Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Catching Up

Team Teal.
I have been a remiss blogger. I feel terrible, knowing I'm keeping all of you from ogling photos of this hunky little bay horse and his supermodel of a chestnut older brother. Plus, I really value having a chronicle of our training. I'm lacking those updates here. Eek!

In an effort to catch up, I offer you this "wordless" Wednesday photo tour of the last couple of months. Prepare yourself, make sure you're on wifi, and enjoy the tour!
When I started Bast back to regular work at his new barn, I made a point to put more time into lunging. I hoped to keep his stress levels down, while still getting him worked and handled on a schedule. As he recovered from his fence injury, lunging also helped us build strength in his hind end and work out the sore parts.
Pig has really come into his own in his herd dynamics. His favorite place to be is 2nd in command, and he finally landed his favorite position after befriending the muzzled mare to his right. He's her best lieutenant, and in exchange no one messes with him and she lets him share the waterer with her. #itslove
Megan came to visit us for a whirlwind moment while she was out looking for Spicy! I forced her to get on Bast and ride him around. They made such a cute pair! I hadn't seen anyone else ride him in almost a year, so this was a real treat for me.
Keeping with the blogger meet up-dates, Emma swung by after we both did a volunteering stint at Loch Moy's dressage show. She got to see the farm and hang out with the ponies while I ran around and tried to get them both fed.
Bast and I had our first lesson in months. It was awesome, but the moment where Bast drank out of this scuzzy mud puddle for about 5 minutes straight (complete with hilarious sucking noises) was the most memorable part. Well, that and the fact that I need to stop pushing him past his rhythm. More on that later...
Bast and Asterid met the first day I brought her home, and it was clear from first sniff that Asterid was going to get along great with the horses.
I took some time off work at the start of July, just so I could spend a few days hanging out with the animals in the fields. #soworthit
All that time off meant both horses got ridden regularly. I enlisted random barn friends to help me get both of them worked on occasion. I put Bast through his paces. Once he was done and needed walked out, I swapped with my friend so I could hop behind my favorite red ears.
At the start of July, Bast's trot work started to really come around. He's starting to figure out how to sit and build more suspension. It's a really cool process, and I'm excited to watch it develop.
Of course, what is time off without injuries? During a random hike, Asterid wandered in front of me and I took a tumble, spraining my middle finger. Over a month later, and it's still healing. The doctor thinks I tore a tendon, which seems highly likely. Sprained fingers make life surprisingly difficult!
The boys, taking a joint bath. I love how much having these two together helps Bast learn appropriate behaviors and build confidence. There are many times I've seen Bast get worried about something, glance at Pig who is dozing, and immediately calm right down.
Riding Pig in a rainstorm. The old man is definitely lame and stiff, but he so enjoys his rides. The days after I ride him, he usually comes running to me in the pasture. It's pretty cute. I don't work him in anything over a first level frame any more, and even that is pretty downhill and relaxed. His strength isn't there, and his neck arthritis is progressing to a point that his soundness is effected.
While Bast was having some really great breakthroughs in the trot, the canter totally fell apart in July. This culminated in him bolting on me in the ring. I decided that night he needed another break. I wasn't sure if the hard hematoma bits were still breaking down in his hind leg, or if he was just feeling overfaced. Either way, time off would solve the problem.
Even with a horse on rest, I still found myself at the barn nearly every day to feet this redhead child, and hike and train the dogs.
Bast's vacation coincided with a set of massive rainstoms that pounded the DC region. He clearly enjoyed himself to the fullest in the flooding.
Pig also was put to work during this time... as a low key dog walker and hacking companion. One of these days I'll need to put the saddle on him and ride through some of his sassy backtalk, but for now he's been allowed to get away with murder while I cling to the bareback pad.
I started riding Dobare in longer training rides. We went out to the local mountain trails, as well as the trails around the barn. We started plotting conditioning strategies.
Bast spent more of his time off learning humans are great because his human wanders into the field and feeds him carrots, chases off the bullies, and then scratches his itchiest bits. And, he has a lot of itchy bits.
Meanwhile, Pig is utterly tortured by flies. I start to think maybe he will actually spend more time eating if he spent less time flinging his head around and biting at flies. I buy him a cheap fly sheet, expecting him to destroy it within minutes of being turned loose.
The fly sheet unexpectedly survives in perfect condition. While he sweats more under it, he seems more comfortable. I also notice he gets less cuts and bites while wearing it. This is not because the sheet protects him, but I believe because he is no longer careening around trying to swat at bugs. Fly sheet is a rousing, though unexpected, success.
Over the summer Bast learned to stand politely when tied, thanks to these massive hitching posts and some creative loops in the lead rope. I learned that he'll fight a tie, but gives up and is very thoughtful about his thrashing. The horse might be missing a few screws, but he has a sense of self preservation in there!
Pig and Asterid enjoying a good long dog walk. There's nothing like taking a dog out alongside a horse to make you feel like multi-tasking. I love exercising two sets of animals at once! Asterid is still learning to turn left and right on voice command, so I only trust her walking with Pig. He's very good with dogs, and very good in tight situations. He also will step on her when she gets in his way, but gently. It's a lesson she needs to learn.
Bast came back to work, and I started lunging him before every ride at first. This was less to "take the edge off" but more to get him picking up both canter leads in a much more low stress fashion. I was hoping this would translate under saddle. We did have one big fight on the lunge line, which seems to have forced him to realize he maybe shouldn't ignore the human.
I've increased Pig's meals over the summer, in an attempt to keep weight on him. This means many nights and mornings are spent hanging out with him and the dogs while he sloooowly eats his pounds of alfalfa, beet pulp, and grain. I'd say it was boring, if it wasn't so damn beautiful out there.
Lyra has been hiding from the heat and storms the last few months, but still adores exploring alongside the horses. She wanders into the rings while I ride, as if to beg us to go wandering around the fields so she can hunt for mice and groundhogs.
This picture almost makes Bast look as tall as Pig. I am not sure how tall Bast is now, but I feel as though he's grown in the last month or so. He's not taller than Pig, though he is built less downhill in front, so appears that way at times!
There's been a lot of goofing off at the barn, and hours spent just enjoying being around my horses and new friends. Can't ask for more.
Stay tuned for more adventures while I put this little horse back to solid work and we start pounding away at dressage work again!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Jumping into Endurance

If you guys follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed a pair of white ears popping up in my stories and posts every now and then. That's because I've picked up a new fun ride. Meet Dobare (Doe-Bar-A).
Love mornings in this back field!
Dobare's owner is rehabbing a knee injury, but wanted the gray arabian gelding to continue legging up for a full season of endurance racing. He has already done a few LD (limited distance = 22-30 miles) races on him this year, but asked if I would take over for him while he recuperates.

Uh! Yes!
Always happy to catch ride some endurance horses!!
Please don't burn your eyes on the combination of western/endurance tack, dressage breeches, polo boots, and camelbak.
Initially I was just working with Dobare in the ring, teaching him to yield laterally and build more topline strength. But as his owner needed more time to rehab, I ended up taking over longer training rides. Now we're planning to have me finish out the competition year on him, and I am so excited!
Even when we get caught in a torrential flooding downpour and almost get swept away by flash flooding...
I feel pretty luckily to be handed this chance. Dobare is turning out to be a pretty capable little endurance horse. We've been putting in a lot of time at local trails, alternating between training on tough terrain like this ...
Just a few rocks. Nbd.
And doing speed/distance pushes on the C&O canal...
16mph and no hands! Whee! 
Overall the training has been going super well. I'm finally to the point where I have a good feel for the horse, and can pick up on when he's feeling good, needs a break, or has more in the tank. I'm looking so forward to riding him on race day (at the end of this month!) to see how he handles himself at the races. Based on how he hunts down bikers on the canal, he seems to know and enjoy his racing job a lot!
He loves motoring down that trail!
My main concerns are conditioning and how well he'll care for himself on a ride. Conditioning because I don't know him, and we only have so much terrain around here to train on. Races are usually held on the sides of mountains, and I only have one approximately 500ft climb to practice on. However, we have a ton of steep, though short, hills in the pasture we have been walking him up regularly. And over conditioning him on the minor hills we have will help him motor up mountains at the races.
Here's one of those steep, though short, hills. This is great for walking up to build strength. It's like the horse equivalent of powering through some squats. It's actually steeper than this photo shows, because we go up to the left of this photo. Pig just refused to stand still, as per usual. Love him.
I'm extremely impressed with Dobare's forward trot and his ability to consistently hit a good pace. Right now he's averaging a flat trotted mile in 5:20. His top sustained speed is around 16 mph. That's pretty stellar!
(click to enlarge)
I am concerned about how well the horse will care for himself only because he's new to the sport. He's a smart horse, but he doesn't often drink or graze under saddle. He's got to learn to advocate for himself more in that regard. I'm hoping more mileage and experience will help him learn this skill. Right now, I think he's just in really good shape and doesn't yet see a reason not to wait till he gets back to camp to drink from a bucket and eat without a rider.
One of the few times he has drunk water under saddle with me. It was extremely humid that day, and he was tired.
I can't wait to write more about our training and competitions. It's fun to have something to plan for while I take a hiatus from dressage showing this year. In the meantime, please check out the video below to ride along on a recent training ride. (As a bonus, see if you can find the moment when I cross a bridge I really should get off and lead the horse across. Dobare is such a good boy, I didn't even think about it until later.) Make sure you follow along on Instagram for updates throughout the rest of the season!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Not Pictured.

Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.

The loss of someone so close to me is hard to articulate. My uncle Mark saw himself as my surrogate father for my entire life, and in many ways he truly stepped into that role. Since the moment I was born he has been right beside me, supporting and challenging me. The word "loss" feels right. Without the option to call and hear his voice, I do feel lost.

While I rarely talk about my family, I wanted to share these photos and my thoughts. The day after I learned of Mark's passing, I immediately thought of this trip to visit him. These photos embody so much of Mark. While they are not photos of him (I don't have many of those), they don't need to be. Mark was always just outside of the frame, filling each moment with his presence.

This trip was to Santa Barbara. We rented a car and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, with days of wine tastings and exploring ahead of us. Notably, this trip held many moments with horses, including a trail ride at a local ranch. The highlight, however, was Mark encouraging me to reach out to an old contact of mine who taught at a local stable. This person put me in a borrowed helmet and boots, then threw me on a horse and sent me out to jump in a ring with one of the most gorgeous views I've ever seen.

While the ride itself wasn't particularly memorable (outside of the view, wow), the moment reminds me how much Mark pushed me out of my comfort zone. He encouraged me to make connections, be brave, and always try.

I'll miss your shadow in my photos, Mark. I hope I never miss your push to get out there and take them.
I love you.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Riding Out

I am a huge proponent of trail riding. I love how much it refreshes the mind of the horse (and rider!), and I really enjoy how it gives them an active break from schooling while still shaking out muscles and getting them back under saddle.
Some of our beautiful, but kind of tough, old trails.
Pig and I always did a ton of trail riding and out of the ring conditioning work as part of his schooling. He would tell me when he'd had enough of the ring, and we would make sure to get out on the trails and do some casual riding (and galloping!)

With Bast, trail riding has not come naturally. At my old barn, the trails were much more advanced, with a ton of creek crossings to start and much steeper grades and sections with iffy footing. I loved them, but they weren't the best option when it came to introducing a nervous horse to the joys of riding out.
An example of a stream we crossed on the old trails. Can you find Lyra? She was hunting a beaver and totally fell in.
The new barn is made for easy trail riding, though. The property backs up to a local park, and the trails are designed for multi-use. They're flat, maintained, and very welcoming for horses, people, wheelchairs...etc. There are trail heads starting right from the pastures, and the place is quiet and open. Rocks are minimal, there are no creek crossings, and the underbrush is basically nonexistent. It's trail riding on easy mode.

I started by taking Bast out on an in-hand hike. He was a little nervous about leaving the other horses behind, but was a really brave boy. That is, he was brave until we got to the river overlook. The sound of the rushing water started to upset him some, so we turned and went home.
Forgetting all about the scary trail when confronted with overgrown rested pastures.
A couple weeks later, a friend asked if I wanted to join on a quick ride into the woods. The boarders at this barn are mostly trail riders, and seem to be making it a mission to get my little ring-baby out into the woods. I agreed to head out.
Bast and my endurance friend being brave heading back from the trail head. (Can you spot the tiny Lyra speck up ahead?)
Bast was a total star on this ride, and really impressed me. He led the whole time, confidently. He checked his footing carefully and didn't launch down inclines or slow way down on the way up. When the footing became slightly wet in one part, he marched right through without looking twice.
Motoring down that trail! ❤️
In all honesty, he was having fun out there! When we got back, I had to text Liz immediately. She's been joking Bast wants to be my endurance ride, so I knew she'd enjoy hearing about his successful adventure.
Hard to tell, but if you look through the openings in the trees at ear-height, you can see the Potomac River. This is near one of the big river overlook spots in the park. Look how calm he is, even with the sound of the rushing water!
Since that first ride, I've taken Bast out solo a few times. Once by myself with just Lyra, and once while a friend hiked out with the dogs. Both times he was a complete star, even when we ran into other horses who passed us heading home (he got antsy standing while they passed, but walked on confidently without them) and unfamiliar hikers on foot.
Must always check out trail signs. LOL!
The last ride we went on was longer than the rest, and in the high (horrific) heat of a massive heat wave. He handled it  super well, and even though he was a bit upset about being alone (he called twice to other horses) he confidently moved forward. I took a bit of new trail to him, which required me to hop off once to coax him past a huge sign (clearly a demon). Once past, I was able to  mount him from the ground and continue quietly.
More river views! I love this wide open spot!
I can't wait to get him out more and enjoy riding outside the ring! Anyone else out there struggle to get your young horse confidently trail riding? Does it make anyone else sad that your horse won't trail ride confidently?