Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Happy Q Day!

Seven years ago today, I brought Q home. I cannot believe it has been so long already!

She has taught me more about horses, myself, and life than I ever could have dreamed and has carried me more miles than any other horse in my life to date. She has completed 11 endurance rides and we have ridden in five states during our time together - which is a lot considering I'd never left the state with a horse prior to her!

I look forward to many more years and many more lessons with this little spitfire mare. Hopefully we'll find ourselves in a dressage court for some of it!

Thanks to Chelsey for helping me capture these photos!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Holy Shopping, Batman!

I'm not usually one to go on big shopping sprees. For most intents and purposes, I have all I need. And I'd rather spend my surplus funds on experiences more than gear/clothing when I can. But when you're building a barn, spending priorities change! I've got a barn to furnish, after all.

Knowing I'd need to shop for the barn, I thought ahead to when there were likely to be some pretty solid sales. Considering the barn timeline, Memorial Day sales seemed like my best bet. And they didn't disappoint!

First, I nabbed four 12' gates and flitted to Tractor Supply on Friday morning to bring those home.


Figuring out how in the hell to bring home a 12' gate when no one around you has a 12' trailer is real fun. Fortunately, it worked out ...sorta... the trailer was still only 8' and the gates had a bit of overhang - but they were super solid! Now they're home and waiting for when we install the fence later in June.

Next, knowing I'd be hauling horses sooner than later, I hopped on Amazon and grabbed the aftermarket tire pressure monitoring system Jen posted about.

I'm pretty anxious in general when hauling, but when I break down the "whys" behind that anxiety it comes down to two things: the tires and knowing whether or not the horses are comfortable or fussing about. Fortunately, both of these things are easily remedied with some Amazon purchases! (Though, admittedly, getting the cameras will come a little later.)

Being able to observe the tire pressure in each tire from my driver's seat is going to lend so much more peace of mind when I haul. After having a tire blow out spectacularly on Grif and I on a friend's trailer in 2017, my worries and anxieties about it happening again have only grown. I don't mind having to change a tire, it's just the not knowing immediately that it's blown that bothers me. I want to be able to pull over ASAP if I have an impending flat and address it. Now I'll be able to do that!

As for the rest of my purchases, I headed over to Stateline to enjoy the 30% off orders >$129. Additionally, when you buy multiples of things from them, they often discount them further! Having those savings plus 30% off sounded pretty sweet to me since I needed to buy multiples of most things I was ordering. Ultimately, I saved ~$145. I'll take it!...even if the additional shipping costs from the weight of it all gutted me a bit.

So, what's coming my way, soon?

One fence energizer for obvious reasons.

Two pairs of cross ties to facilitate with grooming and vet/farrier visits.

Three zebra fly masks because they were one of the cheapest fly mask options. #sorryhorses Though, admittedly, I'm looking forward to my neighbors' reactions to these! lol

Three water buckets and three corner feeders for each of the stalls. At a later date, I will likely do the DIY insulation to the water buckets a la DIY Horse Ownership.

Four 2-way latches for each of the four gates. My current barn has these and I freaking LOVE them. They're so simple, save time coming in and out, and are easily locked. I especially love that I can bring multiple horses through the gate and then just give it a light shove and watch/hear it click securely closed.

Six tie rings. Because they're pretty damn handy for a multitude of barn necessities. I may end up needing more down the road, but six seemed like a good starting point.

And, last but not least, six saddle racks. I currently only have four saddles, so I've got some room to grow my collection (lol). But mostly I wanted the ability to set some of my heavier endurance pads (sheepskin + memory foam inserts) and a spot for the bareback pad so I'm not stacking them on my saddles.

And finally...

I, like any proper person, have amassed quite the pad collection over the years. I definitely plan to have some more towel bars out in the aisle to let these puppies dry out and not stink up my tack room, but for their ultimate storage, I needed something for the tack room. I wanted to be as space-conscious as possible, too, and a system that could go behind my tackroom door seemed wise.  Unfortunately, horse pad-specific versions of these start at $60 and only go up from there. And those are only for a 5-bar! Boo.

Enter: IKEA! I nabbed three of the above for $45. That's space for NINE pads! Or, honestly, more because I can double up the lightest pads if needed.

It feels really good to have all of these purchases knocked out. I still need to nab a trough, muck rake, shovel, and a hay basket + net, but these are things my local TSCo provides the best prices on that I can pick up between now and when the horses come home.

Set start date for earth moving is June 3. Fingers crossed that date holds and we get this party started for real!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Of Travel and Beginnings

May has been, and will continue to be!, a crazy month for me. I didn't intend for it to be this way, but it's just how the cards were dealt.


The month kicked off with my trip to Biltmore.

The cutest GP mare ever who had a lovely "evasion" of one tempis

I was home for a short few days and then headed off to DC to visit Austen and audit Janet Foy.

Red bat with light detector attached (temporary - has already fallen off bat)
Or, as I prefer, BAT RAVE!
Some of the red bat's vocalization after we released her.
Did you know: we can ID bats to species (or genus at a minimum) based on their vocalizations?
Isn't science the coolest?

Immediately following the clinic, I headed to a training on bat acoustics for work for the week.

My less-than-enthusaistic yard helpers
While I was removing the native layer of vegetation (and rocks...ugh) to build this flowerbed.
It looks small here but it's actually 8.5' x 6.5'

I had this past weekend home to enjoy some glorious weather and tackle some long-planned yard work, which felt SO good to accomplish. Though there is more yet to tackle in the coming weeks!

Galloped up this hill. Stopped for requisite snacking. Duh.
And yes, that is a leopard print bareback pad and a hot pink bridle.
Heading back to the herd, pausing for model photos.

I had Monday evening to briefly and quickly visit the horses, stuff them full of treats, and enjoy a lovely bareback meander on my forever best boy.

And now, I'm attending yet another work training out of town for several days. When I return home, it will be for less than 24 hours before bouncing off to audit a Mary Wanless clinic near DC - something I have been looking forward to for literal months since I found out about it!

If weather and luck hold, when I return, we'll be breaking ground on the barn! At which point I will put down roots much closer to home for almost 2 months while we complete the project.

Pano from the back porch of the future farm! Barn will be far right.

But lo and behold, things are already moving forward for Starlight Lane Farm!

She looks even prettier at sunset than she ever has! Just wait until that barn is built...

This past weekend, one of my farmer neighbors brought his tractor up to begin brush hogging my future pastures. I say "begin" because the fellow who helps and was doing the work this day busted a wheel on the brush hog and had to roll out without finishing the job, but I've been assured they'll be up this week to finish.

Grazing deer running from me because I mimed a karate kick in their direction 

It's a long way from being where I know it will be, but it's a huge step in the right direction and that thrills me to no end because the land hasn't been mowed since prior to 2015. It's been a happy little field of goldenrod and hawthorne for awhile, but I'm very confident that with some TLC (regular mowing, a soil test, recommended fertilization and seeding), it'll become what I know it can based on the rest of the open, mowed spaces on our ridgetop (which was once a farm and is still partially maintained as such for hay). One step at a time!

Big ol' pile of white oak! Barn will be just beyond it by about 25'
It smells soooooo good

Another exciting development? The wood for the exterior siding also came home the day I headed to DC.

Heavy freaking stuff!

It's remarkable to me how freaking heavy an individual board of this stuff is. White oak is dense, y'all. I don't think I could carry one board by myself. But the density and quality of white oak is exactly what will make it durable. It doesn't hurt knowing that my barn is most definitely not going to fly away in the crazy winter winds we get up here either!

White oak home, white oak barn!
House has been standing for 10 years and the siding is still raw (no stain or protectant) and looking great!

Bonus? It matches our house. Which was the impetus for choosing white oak all along.

In addition to the newly mowed pasture and the siding, the coated wire for the fence arrived. I've got four 70+ lb. boxes of brown coated wire sitting in my garage awaiting the day we install the fence (later in June).

And to top it all off, I found a local hay supplier! I am very happy to have that [very big] box checked off my "must do" list - it feels so good. Big bonus that it is a local friend with a quality hay pasture I've eyed longingly for years (and based on the soil map, it's the same soil type as I have so fingers crossed the pasture will be nice like this one day). I'll probably help make it, too, which will be a lot of work great workout and learning experience.

It's wild orchid season! These are pink lady's slippers.
They're the "truck nuts" of the flower world....use your imagination.  

I'm a bit sad to have to put seeing my horses on the backburner this month, but c'est la vie! Soon enough, they will be coming home and I'll see them all the time. For now, I'm grateful they've got a good situation with ample pasture to enjoy and friends to play with.

Things will probably [continue to] be a little quiet over here as May wraps up, but with any luck I'll have time to put together some posts on my Mary Wanless take-aways, and I will absolutely be updating about the construction process as more develops in coming weeks!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

2019 Biltmore 50

Shortly after I tossed aside my hopes of attending No Frills earlier in April, Lauren reached out to me about being her sponsor for the Biltmore 50 on May 3. (In AERC, a sponsor is an adult ride who agrees to ride with a junior rider for the duration of the ride.) I’ve crewed this ride for an FEI rider once and again for Sara on her first 100. With added time to put weight on Q during April and knowing the grass was coming in strongly already, I accepted her proposal, excited to finally have a chance to ride at Biltmore!

It’s always been a dream of mine to ride at Biltmore, but one that didn’t work out in the timeline I’d hoped after Q tore her LH suspensory at the end of August in 2016. As I’ve written about at length since the injury, I’ve brought Q back slowly. In addition to rehabbing her suspensory, we’ve rehabbed our fractured relationship and our trust/confidence in one another. Slowly and steadily, with a lot of patience and a lot of time and miles, we made it back to where we were and then beyond. Since then, I’ve been eager to put everything to the true test of an endurance ride.

_MG_2245 (1)
My new favorite ride photo by Becky. I bought a hard copy and the digital version because I like it so much.

So the short of it? Q exceeded any and all expectations I had for her. She carried us to a completion after 50 miles of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever competed on. She led for nearly half of the ride, 12 of 15 miles of the final loop, like a total BOSS. Does this mean that we don’t have more to work on? Absolutely not. We’ve still got lots to improve on, but this new baseline is lightyears ahead of the old one and I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled.

The long of it? Gather your drink of choice and settle in for the first endurance ride story on this blog since June 2016, and I’ll tell you.

The haul down on Thursday was uneventful and Q seemed relaxed and traveled well. When we stopped to check on the horses halfway, she was happily snoozing and had eaten a fair bit of her hay. Once we arrived in camp, we made quick work of setting up camp, registering, and quickly headed to vet in.

Dr. King vetted Q in. I shared with him that this mare has a unique way of going that, while normal for her, isn't typical for other horses because she swings her head and her barrel all about. He passed her with a "B" and marked "rolling" on her card. I’ve gone to a lot of pains to learn how to describe her unique gait to vets over the years, it is always a stressful thing for me, and "rolling" was yet another new one to add to my repertoire. Q is rarely lame, but she doesn’t look exactly like the others so some vets will ding us for it.

It's certainly a pretty home
Though I'd hate to have to clean it - especially all the bathrooms!
But it does make for some fairy tale photos!

After we vetted in, we attended the ride meeting where I listened closer than I have in ages. It felt weird to go through motions I hadn’t gone through in years! I took a lot of notes just to be certain of things on trail, as I hadn't ever seen these trails in person. Stagg, the trailmaster, recommended knowing the color and distance of each loop and assured we would be fine. Sara had told me as much earlier in the week, too, so I didn't fuss too much over it all.

After the meeting, it had cooled off to a lovely degree so Lauren and I headed out to stretch the horses' legs. Our goal was to ride the start of the first loop up to the overlook of the Biltmore mansion. It was a gorgeous little ride of the perfect distance (around 4½ miles). We trotted at the beginning and mostly walked home, making it back into camp around sunset. We used what little daylight remained to prep for the morning and finally crashed into bed - a little later than I’d hoped! I lay out my attire for the morning, cleaned and re-bandaged my nasty blister due to swelling from two paper wasp stings on my left foot before falling asleep.

Loop 1: White Forest, 15.2 miles

Fortunately, I slept remarkably well that night. I woke around 430, fed Q, and walked a few things down to our crew area. In no time at all it seemed, we were atop the horses and heading out on trail!

We walked out a few minutes after the start. As we picked up a trot, both Lauren and I discovered we had super fresh horses. So fresh that I forgot to start my GPS for the first 1¼ miles, d'oh! In fact, they were so strong that they continued to pull our arms out for the whole loop. Q was bold and forward, but honestly a little too forward! I wished for a bit instead of a hackamore for the first time in ages!

Eventually, we settled into a small bubble of our own. Mickey and Lauren led much of the loop. We twisted through pine forests nearly the entire time. It was pretty and a bit more treacherous than I’d imagined due to the leftovers of the flood that plagued the area 2 weeks prior. I'd be really interested to see the trails again in a year after they've had more time to rehab them back to their original splendor. (Don't get me wrong though, they'd done a STELLAR job getting them cleaned up as much as they had in 13 days!)

Mixed pine forest
Behold, Mickey's butt. He literally pooped one micro turd every ¼ mile

Toward the end of the loop (closest to camp), Q was leading and became an absolute witch. Things that hadn’t bothered her before when she’d led for spurts of this loop were suddenly the cause of huge alarm. She reacted more and more strongly and became dumber and dumber until I finally dismounted a short distance from camp because I was so frustrated and scared by her idiocy. Like, mare, I know that you know where you are, and I know that your opinion is to be done with work right now, thankyouverymuch. But FFS! This behavior is NOT the way to share that opinion! 

And so we walked into camp, pulled tack, and checked pulse. Q was at an easy 48 bpm and Mickey was in the 50s, so we headed for vet check.

I informed the vet that she hadn’t drank much and I was concerned. I noted our history and how it was our first ride back in a few years and I was just nervous about a lot of things. The vet smiled kindly and said she’d check her closely. I also joked for her to not judge the rider's trot out because I would most definitely be lame on my left foot from my blister (horribly positioned between the joint of my big toe and the ball of my foot).

After our trot out, the vet said she found the problem: Q was lame in her LF (just like me?!). In an attempt to better understand this lameness, as I'd felt nothing under saddle on trail, I had another person trot her out for me so I could stand with the vet and try to see what she was seeing.

I saw…nothing. I saw my mare’s loosey goosy way of going with her head looking all over, bouncing all about while her barrel swung left and right. I noted to the vet about Dr. King saying she had a “rolling” gait at vet-in, and also noted that this was normal for Q. Despite this, the vet insisted Q had a grade 3 lameness and a slight head bob upward whenever the LF landed. She also let me know all of her other marks were perfect and her CRI was 52/52. Beyond the supposed lameness, Q was doing GREAT. And so, I had the rest of the check to ice Q's foot and see the farrier before representing.

I went immediately to the farrier who tested her hoof every which-way and said she was fine. He even had me trot her out twice and assured me it was just her way of going – she was completely symmetrical. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me to hear from an absolute stranger who hadn't seen her move before! He asked who vetted us and I pointed the vet out. The farrier said she was his vet and he’d talk to her and let her know his opinion based on what he’d seen. I thanked him immensely and set off to the tent to ice Q’s leg and attempt to keep my mind as calm as I could (ha!).

A pretty photo of the house to break my wall of anxiety-ridden text

My mind was absolutely abuzz with stress and mild panic. I was disappointed, certainly, but not so much at the thought of being pulled and missing the ride. No, I was disappointed because I had put so much time and care into bringing Q back, just to have the same issues with her unique gait. And mostly? I was really sad because I realized I was going to have to give up on this sport I loved so much because she didn’t fit the vets’ definition of fit to continue. There would be no point wasting my time and money to travel to rides to continue to get pulled each time because this little mare is simply a bit different in her natural way of going.

Lauren's mom gently coaxed these concerns from me as she iced Q's leg and I sat there trying to put some food in my system. A rider who has successfully competed in the sport for decades was nearby our tent and overheard me lamenting my anxieties, fear, and sadness to Lauren’s mom. This rider told me she understood; she once had a horse who always trotted out “lazily” no matter what they did. Vets always called him "too tired" to continue and so she eventually quit racing him to avoid the continued hassle of dealing with the comments. I smiled weakly at her and thanked her for sharing that with me – it was nice to commiserate with someone else.

Still, my mind argued, this lady has many horses to choose from and doesn't seem to be overly attached to any one. She's the kind of rider (from my outside observances) who loves the sport and will find a suitable mount to succeed; her family has many horses and her daughter rode two this weekend alone - what a dream! As for me, I love the sport, certainly, but I love this mare more. I'm not going to cast Q aside for another horse just to find success in this sport. I'd just as sooner find a different discipline or not compete at all in endurance.

Finally, the time came for my recheck and I headed back up, resigned to my fate and planning my future of other activities with this little mare that existed beyond endurance (dressage? eventing? backcountry travels? hunter paces?).

The vet who had seen us 40 minutes before wasn’t available. Another vet took us and asked if I wanted him to vet us solely or if I wanted the option of a vote of 3 vets. I just kind of stared at him and stuttered some noises as I tried to process what he’d said. The concept of a vote was new to me. He showed me a huge kindness in this moment and said, “I think you should do a vote. It’s really in your favor. If I think she’s lame, that’s it, you’re done. But a vote will help you both out.” I nodded mutely and he called over several other vets, one of whom I was familiar with for his stellar reputation and one whom I was not. The vet who had recommended the vote nodded to me, “Down and back if you would.”

And another photo of pretty ponies + Q ears to once again break this wall of stress-text

I turned and trotted Q down the lane, gritting my teeth through the pain of my blister each step of the way. As we trotted back, I didn’t even make eye contact with the vets. I couldn’t bear to. My mind was in a dark place, and I was just so sad to lose this sport. After we’d stood for a few seconds, I looked up cautiously to see them exchanging tokens for a vote. The formality surprised me, but I tried to conceal this emotion as I awaited the outcome. A few seconds later after counting the tokens, they said, “You’re good to go!” My eyes frantically searched theirs in total and complete shock. “Really?!” I gasped aloud, tears flowing freely down my face from the shock and relief of hearing this. They smiled at me, a few laughing, and one noting, “You really need to work on your poker face!”

I don’t exactly remember what happened in those next few moments, but suddenly all 3 of those vets and another one or two were circled close around me. It must have been a quiet moment at the vet check! Dr. Marcella (the vet I was familiar with due to his reputation for being so awesome) handed me a handkerchief to wipe my eyes as each of them in turn shared more advice than I could have ever hoped for. They discussed Q’s conformational flaws, her weak hind end, [currently] underdeveloped topline and hindquarter musculature, and her tendency to be on the forehand. They talked of her swinging head and barrel and how she was inconsistently asymmetric and how it wasn’t necessarily lameness, but it didn’t appear “normal” either. They noted that she’s a horse who could benefit from a much faster trot out and my way of trotting her out did her no favors. They noted that I should take time in the near future to trot her out on various surfaces and figure out what would do her the most justice. They also said that I should size up every trot out lane at future rides and finesse my way through the vetting line to try to get that lane – preferably with a vet who I knew had no bias toward her unique way of going. They then added that I should absolutely film every single trot out from the vet-in onward at rides and told me that this would be valuable information for any vet later in the ride and that showing a vet these videos wouldn't constitute "arguing" with a vet as I worried it would. We talked about dressage and cross training and ways to further improve her.

It was an intense few minutes where I nodded, agreed, and wiped tears from my face a lot before Dr. King finally wandered over with a box of tissues and made me take several, joking that Dr. Marcella's handkerchief was probably disgusting. Finally, the tallest vet grabbed me by the shoulders, smiling ever so kindly as he said, “Now, go out there and have a good loop. And if you’re still over hydrated when you come back, we’ll try to make you cry again.” A joke. I smiled, laughed weakly, still in shock, and thanked them all profusely once more before heading to the crew area.

Loop 2, Black Bridge Access to Orange West, 20.4 miles

Back at the crew area, Lauren’s mom hugged me. She could see that my emotions were wrecked from the stress of it all. She helped me to get Q tacked back up and get Lauren and I back on trail for what would be 20 of the most beautiful miles I’ve ever ridden.

I was silent for the first 3 miles of the loop as I settled my emotions and headspace. Q led these miles boldly for me while I worked through my shit. She picked up this huge trot that seemed to say, “Hey lady, it’s okay. I’ve got this, let’s go.” Finally, we crossed the French Broad over onto what Stagg, the trailmaster for this ride, had promised would be beautiful trails. Boy, were they ever!

After a short stretch in a mixed deciduous and pine forest, we emerged into the Biltmore vineyards where I gasped a little at how picturesque the scenery was. We traveled along and through these vineyards for a mile or two before going through another stretch of forest and reemerging to beautiful fields and the lushest cow pastures I’ve ever seen. We wound down to the French Broad, back up through meadows with mountain vistas, back to the river, and through the forest once more. Lauren and I traded the lead intermittently throughout, utterly in awe of the beauty around us. What a stellar loop!

Vineyards + mountains!
Impatient Q-bert
Nomming Q-bert
Q touring the vineyards like a proper young lady
Cabernet franc
The French Broad and leading Q ears!
Resplendent fields
Gaahhhh the Appalachians in spring make me the happiest
Absolute magic
I freaking adore her
So. Freaking. Beautiful!
The finish line is somewhere down there beyond that white strip of pavement

Finally, we crossed the French Broad river again, and traveled back across the more open areas of the estate before finding ourselves back in camp. We quickly untacked, sponged the horses, and checked pulses. Each horse was down below criteria again and so we headed to the vetting.

I opted this time to protect my painful foot and have Lauren trot Q. I had a vet completely different from any I’d seen or spoken to at the first hold. I told him every possible descriptive thing I could based on the day so far about Q’s gait. I urged Lauren to trot her fast and waited and watched with bated breath as they trotted down and back. This vet marked her gait as a B and finished his exam of her before finally turning to me, “Yep. She’s got a funny way of going alright. She’s definitely a horse who would benefit from a fast trot out. Take her fast enough and any lameness will be more evident if it really is there. Her odd way of going shouldn’t be so evident if you go fast.”

“Would you recommend trotting her with a taut lead or a loose one?” I inquired, as I'd heard mixed reviews on this over the years.

“For this mare, I’d go with a tight lead. Some vets may make you start over and retrot with a loose lead, but I think most of the time it will work in your favor.” I nodded, thanked him, and headed back to the crew area to RELAX for the remainder of our hold.

Final loop, Red North Finish, 15.3 miles

Our final 15 miles more or less were the backwards equivalent of our first loop through the pine forest. Q led confidently for 12 of these miles. She was a bit of a pill leaving camp, but once we were about a mile away, she settled strongly into a powerful 9 mph trot that was a complete joy to ride. I told her numerous times how freaking proud I was of her and what a good, good girl she was. Even with a light rain for the middle part of the loop, she powered onward like a total boss.

Unfortunately, as we neared (as the crow flies) the finish line and turned away from it to add a few final miles to put us to our 50-mile mark, Q began to act up. She was utterly pissed that we had turned away from the finish and “home”. She began spooking at anything and everything she could. The very same things she’d boldly trotted by for the past 12 miles, she now lost her shit over. She jumped left and right, side passed violently left, right, left, right, in swift repetition with little to no true forward motion. The final straw, amidst my cursing and screeching at her idiocy as I tried to balance myself through her antics was the moment she quite literally attempted to run us into a very large elm tree. I pulled her up inches from smashing us into it, cursing anew at the top of my lungs.

About the only photos I took in that final loop were at the end. My shins were killing me.
Lauren and I were both pretty bitchy at the world by this point

Lauren took this moment to say, “Should I lead?” to which I exasperatedly shouted, “YES!” As they settled into the lead, I quickly apologized for my behavior, noting that I was just so frustrated, confused, and a little scared by Q’s antics. Lauren said it was totally okay and she understood completely. She agreed that it was frustrating to watch Q do that after so many amazing miles of zero misbehavior.

Her actions are the worst kind of evasion, though, I must say they’re not as entirely hard to ride as they once were! Ultimately, her behavior stems from a difference of opinion in the work at hand. But, as I explained to Q in the moment, “I know you know where the finish is and you wanna be done. I do, too. But I don’t make these rules or the trail. I just follow it. So quit being a bitch about it all and we can be done a lot faster.” It’s something to work on for sure! But I’m confident that with repetition, time, and miles, we’ll get there. It’s beyond frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but at least she is mostly rideable and not dropping her shoulder - and her rider into the dirt! - as she once did!

And so, Lauren led us the majority of the way back to the finish, Q picking up the lead for a little section of actual sketchy things (a busy road crossing, traversing through various Canada geese, by pedestrians, and over a bridge) preceding the finish line stretch. 

Gorgeous lighting as we cantered into the finish. That tiny white dot ahead is Mickey and Lauren.
The tent marks the finish line.

Once in sight of the finish line, Lauren and Mickey picked up a trot and headed boldly forward while Q opted for a marching walk. Lauren tried to goad the mare onward, but to no avail. Me? It made no nevermind to me when we reached the finish now that it was in sight. So I let the little mare pick her own pace, content to sit on a creature that was no longer bopping left and right under me with little to no warning. My body and mind were absolutely exhausted from the day!

However, as the gap between Mickey and Q grew to a couple dozen strides, Q moved forward into a lovely rolling canter – our first of the day! I pulled her back to a trot before we could pass Lauren, opting to finish a short distance behind her and Mickey.

We collected our finish slips and proceeded to march the remaining 1¼ miles back to camp where we untacked, sponged, and took the horses for their final vetting.

I opted to trot Q for this one, vetting out with Dr. King (who vetted me in and had been present for my tear-filled first vet check). He completed her exam and had me trot her out and back. Upon our return, he told me he was going to have another vote on Q’s gait. I took a deep breath and just nodded. There was nothing I could do at this point and seeing those trails had been gift enough for the day, completion or no. Repeat vets from the first check's vote joined again for this vote. Down and back we went again.

They voted for us to have a completion.

A Lameness Evalutation and the Future

The tall vet who grabbed my shoulders at the end of the first check and joked about making me cry again approached me immediately after the others granted me my completion. “If you care about this mare and want to make this work with her, which I’m pretty sure you do or you wouldn’t have put in all of the time and care you have to date, I’d recommend working with some other professionals and going to some clinics to learn more about how you can help her.” He proceeded to share a few names with me, noted their accolades, and discussed where they lived to see if it was feasible for me to get up with them. I nodded along, agreeing with him and thanking him every step of the way.

Another of the vets spoke up, too, and I nodded along more, thanking him, as well. This second vet then marched off to confer with yet another vet to confirm the details of another professional he recommended that I confer with.

While second vet was doing this, the tall vet wandered back with Dr. Marcella. “Well, as luck would have it, we’ve got one of the best lameness vets in the country right here and he’d be happy to do an evaluation right now on your mare.” I’m not sure if my jaw dropped or not, I hope I controlled myself, but I was very tired by this point!

I have an INCREDIBLE amount of respect for Dr. Marcella. I listened to him speak at the AERC convention when it was in Georgia several years ago and he blew me out of the water. In fact, as we came into camp the day before, I pointed him out to Lauren and noted how freaking AMAZING he was. The idea of having him evaluate Q right there and then blew me out of the water.

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Flexing the pastern/fetlock

And so I turned her over to his knowledgeable hands and stepped back to watch. He lectured me on each step of his process, showing me how he did everything and narrating to me what he was looking for as he went through each step. I nodded and asked clarifying questions where I saw fit. Nearly every vet present gathered around as this went on, each murmuring among themselves and others whispering additional things to me as Dr. Marcella went through his evaluation. A rider, volunteering for the day, also stood there, quietly noting her own experiences to me as we watched Dr. Marcella flex Q’s various joints and legs and watched Lauren trot her out again and again following those flexions. Every single one of those vets and the rider noted how freaking sweet Q was throughout the evaluation.

The verdict? Something is definitely askew with her medial LF hoof. Definitely the hoof and nothing above based on his assessment. The primary suspicion is a poorly balanced shoe/trim job, possibly exacerbated by crooked riding on my part due to my injured foot (also my medial left). The medio-lateral balance of her hoof is definitely off. Rebalancing this is the first place I’m going to start so far as working toward a solution. A secondary concern is that it’s something deeper in the hoof. Per Dr. Marcella’s notes, possibly the collateral or PIII. I’ll cross this bridge with xrays and MRIs in due time, as necessary. 

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Asking her to turn and looking for willingness, ease, balance, and properly crossing over feet.
This was her good direction. She wouldn't crossover much at all with her forelegs when going clockwise.

As I walked away – finally – back to camp following the evaluation and copious conversations that accompanied it, I was brought to tears again. The gratitude I felt for these gentlemen and all of their learned advice, opinions, and recommendations absolutely blew me away. What wonderful human beings! They truly understood and took me at my word when I told them that I wouldn’t be looking for a horse to replace Q just because she didn’t fit the definition of perfect trot out. I loved this horse and I wanted to do right by this horse, no matter what that meant. These vets bent over backward to help me toward that goal. Words cannot do justice to the amount of gratitude I have to them for this.

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Dr. Marcella teaching me so much as he narrated his findings from his exam. Not pictured, ALL of the other vets behind Lauren's mom as she took the photo lol

And so, the endurance future for Q and I is a little rocky. But we’ve got a lot of workable homework and I’m really optimistic about things moving forward. It’ll take some time and work, but our track record for completing homework is really good.

In the immediate future, this little mare is going to have a short vacation and a reevaluation of her hoof balance. As that time period elapses, barn construction will begin and I’m certain I’ll become lost in that for a few weeks. Once I get the horses home, I’ll address the rest of the homework options presented to me by the kind vets at Biltmore and decide how to proceed from there.


Ultimately, I am SO VERY PROUD of this little mare for her strong work on trail for 50 miles, especially the many miles of strong, confident leading she did. There was a time in our not-so-distant past that I couldn't imagine this reality. We’ve come an incredibly long way since, and I am nothing but optimistic for our future, no matter what it looks like. Thank you, Q, for continuing to be such an incredible partner who still teaches me so much.