up for my best friend's wedding in Moab before settling into late fall and early winter. Dave and I have a garage project we're hoping to finally finish before we leave and when we return I'll have a handful of commitments to follow through with - one of which will have a very huge effect on my future! Positive vibes from now through the end of October are very welcome.

A different perspective of our home.

It's going to [continue to] be a whirlwind for another few weeks, but every part of that whirlwind is something I'm looking forward to. Best of all, autumn is here, which is my favorite time of year to get out and ride! And you can bet I'll be fitting rides in as much as possible amidst the controlled chaos I love to live.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Horse You Bought

Thanks, Cathryn, for this blog hop.

As I've only purchased one of my three horses, I'll take this time and focus on Q! Which is great, actually, because it's been ages since I dove back into the archives of my brain and this blog to remember what Q was like 6+ years ago.

Gorgeous in her fresh summer coat

Beyond her coloring and the added bonus of so much chrome (I love a blaze face and stockings together!), Q was NOT what I was looking for in my next horse! The things I was looking for were: bay/brown Arabian gelding, aged 6-10, already started under saddle, 15+hh. This horse would be my Future Super Star for endurance.

So, of course, what did I end up with?

She looks so funny in a western headstall

A 14.1½hh, bay/brown, Arabian cross mare. And yes, mare is italicized because of all the things on my list for my next horse, a gelding was the one thing I was most adamant about. I'd ridden some incredible mares in my life to that point, but ugh, I just didn't want to own one! Of course, the Universe got the last laugh on that!

In her new home with me

I rode Q three or four times over the course of a long weekend clinic with my riding club. She was currently living with the cowboy clinician; he and his daughters referred to her as the "crazy" or "psycho" horse. They really didn't like any horse that was hot, forward thinking, and not a quarter horse. I loved her though - and blew them out of the water a bit when I was riding her around bareback later that evening and the following day.

Clearly a crazy psycho horse. My complete relaxation speaks volumes.

Qualities that I noted in my first blog post about Q that I really liked:
  • Happy leading, following, or being in the middle of a group of horses and is just as happy leaving the group of horses to ride solo
  • She was forward and alert on trail (HAHAHA)
  • She navigated up and down steep hills with ease, didn't hesitate at water crossings, stepped over trail obstactles
  • She collected herself beautifully over a jump (I still remember how lovely this felt for the first time)
  • Her canter was absolutely dreamy
  • She not once offered a buck or a rear (And still hasn't to this day!)
  • And while she was in heat, she didn't act like a witch and showed zero interest toward either of the studs we were trail riding with despite their throaty nickers suggesting otherwise 

Not a bad list by any means! But still, I hemmed and hawed over the commitment to get her. She had really amazing qualities I was seeking in a horse, I could probably let the whole mare thing slide, but the financial side was really scary for someone who, at that time, was in a little bit of an insecure place financially.

Jumping demo for elementary schoolers on the playground where I grew up fantasizing about riding and jumping horses

Finally, more than a few friends pointed out that she'd be an easy resell to someone in the endurance community after a summer of miles with me. So, even if she wasn't the horse for me, I wouldn't be stuck with her forever! My anxiety-ridden brain agreed with this logic at last, and I brought her home the next weekend.

Parade pony

After bringing her home, I introduced her to the blog world and got to know her a bit more. Things that contributed to my decision to buy her as noted in her introductory post (thank goodness for blogging!):
  • she's very forward on the trail - eager to move up a hill and not a wuss about getting down one either
  • she collects over jump obstacles in the woods in a way that few horses I've ever ridden have done
  • she's very, very alert and notices everything (even little butterflies) but doesn't spook like a complete maniac, she notes her surroundings and moves on
  • she's a quick learner - figured out within only a few tries what she had to do (give me two eyes) to get to stop moving her feet in the round pen
  • she's a lover
  • she's responsive - side pass you ask?  No problem.
  • she backs up under saddle like a reining/working cow horse
  • her floaty trot is a joy to ride
  • her canter is ground-eating
  • she's in heat and isn't a complete and total witch!  When introduced to her new herd she only threw one warning kick (when a horse charged her) and then she was aloof the rest of the time. She'll arch her neck and pin her ears, but isn't all snarly.
  • stop means stop 
Right after completing our first LD

That's a pretty great list for a brand-new-to-me horse. But of course, I also had a short list of things we needed to improve upon:
  • ground manners
  • standing while mounting
  • snorting and prancing after being haltered
  • wariness and spookiness around people on the ground
  • screaming and pawing/digging when left tied alone without a human or horse in sight
She loves a good mash

It's interesting for me to read back on these lists now. I wrote them for a reason back then - to know what our starting blocks were. I knew we backslid with lateral movements, but had forgotten how truly alert yet calm she used to be under saddle. I know her spooking habits were exacerbated extremely by my own poor behavior. It's really nice to read back and know that she didn't always teleport when things caused her alarm. Knowing this was the biggest help as I worked slowly to build her confidence over the past year. I knew what I wanted from her was absolutely within her realm; I knew I could have the riding partner I wanted because I'd had that from her before.

Dolly Sods vistas of Canaan Valley

The things we "lost" that were a part of the original foundation are small potatoes in the grand scheme of my 6+ years with this little mare though! The shortlist of things I knew I wanted to improve with her back then are all complete non-issues now! Paramount of these, she has impeccable ground manners, doesn't scream or paw, trusts most every human (though is still wary of certain types of men), and is very respecting of a human's space. 

Showing Austen what the world of endurance is like

Things Q has done in her time with me include, but are certainly not limited to:
  • parades: during the day, at night, with firetrucks/sirens/horns
  • backcountry trail riding and overnight camping
  • countless conditioning rides for thousands of miles
  • jumping
  • fun shows
  • lessons for beginners
  • LDs, 50s, and one 100 for a total of 3 out of 4 completions for LDs (85 completed miles) and 7 out of 8 completions for endurance (410 completed miles) 
  • traveled and ridden in 4 states
  • losing and re-building her confidence under saddle
  • overcoming her raw, instinctual fear of having her hind feet shod  

Teaching our tiniest student that trotting is fun

I hope to continue adding to this list in coming years with many more endurance miles and hopefully some dressage competitions one day! I think she'd be such a flashy little thing in the sandbox. Beyond being a showy little thing though, I want to pursue more dressage with her to improve her way of going and overall health. Following her suspensory lesions, proper movement and balance are of utmost importance in everything I pursue with her and my other horses these days. I want to guarantee health and longevity and proper movement goes a long way to achieving that goal.

Still one of the greatest photos 

This mare has opened up worlds for me that I wanted so badly to be a part of, endurance being the biggest. The community I've found within endurance riding is like no other. I've certainly had my own ups and downs, but I've met some really incredible people and learned a ton about horsemanship from endurance riding.

Such a wonderful community

The other big world I always wanted to experience was riding in remote places. I never had a horse that could go-go-go for miles and miles so easily with such little maintenance before Q. The backcountry and wilderness conditioning miles I've tackled with Q have been the most beautiful and picturesque. She is so foot-perfect which allows me to literally sit back, look around, and enjoy the world around me.

My very first time riding in the Sods on what is still the most beautiful autumn day I've ever enjoyed

Of everything I've done with this horse, my favorite accomplishments are the Old Dominion 100 and the success I've found in the past year rebuilding Q's lost confidence under saddle.

30-some miles into the OD 100

It sort of goes without saying why the OD was so incredible, but for those who don't know, it's arguably the hardest 100 in the country when you pair the weather with the unrelenting terrain. To have completed it on our first attempt blows me away. 

The last ones to finish (and complete!) the OD 100 in 2016 at 5:11am

And regarding her confidence, the year+ I've spent working with her to build her back up has been some of the most fulfilling I've spent with her in our years together. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING, is more rewarding than heading down the trail behind those dark ears to tackle mile after mile with ease and confidence. 

One of what are becoming many recent spook-free rides with this gorgeous little girl

There are so many more things I hope to accomplish with this little mare in our time together. She's not what I was looking for, but I am so very grateful she's what I have. The trials and tribulations I've had with her have taught me more about horses and about myself than any other animal or human interaction has ever done.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Product Review: Arctic Horse Tongass Long Rain Riding Skirt

All opinions are my own; I have not been asked or reimbursed in anyway for sharing my experience with this product.

Their Claim

As written on the Arctic Horse website:

"The Tongass Rain Riding Skirt forms a 100% waterproof breathable pocket around your legs and captures the combined total heat from your lower body AND your horse. So when the wind + rain roll in and the temps drop, ta-dah: INSTANT dry oven (and bonus: that hay you fed your horse to keep him warm is keeping you warm now, too)! 

Riding Skirts are bound by the laws of nature to be way warmer than pants alone because you're combining multiple heat sources (you + the horse) and trapping it under one big waterproof air pocket.
{Air pockets trap heat: it's why thermos' keep things hot, mittens are warmer than gloves, and sea otter's fur keeps them toasty in Arctic waters}.
The reasons skirts work better than small heaters in separate pockets (read: pants) is due in thanks to the laws of thermodynamics, the properties of heat convection, and something called the “inevitable heat death of the universe theory.”
Layering a waterproof Tongass Rain Riding Skirt over pants gives you all of the close contact your riding pants afford, with the warmth and dryness of a breathable shell on top."

My Experience

My Arctic Horse Tongass Long Rain Riding Skirt was a Christmas gift from my husband last year (purchased from Riding Warehouse). I've taken my dear sweet time testing it prior to writing this review because, in my opinion, for gear such as this you can't really screw around and test it once or twice and call it good. A sample size of 1 or 2 isn't phenomenal science after all! And when a product is marketed with claims about keeping you warm and dry in cold and wet weather, you've really got to test it in cold and wet weather again and again to be sure you've run it through the gamut of weather possibilities. Cold. Cold and wet. Cold and windy. Cold and windy and wet. Windy and wet. Total deluge. Check, check, check, check, check, and check.


FIRST IMPRESSION: From the first moment I tried it on, I felt giddy. It's well-made, well-tailored, and the way it moves with you when you move is beyond cool. In some ways, I felt as if I'd been transported back a few centuries into the shoes - or skirts if you will! - of one of the protagonists from the various fantasy-quest books I so enjoy.


THE DESIGN: The exterior is softshell-esque to the touch while the inside is brushed fleece. The zipper is a 2-way (zip down from the top or up from the bottom), heavy-duty one that is also sealed with rubber for extra weatherproofing. The pockets, also zippered, are fleece and deep enough to hold a myriad of trinkets (phone, the small tripod I use to film my riding sometimes, remote for my dog's e-collar, etc.) and/or your gloved hand. There are elastic straps to help keep the skirt stable in winds or when riding at speed and snaps to hold the skirt up to make mounting easier. Additionally, the skirt has belt loops if you need to cinch it to your body for a closer fit.


MY HORSES' REACTIONS: My horses are accustomed to me "torturing" them in various ways. I do this in an effort to help them become them tolerant of as many things as I can and to help minimize their reactions to novel stimuli. As such, they didn't bat an eye when I mounted up for the first time wearing the skirt. The most reaction I received was a very uncertain ear locked onto me for several seconds after mounting as they tried to ascertain whether the additional fabric touching them was a source of danger or not. Spoiler alert, it wasn't and each of them settled within a few steps.


PERFORMANCE: My first many rides with the skirt were in cold, dry weather. From short rides of 10-20 minutes to longer rides of nearly 20 miles over 2 hours, the skirt performed admirably keeping me warmer than I'd ever been on a winter ride! The biggest difference in my comfort that the skirt contributed toward was having warm toes - this is something I struggle with in the winter no matter my sport or activity. The skirt allowed the heat generated by the horse to keep my entire body warmer, which, in turn, kept my toes warm. That alone was enough to sell me on the skirt right then and there.


The next level of testing came from riding on a windy, cold day. I mostly flatted Griffin on this day through all gaits with many transitions. Much to my surprise and pleasure, the skirt was remarkably stable despite a steady wind of 8 to 14 mph! In fact, it was so stable that I even did a few small jumps on that day (nothing crazy due to the footing conditions).

Surprisingly, the skirt moved very little when jumping an 18" cavaletti on a windy day. 

Satisfied with how the skirt performed in the cold and the wind, I began trying to plan my rides on days with rain. Try as I might to get out while it was raining, it proved hard to accomplish! I was able to ride in a drizzle a few times - and I stayed dry! - but I wasn't sold on a drizzle as a complete test of the skirt's waterproofing abilities. Many things are water resistant in a drizzle, but the question remained how it would do in a deluge.


Finally, on a ride this summer with a friend, I got to find out! From the moment we set out on the ride, it was pouring rain. Fortunately, (ha!) the worst of the rainstorm was yet to hit and we were able to ride in it. I had donned my skirt and was SO IMPRESSED to find that it did indeed keep me dry through the heavy rain. It worked so well, in fact, that I had a literal puddle in my lap where the fabric bunched as I rode. I tried to take a few photos, but with my phone in a plastic bag and my hands very wet, it wasn't the easiest. Regardless, the verdict was in - the skirt WAS waterproof and DID do well in a complete downpour at a walk and trot.


I stay warm. This was a bottom line for me. I love riding in the winter but I do struggle to stay warm sometimes - my toes especially. This skirt keeps me WARM. In fact, sometimes I've been quite hot. It's a delicate balance sometimes for temperature control, but that's more a me/my body's temperature regulation thing than a qualm with the skirt.

I'm SO excited to have this skirt for the upcoming winter - my first with the horses in Canaan Valley! Bring on the brutal arctic temps! I know I'll be warm whether I'm riding or mucking stalls - something my toes are very happy about. Because yes, this skirt is just as great to wear not-riding when performing other barn chores; that warm bubble of heat around your body is far superior to any combination of winter pants I've had for any winter pursuit. (So long as you're in an area that doesn't involve trudging /post-holing through deep snow where pant legs would obviously be better.)

I stay dry. I'll admit, I was skeptical that it would be truly waterproof. I'm an outdoors gear whore (see: my various outdoors sporting activities and lifestyle) and am very accustomed to companies claiming something is waterproof when it is merely water-resistant. Well, ladies and gentleman, this skirt is WATERPROOF. I tested it in a few rain showers and one full on DELUGE and was dry underneath. Color me shocked and completely thrilled. The day of the deluge I literally had a puddle of water in my lap where some of the skirt fabric was bunched up while I was in the saddle. I just stared at it in amazement, incapable of believing for awhile.

It serves as a quarter sheet for the horse. I've always pondered purchasing or making a quartersheet for my horses but never pulled the trigger. Well, now I've got two in one! I enjoy having this feature for those particularly crisp days.

It looks really f-cking cool, and I always receive compliments. Every time I wear the skirt, without fail, at least one person tells me how badass/medieval/cool it looks. And I agree wholeheartedly. It's a huge perk to look good while being warm and dry in a world where most clothing that keeps you warm and dry means you're definitely sacrificing some semblance of "attractive". But also, in a society that is so recently focused on girl power and feminism, it feels so empowering to put on this skirt and ride around, perform barn chores, or stand along the sidelines of a clinic.


Overall, I've found very few cons with the skirt. And honestly, I doubt the cons I do have will be shared by many others unless you're also enjoying a faster-paced endurance conditioning ride in a summer storm. Regardless, I wanted to note them here.

At a canter on trail it does flap a bit resulting in my knees getting wet. I don't half-ass my rides just because it's raining outside. I'm conscientious of the terrain and keep to areas with more secure footing when it's wet as much as I can, but I still pursue training miles at a trot and canter in inclement weather because it's valuable training. I've competed in a few rainy endurance rides, and I'm grateful I had knowledge of what limitations my horse and my gear would have ahead of time instead of finding out in the moment. After all, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail! Personally, I'd rather be prepared for as much as I can to narrow the window of failure as much as possible.

The skirt inevitably flaps about some at a canter. In heavier rain, my legs will get damp around the knee where skirt exposes my legs while the horse is in motion. It's not the end of the world, but I do get a bit wet! That said, I'm much drier than I would be without the skirt which I greatly appreciate. Nothing chills me to the bone more than being soaked through to the skin in a cold rain.

Sometimes in our humid Appalachian climate, it's too hot. Summer rain can be chilling compared to non-rainy days, but with the humidity we still often experience on rainy summer days, adding a heavy skirt to my riding attire for the sake of being dry is sometimes overboard and quickly causes me to overheat. But honestly, on these types of days I easily overheat in a raincoat, too. So I usually just opt to be wet if I'm going to ride in weather like that and prepare by wearing natural fibers (merino usually) against my skin so I don't become too chilled.


Final Verdict

10/10, 5 stars, 2 enthusiastic thumbs up!

I LOVE this skirt for both its form and function. It keeps me warm and dry and looks completely badass. I absolutely recommend this product to anyone in a winter clime or an area that receives a lot of rain. Arctic horse has other skirts, too, that vary in their targeted function (just warmth instead of warm & dry), their material, and in their length. They are pricey, but the workmanship and quality are worth it. The ladies at this company do a bang-up job and charging less would be an injustice. Thank you, Arctic Horse Team, for creating such an incredible alternative product for riding in inclement weather.