Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Recap

This year was certainly a year of many firsts for both me and Quest.

12 26 15a

We shared our first winter together and spent a lot of time in the dustbowl. Though I griped about the weather to no end, the winter did us a huge favor in hindsight. The snow and ice forced me to do a lot of groundwork and hand walking on the trail- all things I know that are important in a new horse & owner relationship but easily overlooked. The cold temperatures also kept our rides short but productive. I did a ton of bareback riding and improved my seat so much during those two months- I went from struggling to sit the trot to comfortably cantering bareback with one hand on the reins.

When spring finally arrived, Quest and I spent our evenings on the trail wandering and exploring but eventually we got bored. Our 3-mile jaunts grew into a measly 6-miles as I painstakingly tried to scrape together more mileage for us. It was impossible to do a trail ride without stopping every few yards to cross a street and of course sudden encounters with ATV/motorcross bike riders illegally using the trail were a nightmare. I had a few issues with the BOs as well but I stuck it out at KBTC as long as I could because my barn friends and I still had a lot of fun making memories together while swimming in the river, painting My Little Pony cutie marks, and going for night rides with glow sticks.


Quest also proved to be a fantastic teacher and gave a few of my friends their first riding lessons. This is something that I’m still very proud of to this day. It’s not every day you meet a horse that has the get up and go to boogie down the trail but has the patience to quietly pack beginners around an arena.

I continued to trim Quest's feet myself this year and got more comfortable with handling a rasp. Asides from two trims where I asked R to trim and check on my work in March and then had J’s farrier recently do a trim earlier this December, I’ve been doing Quest’s feet 100% all by myself and not doing too badly. I am very lucky that mareface has pretty solid feet to begin with though. Going forward, I really want to keep her barefoot if possible and use boots at rides. The first LD of the 2016 season will be in sand so they won’t be needed until later. I suspect there will be a very extensive hoof boots tag in my near future as I document my struggle to figure out what works/doesn’t work though. Fingers crossed it’ll be a relatively painless experience…

By far the most exciting things that happened this year were celebrating my first full year of horse ownership and taking the first steps into making endurance riding a reality.

This past summer, I had the pleasure and privilege of catch riding in two CTRs, earning two completions and 55 lifetime rider miles. The rides sealed the deal that distance riding was going to be my discipline. Folks typically suggest volunteering at a ride first to get experience but I guess for me it was go big or go home! I learn more from doing and I certainly learned a lot. The two rides were very different though both very educational. I went from a Reserve Champion in the first ride to a metabolic scare in the second. I know the latter was not my fault but it really goes to show how difficult this sport is. And I have to say while there is the importance of training and knowing your equine partner, there is definitely a measure of luck that comes into play.

Moving Quest to WSS at the end of summer was another major step towards officially beginning our endurance journey. The barn location is both a gift and a curse- I never wanted to be a weekend warrior but it was the price I had to pay. Under the watchful eyes and guidance of J and B, Quest has been thriving and roaming acres of pasture 24/7. On the weekends, we have been enjoying the miles of trails that are within walking distance. Most of our rides have been solo due to schedule differences though we have done a handful of group rides at home. She has been doing very well in group trail rides with new horses, leading, following, though she can get saucy competitive in a neck-to-neck race. In October, we trailered off property for the first time to attend our first hunter pace. It was SO much fun.
I made a few changes to our tack- began using a rope halter/snap-on headstall combo and bought a treeless saddle and Skito pad which has been working out great so far. At J’s suggestion, I started riding with a running martingale and a full cheek snaffle bit, both of which Quest took to just fine. Each trail ride has helped me gain insight into how Quest is progressing and so far, so good! Physically, she seems to never tire. Mentally, she is starting to figure out her job and really enjoys moving out. Granted, there are still moments of looky spooks but for the most part, Quest is nose forward and straight. And she doesn’t seem to mind runners either.

I’m pleased with how far we’ve come in this year and excited for the upcoming ride season. Hope to see you on the trails in 2016!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Optimism

Last Saturday was the first day this month that I was able to get out to the barn to see Quest…and the month is nearly half over! I only had 3 days in NJ before I was to fly back out to Texas for another week and I was still feeling pretty tired when I woke up Saturday morning. It was very tempting to laze around in bed at home. I’m glad I dragged my exhausted butt out to the barn because the weather was PERFECT for riding (60s in mid-December in Northern NJ!) and Quest gave me an equally perfect ride. 

When I arrived at the barn, I saw my mare going for a thorough roll in the mud- glad to see she’s making good use of that new rain sheet I got her!  Shaking my head with a resigned sigh, I fetched her from pasture and grabbed the treed saddle with intentions of doing a groundpole/cavaletti session in the pasture-arena.

J and B arrived to do the morning feedings while I was grooming. I let Quest eat in peace while I fetched the rest of my tack and got a chance to chat with J. She updated me that Quest was finally putting on some nice weight.

Me likey <3 

After Quest polished off her entire breakfast, I tacked up and we headed out into the pasture arena to set up ground poles while J dropped B off at a friend’s barn. There was a backhoe parked in the corner along the pasture fence line that I knew Quest was going to give the hairy eyeball and dragon snort. Sure enough, we spent the first 10 minutes talking about how the scary backhoe was not going to eat her and giving it a 50 foot passing berth was not necessary. Smart mareface soon figured it out and we settled into a nice working trot and got to business with the ground poles. Things were going well, so I asked for a canter and we chugged steadily along the fence in the arena doing several laps when suddenly Quest went down.

Next thing I realized I was flat on my back on the ground and poor Quest was standing next to me, trembling all over. I gave myself a moment before I stood up. I saw that her right shoulder, legs, and my saddle covered in mud. It was pretty obvious what had happened- Quest slipped, went down on her side and we ate mud. I immediately began checking to make sure she was okay and thankfully, she was.  J had been in the paddock area tacking up Luke for a trail ride when she saw us go down. We walked back to the paddock where she met us and asked if I was okay and if I hit my head.  Once prodded, I recalled landing on my back which took the brunt of the impact, that was confirmed by dirt on my back and lack thereof on my helmet.

I tied Quest back up in the paddock and J helped me clean her up. Poor mare was still trembling slightly, quite aware that something bad had happened but she relaxed when I patted her quietly, reassuring her it wasn’t her fault. If anything it was an error in judgment on my part. 

We were just about done cleaning up when we saw two riders coming up the street. I was introduced to R, a lady who owns a barn down the street and has been asking B to help her put miles on a mare named Lucy who was a great jumper but not so great trail horse. R herself was riding a cute TB gelding named Finale. J and I mounted up and our little group of four set off for the trails. To my surprise, Quest immediately decided to take the lead so we led the first part of the ride. Mareface did SO well. She was still looky but kept her nose pointed forward and power trotted along, I actually had to half-halt to get her to ease back to a pace that Lucy and Finale could keep up with. Throughout the ride we switched around positions in the line so everyone that wanted to had a chance to lead and follow. Quest had no problems with all of that. R and I rode side by side for the most part to talk and get to know each other. She seemed genuinely impressed to hear that I had been riding for only two years and that mareface came from an auction. Yes, I know my horse awesome <3

We did lots of trotting and cantering in sections. No issues there though I can definitely see how Quest could get competitive in a neck-to-neck race. At one point, B and I had our horses cantering side-by-side on the trail and Quest seriously was like BRING IT ON. While heading up to the ridge, J asked if I wanted to race up the hill. I got into my two-point and off we charged! Quest left poor Luke in the dust ;) I slowed her when we crested the hilltop and J and Luke caught up with us. We were both laughing and grinning from ear to ear.

All in all and despite the tumble we took earlier, the morning went as well as I could have dreamed. Quest led bravely, followed politely, and did excellent with unfamiliar horses trotting and cantering next to, in front, and behind her. The best part was she barely broke a sweat, except under the saddle and pad, while the three other horses were lathered at the end of the ride.

When we got back to the barn and parted ways with B and R, J and I talked game plan for endurance rides next season. Let’s just say that after our conversation, I am giddy excited what the future holds for us!

Oh, and a obligatory photo of our first satin. We ended up placing 5th in our first hunter pace last October :)

Monday, November 16, 2015

3-Day Weekend

I randomly took this past Friday off since I had extra PTO days that were use-it-or-lose-it before the end of the calendar year. It's always around this time of year I start to feel run down and sluggish despite trying my hardest to keep up the energy. It's a vicious cycle though so this year I'm trying to do things differently by taking care of myself BEFORE the total burn out happens. What a novel idea.

My friends A and T also managed to get Friday off as well so we decided have a fun random adventure day and it was a blast! We met up at the barn bright and early, piled into T's car and first headed to Lakota Wolf Preserve to hang out with British Columbian, Timber, and Arctic wolves. I've wanted to visit this facility for the longest time ever. Wolves are one of my favorite animals and I actually got started in art/became popular in online art communities by drawing wolves years ago. I still find them quite inspirational and took a ton of photos that I will be basing some future paintings on.

It was early afternoon by the time we finished at the wolf preserve so we hustled our way out to our next stop. T is good friends with a lady named D who boards her horse at a barn that offers trail rides so we stopped by to visit and go for a ride. Having an insider helps because we got our pick of the horses they had. When D asked us what kind of horses we wanted, I asked for forward so they hooked me up with a gelding named Chester who was supposed to be their most forward-est horse in the barn. Spoiler alert: I did not get forward.


It was pretty much this the whole entire ride. The trail guide seemed genuinely surprised and pleased that "naughty and rowdy" Chester was lagging so far behind in the hack line. While albeit extremely slow, I was happy enough if he was content just to plod along if uppity fast was his norm.

Saturday morning was my mareface time. The sky was bright blue and sun was shining but the wind was gusting so strong that it was swaying the trees. I don't know if I am brave or stupid but I still saddled up for a trail ride regardless. Quest made it down the end of the road before deciding there was too much going on around her. I asked her to whoa, hopped off and lunged her in the field off the road to get her head back on me (...love riding with rope halters and yacht rope reins for this very reason). When she settled down, I handwalked her the rest of the way to the trailhead and mounted back up. The rest of the ride went mostly without incident. I stayed alert because the wind created a lot of spook-worthy things but Quest was fine once we started moving out and we were even able to do a few canter sets since the trails were totally deserted. It was really good to see that she is getting confident enough to pick her own pace as the terrain allows and felt balanced enough to canter along open fields. I also discovered that mareface has apparently never seen alpacas before. One of the barn properties by the trail had a whole herd of them and they all came right up to the fence to say hello. Quest wasn't too thrilled about that. I had her take a few steps toward them and then parked ourselves there until she figured it out. Don't think she is fully convinced that they don't eat horses though!

Yesterday I got a late start driving up to the barn since I met a few friends for lunch after church. There wasn't  be enough daylight to fit in a trail ride so I decided to do an arena session to revisit ground poles and introduce cavaletti. I tacked up with the treed saddle though used the snap-on headstall/rope halter and rope reins. Must remember to clean and bring the bridle and leather reins to the barn next time.

It was painfully obvious that we have not done any arena work in a long time because we were ALL over the place the first 10 minutes of the ride. It did NOT help that one of the neighbors decided that it was a fantastic time to begin shooting his gun. Between the messy, abysmal riding and the ringing gun fire at random moments, I seriously half-thought about hopping off and just calling it a day. But of course, we rode through it and I'm so glad we did.

We focused on transitions to regroup and once that was in place, we started the ground poles and then the cavaletti. Once Quest realized what we were doing, just like that everything clicked and we had so much fun zooming nimbly over and between ground poles until daylight ran out. I hopped off a few times to adjust the pattern and Quest stood quietly ground tied in the open pasture while I dragged poles and shoved cavalleti blocks around. At the end of the ride, mareface actually decided to hang out with me for awhile before heading back to the pasture after I untacked and dispensed treats. She has always been/might always be somewhat aloof but it's certainly nice to see more of her sweet side.

Best mareface <3

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Two Years

Two years ago I took my first riding lesson as an adult beginner and started this crazy journey. I'm so incredibly blessed to be able to pursue this hobby and lifestyle that I enjoy so much <3


Dec 2013- Levi helping me learn to post, this was my 6th lesson

Jan 2014- First ride on Rori; I ended up leasing her for about 4 months

Oct 2014- First ride on Quest; I had her for about a month at this point

Oct 2015- Our first hunter pace (:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Windy Hollow Hunter Pace

Quest and I did our first ever hunter pace together this weekend and it was SO fun!

Happy mare and happy me <3

With the stifle injury hopefully well behind us, we have been working hard every weekend since then to get good saddle time and mileage on the trail. Schedule differences have prevented us from riding with J and B this whole time but the solo trail ventures have helped me and Quest gain confidence in each other. She is still alert of her surroundings but there is less tension now and more curious interest- a minute difference, but a pretty huge deal in my opinion.

When I gushed to J how well the mareface was doing, she suggested that it was time to up the ante and see how Quest handled a few more “realistic” ride competition settings. With that, the Windy Hollow Hunter Pace was scheduled to be our first ever away-from-home trail ride.  

In the days leading up to the event, I was excited but nervous too. Quest has improved SO much mentally since I first had her and as eager as I am to get ourselves active and competing on the trail, I wanted to make sure it was a fun experience for her too. Almost if to assuage my worries, our ride on Saturday went particularly well- we did another solo 8 miles and trotted everything we could. Towards the end of the ride, we passed another rider on the trail who was working with a cute 5yo chestnut gelding. He asked to tag along behind us on the trail; Quest didn’t seem to mind so we helped pull them along and dropped them off at their barn. Even though Quest is still green herself, she acted like a trail veteran and power trotted past all the “scary” things without hesitation. We were moving at a good clip/our usual trot pace too- I could hear the gelding behind us cantering from time to time in order to keep up!

When I arrived at the barn the next morning, I finally got to meet the other boarder M who owns Remy, a cute stout buckskin QH mare. We chatted amiably together while we got our horses and tack ready and waited for J, B, and J’s husband P to show up with the truck and trailer. They soon arrived and while the trailer was readied, we got the horses fed and ready to load up. J told me to lead Quest on first- she stepped up without hesitation after me. Good mare! Next was Remy, then Pedro (J’s gelding pony), and finally Soup (B’s warmblood mare). Everyone on, everything packed, we hit the road.

The drive took about an hour and went by quickly since we were all chatting away. M talked about her job which involves art so that was super cool to learn about. And B told us firsthand about her AERC Nationals experience- which by the way she and Maddy won, got Best Condition, and tied for High Vet Score. Pretty awesome!

When we arrived at the hunter pace, we went to the tents to get signed up in our teams and pay. Quest and I would be riding with B and Soup in the Open division, while J would take Pedro and team up with M and Remy in the Hilltopper division. Then it was back to the trailer to unload and tack up. Quest was a little sweaty but definitely NOT a lathered mess this time so I’ll count that as a win. Once off the trailer, she was eager to graze so I think that's another win. Tacking up and mounting up was definitely a two person job this time though- probably 30% standing still and 70% moving around. While the latter wasn’t too unexpected, I’m hoping it'll get better in time since that'd make my life a whole lot easier.

Everyone all mounted up, we all set off for the starting area. In a few short minutes B and I were given the okay to move down the trail. Quest was definitely feeling good and moved out in her power trot. Soup and Quest matched each other very well in pace and we had zero issues efficiently weaving through single track forest paths and along cornfields surrounded by gorgeous autumn foliage.

Riding the fields of corn- A first for us and no problem for mareface
The trails were very well marked with plenty of ribbons and signs
Pausing for a quick snack while humans pause to take pictures.
I was very glad to see this!
There were a few rather steep hills that I was dubious about doing at anything but a walk but Quest powered up every climb at a trot or canter with ease and energy. This was definitely a side of her that I have not yet seen before so that got me very excited. The only hiccup we faced the entire day was the cows. Fields and fields of horse-eating cows  meandering along the trail. Poor Soup, who had been leading the whole time, had quite a meltdown so Quest took the lead to get us past them.

B and Soup did the jumps while Quest and I happily took the go-arounds...Though I sincerely think Quest would have had no problem jumping if given the opportunity because she seemed to "lock on" to the jumps and I felt pretty bad telling her no each time. I guess we're going to go play with jumps soon. Very soon.

My absolute favorite section of the trail was also the most terrifying part. A little more than half-way into the ride, the trail opened up along a stretch of pristine green rolling pastures. B and I started to canter, no problem there. Then I saw B and Soup move ahead even faster. I felt Quest click into a gear that I had never felt before and suddenly we were moving faster that I've ever gone. 

I've NEVER ridden a gallop before, let alone on hills going both up AND down, and we were literally charging up and down those hills. I was rather preoccupied making sure I didn't lose my seat or stirrups. But I did indeed survive. Quest never felt out of control but the speed was both absolutely thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. I went back to check my GPS later and we apparently got up to 23mph!

We galloped the hills behind the trees
Walking at a much more sedate pace after.
The rest of the pace went by rather quickly after that. Endomondo on my phone started late and cut out before the end so I'm guessing the total distance was around 7-8 miles. I was a bit surprised by how short it was since I was actually enjoying myself and Quest was eager to keep going. There was a steady wind blowing the entire time though so B and I was more than happy to hide away in the LQ to warm up after we untacked the girls at the trailer, got their coolers on, and grabbed a bite to eat. We chatted away while waiting for J and M to get in and it was neat to hear about B's experiences doing endurance and some pretty exciting plans in the future. This entire time Quest was tied outside to the trailer alongside Soup with zero issues. Good mare.

J and M got in about 30 minutes after we did. Since B needed to be back home early afternoon, we didn't hang around much longer then needed. All present and accounted for, we packed everything back into the trailer and loaded up. Quest was good about loading and unloading again. I checked her feet (she handled the trail with no problems barefoot) and let her back out into the pasture after she got her lunch.

All in all, I'm very happy with how the hunter pace went. Quest did much better with the trailering, she was responsive and listened on the trail, and was calm about hanging out tied to the trailer afterwards. She stayed sane, safe, and I could not have asked for a better result for our first ever off-property trail ride.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More Solo-ing

Despite the very ominous start of the weekend weather-wise, Quest and I got two fantastic trail rides under blue skies and bright sun. J and B were gone at the AERC Nationals in VA so we were all by our lonesome both days, fortunately mareface handled our first solo trek impressively well so I didn't worry about it too much.

I got to the barn in time to see Quest get her breakfast. I met N who has been checking on the horses and doing the feedings when J is usually out of town. N admitted she accidently added water to Quest's feed though mareface could not have cared less about it being more soupy than usual because she ate every bite and licked the tub clean while I was there!

Yay pretty browband! And a lucky find since it really fits our tack colors well
Breakfast done, groomed and tacked up (sporting the new browband), we warmed up w/t/c in the pasture-arena first for a few minutes before heading out to the trails. Quest definitely isn't as motivated leaving the barn when she's alone but always perks up immediately once we get to the trailhead. I budgeted about 2 hours to hopefully do a longer ride, though again I had no hard expectations but just to do as much as possible and enjoy the ride. I pointed Quest towards what I will call the north trail. This is the trail we did with J and B on the second day we moved- a long straightaway through the woods, a trail turn off to cut across two open fields, loops around the edge of a third and largest field before turning back onto a trail running along the river with the choice to cross the river and walk the wooden bridge or take the go-around through the field.

All the colorssss

It was our first time doing this trail alone (and second solo outing ever) so I didn't feel like chancing the bridge crossing on our own though Quest had zero issues when escorted by J and B's horses. Quest was doing fantastic already and I was happy enough with that. No need to prove anything.

So we looped our way back and headed back to the main trail head. We had only been out for about an hour and Quest was feeling good so we continued on the south trail. This is the trail we did solo last week, though this time I did take some pictures!


Views like this remind me that it was the right choice to move us out here

We did about 8 miles in 1hour and 41 minutes, not too shabby since we walked pretty much everything but the forest straightaways. This was also our first time doing this distance and solo as well. Might not seem like a big deal, but in my mind a step forward no matter how big is something to be proud of.

The next day, I only had a little over an hour of ride time since I had church in the morning and then a big dinner that night (celebrating my grandmother's 90th birthday! with like 30 guests invited). While warming up in the pasture-arena, I realized I never got my weekly 2pointober time........FYI: I do NOT suggest trying to get a two-point time the day after a workout ride, unless you enjoy torturing yourself. I whimpered, cringed, and moped but I got it done AND improved my base time.

Torture complete, Quest and I headed out for the trails. The goal was to try and fit in whatever trails we could during the time left; I knew I would get seriously chewed out if I was late for dinner so I kept a close eye on the time. We easily did the entire north trail (~5 miles) in 45 minutes. Not bad at all.

Towards the end of the ride , I noticed two hikers had stopped ahead by the trail head entrance. When we walked out of the trail, they wanted to inform me there had been a bear sighting on the south trail earlier! So even if we did have the time, we could not have repeated the ride we did yesterday. I was very grateful that the hikers had intentionally paused to warn me know though.

Overall I'm very happy with how our first few solo rides have been going. Quest, while still looky, has been nothing short of fantastic going out by herself and moving out great on the trail. It's a serious relief not to have to think about crossing busy streets all the time or worry about sudden encounters with rude ATVs or motorcross bike drivers that barely slow down and even rev engines while going PAST horses. Ask me how I know that they really do this...

The nicer weather this weekend has been giving me a better idea what other trailusers are like here and  no problems yet. Every biker, hiker, dog walker that we have crossed paths with so far were courteous in yielding the trail to us. There are lots of other people on the trail with their horses as well so that has been good for Quest to deal with getting passed from behind and approached from the front. Though hearing that bears in the vicinity on the trail definitely makes me wary about being out on the trail completely alone....maybe time to invest in some bear bells!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Back on Track

The imminent threat of Hurricane Joaquin kept the entire east coast wondering and waiting for the storm aniticpated to be of Sandy-proportions this past weekend. Fortunately the weather system didn't make landfall anywhere near NJ but we got TONS of rain and wind. With moving Quest almost an hour away and my current work schedule, I can only see her on weekends. I was checking radar every chance I could hoping for at least a couple hours for anything less than a deluge so I could snag some mareface time and maybe even get my baseline time for 2pointober. Saturday's forecast predicted a couple hours in the morning with 35% rain...so I chanced it and headed out to the barn.

It was a steady drizzle/mist and I was quite damp by the time I fetched mareface from pasture and sheltered us under the main overhang attached to the barn. I took advantage of the wet conditions to check and trim Quest's feet. Her feet look so much better since she's been able to move 24/7; I didn't have much asides from smoothing things out a bit. The rain had subsided to a fine mist by the time I finished so I got her tacked up and we did some riding in the pasture-arena. I didn't want to chance cantering on the wet grass so we stuck to only walk/trot. The wind was gusting the entire time and the rain was misting on and off but we stuck it out for almost 90 minutes. Not too shabby for a meh riding-weather day.

In stark contrast, Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and the air was autumn crisp = perfect trail riding weather. I headed out to the barn after church and saddled up Quest for another ride. We started out in the pasture arena with a walk and trot warm up to see how my homemade DIY running martingale worked out (so far, so good!) and then moved into cantering.

It was our first canter with the treeless saddle + Skito pad combination; it took some adjusting on my end to get used to how differently Quest moved out in it but she felt great and I quickly got comfortable again. Satisfied that the saddle and martingale would work out, I checked my watch for the time. Only 10 minutes had passed. I groaned internally. This was going to be a long ride if Quest and I were already bored out of our minds.

I was hoping that J and B would show up to ride that afteroon but there was still no sign of them after almost an hour. Quest had been on her best behavior and totally in tune with me.....The trails were calling.

After making sure the gates were shut behind us, I used the fence to hop back on and we set off down the road. As much as I wanted to go out and immediately do a full trail, I made a point to temper down my excitement to be fair to Quest- it was her first time ever going out alone and second time leaving the property. I didn't want to expect too much, but of course mareface eagerly motored past the end of the road and up the street to the trailhead. Well then, a full trail ride it is!

I decided to take the route that J and B had showed me the first time I visited WSS. That was almost two months ago but I have a decent memory/sense of direction and was pretty sure I could recall it. It was nice 3.5-mile loop with diverse terrain; first a forest straightaway, then a country road through open fields, finishing up with a single track through the woods with a creek crossing at the very end. Speed was not a priority but Quest willingly gave me her power trot and we flew down the trail surrounded by a forest in the beginnings of autumn. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time.

The trails were rather empty which was surprising for a beautiful day. We only encountered two ladies walking their dogs and a group of 3 trail riders. Other than that we had the whole trail to ourselves. The path was easy to follow for the most part though it was more difficult when single track faded out into nothing and the ground was covered with fallen leaves in every direction. I did secondguess myself and thought we missed a turn at one point but thankfully we were on trail the whole time.

After getting back to the barn, I hopped off and immediately gave Quest a huge hug. I was giddy with happiness. Absolutely thrilled.

Mid-yawn and one foot cocked. Completely bored by our achievement.
This ride was exactly what I wanted but didn't want to expect too soon. The best part about it was that Quest arrived back at the barn even more relaxed than we left. An honest testament to a truely happy trail horse. I'm a little sad I didn't take pictures on trail but I was more preoccupied with how Quest was faring rather than documenting for posterity, but the pictures will come later! Perhaps when we're into autumn and surrounded by colors.

Being able to only see her twice a week is definitely tough and gives me yet another reason to wish weekends arrived faster, but Quest is much happier at WSS and I feel it was a good move to make for us. There will be hiccups here and there as we figure things out but it's all part of the bigger adventure.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Inktober 2015: Art prompts wanted!


So Inktober starts tomorrow and this year I plan to participate for the first time ever. The goal is to create an inked drawing every day for the entire month of October but since I have no idea how this is going to go for me, I’m planning on going the half-marathon route which is producing a drawing every other day.

My personal goal in doing this is to improve my inking skills and try drawing new things- this is where you come in! Feel free to leave me an art prompt or two in the comments and I'll draw as they come. To keep the feed from getting too spam-y, I’ll be posting the finished pieces here in a big post at the end of the challenge though they will be uploaded as they are completed over on my Instagram account- feel free to stop by and see how your prompt turned out. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Back in the Saddle & Barn Tour

This past weekend was our first ride back since Quest injured her stifle two weeks ago. It was a walk-only jaunt in the pasture-arena but mareface was totally motoring around and moved out happily. She’s obviously still sore and there is some swelling but the wound is healing well thanks to J’s care.

I really missed this view <3

Despite not being ridden for almost three weeks, hopping back on Quest was a total non-event. I did half wonder if being in pasture would make her sour to work or hard to catch but she seemed to enjoy the attention and had a good attitude towards working, though of course she was more than happy to go back to the pasture once her job was done. I also took a few pictures to give those curious a quick visual tour of our new home. I had been meaning to do this sooner but things got crazy after Quest got hurt and I honestly was too stressed to think about anything else after it happened.


Barn, pastures, and hay fields that J leases. The hay fields are on the left across the road. They grow their own hay (which is like candy to Quest, she seriously LOVES that stuff) and everyone has been busy baling and storing for winter. The space in front of the barn is a fenced off paddock area. That's where Quest was until she decided fences were just a nice suggestion. Behind the defunct silo is the two layup stalls attached to the barn and opens up to the run-in sheds. To the right are more pastures.


Acres and acres of pasture. The ground isn't all level either and its a decent workout walking from the upper pasture to lower pastures and back. Plenty of water troughs and there's even a natural creek that runs below the tree line on the right. B jumps a lot with one of her horses so there are always standards, ground poles, and jumps set up in the what I have been calling the "pasture-arena".


Doing an about face, following the road to the left will take you to the trailheads and access to 27 miles of trail through forest, fields, rivers, and bridges. I've probably only seen/done 8-10 miles so far but I have been loving it all.

It's been almost a month since the move and Quest just might have finally figured out how to coexist with other horses. Fingers crossed the stifle wound was the first and last of the lessons she needed to learn. She's finally polishing off all of her meals too which is a very good thing especially with winter coming. I definitely do miss being able to see her more during the week but I can't think of a better place for us right now. A few people at the CTR last weekend actually said the same thing to me which was nice to hear since I still feel like I'm bumbling my way through decisions about my horse most of the time. But as with most things, sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and hope you made the right choice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chesapeake Fall CTR 2015

I catch rode and completed in my second CTR this past weekend in Fair Hill, Maryland. It was fun ride with beautiful trails but it was a challenging ride for me overall in a lot of ways.

After Muckleratz, I was originally invited to ride Romeo again at this event but his owner changed her mind and decided not to attend. L provided a glowing recommendation for me though so I was able to find another mount, a handsome dark bay Peruvian Paso named Hombre, about a month before the ride. My experience with gaited horses is extremely limited so I was looking forward to meeting up with Hombre's owner, N to see how he and I did together. Unfortunately N had to cancel our trail ride last minute so my first time on Hombre was the morning of the ride....Not ideal but this seems to be par for the course with my catch rides.

I took a half day off work Friday and made my way south to Maryland, my undergrad college stomping grounds. I arrived at Fair Hill at 4pm and met N in ride camp. I was hoping to go for a spin on Hombre and talk game plan, tack, etc for the ride but the former never happened and the latter...well, let's say it wasn't a totally lucid conversation since N had already gotten started with the drinking. So I did what I could to get to know my horse for the ride- spending time in his stall and doing handgrazing walks. While Hombre is experienced with CTRs and trail rides, I noticed he could get rather pushy so we also did some basic groundwork forward, back, yield hindquarters.

The ride meeting took longer than usual since there were multiple distances happening and there were around 80 riders total between the 100s, 80s, 50s, 30s, and 15s. L and I were the 3rd group out on the 30 mile ride: pink loop then orange loop, pulse 64, 20 min hold, 5-5:30 hours to complete.

After dinner, I still didn't know what tack I was supposed to use for tomorrow nor did I get any specific instructions about what to do at the holds so L and I went to locate N for her help. N decided to use a different saddle than the one she used normally for Hombre and tasked L and me with changing out the billet straps since alcohol and manual dexterity= not a good mix. The saddle uses center fire rigging which is a first for me; that part was no big deal since I'll always first opt to ride in the saddle that the horse normally uses to make as few changes as necessary but I was hesitant about making the last minute tack changes.

Then N started to set up the holds. She was going to be riding her other Peruvian Paso, Polo, in the 30 with her friend A who was doing her first CTR ever with her green horse (that N used to own and actually sold to her). A was busy braiding her horse so I did what I could to help set up holds for three horses. It took little awhile to get everything organized and it was pitch dark when we finally got done. The laissez-faire attitude was different than what I was normally used to but N was an experienced distance rider who knew the drill and knew what her horses needed, plus she was letting me ride her horse completely gratis as well.

The next morning I woke to ride camp swathed in pea soup thick fog. The Fair Hill rides are infamous for rolling grassy hills with trecherous footing during the first loop- it's very picturesque on a clear sunny day but they are a distance rider's worse nightmare early in the morning when the long grass is slick with dew and there is a fresh and excited horse ripping at your arms to move out.

When I went to tack up Hombre, the new billet straps ended up being way too short for the girth so N and I had to scramble to change two straps back to the original ones. Finally tacked up, I walked over to L's trailer and we mounted up. Hombre immediately began dancing and whirling around in the dew-covered grass. N had told me to put him in circles if he acted up but I really did not want to risk a slip and fall so we danced our way to safer footing and walked until he settled down- which actually happened rather quickly. I was very glad with how nicely Hombre quieted down; even when L's horse started to get ansty, we stood quietly to one side while Jack figured things out and waited to get called to the start.

As per plan, L and I walked our horses out of the starting area though Jack definitely raring to go. L asked if we could move out and I gave the okay. Hombre immediately settled into the famous gait unique to Peruvian Pasos, the paso llano. And oh my gosh...it was SO freaking cool!!! We were moving as fast as a trot but my entire upper body was pretty much motionless. I couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear at how neat the experience was. Here's a good video of the gait being demostrated:


We picked our way very carefully through the misty rolling hills at a walk and gait while I busied myself with figuring how my horse worked. It took a bit of adjusting on my part to figure out how best to stay out of Hombre's way while he moved since the paso llano rocking action is totally different from riding a posting or sitting trot.  A couple miles in, we hit the sweet spot and I was confident enough that Hombre and I were on the same page to do the rest of the ride with one hand on the reins. I found out that he had a very comfortable canter and loved to canter up hills and sometimes on single track trails if wide enough- it was slightly unnerving at first but I couldn't help grinning from exhilaration as Hombre weaved through the trees never missing a step.

The trails were very well marked and took us on a nice tour through Fair Hill- we saw the wide open expanses of field, cross country courses with intimidating jumps, the show jumping stadium, the driving courses, and of course the trails. It was like a theme park for equestrians.
 
The first 15 miles flew by. Hombre was great for sponging, drank and snacked very well on the trail. We passed the two groups ahead of us and were the first ones into the hold. Sponged, scraped, pulsed down, trotted out, and were cleared to continue. We were just about to leave the hold for the second loop when N arrived in. I informed her Hombre was doing great and had been drinking/eating very well which she was super pleased to hear.

The skies were still overcast when we set out on the second loop but the reprieve didn't last long and sun soon came out in full blazing glory. The heat combined with the humidity was starting to get oppressive and both horses were very unmotivated after about 10 miles in. Hombre still ate and drank, sponged well but his dark bay coat was doing him no favors in cooling down so I slowed our pace and walked as much as possible. Hombre's long flowing heavy mane was tied up in braids at the start of the ride but as the day went on, the braids started to fall out and his mane cascaded down his neck in thick waves; while he looked drop-dead gorgeous, it trapped a ton of heat against his neck so I started to use my free hand to pull his mane away from his neck to try and aid cooling. Since we were walking so much, L and Jack soon left us behind on the trail. My top priority was taking care of Hombre so we were going to ride our own ride. The last 5 miles were rough but we did it and crossed the finish line within time parameters.

Arriving in the hold I noticed that N's Polo was in his stall but N herself was no where to be seen (I found out later that N had rider optioned when the people she was riding with decided to pull). We had 20 minutes before presenting for final P&R so I stripped tack and began sponging and scraping while Hombre dug into his food with gusto. We walked over to get final P&R right before our elasped time was up.

The trot out went without a problem, respiration was fine but pulse was a 70...I felt my stomach drop in shock. Hombre had been eating and drinking very well all day, why was his pulse still so high? CTR rules allow a recheck to achieve the 64 pulse parameter within the 1-hour arrival window so I took him back to the hold area to sponge, scrape and get more food and water into him. N showed up and I filled her in on the situation. When Hombre started showing signs of being uncomfortable, another rider had a syringe of calcium gluconate to see if that would sort him out. Within a couple minutes Hombre was looking much better and we got an offical pulse check. It was a 54 and since it came down within the hour well within parameters, we got our completion.

The completion left a bitter taste in my mouth though and I found out later that despite eating and drinking well all morning, Hombre still had not been drinking enough and was dehydrated. The strange thing was that N did not say anything to me about electrolyting him at the hold nor did she have any e-lytes at the hold. I'm not sure why that happened but it did.

After the hands on evaluation, I still worried about metabolic issues cropping up so I decided to skip dinner and took up watch by Hombre's stall for the rest of the evening. L sat with me and I confided in her that despite the "completion", I felt awful that Hombre had to suffer for something that could have been easily prevented. L told me not to beat myself up over it- I took great care of him on the trail and at the holds, N did not say anything about e-lytes, and Hombre was doing fine. L was right on all accounts but it didn't stop me from feeling bad about it though.
   
I watched over Hombre for as long as I could (he ate, drank, pooped, and peed so all was well) but I had a 2.5-3 hour drive ahead of me and had to hit the road soon. I had not seen N since getting Hombre settled into his stall and I finally found her sitting in her trailer when I went to say good bye.

All in all Chesapeake was a great ride- the trails were very diverse and I'd love to ride there again. This experience was also lot of firsts for me and certainly taught me a lot of lessons that I will be taking to heart from this point forward. One being to set up holds in advance (and perferably in daylight) with everything you need and more importantly to be proactive with questions and not assume that owners will always tell you everything you need to know to take care of their horse successfully.

Despite the insane whirling and spinning around when I first mounted up and his reputation for being difficult and a grouch at times, Hombre never acted up once on the trail with me and didn't put a foot out of line. He  was a pleasure to ride and gave me his absolute all from start to finish. I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to partner up with him.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lows and Highs

The past few days have been nothing less than an emotional rollercoaster.

While the barn move itself didn't worry me too much, I was most stressed about how Quest would do in a herd pasture turnout setting since I still know next to nothing about her history before I pulled her from auction.  Quest seemed like she was acclimating quite well though, maybe all my worrying was for nothing...


J called on Friday mid-morning saying that Quest got kicked in the right stifle while out in pasture. Quest was walking okay but there was a deep cut, lots of swelling, and she was lame at the trot. J asked if I wanted the vet out; I didn't need to think about it- I knew enough that stifle injuries are not to be taken lightly. By some stroke of luck, I already had taken the afternoon off of work to attend a local art convention so I was able to be there when the vet arrived for the examination. He poked and prodded the injury and watched her walk and trot. The vet surmised that the kick had landed square in front of the leg. While he doubted that anything was fractured since Quest was moving well despite the extent of the injury, radiographs were recommended to make sure that the patella wasn't cracked.

Since the cut was right on the point of the knee and any stitches would just get ripped out, the vet cleaned out the wound while I held her and J administered the oral antibiotics. The stifle was pretty swollen so the vet suggested if I wanted to get radiographs done to do it after giving it a weekend.  The edema was fortunately isolated at the stifle and Quest was walking around with little issue so I really hoped it was just bruised and something that will mend with time and stall rest. I stayed at the barn until evening and helped get Quest settled into her stall for the night. She wasn't too happy about that but it was vet's orders.

I headed to the art convention, met up with my friends and tried to enjoy myself but I was definitely not emotionally there at all. I got a text from J later that night, apologizing again and offered her horses if I wanted to ride that weekend. While it was a nice gesture that I sincerely appreciated, I honestly wasn’t in the mood....I know it was no one's fault but I was very worried because I didn’t know what any of this would mean for Quest's future.

On Saturday evening J updated me that the swelling was down by 50% and Quest had eaten all of her grain, which I was very relieved to hear. I decided to visit after church on Sunday and arrived right as J and B were tacking up for a training ride.  Quest's stifle was looking SO much better and she was feeling good too, evidenced by the laps she was doing inside of the stall. Despite my still worried mood, I couldn't help but grin at her energy- this mare definitely did not act like a horse that got kicked in the leg two days ago.

The vet came out last night to do radiographs. While I wasn't able to be there because he was scheduled to arrive right when I got out of work, I was told the visit went well and it was good news- Quest got the vet's okay to be turned out tomorrow!!

I'm so relieved right now. Like giddy happy relieved. It'll be a couple weeks before we can get back to riding the trails again but Quest is fine. We'll be fine. I knew the road to our endurance dreams would be a hard one, and this is probably just the first in a long series of challenges. Nothing has stopped us yet though.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Moving Day & First Trail Ride

Quest and I moved to our new barn this weekend and it was uneventful....for the most part! I wanted to keep the move as low key as possible but arrived to a very not-lowkey mare whirling around in her stall since the stable hands put her inside the empty barn first and Quest thought it was the end of the world.

It's been a year since Quest has been on a trailer but she knew something was going on. She was up from being "abandoned" in the stall too so I waited for her to chill out before taking her out. While waiting for the trailer to be prepped, I worked with her on the ground first doing our forward, whoa, back, exercises. That helped dial her brain back on me and when it was time to load up, she hopped up on trailer like an old pro; entire thing from start to finish was less than a minute. Good mare! 

The drive took about an hour and 15 minutes taking mostly local roads. Quest unloaded fine but she was anxious and was drenched in sweat from the trip...probably thought she was going back to auction ): She was turned out in the temporary QT paddock, got hay, water. Despite the travel anxiety, she dried off and settled in super quickly with zero drama. I was totally expecting some fireworks since my friends back at the old barn told me Quest had been extremely worked up the first week she arrived, racing and bucking around in the round pen. None of that happened though- the most exciting thing that happened was a little trotting around and calling when the herd moved out of her sight to the lower pastures.

Checking out the paddock
Meeting some of the future pasture mates
She was stalled at night and then turned out again yesterday morning. When I showed up in the afternoon, I thought I was imagining things when I saw Quest stuck her head over the main pasture fence to greet me as I drove up...She wasn't scheduled to be moved with the rest of the herd until much later in the week.

Well apparently a certain mare thought that gates were a nice suggestion and JUMPED out of her temporary QT paddock and into the main pasture. Fortunately Quest cleared the fence and didn't look worse for the wear from her little adventure asides from a couple bite marks on her rump. Sigh.

They think she jumped the lowest part of the fence on the left. The gate has since been replaced


Quest was hanging by the gate when I arrived and quite eager for attention. While not anxious or worked up, she did look a little forlorn all by her lonesome since the rest of the herd hasn't quite warmed up to her yet. When went to fetch her from the pasture I muttered, "You know you did something very bad today." While grooming, I noticed that Quest's feet have already changed a lot in just a couple days. She hasn't been turned out this much ever so I'm expecting some adjusting to life on the move.

I'm still waiting on a couple of things for my treeless saddle to arrive so I tacked up with the treed saddle for this ride. We headed out on our first trail ride at the new barn with J and her daughter B escorting. We trotted through forests, walked through hay fields, hung out in a big river with 7-8 other horses, crossed a huge bridge (first ever for both of us!), and even led the way for a good section of the ride home. When we got back to the barn, another endurance rider named L had stopped by to visit. I have been friends with L for awhile on FB so it a very nice treat to meet and chat with her in person finally.

I'm happy Quest did as well as I could have ever hoped for being our second day at a totally new-to-us place. She kept up and powered down the trail along with J and B's seasoned endurance horses, behaved politely around them, rode on a loose rein during our walk breaks, tuned her brain back to me with one-rein stops when her anxiety was going up, and I was able to enjoy the ride instead of worrying about antics. I think I'm starting to figure what works and doesn't work for her which I hope will help keep her anxiety to sane levels since rides are going to be a WHOLE different level of excitement. Time will tell what things really need work in order to be truly trail ready but so far, so good.

Monday, August 31, 2015

New Saddle

Got a new addition to my modest tack arsenal! Yes indeed, I now own another saddle and so far, so good.

When I first heard about treeless saddles at the PA Horse World Expo two years ago it was nothing more than a fleeting "hmm interesting" moment. When I finally got to ride in one at Muckleratz about a month ago though, it quickly went from interesting to must HAVE. If doing 25 miles for the first time in an unfamiliar saddle with an unfamiliar horse resulted in zero soreness post-ride (for both horse and rider) then I don't know what else proves that treeless works pretty darn well when everything is tweaked just right. Quest and I have had no issues with w/t/c bareback and I did say that I'd invest in a nicer saddle for us when we started endurance, I decided to give treeless a try.

I did my research, talked to some distance riding folks, and came up with a list of brands and models to shop for. After a few days of searching, I managed to find a used Black Forest Shasta that fit my specifications at a very good price and contacted the seller who turned out to be an avid endurance rider back in the day.

After a week and a half of waiting very impatiently, the saddle finally arrived. I was as happy as a kid on Christmas day. When I took the saddle out of the box, I was immediately struck by how light it was. I could easily heft it in one hand though it was made of nubuck leather. The leather was worn but not abused; seat and panels were supple and soft. It has a ton of sturdy D-rings that will definitely come in handy.

And of course I had to do a quick test ride at the first opportunity. T and I had plans early the next morning so I was not properly dressed for riding, oops. T let me try out a couple of her dressage girths to figure out sizing (Quest is a 20-22"). The saddle came with western fenders which I'm probably not going to use so I went sans stirrups and used a regular AP pad underneath since the Skito pad is still en route.

Used the fence to hop on and...omg comfort. Riding on a cloud comfort. The seat size was just right for me and Quest moved out very nicely with happy ears the whole time.

Tracking up nicely at the walk.
....please excuse the lack of proper footwear.
We didn't ride for long but the few short minutes was enough to satiate my curiosity and dispel the pesky buyer's remorse worries that I had just wasted my time and money. Real test will be when we start training in it extensively of course but for now, I'm happy with the saddle. So very happy. The price was just right for what I got, pleased with the quality, it fits me well, and more importantly it seems to fit Quest well so far too. Next is to find a new home for the western fenders and get some stirrup leathers. Time to shop for all the things.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Note to Self

Every once in awhile you get a ride that irrefutably reminds you how far you've come yet how much more work there is still yet to do.

Last night T wanted to introduce her Icelandic, Nickers, to the big river/horse swimming pool so Quest and I escorted way to the boat launch and we hung out in the water while T worked with her mare. It took all of 15 minutes to accomplish our goal and we still had plenty of daylight left to go to the main barn. Quest led the way for the most part heading out and Nickers led the way home. There were lots of deer along the trail but the mares were fine. On the way back, we went into the meadow to get some pictures and video. I dismounted and took video from the ground as T and Nickers trotted past us and around the corner.

 Then Quest had her first meltdown- she began to scoot circles around me and got super worked up about being asked to stand still. She even bucked, which I immediately got on her case for. I have zero tolerance for dangerous behavior. Firmly reminded that all four feet must stay on the ground, Quest still worried but was much more tractable. I started working with her in hand- walk forward, halt, backup, halt, walk forward, backup etc. Given a task to focus on, Quest came right down and within a couple minutes we were walking quietly on the trail back to a patiently waiting T and Nickers. She was calm enough that I could use a dirt slope to mount back up first try (not the most graceful of mounting attempts but hey, I got back on).

My brain got to thinking about what could have caused Quest to act up. I had a hunch and there was only one way to find out. I asked T to walk past us on the trail while I halted Quest. We watched them leave, mareface was fine though definitely alert. I told T to trot away from us. As if on cue,  Quest went into a jigging frenzy and a rear. She offered up some serious piaffe that would have done FEI level dressage trainers proud.

I asked T and Nickers to come back so we could try a couple of other quick tests. I asked T to trot away from us again but this time I turned around to wait in place so Quest could not see them leave. When we turned back around, we found ourselves completely alone and I then asked Quest to walk off - there was zero jigging, she was calm as could be. I asked T to repeat the same thing, this time facing away from home. Again no reaction. How about passing by each other going opposite directions on the trail, away and towards home? Nothing.

So Quest gets clearly upset when she can see other horses passing and/or leaving her behind on the trail. Taking away the visual or getting passed in the opposite directions- no issues. We have done leapfrogging exercises on the trail but obviously not to the extent that Quest needed in order to figure things out so that's going to the top of the to-do list for our next rides.

While I'm a bit bummed about the meltdowns, I have to remind myself that the improvements should be noted- Quest settled down very quickly when she used to take MUCH longer after getting that worked up and despite all the scooting around high as a kite, she did not once invade my space. Though nevertheless when things like this happen, I do beat up myself a lot and can't help but wonder if I'm pushing Quest too fast or asking too much of her too quickly. Doesn't help that being so new at literally everything, there is always that tiny voice in the back of my mind that rears its ugly head. I shared some of my doubts with T later that night after our ride and she was the voice of reason that put my thoughts to ease.

I'm not someone who will ever be happy cooped up an arena all day and just going for 1-2 mile walking trail rides. Quest was not happy with her past life in the western pleasure show ring. We found common ground in our shared love of being out on the trail with miles to look forward to.


In trying to set up Quest with a career in endurance though, she's probably never been asked to do most of the things that I ask of her now. That being said she is allowed to worry and she is allowed to express her opinion (...in a safe way). My job is to make sure that I'm just as prepared to deal with whatever comes our way so I can be the leader she needs at all times. I've been working hard to develop a secure seat so most things don't faze me too much- stuff happens, she acts up, we move on.

At the end of the day though, I just want to do right by her. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day

I can't believe its already been one year since Quest came into my life. I knew, wanted, and prepared to be a horse owner but getting my first horse sight unseen at auction was definitely not on my list of to-dos. I'm so very glad I listened to my gut though and took that leap of faith because I ended up needing that mare as much as she needed me.

She has reminded me to be humble and willing to admit mistake, to not think of setbacks as failures, and to think outside the box for another solution if my first (or second, or third) idea didn't quite work. She has taught me to be brave when people around us doubted, to work hard and enjoy the rewards of hard work, and to always dream big because you’ll never know what you can achieve unless you try. Just for fun I made a video compilation of some memorable moments we've had together- check it out here.

Happy Gotcha Day, mareface. Here's to many more years to come <3 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Blog Hop: The Liebster Award

I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Deborah over at My Examined Life! I've never heard of this award before now though this is definitely a pretty neat way to explore more blogs and get to know the bloggers behind the screen. Now onto the rules and questions!

The Liebster Award Rules
  1. Notify all nominees via social media/blogs
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you
  3. Answer the questions given to you by the nominator
  4. Nominate up to 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers
  5. Create 11 questions for the nominees
Why do you blog? 

I've always enjoyed writing (and drawing) as a way to get my thoughts/ideas organized when my mind feels like it is racing forward at +100 mph. When I was younger, I often stumbled over my words because I was already mentally leaping to the next idea faster than I could talk or express myself. So writing has always been something that has helped me create semblance of rationale in a whirling mental mess.

I blog here because I enjoy looking back later for the memories which helps put the present into perspective. I don't ever really expect my blog to become popular per se and that's just fine with me. I also truly enjoy reading, learning, and being inspired by other bloggers that have a wealth of information and experiences to share.

When did you get started with your horseback riding journey?

I was 10-12 years old when I did my first “real” riding lessons at week-long summer camps which offered horsemanship classes. My first teacher was dark bay mare named Diamond. She was being a complete jerk to another student the first day in the group lesson so the instructor made us switch horses. Diamond was tough horse for a beginner and that first lesson left me so frustrated and in tears that I considered giving up completely. It was a very early and necessary reality check that riding wasn’t always push button. Since I really had to RIDE, I learned a lot despite the group lesson 1-hr/day camp setting. At the end of the week, I did my very first ever trot with her and it was SO much fun.

I remember with vivid clarity that summer when a tiny voice in my mind said that horses were going to be a part of my future. I had NO idea when or how it was going to happen since my parents had no intentions of allowing me to continue riding. It was 10 years later until I finally had the means to pursue that dream. I took my first lesson as an adult beginner on October 22, 2013 and the rest, as they say, is history.

What is the most difficult thing you find, about horseback riding?

The most difficult thing for me about horseback riding is dreaming big and sometimes feeling like I don't have the means to make those dreams into reality. I can't help but feel a little jealous of people who have been given the opportunity to be around horses all of their lives, riding from the moment they could walk, and/or have the support of their family.

Every step of this journey has been a challenge- starting with making sure I had the personal financial means to afford riding/leasing/ownership (thanks to finishing my Masters and having a steady job) and getting my non-horse parents somewhat okay with my choice of hobby (...still working on that). Now most recently the challenge has been knowing I wanted to try distance riding with my horse, pursuing different routes, coming up empty until I made the choice to finally move us elsewhere.

What is your favorite vacation spot/experience?

I think it might be a tie between Acadia National Park in Maine and visiting the Highlands in Scotland. I love rugged natural landscapes.

What is your favorite novel/book and why?

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I read it (and the rest of the series) in middle school and it was what got me into the whole sci-fi/post-apocalyptic genre. I'm ashamed to say I haven't read anything super new lately though asides from one-shot fan fiction and comics.

I nominate: 
Questions for my nominees: 
  1. Why do you blog? 
  2. What is your most popular blog post? 
  3. Which is your favorite blog post?  
  4. Which bloggers have you met IRL?
  5. Describe your horse(s)/pet(s) using one image or gif.
  6. What is your riding discipline and why did you choose it? 
  7. What is the most expensive horse-related item you have ever bought?
  8. What is one tack/horse-related item on your wish list? 
  9. What is your favorite riding memory?
  10. What is your scariest riding memory?
  11. Share one of your riding goals. 
If 11 questions seem like a lot, just pick 3-5 that you like best!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Developments

I know, I know. I said I was going to be okay with putzing around with Quest on backyard trails and messing around with jumps. Well, a series of events occurred over the past couple of weeks and...let's just say the universe made it loud and clear that it was time for us to reconsider moving. And since when were we ever content with standing still and waiting around for the world to change? Unlikely chance.

I went to visit and trail ride at my top barn choice this past week and it's been decided. This will be a huge lifestyle change for both me and Quest. Back into a world filled with unknowns but now to finally and officially begin our endurance riding journey together.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Pony Pool Day


No better way to escape the summer heat than a nice swim in the river! Since discovering the boat launch ramp and after a handful of visits to the river, A and I tossed around the idea of taking the horses for a real swim sometime during the summer. I had plans in the morning with family this past weekend so barn time was in the afternoon. Downside to being at the barn later in the day was the high noon heat and it was hot. Pool-weather hot.

So I texted A to bring her swimming stuff and down to the river we went with ponies in tow. The handwalk over was very warm and I definitely worked up a sweat. When we got to the water, no pretense spared as everyone waded right in.

Me and the ponies. The water came up to belly button height in the deepest sections.

The water was SO refreshing and the temperature was perfect. It was my first time taking Quest this deep into the river. She was totally fine and quickly figured out how much fun water can be. She stuck her face into it up to her eyeballs, blew bubbles, pawed, splashed. In the middle of one of Quest's pawing/splashing sprees, I splashed her back. I think she actually looked shocked and indignantly pouted at me for a moment before going back to splashing again haha

I was happy to see Quest's interest with water but her enthusiasm was annoying (not her fault) when the lead rope proved to be too short for her to do much without almost yanking me off my feet while sand sucked at my flip flops and I had to fish them back a couple times. After losing my shoes for the millionth time, I said "Screw it, I'm riding." I tied the lead rope on the halter into makeshift reins and scoped out a good place in the river to mount up. After some VERY careful position maneuvering in the water while making sure no toes were stepped on, I belly flopped on. I couldn't help but squeal aloud because I nearly slid back into the water from her slick back and my wet behind but somehow managed to swing myself up and over on the first try. I have only ridden Quest truly bareback- without a bareback pad- maybe twice since I've had her and she tensed for a moment and wiggled. I stayed on. She very quickly realized oh, this is fine and went back to exploring the water.


I was much happier not having to deal with the ouchy rocks on my feet and trying to keep my balance while managing a playful horse at the end of it. We spent a couple hours cooling off before heading back to the barn. I was still mounted up and decided to have my horse carry my lazy butt home. Quest was perfect and walked quietly all the way home with no antics. Good mare <3

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Muckleratz Run CTR 2015

Summary: I catch ride in my first ever distance riding event, ride 25 miles, and somehow come home with a huge freaking ribbon. But since this is my first ever real ride story I have to do it proper and tell it all, right?


A few months back I was browsing my FB feed one evening and noticed a lady named L offering up a horse available at this year's Muckleratz Run 25 Mile CTR. At this point in time I was just starting to accept fate that Quest and I couldn't compete in distance riding any time soon. Wracking my brain for options, I came upon the idea of catch riding since I'm a person that learns best from hands on participation and it'd give me the experience of a real ride while knowing what to reasonably expect from conditioning my horse later. The big looming question was if anyone would ever trust a 100% novice/rookie/greenbean rider they have never met and has never competed in distance riding. Chances were slim to none, and I couldn't blame them. I had some doubts that L would be okay with a complete beginner but I felt that familiar nagging feeling in my gut, a very similar feeling I got when I saw those pictures of a certain mare at a certain auction.

I decided to give it a night and sleep on it. The next morning, I woke with resolve. Taking a deep breath, I sat down and messaged L with the full story- stating I was greenbean but eager to try out distance riding. I spoke a little about my story/progress with Quest and our rig/traveling dilemma. Proofread to my satisfaction and I sent it off, trying not to get my hopes up too high.

Less than two hours later though, I got a reply. My heart jumped into my throat as I quickly skimmed the message. I had to reread it a few times and when I made duly sure I wasn't imagining the words I had read I sat back, finally allowing myself to feel the flutter of excitement.

L said that I would be perfect for Romeo, a 9yo Arabian gelding owned by her friend C. Her and C have been training their horses together for the past 4 years and they worked very well together.  I would be riding the 25 on Saturday with L and her horse Jack. The only thing C wanted from me was half of the ride entry fee and my mailing address for the forms. I asked a couple more questions which L answered promptly and she promised to pass along my information. And like that I had my name in the books to catch ride in my very first distance ride ever- an opportunity do something I DREAMED about non-stop for since I was learning how to ride almost 2 years ago. And not gonna lie, I was secretly thrilled when I found out that Romeo was a grey Arabian...swoon <3

My workout partner  <3
In the weeks that followed, I focused on building rider fitness knowing full well that despite my best efforts I would still probably be a sore in places I've never felt before. Since I couldn't really take Quest out for a 12-mile ride to train myself for the distance, I did as much as I could. I found that riding bareback yielded the most rewards for me personally- it's a good core workout session and any posture and seat issues immediately come to light since there is nothing that can compensate for poor balance.

About two weeks out from the ride, Romeo's owner C and I got ahold of each other on the phone and I learned a bit more about the horse I was going to ride. Romeo has done Muckleratz a couple times and usually takes care of himself pretty well on the trail. He was leased for a year by a timid trail rider who unfortunately made him timid as well so C spent a great deal of time working him out of that. Once he gets moving out on the trail though he was more bold. Since we would be riding with L and her horse Jack who loves to lead and gets fussy if he isn't, my job was basically to ride and make sure Romeo was eating, drinking, cooling off well on trail.

The two weeks crawled by and the Friday afternoon before the ride finally arrived. I took a half day off from work, packed my car, double checked I had what I needed and set off for ride camp. The 3-hour drive was thankfully uneventful though I thought I was lost at one point and got directions from local older gentleman and his wife who happened to be leaving from their driveway. Turns out I literally was less than half a mile down the road from ride camp but second guessed myself since I was coming from the opposite direction.

I located C and L and formal introductions were made- both human and horse. I had good timing and they were about to bring the horses up to do trot out for initial vetting. While we walked over to the vets, C told me she ended up not bringing her mare who came up lame and had to be pulled from the ride. Her trail partner T and her mare Toga would be joining L and me on the trail tomorrow instead. Since Jack has to lead and Toga is a known kicker and doesn't like Jack, it left Romeo and me to keep to the middle as the buffer. Sounds innocuous enough but we ended up playing a bigger role on ride day than I thought.  

Romeo has a tendency to "show off a little" while trotting out so C wanted to do the first trot out which he handled well enough. C was elated and said he should be fine for me to handle the trot outs myself the next day. We then got Romeo tacked up for a quick ride so I could get a feel for him. T handwalked her mare along since Toga would get very worked up when separated from Romeo. I mounted up, checked stirrup length and we walked out of camp and down the road.  Romeo immediately showed me what C meant by timid as he balked right when we turned down the road. After a couple circles (he moved off of my leg nicely though), he moved forward no problem after that. C told me that would be the worst of it. T and Toga jogged with us down the road as Romeo and I trotted down and back. T gave some tips for riding him since she had ridden him many times before and had high praise for my balanced seat and equitation (...which is a good thing because I haven't had a formal lesson in more than a year...for shame). It was a quick little spin, less than 15 minutes, but it was enough for me to know I would have a SO much fun tomorrow with this grey horse.

Dozing Romeo

When we got back, L introduced me to some of her contacts- they were mostly people I've seen online at the ECTRA FB page but only finally got to meet in person. I had fun networking though it was soon time for the ride meeting and this being my first ride ever, I definitely made a point of going. It was short and to the point: 25 miles in two loops, a 13-mile blue loop and a 12-mile orange loop. The trail would be an gradual but long uphill, miles up top, then the downhill way back into camp. Pulse criteria the same as standards, only change was that the 20-minute mandatory halfway hold was extended so it was 30 minutes total which extended the total ride time by 10 minutes as well.

 Meeting over we headed back to the rigs, C's brother-in-law made dinner for us (grilled steak, potatoes and corn- yum!), and spent the rest of the evening sitting around and chatting. It got rather cold in the evening and I was glad I thought to pack a hoodie with me. I was still cold though so C let me borrow a huge blanket which was just perfect and super cozy. Around 10pm, everyone started head back to their respective rigs for sleep and I did the same, knowing that I needed to try and get at least a couple hours so I could be somewhat conscious in the morning. I've got mild scoliosis so my car isn't exactly the best nor most comfortable place to sleep but it'd do for one night. I had rolled down the windows and jerry-rigged some screen mesh over the windows earlier when I arrived into camp so I had plenty of fresh air and zero bugs that night. Very redneck lol but it worked out quite well. It took me awhile to fall asleep and L was right when she said you can hear every sound throughout camp. My vantage point gave me a perfect view of the night sky dappled with bright stars though. I couldn't help but sigh in contentment before I finally went to sleep, excited for what the morning would bring.

True to norm, I woke up before my alarm that I set for 5:30am. I felt rested, though maybe that was the adrenaline talking. I changed into my riding clothes, tidied up my car and headed up to the mess hall to grab some breakfast. I sat down with my bacon hash brown casserole (which was amazing...) and orange juice and talked a little with a nice lady from PA doing her second year of CTRs. I told her that it was my first event ever and she smiled at me knowingly, "You're going to love it."

As I was leaving breakfast, I heard a voice call after me and saw it was L. As we walked back to the rigs together, L told me she had a nightmare last night that she woke up late and we left her behind at camp. "I always get nightmares before rides," she lamented. I grinned and told her it'll probably happen to me also when I get enough rides under my belt. Before we left, I decided to take one ibuprofen just in case. I hate taking unnecessary medication but I didn't want any soreness on my part to impact Romeo's performance. L, T and I were scheduled as one of the first groups out so we planned accordingly and gave ourselves 10-15 minutes to tack, warm up, and meander our way to the starting line.
 
CTR starts are controlled with groups sent out about 1-2 minutes apart. Since there were only 3 groups ahead of us, we set off on the trail with the welcome coolness of the early morning and let the horses move out once they all settled into work mode. As per plan, L and Jack took lead followed by me and Romeo with T and Toga bringing up behind.

L warned me that there might be some antics in the first few miles but Jack was totally fine. Romeo was definitely eager to move out but he didn't put a foot out of line. I figured out how much contact was needed and just let him do his thing- that was my mantra for the day and  stayed open to suggestions from L and T since it was my first time riding him and with all of them. C had given me specific instructions me not to get too far ahead of T and Toga so I glanced back every so often to make sure they didn't fall too far behind. T looked a bit anxious at the start but she relaxed as the miles went by.

There was a fly-by vet check early on so we strung out and called out our numbers as we trotted by. Romeo felt great and I couldn't keep the huge giddy grin off of my face as we floated on. Miles flew by. We walked where needed and trotted for 99.9% of the time. Romeo offered a lovely rolling canter a couple times which I absolutely adored. We soon caught up to the group of riders ahead of us- a mentor with two juniors. L got permission for us to pass on their left and we began making our way around. Suddenly I heard an angry squeal and a sharp correction from T behind me. Toga had kicked out at the other horses as she went by. T had tied a red ribbon in her tail already but she was still visibly shaken and asked that if we passed more groups on the trail for Romeo and I to go in between as a buffer. A couple miles later, we passed another group and then another. Each time Romeo and I took up our position and success- there were no further issues. Having passed all 3 groups, we were the leaders.

Asides from a single narrow creek crossing, there were no other accessible sources of natural water but ride management did an amazing job keeping the water troughs full to the brim and clean. As per T's request, I made sure to keep Romeo between Jack and Toga at the water stops too. I learned on the fly how to sponge a horse while in the saddle- it was no big deal and Romeo was pretty good about getting sponged each time so it made my life easier. I was also impressed with how well the trails were marked- plenty of ribbons, pie plates and lime lines.

There were lots of sections along the trail where it was wide enough for T and I to trot our horses side-by-side and a few parts were all of us were able to ride three abreast together. I found out that I'm still a quiet person on the trail- not that I was expecting to become suddenly super talkative or anything but apparently according to L and T, I'm just the right amount of chatty-ness compared to other folks they normally ride with haha They didn't talk too much either and we had moments of companionable silence just listening to the rhythmic footfalls of our horses.

On trail with T and Toga with me and Romeo

Miles flew by and soon we were back at camp. The first loop only took us around 1.5 hours and we were the first group in which pleased L as she wanted to be in and back out on the trail before the chaos at the hold really began.

C had everything all prepared for us when we got in and the horses dug in. We had 10 minutes to pulse down to 64 and go for official P/R and then trot out. True to what his owner said, Romeo was a pro at pulsing down- I sponged, let him do his thing and he easily came in at 44/16. C reaffirmed that I could do the trot-out so I got to do my first official one ever. It was just the simple out and back; Romeo handled just fine and felt great in hand. Entire time we kept Toga and Romeo close together to keep the mare calm. All three horses got through vetting fine and we had 20 minutes before heading back out so horse and human alike refueled with water and snacks. I was glad I brought both a salty and sweet snack to pick from and I munched on crackers I packed.

The morning coolness was gradually giving way to afternoon heat and it was getting warm. While keeping an eye on Romeo, I was also constantly evaluating my own body condition. I had my hydration pack and made sure to continually drink on the trail since if I got dehydrated I knew I'd be totally done for. I was a little wobbly when I dismounted at the hold, but a couple steps later I was totally fine and very surprised that I wasn't as sore as I thought I'd be as it being the first time EVER that I rode 13 miles non-stop. It could have partly been the ibuprofen but C's treeless saddle was quite comfortable despite being new to me. The only tack adjustment made was fixing the right stirrup which C had accidentally put on backwards? and made it a little hard for me to post with the metal digging into my leg. Once fixed, it was instant glorious relief. 

10 minutes before we headed out, L mentioned that Jack was looking off as he wasn't eating and drinking as much and more lethargic than usual (e.g.; he wasn't acting up like he usually does at holds) so she took him back to the vets to recheck. If L had to pull Jack, that meant that T and I would have to do the 2nd loop on our own and Romeo and I would have to lead the way. Three minutes left in the hold, we mounted up and walked to the starting line without L and Jack waiting for the okay from the starting crew.

"Wait, we're coming!" It was L with Jack in tow. His vitals had all checked out fine so L thought that Jack probably needed to pee which he had not yet during the first loop. With our little group reunited once again, we headed back out on the trail for the second loop marked by orange ribbons. The fixed stirrup made my right foot very happy as we cruised along. The miles went by and I felt myself ease right back into Romeo's comfortable trot. He was moving out so well and easily that I rode with one hand on the reins 90% of the time. Similar to the first loop, I continued to switch my diagonals every so often and two-pointed the steepest hills to save Romeo's back.

I'm not sure if it was because I decided to forgo the ibuprofen for the second loop or because I had already ridden 20 miles so far (longest distance in a single day for me thus far...) but my ankles started to ache a little towards the end about half way through the loop/6 miles out from the finish. They weren't super painful but I reminded myself to stretch my heels down and that helped out a lot. Other than that, I was holding up just fine and not sore at all.

The orange loop flew by and we quickly came up to the 2 mile marker and checked our watches. We had done the first loop so fast that we had 1 hour to do the last 2 miles so we walked, trotted, walked, trotted. It felt more like a training ride then an actual competition. Jack finally did pee right before we got into camp which thrilled L. We meandered across the finish line at a walk with a final ride time of 4:36, well within parameters.

C again did a great job supplying us with what we needed at the hold. Final pulse had to be at 44 after 20 minutes so I untacked and sponged away while Romeo did his thing. When it was time, we all headed over to vetting to get final P/R and trot-out.

Romeo's final P/R was 40/10, no problems there. The final trot out was straight out, circles in both directions, then trot straight back. C and the rest of our group watched on as Romeo and I trotted away. When we circled to the left, Romeo got a little excited and tried to cut into my space- I stuck out my elbow and moved him aside; he was perfect for the rest of the trot out. Vet gave the okay and just like that, we completed! I rode 25 miles! I finished my very first CTR!  

C had a huge smile on her face, "I was holding my breath- that little moment he had made me nervous but you did great!" I grinned back, "He's a fantastic horse, I absolutely loved riding him."

Since we were second group to finish, it was going to be awhile until the final hands-on evaluation so we went back to the rigs to give the horses some time to relax. We had a lunch of potato salad and burgers made by C's brother-in-law, which were AMAZING. Full and quite content, I felt myself nodding off a little as I sat in the shade of C's trailer overhang. L noticed and was nice enough to offer the futon and cot in her trailer to let me rest. I gratefully accepted and wandered over for a quick power nap. I ended up dozing off for 20 minutes which did a world of good for me. I wanted to sleep more but I knew it would probably be counterproductive so I made myself get up and hung out with the rest of the group until we got called up for hands-on.

Jack and Toga were evaluated first. When it came to Romeo's turn, I had a chance to watch the vet and lay judge work already so knew what to expect and let them do their thing. Once done, I gave the judge a big smile and thanked her. She returned the smile and thanked me for coming out to the ride. We led the horses back to camp and settled in until it was time for awards.

They first did the fun awards- messiest campsite, slowest time, craziest trail mishap- all of which everyone had a good laugh over. Then junior awards and mentor awards. When it came time for completion awards, dead silent hush fell over the audience- the suspense was tangible. One by one they announced the riders, beginning with the lowest scores first. Then they moved on to top 10. I felt a small tremor of excitement. L nudged me with a smile and whispered, "Hey, that means you're getting a ribbon!" When they got to 5th place and still did not call my name, I half-heartedly joked with L that they probably misplaced my form and there was some mistake. Then L stood to get her a third place ribbon. When they finished announcing top 10 and my name still had not been called, I was in utter shock. I had been doing a decent job of keeping it together then all I heard was my name and "Reserve Champion". I stood to receive my final score sheet accompanied by a huge satin ribbon and awards along with my rookie award.


L gave me a huge hug and T came over to say congrats. A few riders also came over to congratulate me and each time, I praised the horse- all I did was ride and stay out of his way. Romeo's final score was a 98.5 out of 100; 1 point off for slight fill in the legs (which apparently all the horses got marked off for that day) and 0.5 point off for anal tone.

I wanted to stay and celebrate but I had a drive ahead of me and had to hit the road soon if I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. I finished packing up my things and said my goodbyes. I thanked L and T for being a wonderful mentors on the trail and my appreciation for their advice. They said they were happy we got to ride together and had a lot of fun. And of course, I thanked C for taking a leap of faith with me and entrusting her horse to me. C was thrilled with Romeo's performance and was glad I had fun.

The 3-hour drive back home was done mostly in a state of semi-giddy shock as I felt like I was in a surreal dream. Completing was my first and foremost goal. Top 10 would have been amazing....but Reserve Champion?

I totally wasn't expecting that at all. Just a completion with a happy, sound horse would have sufficed but I guess it was our lucky day. Romeo was an amazing horse to ride and an incredible athlete. Muckleratz Run was a great and well-run event and I got a chance to network with so many people that I had seen online in various distance riding FB groups but finally got to meet in person. Until I figure out a rig arrangement for Quest and me, I'd love to continue catch riding if the right opportunities come up. This sport is absolutely addictive and I definitely found my discipline.