Thursday, January 18, 2018

Miles of Fun

Until this past weekend, it had been 3 weeks since the horses were ridden and even longer since I'd had an opportunity to see them in the daylight hours. Working 10-hour days with my added 40-minute commute on either end makes it very hard to fit in barn time when the days are short - especially when you don't have an illuminated place to ride (or even a covered area to ride). I've accepted the difficulty over the years and have gotten a lot better at cutting myself slack from Thanksgiving until the second week of January when sunset reaches a point that I can fit in a quick ride post-work before it's too dark to see.

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These selfies were taken on December 13, that's the last time I saw my horses in the daylight hours

While I've missed riding, I haven't felt guilty about not riding. If endurance has taught me anything, it's that rest is just as valuable as work, and it takes much less time to get a horse fit than most people think. So when the temperature plummeted and the winds ratcheted up a level or twenty, I kindly flipped the bird to any and all riding plans. Riding in sub-zero temperatures with added extreme windchill is not my idea of enjoyment after a mentally taxing day at the office, moreso when I know I have a 40-minute commute over five mountains through the thick of snow-country in West Virginia on curvy two-lane and one-lane roads in order to get home from work/the barn.

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Forever giving me kisses and face nuzzles, snow and all

Fortunately, by some grand coincidence, I wasn't scheduled to work on either mountain I ski patrol at during MLK weekend. With the knowledge that I'd be working every day of my following weekend, I decided horse time was a must. Bonus? The weather even looked nice with winds less than 15 mph and temperatures above zero and the promise of some sunny periods.

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The best at selfies

Lauren's been relegated to really slow, menial work with her horse for a few months now due to a variety of circumstances, so I knew she'd probably be game to come ride one of my horses with me. As expected, she jumped on the opportunity and, bonus, was free both Saturday and Monday to put in some miles. When I offered Stan or Griffin for Lauren to ride, I was pleasantly surprised when she chose Griffin. She noted that while she loves Stan, his long back makes his canter a bit harder for her to ride and she isn't in great shape after so much time off from riding. Griffin needs the workout more than Stan, so this sounded perfect to me!

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Yes, Stan, you heard me, you don't need to workout
right now, you lucky dog.

Both days, we headed to the rail trail. The minimal grade and easy footing make it great for the horses, but mostly it's about all I have access to at the moment without trailering out somewhere. I'll happily trailer out more once our world thaws, but right now, most trails I'd travel to are guaranteed to have some significantly icy sections. I have traveled a lot of gnarly terrain on horseback, but ice is something I have little desire to encounter.

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Trotting along

On Saturday, we tackled 10¼ miles in 1 hour, 37 minutes. We trotted the majority of the time, though we did fit in some nice canter stretches in the second half of the ride before spending the final 1½ miles cooling out at a walk. Both horses were very good with lots of "go" left at the end - just the way I like it!

Each day, when we left the barn, Q led for the first mile or two. She was cautious, but forward and willing with some moments of oggling and balking, but no spooking, polite or dirty. #progress I didn't want to push her past her limit with leading and being good, so after we were officially off farm property and underway, I sent Lauren and Griffin to the front where they would remain for most of the ride. Q led again for about a mile in the middle of the ride and once more for the final 2 miles of the ride. Each time, she was looky, but very good.

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Grinning like a fool

On Monday, we returned and tackled 16½ miles in about 2 hours, 20 minutes (my watch died partway through). Q led a significant (for her) amount this ride and totally blew me away. She's still a total looky-loo, but her reactions to things are so subdued to what they once were! She maintained a beautiful 9.5+ mph trot for multiple sustained periods.

In other news, I freaking love this riding skirt and will do a review
once I've put in some more rides in varied conditions

We had some "moments" on this ride when Griffin couldn't handle some very aggressive chained GSDs that people have along the trail. Frankly, I can't blame him because the dogs' behavior chilled me to the bone as they snarled and spit and thrashed about at the end of their chains. Fortunately, Q stepped up to the plate in a remarkable way. She "saw red" as I call it when she completely loses the hamsters in her brain, but remarkably, she got her shit together and came back to me with minimal fuss. I was then able to get Q to march forward along the trail as far away as we could be from the dogs.

With Q in front, Griffin was able to muster through and get past the dogs, though he then decided to spook at about a dozen inane things afterward due to his nerves being in a tizzy. Not wanting to deal with his behavior further - or subject Lauren to it - I pushed Q into the lead....where she'd stay for a few miles!

We reached our turn around point about 1½ miles after the dogs. We turned for home, put in a couple canter sets, slowed to pass the dogs (with much less fanfare on Griffin's part), and then proceeded homeward with lots of canter sets along the way before cooling out at a walk and trot for the final 2 miles (where Q led again).

Relaxed horse. Relaxed rider. What is this nonsense?!


I'm so pleased that I was able to get in 26+ miles with Q and Griffin over the long weekend. I'm also happy I got to put in so much saddle time after an extended break! But more than both of those things, I'm psyched because - wait for it - I had fun riding Q.

I honestly cannot tell you the last time I had fun riding that horse. Well, actually, no, I can tell you. It was the final 6½ miles of the OD 100 in the wee morning hours on June 12, 2016. That's 582 days for those of you doing the math. 1 year, 7 months, and 3 days.

Certainly, she was out with her suspensory injury for the large majority of that time, but once she was healed I rode a fair bit. And each ride was a chore - more mental than physical - as I struggled to find the desire or joy in working with her that I once had. Her behavior and reactions and my accompanying behavior and reactions had spent so long swirling around in a bad place that it was hard to pull free of the negative feedback loops we found ourselves in. Of course, as the human with a larger, more complex brain, the burden fell on me to set things on a better path, but it wasn't easy.

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Can't fake that smile.

But now? Now I can say - with a large amount of certainty! - that we have arrived in a better place.

The good outweighs the bad when I spend time with Q now. We've still got a ways to go, but I don't feel like the ultimatum I made to help stay sane these past few months of working with her (offer her for sale the end of the year) will come to fruition now. My little mare and I have found a good place again and while I know there will be some bobbles, I'm confident we can work through them.

And damn, it feels good to be able to say that!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Time Stan Joined the Army

For two weeks in September of last year, I lent Stan to the Army.

I've been regaled with tales of a special training exercise that several of my local friends have been involved with over the past few years. The multi-week training takes place in various remote places in West Virginia during different times of the year from the hot heat of summer to the bitter cold (and snow) of winter. The trainees are both from the US and abroad and learn how to navigate through rugged backcountry terrain both on foot, on horseback, and on skis. 

When the training involves a horse component, Dan, my friend and farrier, is been one of the instructors. He's one of the most skilled backcountry navigators I've ever known, versed both in contemporary and ancient (Oglala Lakota) methodologies; to boot, he's got a very natural hand with horses. Both of these characteristics make him a perfect fit as an instructor for this specialized training course.

Dan shared with me early on in the summer that a training course would be taking place in September, and they would need more horses than usual for it. The horses would largely be ridden by individuals with ZERO horse experience and would need to have temperaments that could handle loud, sometimes unexpected noises that would occur during training. The goal of the training was to prepare the human trainees for such a time that they would need to be adept at riding a horse through rugged terrain in a dangerous environment.

I would never dream of signing Griffin or Q up for dealing with newbies in this kind of atmosphere. They do not have the temperament for such activities, and I have no desire to subject them to riders that are unbalanced and unpredictable in their abilities as neither horse has a lot of patience for it past 30-45 minutes.

Stan though? Stan is as even-keeled as they come. I knew he could handle everything with aplomb. A bonus (in my mind) was that the opportunity would also be great conditioning for him during a month when I wanted to focus my efforts solely on Q and Griffin. The only way I can keep three horses in full work is through the help of friends!

And so, Stan was drafted to the Army!

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Bye, buddy! Be a good boy!
RIP custom orange halter that Dan lost in the hubbub

Dan and others picked Stan up on the last day of August. At this time I was apprised of the general gist of what he'd be doing, though many details were still left out due to confidentiality reasons.
Largely, he'd be giving basic riding lessons the first days, and then would be ridden at night over rough terrain the rest of the days for 10-12 miles per night as they pursued night infiltration practice missions. The level of difficulty would increase as the course proceeded.

While Stan was away, I didn't hear too much from Dan. The area they were in is one of the most remote in the state and you have to drive a significant clip to get cell service. However, I did receive the following updates about half-way through:

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Stan is left of center between the buckskin and paint; Dan isn't much for photos and this is all he sent lol
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In case you missed it, or wondered if there was a bizarre autocorrect situation in there...

My horse is helicopter broke.

Don't believe me?

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Stanley is the second horse from the left

How about now? Sure, that photo has the helicopter on the ground, but during their night missions the horses had to ride to meet a hovering blackhawk helicopter several times. As Dan stated above, Stan handled it like a boss.

In fact, Stan was so outstanding during his time at this training that the experienced riders and trainers bickered over who would get to ride him. From talking with them afterward, it sounds like Willie won out a lot. Hearing this pleased me greatly because he is a phenomenal rider and I'm grateful Stan didn't have to deal with newbies too much. In fact, after many miles and hours with Willie in the saddle, Stan came back to me lighter in the aids than he's been since I've had him! Another added bonus.

Because he was Willie's horse so often, Stan led a lot of the rides and night missions. He was the first to traverse rugged terrain in low light conditions, the first to encounter loud noises and bright lights, and a steady rock for all others to follow. I knew he was solid and good, but to tackle this with relative ease as it sounds he did was news to me and blew me away.

Since the conclusion of the training, I've continued to have multiple people involved reach out to me to tell me how incredibly outstanding Stan was for everything. I even heard tales of some of the older horse-folk who helped out arguing that Stan was one of the best built QH they'd ever met. Hearing all of this made me feel so happy about my boy.

This experience was not only great conditioning for Stan, but the experience showed me (even more) what a gem this horse is. Stan is so special - a fact that is now evident to not only me as his very biased owner, but also others. I'm so grateful to have him in my life. 💙

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Goals & Intentions

I've set some solid goals for each animal and myself, as well as some stretch goals (+) that, while they should be achievable, I'm not banking on their completion to feel success in my yearly achievements. 

Griffin

- 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

I hope to have a year focused on eventing with Grif. He absolutely loves the job and now that we've gotten our feet wet, I'd like to hone our skills. Clearly, what I've done with the horse alone over the past few years has been working, but it's time to get some professional eyes-on-the-ground guidance to really help us develop as a team. Eventing becomes more and more technical with each level, and the foundation and skills we work on now will help us to be prepared to tackle the increasingly complicated questions we're presented with as we (hopefully) move up.

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More ditches in 2018, please!

What I really want eyes on the ground for more than anything else is our dressage. There is so much to learn! And so much of it depends on "feel" which is a lot easier to develop and hone with eyes on the ground to guide and teach. My first focus of the year will be making it over to Virginia for some lessons. I'm confident that our take-aways from these lessons will help not only our dressage but every other aspect of our riding. I'm really excited to not only build Griffin's knowledge, but my own through lessons.

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And more of this feeling after XC

The pie-in-the-sky stretch goals would be wonderful to fulfill if time and money allow. If our season goes well at BN, dabbling our toes in N isn't too crazy a notion. A schooling show for dressage and/or jumping is also not a crazy notion if the opportunity presents itself. And working cattle? Well, I've been saying for awhile now that I'd really like to get this little gelding on some cows. That's a discipline that I'm surrounded by here, so mostly it's taking the time to reach out to some folks to see about coming over and playing. If Grif showed a penchant for it, I'd absolutely jump into those competition waters with some of my close local friends; team penning anyone?!


Q

- 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

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Building trust

As much as I'd like to say I plan to return to competition with this little girl by next fall, I can't guarantee it. I'm sticking to my word to not put hard goals on her this year. If things fall into place, I'd absolutely love to get back into endurance competitions with her, but there is no rush to do so. The goals I've set for us all revolve around strengthening her body and mind; if we find achievement within these, competition stretch goals won't be difficult to achieve.

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So we can enjoy more moments like this

My biggest goal with Q is to get our partnership back on track - and then keep it there. We've already made leaps and bounds, and the future is very bright. One thing I believe will help us out is getting some professional eyes-on-the-ground guidance. I'm not certain if I will take her to Virginia to the same trainer I hope to work with for Griffin or if I'll stick a little closer to home and work with a centered riding instructor, but one of the two will happen at some point.

Stan

- 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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Stan's got no problem with rough terrain

Oh, Stanley, my love. Stan is as solid as they come. He had the better part of 5 years off from any kind of work and reentered life as a riding horse like no time at all had passed. He's got the greatest brain ever and such a kind heart to match. All I truly want for him is to keep him healthy and fit enough to enjoy some zoomy trail rides around home.

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I'd love to appreciate more beautiful views from behind those ears

If I can find the time to get and keep him conditioned, I'd really love to pursue a 50-mile ride with him this year. I may employ Lauren to help in this endeavor. We'll see how that goes. I would choose a spring or fall ride if I did pursue this, as hot hot heat will do us no favors. An even stretchier stretch goal would be to have Stan's biggest fan (hi, B!) compete him at an endurance ride and/or bring her QH stallion to ride with us. I can't think of anything much more fun than spending 50 miles goofing off with her as the boys eat up the miles.

Kenai

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

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So much more hair only a few months ago!

As the new year begins, I am working closely with my vet to pursue some very conservative options to try to resolve some of the rapid hair loss issues Kenai is experiencing. At a recent vet appointment, I ran her through everything we've tried in the past year. I've been ready for awhile to throw in the towel and give up to alopecia X, but my vet thinks we're missing something still based on the evidence and observations to date.

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Hi, I'm Kenai and I'm here to party.

So, we're pursuing some very conservative new options (that are incredibly budget-friendly!) to see if we can resolve some of what's going on. Yes, his issue is mostly cosmetic, but for a husky who lives in the coldest, highest elevation area of the state, not having hair during the cold months is a bit of a problem! Nothing seems sadder to me than a bald husky in winter.

Taiga

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

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SPROING!

This little girl has so much to learn about life! As of this writing, she is 18 weeks old. Other than the stereotypical husky characteristics, she's a very different personality from Kenai when it comes to training. I'm still figuring out the best way to help her find success, but I'm confident we will come to a happy place before long.

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Bold as brass riding the ski lift for the first time

One of the mountains I ski patrol for has a big interest in her (and Kenai) becoming therapy dogs. We have a lot of nervous and scared patients (many children) on the mountain; a dog on scene and in the aid room could really help assuage fear and anxiety for many of them. I would love to be able to lend courage to folks during these moments by providing a calm, fuzzy, loving dog for support. I'd really like to pick the brains of local folks who have dogs in therapy positions to see what kinds of things I need to work on to begin setting the stage for eventual certification.

Myself

- 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

I've been following through well with my yoga goals these past couple months. I've signed up with oneOeight.com and have been taking 1-2 classes a week through that site. I am absolutely LOVING it. The instructors I've been doing courses with are incredible and I'm finally getting the instruction I always wished for in yoga. Each class presents me with more advanced or modified options for poses that is helping me grow and develop. Additionally, I'm finally grasping concepts that I knew must be out there, but couldn't quite wrap my head around with regard to my core and feeling stability within poses. Some very small adjustments have afforded me so much more balance and stability almost instantly. With any luck, my goal of being able to do a split will be reached in the next year. I also think my longer-term stretch goal to be comfortable with inversion poses will be reached quicker than I originally anticipated.

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Yoga in my loft - modified pigeon pose; hoping to nail that spilt within the year!

With yoga practice comes strength in other areas of my life, primarily riding and climbing. My hips are developing more range of motion than I've had in years (which will help in the saddle), my lower back is in less pain after a long day (benefits riding and other aspects of life), my posture is improving (benefits across many disciplines), and my rotator cuff injury is feeling so much better (I can begin re-introducing climbing to my life again). My goals within climbing and mountain biking will be more easily achieved by maintaining my yoga practice.

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Eclipse-day adventures with some cool cats

I think the biggest goal I'm setting for myself this year (that I refuse to make a stretch goal because I really want to make this happen) is finding a living situation for the horses closer to my home. When they were in Canaan for a month this fall, I saw them 5-6 days a week which proved to me that if they're closer, I will find more time to ride/care for them. I freaking LOVE my boarding situation right now, but the commute kills me and makes it so that I primarily ride after work Mon.-Thur. which makes conditioning so much more difficult. If I can get them closer to home, I'll have the opportunity to fit in weekend rides easier, be closer to lesson and show venues, and have some incredible trail riding in my immediate backyard.

: : : : :

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Happy New Year from our family to yours!

I'm really excited for 2018 and can't wait to see what the year brings.

Cheers to all!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2k17: A Year in Review

Winter

As in year's past, I've allowed my time with the horses to slow during the winter months. I'm forced into it to a certain degree between the shorter daylight hours, working 10 hour work days at my normal job, and working ski patrol during the winter weekends. This year's winter was much the same as so many recent ones have been - excessively mild and lacking snow, which makes me wish dearly that I didn't love skiing so much! Fortunately, we did escape to Utah for an incredible week with more snowfall in 4 days than we had all season at home!

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I spent my winter riding mostly in small bursts here and there. Of note, I began focusing on galloping Griffin for the first time ever. I've never "trained" a horse to gallop before and have grown wary of higher speeds in recent years due to Q's remarkable ability to spook and drop me out of the saddle at higher speeds. Fortunately, Griffin is a good egg (most of the time lol) and we began building more comfort at higher speeds during the winter months.

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The biggest event of the winter though was my change in zip code. I moved 5 mountains eastward to the beautiful home on the ridgetop to live with Dave. Adjusting to a work commute of more than 6 minutes for the first time in my life (yes, I have been very fortunate) has been interesting, but I try not to think about the total time suck each day I drive. I love living in Canaan Valley more than anything; the landscape is beautiful and the community is everything I've ever wanted.

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Not to be forgotten, I did finally purchase my trailer and bring it home in February! It needed some TLC, but overall I'm really pleased with the trailer for the money I spent.

Spring

With the advent of spring, I lost the incredible trail access I've enjoyed for 5 years due to a really selfish and shitty landowner leasing a large chunk of it that bars my access to the further [better] trails. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bitter. I try to wish everyone well, but cannot wish anything well on this person. He's not only screwed me over, but all of his neighbors who once shared and enjoyed that piece of land with no squabbles or issues. Shame on you, shitty neighbor.

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I spent much of my spring consumed with trying to find a truck. I bought one at a steal of a price, but ultimately wasn't pleased with the shape it was in for hauling so I flipped it, made some money, and then bought an even bigger and better truck. Would I do that again? Oh, hell no. But was it worth it? Absolutely. I love Jolene.

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At the end of April, Austen all but kidnapped me and took me to Rolex. It was my first time at the event - and I guess my last considering the name change for the future! We had such a great weekend of shenanigans with other bloggers and Austen's friends from Indiana. I loved my first experience at a 4* event and hope to enjoy more in the future.

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As riding picked up for the year, I buckled down focusing on getting Stan conditioned for the August LD by moving him up to Canaan for a month or so. I also spent a lot of time focusing on minutia with Griffin with the goal of getting to a dressage schooling show in early July.

Summer

What a whirlwind! Work all but consumed me during the summer and it was all I could do to get Stan conditioned for RBTR in early August. Fortunately, we were graced with unseasonably cool weather for race day which lent itself to a 13th place completion (in a field of 30+). Riding Stan at RBTR was the most fun I've had on horseback at an endurance ride in a very, very long time. I didn't realize what I was missing until Stan gave it back to me in the form of an incredibly fun, carefree 30 miles over mountains and across rivers.


When I wasn't riding Stan, I was working with Grif. He and I tackled a dressage schooling show, one XC schooling, and two HTs during the summer months. We competed at Training 1 and 2 at the dressage show and at elementary at the HTs, with a bonus run at BN for XC.

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Finally, with RBTR behind me and Griffin's schooling schedule plateaued to a good place, I began bringing Q back into full work after a year off for her suspensory injury. Full work has looked a lot different in this beginning stage, but it's been just what we needed and I'm happy to stay on that track as long as she needs.

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I also got my photography website up and running this summer, fulfilling a big year's goal for myself. It will evolve with time, as all things do, but I'm loving it so far.

Fall

The horses joined me in Canaan for the month of October, which was wonderful. I was able to see the horses 6-7 days a week for the first time since moving to Canaan and even had Dave join me for a trail ride!

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Largely, autumn has been focused a lot on Q. I've deconstructed her spooking habit, worked on dressage, and finally got her back on trail. She's settling into things well, albeit with a few bobbles along the way, as one would expect. Largely though, I'm seeing differences in her and in our relationship. The hope that was dwindling, has grown anew in recent weeks.

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A large part of autumn was spent traveling though. After a hellacious summer at work, I was more than happy to spend a week in Cape May banding raptors with my BFF and then 2 weeks traveling in Mexico with Dave.

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When travel concluded, I came home and picked up Taiga who has been nothing but wonderful in her month with us. I adore her so much and am grateful that Kenai has fallen into his role of mentor so well (though it did take some time!)

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: : : : :

The end of the year has brought the typical reflections. Despite a tumultuous year outside of my hobbies and passions, I can conclude that personally, I've had a great year. The horses are doing wonderfully, my eventing dreams have been recognized, my climbing and skiing reached new bounds this year, I have a beautiful new home, and an adorable new dog who has completed my little world.

Though from a worldly standpoint and a work standpoint, it has been a very hard year and doesn't look to be getting better anytime soon. I do my best to keep that kind of subject matter away from my blog and out of my passions or I would crumble into a messy heap on the floor and never get up again. However, I don't want to completely dismiss that chaos completely (I do enjoy looking back on my blog and seeing where I was at and what life was like, after all), and would like to leave this year-end-wrap-up with a quote that has resounded with me more than just about anything with regard to all that is going on:

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.
- Edward Abbey

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Cheers to you and yours, I wish you all the best in the coming year. I know it's going to be a great one.

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Goal Review

Q

✔ Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
✔ Continue to see steady improvement and be able to put this whole suspensory ordeal in the rear-view mirror this year
✔ At the proper time, build back strength and fitness (through hiking and dressage that will be intensely focused at the walk for a few months)
✔ Achieve a more acute understanding of the aids and get her to accept contact
Teach her lateral movements under saddle
✔ Build her body back in a more balanced fashion that it was preceding her injury
✔ Enjoy many slow miles of trails (whereby "slow" is mostly walking and meandering and "many" is any amount >20 miles for the year)


I so often get stuck in a rabbit hole of thinking everything is dreadful with this little mare. The reality though is that we had a really great year. It was a slow year with minimal accomplishments compared to years past, but her health is good, her suspensory looks great, and her trust in our relationship is building.

We've begun working on dressage and she seems to like the bit she's working with (double-jointed loose ring), which is big for Q because she much prefers her hackamore. Even though her fitness is still subpar compared to what I'm accustomed to, she's much more balanced than she has been in a few years. Posting to both diagonals feels even and I find myself posting along to her left diagonal (she prefers her right and used to fuss more when I posted the weaker diagonal) without knowing it, which is something that never happened before!

She's moving off my leg in the beginnings of lateral movement, but we aren't quite there yet! Still, progress is progress, and I'll take it.

Griffin

✔ Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
✔ Build and develop our prowess at dressage and jumping
✔ Travel and compete in at least two shows
✘ Ride in at least two clinics with Stephen
✘ Take at least two lessons with a jumping trainer
✔ Spend some time perfecting our gallop - something I've never focused on before

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What a huge year for the grey guy putting a dressage schooling show and two schooling HTs under our belts. We went out into a new and admittedly scary world of competition this year and Grif blew me away. I guess I kind of blew my own expectations for myself out of the water, too. The sky is seriously the limit with this horse - he has SO much try.

We didn't even try to make it to ride in a clinic of any kind this year and despite best efforts to go to jumping lessons, the communication with my trainer of choice fell through after a few emails. C'est la vie for busy people. I'm already making plans to resolve this for the new year and I hope it will be easier now that I have my own truck and trailer and live an hour closer to where I need to go!

Stan

✔ Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
✔ Continue to build fitness with the goal of having a sleek, muscular athlete who doesn't look his age
✔ Ride > 200 miles on him for the year
✔ Compete in at least one LD 

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Oh, Stan. The very best QH there ever was. I had an amazing year with this guy. We completed the LD at RBTR in 13th place thanks to a miraculously abnormal cool August day. Without a doubt, I know this horse could have success at LDs and 50s in the future if they are spring and fall rides. If I can get him into shape for them, I hope to pursue a 50 or two with him before his true golden years.

We polished off the year with over 265 miles together, though the number is likely closer to 365 thanks to Stan's adventure in September that I have yet to share on the blog (I'm waiting on the meager media I was promised because the post will be wasted without media). What a good horse, this one. I love him to death.

Kenai

✔ Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
✔ Continue to build strength
✔ Maintain a healthy weight and diet
✔ Keep him comfortable on whatever combination of supplements help him the most

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Kenai has had a great year. He's still moving great and seems really happy. I'm switching up his food again (began this morning) to see if I can find a better combo of things to help not only his joints but his ailing coat, as well. His alopecia has gotten so much worse this year and it breaks my heart to see him looking so ragged. However, he's happy and has no care in the world about his balding butt, tail, neck, and abdomen and his happiness and freedom of movement is what matters the most. We're working with the vet to see if there is anything else we can do for his alopecia, so we'll see what 2018 brings in that department. My only goal for my best guy is to keep him moving without pain and keep enjoying all the hiking and skiing adventures we can!

Myself

✔ Stay healthy and happy physically and mentally
✔ Lead climb above a 5.8
Conquer at least one trail on Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking
✘ Bike North Fork Mountain again faster than before
✔ Build a stronger body
✘ Advance my mandolin skill
✔ Build my photography and editing prowess as well as my small photography side business

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Mountain biking  and music took a very firm back seat this year due to my job getting absolutely crazy and all-consuming during the summer months. While I did bike a trail on Canaan Mountain without hike-a-biking, it was a trail on the lower apron of the mountain that had nary a rock compared to the rest of the mountain's trails. This goal will have to move forward into 2018.

However, what I lacked in biking I more than made up for with rock climbing this summer before I injured my rotator cuff (womp womp womp). I led a few 5.9s for the first time in my life, and one of them in particular was no gimme! I'm still proud of that lead and the strength I built in my body leading up to it. I was completing 100+ assisted pull-ups 2-3 days a week as part of my training and was nearing my unassisted pull-up record that I haven't touched since college of 12+; pull-ups of any kind indicate to me how strong my climbing is as I can only excel at them when I'm climbing a lot.

The other big success for me this year was launching my photography website and side business. I've had quite a bit of success and even have a few bookings for 2018 already. I'm not looking to dive full force into it because of my other life's passions, but what I have accomplished is right where I wanted to be and I'm really enjoying myself.

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Overall, it's been a great and successful year. 2018 looks really promising and very exciting. I'm eager to see what is in store!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trailer Facelift

Part of the reason I haven't traveled hither and thither with my horses as much as opportunity presented itself over the past few months was because I was in the midst of some various trailer facelift projects.

Well, those projects are FINALLY COMPLETE and it's time to chronicle the process for posterity (but mostly my own memory).

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The before, variability in the paint color/thickness not as evident in this photo
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After, (inside of Dutch door still awaiting fresh paint; winter arrived and stalled painting process)


A Bit of Buyer's Remorse & Steps Toward a Solution

When I purchased this little trailer in February, I knew it would need a little work over time. By and large though, for a 23 year old trailer, things looked great. The floor was in phenomenal condition and the frame was super solid with very mild surface rust after so many years. These two things are very important to consider when purchasing a used trailer, so knowing they checked out was important to me.

However, to help guarantee further longevity of the trailer, I was prepared to do some critical maintenance work. Primarily, buffing of rust and application of a fresh coat of paint to slow the inevitable rust process that occurs on the east coast due to rain, humidity, snow, and salty winter roads. I've got lots of experience buffing and painting after numerous DIY projects through the years, so this seemed very doable.

Except after the joy of the initial purchase wore off and I looked at the trailer with fresh eyes, I realized I missed one thing...

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From above, you see the rust but the issue isn't that evident...
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But from this angle, which accentuates the problem best, you can definitely see the problem!

Yeah... That ramp definitely shouldn't be that way!

I beat myself up about it for a little while, but realized that it was just a learning experience that I needed to get through. As my BO has told me time and time again for various situations that I fret about, "Worse things have happened to better people." Or, in other words, it's not a big deal, calm TF down.

And so I set to researching what exactly needed to happen to correct the issue and then began seeking help. Right away, I was guided to our local high schools shop classes. They're always looking for learning projects. The work won't be the quickest or the prettiest, but the labor will be cheap. With an older trailer, I already accepted that pretty wasn't necessary, so I dropped the trailer off.

Well, long story short, they never got to the trailer before the summer break. They told me to bring it back in August and it would be their first thing, but I was Over It at this point.

Fortunately, my neighbors jumped in at this point and let me know that our friend Chuck was a very skilled welder and could do the job for me! Excellent. Except, well, if you know Chuck (and really, if you know any Canaan Valley person), you know things don't happen quickly.

I just accepted this slowness for what it was and didn't let myself worry about it. I knew he WOULD get to it and he WOULD do a good job and it would probably(?) be done before the end of the calendar year.

While I waited, I was cautious about hauling and loading and unloading my horses if they were on that side. I'm very fortunate to have horses who are very good about trailering and knew that for a limited time, things would be okay so long as I was conscientious about unloading them as that was the only time that cattywompus ramp could really cause an issue as there were no sharp edges exposed, it was mostly just a trip hazard in the interim. And honestly, for my horses that were used to a step-up trailer, that little 2-3 inch warped ramp area was nothing.

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Evidenced here, Janky Trailer @ Loch Moy in September


But First, A Fresh Paint Job

It's not evident in many of the above photos, but the paint was irregular at best. Over the years the owners had spray painted areas of surface rust with a variety of gray-silver paints. While this protected against further rust formation for a temporary period, it resulted in the trailer looking rachety as all get-out.

Originally, I figured I would paint the trailer after the ramp was fixed. However, as Chuck was picking away at to-dos with the trailer as they fit in his schedule, he recommended I buff and apply primer on some areas to prepare for the work he would complete.

The weekend I set aside to complete this task corresponded with a beautiful unexpected opening in my schedule - by various strokes of luck, I had NOTHING scheduled.

So, logically, I bought a gallon of primer and decided to "see how far it would go".

Result? Basically the whole damn trailer!

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The upper left demonstrates how irregular the paint was.
The lower left looks worse in unpainted areas because I'd buffed them with a metal brush on a power drill.
Right side photos show the completed [primer] paint job, though the final coat won't be much different in color.
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Not the most professional of all paint jobs, but way better looking than before! Now it needs a
navy stripe and some reflective tape accents to help with night time visibility.
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Irregular paint evident here...
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Ah, much more uniform and well protected for several more years against oxidation-reduction -
an inevitable process you must be prepared to battle when you live in the wet & snowy east!

I even clambered up onto the roof like a responsible painter and put the requisite coats on it!

The only place I didn't buff and paint was the base of the trailer ramp where I knew more work would be done.

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No need to paint this area! Much work to be done.

It was a ton of work, I won't lie. Buffing the damn thing was the hands down WORST, but good tools and sheer determination helped me get the job done. It's not the most professional paint job ever, but it's a freaking 23 year old trailer - any paint job was an improvement at this point and I'm all about form and function before beauty when it comes to these things.

The most important thing is that the trailer now has a good protective barrier to road salt and moisture. Rust will be slower to form for several more years, a good thing when you live where I do!


The Real Work Begins

As summer faded to fall and fall cooled down and rained a bit, Chuck's schedule finally lightened to the point where he put my trailer in his shop and began work.

First thing was first, patching up the metal along the base of the stalls behind the tires where road salt had eaten away at the trailer.

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Inside the trailer where the plywood typically sits; bottom of the metal rusted out.
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White strip is new metal that was cut, drilled, and caulked to protect this area from future moisture/rust.

From there, he painted and installed new plywood.

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New plywood installed back in it's proper place. Bumpers not yet installed.
Old plywood was rotted along the back corner where the trailer had at one
point sat under a gutter and gotten soaked: cue rust and rot!
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New plywood installed; rusty, warped ramp visible here, though you can see
that that left corner really isn't that dramatic in the grand scheme of things!
Still, it's better it was addressed once and for all as it only would have worsened.

And then took the ramp off to begin working on that whole debacle.

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Discussing whether the plywood under the ramp mats would need replaced.
Spoiler: it didn't! It was in great shape.
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Ah, hello there problem child!
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Miraculously, the ramp wasn't warped that badly from where the hinge
rusted off allowing the spring to pull it upwards and askew from the trailer.
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If you look closely, you'll note the left-most hinge missing completely. Lovely!

Chuck is an absolute WEALTH of knowledge on this type of thing and I enjoyed hearing how the process was going as he set about it. The "hinge" on the ramp was definitely NOT factory-built. It was some sort of repair somewhere in the trailer's lifetime and it was done piss-poor which is why the whole thing ended up the way it was when I got it. Basically someone drove a hexagonal bar through the hinges and called it good. It wasn't done well and resulted in one hinge rusting off of the frame resulting in a warped ramp.

Chuck's repair of the thing put it back to what it should have been - three independent hinges.

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The original problem child looking much better!
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The rest of the hinges along the ramp post-work


Final Steps

Putting the ramp back together was a bit of a process, but not too bad in the grand scheme of things.

I first prepped and painted the ramp where the plywood would go to further protect against future rusting, and then we fit the plywood back in, I screwed the mats on, and that was that.

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Partially buffed in preparation for paint.
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Buff job complete.
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Painting complete.
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Lining up the plywood to be screwed back in was a bit more complicated than it looks!
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Bada-bing, bada-boom! A STRAIGHT ramp!
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How lovely this is to look at!
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No more rusted off hinge and warped ramp

We also patched up the sheet metal on the outside bottom of the ramp, too, to protect from further rust damage. Or I guess I can say that I patched up the sheet metal on the outside. Chuck cut the pieces, then instructed me how to caulk them and screw them on.


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Left side patch caulked and screwed on...
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And now the right side! All it need is a final paint job to neaten up everything!

What a process!

I still plan to add a final coat of paint to the whole thing with a sprayer - and honestly planned to have that done prior to sharing this post - but it will have to wait for warmer weather, which is hard to predict this time of year.


Conclusion

Could I have spent some more money or taken more time to find a better trailer? Absolutely! But you know what? At my price point, I did pretty damn well for myself and even with all of the extra work, I still couldn't have found a nicer trailer within my budget.

It was a lot of time and effort to flip this thing into something prettier than it was, but I have learned a TON from the process. And honestly? I really feel like I'm better off for having put in the hard work myself to make so much of it happen. I'm much more familiar with this hunk of metal on wheels and feel good about hauling my horses in it. Additionally, if a day comes that I want to upgrade to a better/bigger trailer, I have a much better grasp on what I'll be looking for and considering. Knowledge is power.

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All that remains is a final fresh coat of paint and a better
organization system for storage!

I'm really pleased with how everything turned out. I plan to add some additional minor upgrades to the inside so far as hanging hooks and saddle racks, but that's child's play considering everything else that has been tackled to date. I'm also playing with the idea of painting some fun little caricatures of the horses somewhere, too, we'll see!

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Have you ever flipped, renovated or given a facelift to your trailer? I know some of you have shared some blog posts here and there on the subject. I'd love to hear your stories if they haven't been documented yet. Or maybe you've chronicled some trailer improvements already and they're archived in years past on your blog?