While outings with the horses and outdoors adventures/trips were minimal this year compared to last, it was still an incredibly fulfilling year. The trade off of these things in order to bring the horses home is more than worth it!
So, let's see how things ended up with the goals and intentions I placed at the beginning of the year...
Griffin✘ Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
✘ Take consistent lessons with LC
✘ Establish a very solid "forward" button so I don't have to nag
✘ Cement "long and low" stretching
✔ School over novice height jumps, both stadium and XC (probably at home)
✘ (+) Make it to a schooling show of some kind
✘ (+) Cutting
Ultimately, my rides weren't super focused on the nitty-gritty within any discipline this year. Nor did my finances allow for lessons once the barn project was truly underway. When I have ridden, I've focused instead on simply keeping each horse at a base-level of fitness by utilizing the terrain and not schooling discrete movements. As a result, I really didn't hone in any of the skills I'd hoped to work on with Griffin.
That said, Grif's topline is finally returning for the first time in ages! There is something to be said for getting out for regular hacks, marching up countless hills and mountains, occasionally jumping things, requesting leg yields around trail obstacles/debris, and high stepping through deep snow. In fact, with Grif's fitness finally back at a solid place, I've begun introducing regular lateral work into our hacks. On one particular section of perfectly groomed grassy trail, I now have him leg yield at the trot for the duration of the trail segment. It's a lot of fun and Griffin really seems to enjoy the extra concentration/work. I'm really looking forward to continuing to incorporate this type of thing into our rides going forward.
I'm still sussing out what next year will bring for Grif and I. At a minimum though, I will keep developing and honing his fitness level to bring us back to a level I feel we can compete. I'd really love to get back into the swing of things with competitions!
Q✔✔ Continue to build confidence
✘ Hone dressage and school training and first level movements
✘ Take consistent lessons with LC
✔ Complete at least one endurance competition
✘ (+) Ride 400 non-competition miles this year
I can confidently, with 110% certainty, say that this little mare's confidence is FIRMLY in place after this year. Bringing her home and having her in my sole care has been The Best Thing for Q. My relationship with her and our mutual understanding of one another is at an all-time high. She is firmly settled and happy, which lends to ample confidence in so many other aspects of life. I really, truly enjoy riding her for the first time in years.
Beyond confidence, this year was huge in another way for Q: She successfully completed her first endurance competition since her torn suspensory in 2016. And the Biltmore was no gimme! I'm so grateful she healed so well that we are able to return to competition.
Q's gait for the vetting still proves to be problematic, however. While she isn't "lame" per se, she simply doesn't display a "normalcy" in her movement that vets are looking for at these competitions. Fortunately, the team of vets at Biltmore were beyond generous with their time and their knowledge and really went the extra mile to help me understand Q better and devise a few strategies for the future. My current plan is to [continue to] implement the homework they gave me and give endurance competition one more go in 2020. If vettings continue to be an anxiety-ridden piece of the puzzle, I'm going to throw in the competition towel on endurance and take my time/money elsewhere. I love this horse more than I love the sport and would rather put my time and competition finances into something that doesn't leave me riddled with anxiety. I can rack up trail miles on my own for free after all.
I'm ending the year about 100 miles short of our 400 conditioning miles goal. But I'm completely fine with this. Like Grif, Q is finally putting a nice topline back on for the first time in ages. Between all three horses, I rode more miles this year than I have since moving to Canaan in 2017 (and when you consider I only had one endurance competition this year (compared with 3+ from previous competition years) my mileage this year is really awesome). I cannot tell you how good that feels! In fact, it shouldn't be a stretch to fit in more annual miles than I ever have in 2020.
Stan✔ Rack up some trail miles and have a ton of fun
✔ Don't become a total asshole once moved home
✘ (+) Ride 150 miles this year
Can we all just pause for a moment and thank the heavens that I've been able to properly mitigate for Stan not becoming a complete douchecanoe since moving home?! Because I'm really excited about this. Don't get me wrong, his level of asshole has definitely increased, but Grif and Q haven't had horrible cuts or bite/kick marks in months now - something to be truly psyched about. It's definitely been a learning process and a bit of an experiment figuring out the dry lot dynamics to reach this point, but we've fortunately come to a pretty happy medium.
Beyond successful management of behavior, Stan has had a pretty great year. He's racked up just shy of 100 miles under saddle on the trail and has continued to be The Very Best Boy for me and countless others who have ridden him this year. He is more than worth his weight in gold.
Kenai✔ Train to the invisible fence
✔ Maintain mobility through lots of steady exercise
Oh, my old man. Kenai turned 9 this year. After a suite of stifle surgeries early in his life plus the continuing mystery of his skin issues since 2015, it's amazing he's doing as well as he is.
Mobility-wise, the old guy continues to do well. This year has had some marked changes though. Kenai no longer accompanies me for fast horseback rides (anything greater than a trot) or long hikes/bikes/rides (anything greater than 3 miles). If he has to go fast or go for more than 3 miles, he struggles to keep up and is really sore the following days. While I know he misses me when I head out on adventures with Taiga, the stress of leaving him behind is worth it to know that I'm helping to guarantee that he has a greater quality of life for more of his senior years.
Kenai continues to have issues with his skin/coat. Local vet practices all seem to be stumped by his symptoms and I'm nearing my wits-end with it all. I'm currently implementing the only thing I haven't done so far in the 3+ years of dealing with his skin and treating things holistically. There have definitely been some major attitude improvements since doing this, but his skin/coat problems are persisting. I've set a deadline of January to see if anything resolves or improves further before I will schlep my way over to northern Virginia to seek further opinions from new vets. Fingers crossed that we can finally put an end to this skin saga in 2020!
Taiga✔ Get out in crowded places more often to minimize her over-stimulation in these environments
✘ Take local course to fulfill therapy training
Taiga continues to be a complete joy to have around. She is the definition of "sweet", and we absolutely adore her.
Since bringing the horses home, Taiga has had a very consistent exercise schedule. She accompanies me on most of my trail rides and is such a perfect little partner. While she wanders a bit, she's quite content to keep me in her sights most of the time and paces beautifully with the horses. Being able to exercise both her and the horses simultaneously is so fantastic! Taiga couldn't agree more, and has developed quite the little cavorting happy dance when she sees me with a tacked-up horse in hand.
While I certainly didn't get Taiga around and about in crowded places as much as I'd originally envisioned, I did get her out a fair bit this year and she is improving [slowly] with the over-stimulation of such environments. That said, this goal was initially placed with the intent of improving her behavior so that she could pursue/pass training to be a therapy dog. Having learned more about that program and the requirements in place for her to maintain the certification once she passes the test, I've dropped it as a goal. I simply do not have the time available to achieve the number of annual visits required.
Myself✔ Bring the horses home
✔ Maintain fitness level
✔ Be financially cognizant throughout the year
✔ Purge, purge, purge
✘ Continue my yoga practice
✔&✘ Complete GRUSK 53-mile bike race (opted instead to do the 32-mile race)
✘ Climb more
✘ Bike often
✔ Maintain and build my photography side hustle
Many of my personal goals in disciplines outside of horses were put on the back-burner this year. Barn building took far more of my mental and physical time than I ever would have imagined! But it was more than worth the sacrifices in other areas of my life to fulfill the dream of having the horses at home.
Mental and Physical Health
In the process of all of the barn-building chaos, I really hunkered down and focused on improving my fitness and mental health this year. Both are at a higher place than they've been in a very long time coming to the close of this year. Not surprisingly, improving both has gone hand-in-hand. Firstly, I finally tackled my anxiety this year in a big way. Balancing the mental-health/anxiety side of the equation has allowed me so much more energy to put toward other aspects of life like setting healthy boundaries, enabling me to hold space for others so that I can be a better friend/wife/daughter/etc., and it has allowed me more time to put toward my physical fitness.
In the past, my physical fitness has relied purely on my active multi-sport lifestyle. This year it has been more centered around "functional" fitness. Barn construction and the subsequent barn chores have helped me build a lovely baseline fitness I haven't had in quite some time. From building fence to cutting, splitting, transporting, and stacking 3-4 years worth of firewood to mucking 2x daily to hauling/stacking hay bales to riding the horses 4+ days a week. I find myself feeling stronger with every passing week, and I'm very much looking forward to having available time in the new year to pick back up yoga/climbing/biking with a bit more frequency.
Finances & Purging
Knowing that Starlight Lane Farm was going to become a reality in 2019, I vowed from the get-go to be as financially cognizant as I could throughout the year. While I'll always wish I was better in this facet of my life, I have to admit that I did a pretty damn good job this year. It wasn't without numerous strange looks or snide remarks from people along the way, but c'est la vie. This is my life and in order to be financially responsible, I opt to budget pretty strictly. It doesn't have to sit right with everyone to be the right call for me personally.
I am so pleased to report that nearly every single thing on my "purge" list for the year has been successfully purged. The handful (seriously, less than 5) of items that have not moved on are those that I refuse to simply donate/give away because I know, with patience, I can sell them and reap a little bit of benefit from passing them along.
And finally, my photography side hustle continued to do well this year. Even with the choice to shutdown my website domain in favor of exclusively using free outlets like Instagram and Facebook, I continued to gain bookings.
I really feel like I began to find my own "style" this year with my work. With every shoot, I was over-the-moon with the results. I've also reversed my problems of overshooting and having a hard time sorting/purging shoots. Now I feel like I'm shooting just enough to get what I want and not too much excess so that when it comes time to sort/purge photos for final editing, I don't spend an exorbitant amount of time on that step.
But most of all? I'm having a freaking blast with my shoots these days. The impostor syndrome that has plagued me from the get-go is really starting to fade and that is a really good feeling.
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All in all, while a bit of a transition year from what has been my past norm, this year was absolutely outstanding. Buying land, building the barn and fences, and bringing the horses home has been the most wonderful dream come true. It still feels surreal most days. My gratitude for being able to fulfill this dream is a predominant feeling with every day that has passed since completing the project.
I am so excited for 2020 and what it may bring. It will be my first year of having the horses home and will become the first year that I have my "old" life back so far as time management goes because, *drum roll*, come February my 40-minute one-way commute will become a 7-minute commute with the collocation of my office with CVNWR. This was not something I ever expected when I chose to move here in 2017 and is one of the greatest gifts the Universe could have ever bestowed on me. Regaining nearly 90 minutes of my daily life will mean more time for horses, biking, climbing, and skiing. I. Am. Psyched.
Thanks for reading along this year, and I wish each of you the very best in 2020!