Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: A Year in Review + Goals Analysis


✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Build strength, power, and finesse within dressage and jumping
✔ Take > 3 dressage lessons (and become more confirmed/comfortable with shoulder-in and lateral movements)
✘ Take > 1 jumping lesson
✘ Feel confirmed at beginner novice
✘ + Compete in the novice division at one HT
✘ + Compete in either a dressage or jumping show
✔ + Put Grif on cattle to see if he works them as he does the dogs around the barn

Far from clean with the amount of mud and highly organic soil we encountered on the way up,
but a favorite photo nonetheless because it was a very successful ride following quite an
acrobatic outburst from Grif when he refused to go over an 11" wide, 4" deep ditch. He hadn't
given me so much push back on something in ages and to work through it successfully was
the biggest reward for our relationship. 

It wasn't the year I'd hoped for competitively with eventing, but it wasn't a bad year by any stretch!

3 of 5 goals accomplished and 1 of 3 stretch goals met.

Between Kenai's vet bills (more on this below) and my truck mysteriously leaking oil and needing loads of diagnostics and labor hours to resolve (2-3 days labor to find a significant crack in the oil pan - oof), money that was intended for competitions was spent elsewhere. C'est la vie!

This doesn't mean we sat completely idle though! The biggest win of the year - beyond health and soundness! - was finally taking lessons. I haven't had steady riding lessons since I was a child. By and large, those lessons were more "time and miles" than any remarkable education about riding. Seriously, the vast majority of what I learned in those lessons can be summarized in 6 words, "eyes up, heels down, toes in". Not winning any prizes with that!

A shot from our second lesson in May

In my two lessons with centered riding instructor C in May, Griffin and I built upon our understanding of proper bend, cut our teeth on some introductory lateral work, and began piecing together the stepping stones for flying lead changes. It was my intention to make it back for another lesson or two that summer, but the truck issues heated up and money got tight.

Fortunately though, I was able to just barely meet my goal of a minimum of 3 lessons this calendar year by taking a third on December 5 when the Federal government had a surprise holiday to mourn GHW Bush. After months of conditioning rides with new local trainer LC, I was finally able to setup a lesson with her. Never mind the winter weather advisory in full effect during my lesson!

Griffin's "Woman, are you kidding me?!" face re: our snowy lesson day.

Snow, schmow, it was a great first lesson focused on some of the most basics of basics to retrain my body and mind around riding. Admittedly, the way she taught me to think about my body and aids was a bit of a blow to my ego because I felt like those were things I actually understood but, uh, didn't. I rebounded very quickly from this and had a really great lesson on Griffin focused on very basic building blocks that are critical for us to develop to move forward. Following the lesson, I put all of my new understanding and drills to use with Q and had one of the best rides of that kind on her ever. I'm really psyched to have homework to motivate me through the winter months and plan to have a lesson with LC every 4-6 weeks going forward. She's a really awesome fit for me as a trainer and I'm so very excited to finally have some quality training on a regular basis for the first time in my adult life.

Late April jump school at home.

Jumping and becoming confirmed at BN this year obviously didn't happen. Though just because I didn't compete doesn't mean we didn't jump. We actually schooled jumps at home quite a bit this summer (though I didn't document a single time). Griffin is so very solid compared to where we once were. The main thing I incorporated into our jump schooling this summer that I hadn't done previously was to school several jumps on a slight downhill. Of all the XC jumps Grif and I tackled at our Loch Moy outings, the ones on a slight downhill were the toughest for me. I'd never jumped something on a downhill slope before! Easily remedied with practice though, and now I feel a lot more comfortable about it. Crazy what practice does.


Impressively I got to fulfill the one stretch goal I thought would be the hardest to do this year - put Grif on some cows! Now, admittedly I didn't fulfill this goal in the format I anticipated. But it was so much better. It was real life application with purpose, not some staged setup in a controlled environment. I still hope to give things a go in a controlled environment eventually to really see if he'll cut and work the cows the way he does dogs, but getting to experience working cattle in a practical application for the first time was pretty damn sweet.


✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Build more trust and confidence in our partnership
✘ Take > 1 dressage or centered riding lesson
✔✔ Build better balance and abolish her sidedness, especially with trot diagonals
~ Hone lateral movements under saddle
✔ Complete a conditioning ride >20 miles over mountainous terrain (rail trail does not count)
✘ + Compete in a dressage show
✘ + Return to endurance competition

She was the most confident little mare on this ride and I was SO Freaking Proud.

What a great year for this little mare! We didn't return to competition as I hoped, but I'm confident when we do make a return it will go well. My relationship with her under saddle is better than it's ever been, her body is just as strong and stronger than it was pre-suspensory injury, and she's really given me some great rides lately when I asked her to think more and use her body in novel ways.

Regaining and improving trust and confidence for Q is the biggest win of the year, hands down. I've written ad nauseam about this though, and won't continue to wax and wane poetically here. It's been really awesome and I'm so excited to see where things go from here now that we have such a solid foundation together.

LC and Q watching deer in the distance

The second biggest win of the year is my success in abolishing Q's sidedness. LC rode Q during a conditioning ride back in November and about a mile into the ride she remarked, "Wow. This is the first horse I've ridden since coming to West Virginia that is even through her body." Cue massive fist pump to the sky on my part. Best. Compliment. Ever. I have worked SO hard over the past year on this with Q. Having someone who is only just meeting me and the horses, and who has such extensive training with high-caliber horses and riders, compliment her in this way meant so much.

Summer Canaan vistas when the shrubby St John's wort was in bloom.

While I didn't get to ride Q for a lesson this year, she's absolutely benefited from what I have learned in my lessons on Griffin. Most recently, I put my new knowledge to the test with her immediately after my lesson with LC; I learned just as much from this ride as I did from my lesson. Having the opportunity to cement my new knowledge and find great success was really great. My goal is to build Q up with my learning through the next couple months and then ride her for my third lesson with LC.
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Into 2019 we go!
Finally, while we didn't return to endurance competition, we absolutely put in the miles as if we were. I got oodles of great conditioning miles in on this little mare in 2018. I rode her and numerous friends rode her. She excelled throughout every ride and was a star for our longest one of nearly 30 miles. I have no doubt of her ability to find success on the endurance trail next year.


✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Keep up conditioning levels to a degree where striking out on a 20+ mile conditioning ride over mountainous terrain is a walk-in-the-park
✘ + Compete in a 50-mile ride

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Pretty boy - wish he'd been standing on 100% level ground for this!

Stan had a pretty good year. Nothing crazy, but still lots of miles tackled. I imagine this is going to be pretty par for the course for him going forward. He's 17 and I don't have huge goals to fulfill with him through the last half of his life. He's done so much for me and is such a steady eddy no matter how much time he has off. He has become the horse I hop on to just meander around without a care in the world and the horse I can trust with any rider.


I decided this year that competing him in a 50 mile competition is not something I care to pursue. He's got nothing to prove to me and I've got nothing to prove to myself. I wasn't super sold on the goal when I wrote it down at the beginning of the year, but I figured I'd jot it down just in case we managed to absolutely slay some conditioning miles this year. Which we did. Just not anything crazy. And that is completely fine and awesome. All I want for Stan is good health and lots of fun, carefree miles in the saddle to keep him limber and relatively fit.

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Probably the best photo ever of his cheek freckle.

He is the best horse. I always know that, but it really strikes home when I ride him. He just feels like home. I am looking forward to many more years in the saddle just enjoying the world with him.


✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Get some answers to his hair loss
✔ Maintain a healthy weight and diet with whatever supplements keep him moving well

Ferns make my heart go pitter patter - and so does this dog.

Finally, a solid 100% completion! Haha. My goals are never set thinking I will complete them all, but rather to keep me on track as I travel through the calendar year because I've got squirrel-brain a lot. It's good to keep things reined in to those I'd most like to achieve instead of picking up new hobbies and goals left and right. Having said that, it still feels good to have 100% success in one realm!

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He tackled her right after this.

Kenai is at an ideal weight, down 5 pounds from where he was at the beginning of the year. He's moving better than he has in ages and seems to only improve as time goes on. He's on a routine injection schedule to help his arthritis which has made such a huge difference! It's been awesome to watch him feel better and better the past 6 months. Taiga appreciates it, too, because she's got a much more playful friend to roughhouse with.

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Surprisingly, - or maybe not surprisingly because why the fuck not we've already had such bad luck after all - Kenai had ANOTHER knee surgery this year. For those keeping count of the times his stifles have been cut open, the count is now at one time for the left stifle (2013) and 5 times for the right stifle (2013, the 2015 saga, and now 2018.)

Fortunately for everyone involved, this 2018 surgery was the quickest, easiest, and shortest rehab yet! His body rejected part of the hardware installed in the third surgery of 2015. We tried to correct this with antibiotics for a time but to no avail. And so now he's an ounce or two lighter in that stifle and much happier overall.

And while I worried we wouldn't find an answer earlier this year, we have actually resolved much of Kenai's hair loss over the past 4 months, too! So much so that my vet is absolutely flabbergasted in the change.

kenai august
Early August when he was looking pretty damn haggard - his coat was in absolute shambles.
kenai sept 2
Labor Day weekend showed some improvements from the fungal meds already.
The inflammation of his skin had disappeared and new hair was sprouting everywhere (though the tips were black so you can't tell what's hair and bald for sure in these photos.)
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Sunset on Christmas Day - lighting isn't the same as the prior photos, but you can see how much of his coat has returned
and I think should be able to see how the quality is much improved.
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Excusing the sunset lighting again in comparison to the other photos, you can also see how the darker guard hairs haven't
come back with as much gusto. We'll see what one more month on the anti-fungal drug does, but regardless, he's a much
happier guy with a MUCH healthier coat!

And rightly so! What a change! It was hard won, too, trying basically every avenue possible before arriving at an answer. After consulting multiple vets, running multiple blood panels (which were always normal), bathing with three different medicated shampoos 2x a week for literal months, doing a 6 week treatment with a medication for a systemic bacterial infection, adding vitamin E and omega 3 supplements to his diet, and switching to a homemade diet for 5ish months, I finally demanded of my regular vet to try a systemic fungal treatment. And lo and behold! Immediate cessation of the lesions and hotspots coupled with amazing hair regrowth!

Oh, and we can't forget this get up. I tried this, too, to help his skin issues.

In fact, Kenai has a healthier coat than he has in literal YEARS. It's amazing. He's still absent of hair in some places (notably the sides of his neck, his caudal thighs, and pathetic tail), but there has been so much regrowth and change. His coat is no longer brittle and crisp, but healthy, rich, and soft.

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Relaxing in the wilds of West Virginia
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Moody Kenai.

We're trying one more month of the fungal medication to see if we can get any more regrowth and will then see where we're at before doing anything else. Honestly, I'm not sure there is much more to do at this point. The change is so freaking huge. I'm happy to accept that he may just have some alopecia. My husband does, why not have a dog with the same affliction? Haha.


✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound
✔ Hone recall and obedience training
~ + Begin pursuing training necessary to become a therapy dog

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Definitely one of my all-time favorite photos of her at sunset one evening.

This little dog had a pretty great first year with us. She's such an attention-seeking, people-pleasing little thing. Throughout the days I've slowly drafted this post, she sits by whatever chair I'm in as close as she can be. The only time she doesn't feel the need to be near me is at night when she chooses to remain downstairs on her dog bed.

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But also a favorite sunset photo from Christmas Day...

She's got a fraction of the prey drive Kenai has and has been infinitely easier to train for recall in that regard. It doesn't mean she won't chase something, it just means that she is easily called off of that something or if she does "catch" it she wants to play with it as a friend not a foe/meal. This contrasts Kenai who is very motivated to maim and kill. The only thing Taiga is kind of "vicious" about killing are fish that are handed to her after we catch them. She swiftly dispatches them and consumes them head to tail!

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Watching birds...

She has yet to "run away" during any of our outings. Kenai had run off at least 3 times in my first 18 months with him! If Taiga doesn't come when I call on a hike, it isn't because she is trying to misbehave, she's just lost track of where exactly I am on the landscape because she's distracted chasing butterflies or leaves. Seriously. It's both adorable and incredibly frustrating.

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Looking out on her world.

Taiga has endless energy and is the perfect trail riding partner both on horseback and mountain biking.  To date, her longest ride/run was 17 miles! I don't take her on longer rides/bikes with a lot of elevation gain/loss or super gnarly trail conditions yet, choosing instead to stick to those that are super easy going if we're going to log a bunch of miles so that she isn't taxing herself as much. These days, any venture less than 12 miles means I will still have a rambunctious dog by evening after she's had a nap. I miss the days where our normal 7-mile loop made her sleep until the next morning!

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Sunset ballet dancer

I still plan to take her through some testing that will give us the necessary paperwork to be allowed to be at my new office (same job, new building) by the end of next year. The same paperwork will give her added credence when she's on the ski mountain with me and enable her to come on accidents or enter the aid room. Right now, I keep her away from those situations unless the patient is a local who knows her. She's got the perfect temperament for that kind of work, and I look forward to doing more of it with her. The biggest thing we need to work on between now and whenever we test is exposure to more people/dogs. Unlike when Kenai was a puppy with me my senior year at university, there aren't as many times Taiga has been large groups of people and/or lots of strange dogs. As a result, when she is in those situations she's overjoyed and over-stimulated. I'm very confident that time and miles will resolve this and look forward to getting her out and about more in the coming year.


✔ Stay happy and healthy physically and mentally
✔ Build a stronger and more flexible body
✔ Build/maintain my photography skillset and business
✘ Lead climb above 5.9
✔ Bike Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking
✔ Really push forward with finding a living situation for the horses that is closer to my home
~✔ + Be able to do a split & feel comfortable with inversion poses

A wee little crow pose on top of Seneca - I love this photo because you get a sense of the exposure. 800-900 foot drop to the
valley floor to my front - you know, right where my eyes are looking - and only a 4-5 foot wide fin of rock to stand on!

Climbing took a major backseat this year. Mostly, it rained a LOT. Rain isn't great for climbing. But I'm okay with totally biffing on my annual climbing goal. The two times I climbed this year were enjoyable - especially the trip up Seneca with one of my good friends who is an AMGA guide. We laughed SO much and I've never felt so relaxed on top of Seneca amidst that kind of exposure before. It was a really fantastic day.


Shy of the climbing goal, I blew the rest of the goals out of the park. Physically, I feel better in my body than I have in years. The 53-mile bike race in July was a great way to get there and I've done nothing but maintain ever since. I will absolutely be pursuing that same race again in 2019!

Also on the biking front, I learned about several new-to-me trails on Canaan Mountain this year. The very large majority of times I headed out on group rides this year, we biked up that mountain. I actually kind of loved it. Far cry from how I felt about that mountain at the start of the year!

A small selection of client images for the year.

My photography side hustle did well again this year. I am really pleased with how my skillset is advancing both behind the lens and post-processing. I'm having a ton of fun with it and learning more every day, which is all I can ask for! It leaves me wishing I'd taken a few courses in college. The fact that I can make some additional income from it is a huge bonus.

Finally looking like a split! In the past week or so I've been able to lift my arms like this and not support myself with them.
It takes me a good 10 minutes of stretching and prep to get to this point - which is fine! It's amazing the change stretching affords.
Now to work on squaring my hips more and developing more freedom of movement within them which will bring more
depth and comfort to the pose.

I finally got consistent with my yoga practice this past year. It still isn't anything crazy, but my body and my body awareness have evolved so much in the past year thanks to it. I'm increasingly comfortable in inversion poses and I can practically taste the success from achieving my first full front-back split! The latter has helped my riding immensely by opening my hip angle up so much. Another bonus of yoga is that it has really helped my anxiety; whenever my headspace is particularly fussy, I quite literally stop, drop, and yoga for a few minutes wherever I am. The breath work and routine flow of my body gets me back in the present moment and really calms my mind.

One of my absolute most favorite photos I took this summer and my hands-down favorite photo of the 3 of them together.

And finally, through the summer months I enjoyed having the horses closer to home, achieving a big goal for a good chunk of the year. It was so very enjoyable to have them nearby again AND get to be largely in charge of their care. Unfortunately, the winter situation didn't workout as I'd hoped, but I'm very much at peace with my decision to move them back to their old barn for the winter.

Moving forward, it is my hope to bring them home late-summer, early-autumn of 2019 for good. I'm still moving through the lengthy processes involved in this endeavor and can't wait to share details (hopefully soon!), but until then, just cross all of your digits for me!

: : : : :

All-in-all, the year wasn't quite what I'd planned for, but it was still a great year. I did my best to roll with the changes as they came and make the most out of every situation. By and large, it was a bit of a "transition" year, and honestly, next year is shaping up to be one of those, too. I'm okay with it though because despite this year being what it was, I don't feel as if I lost ground anywhere. I either stagnated, maintained, or improved - which is a net positive! But also, this transition period is coming with some really big life changes like marriage and hopefully owning my own little farmette. These changes are worth "sitting still" for a time while they manifest into my wildest dreams.

Cheers to you and yours - I hope 2019 brings you many smiles and fond memories.


  1. Holy cow, you did a lot this year! Congrats!

  2. this year may not have been what you sketched out, but it still looked damn fun! congrats on closing out 2018 in style, and wishing you a happy new year!

  3. What a great year you had. And I can never read too much about your journey with Q!

  4. You checked off a ton of those goals! Your photos are amazing, as always - I'm not surprised your photography skills are in demand! Your yoga and fitness adventures are super inspiring too, thank you!

  5. You take the most incredible pictures of your dogs!! The one of them leaping through the ferns is probably my favorite!
    Way to crush so many goals. I can hardly keep up with 1 horse, I am impressed with how much you get done with 3!!

    1. I so agree! Altho I am a horse lover, not so much a dog lover, the pictures of your dogs are just STUNNING. Maybe it's the combination of the whiteness of their coats with the use of the setting sun...

  6. Overall, you had a wonderful year in my eyes! Sounds like really exciting adventures to come this year, too! Yay for starting the steps to bring your horses HOME!

  7. Happy New Year!!! Way to cross those goals off your list and heres to hoping the horses get to come home for good soon.

  8. Quite a year, even if it wasn't what you pictured 365 days ago. Gorgeous media to go with it as well. Super impressed with the split. Holy cow! Also thrilled that Kenai's coat is doing so much better nowadays.

  9. My favorite part of following your journey is that not only is it fascinating, but you always have AMAZING photos 😍😍 I hope 2019 brings you all that you dream and more!

  10. You achieved so much! It seems like 2018 was a bumpy but rewarding ride for you and your family. I'm excited to see what you all will accomplish next.

  11. Happy New Year! Good job on the goals, and the non-goals, which are the cool things you discover and learn in between.

    (And can you shoot me an email with your email and address? Since you won the jar of treats prize I want to send it!)

    1. I can't find a way to email you that works... I'm at estout18 (at) gmail (dot) com if you could shoot me one and I'll fire my address back!