Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Recap

It's been a year of big lessons and decisions.

The year started off full of hope and excitement as I eagerly anticipated beginning my first year of LDs with my own horse. There was only one major snowstorm in January so Quest and I were able to make the most of the rail trails by WSS, braving the cold to condition for the upcoming season. As the weather turned from winter to spring, I began to gear us up for rides with new tack and purchased insurance for Quest a few weeks before our first CTR...Little did I know this would be the most important decision I would make all year. 

Mareface and I tackled our first distance ride event together as a team the last weekend in March. Quest took great care of herself metabolically, eating and drinking up a storm and was remarkably sane on the trails. However the sweetness of our first completion turned bittersweet when a mystery lameness was diagnosed as a front right suspensory injury a few days later. Ride plans for the rest of the year were scratched and our schedule was filled instead with shockwave treatments and handwalks. Unmanageable in a stall and small paddock, Quest was happiest in pasture with her herd. I took the chance and had her turned out 24/7, praying for no re-injury and that she would heal and rehabilitate in her own time.

While mareface recovered, I dealt with my own emotional setback. Feeling incredibly discouraged and defeated, I took a month-long hiatus June though July from blogging and social media to take time for myself and mentally reset. I did continue to ride during this time though and was very lucky to have friends willing to let me borrow their horses for some saddle time when I needed it most. I also tentatively made plans to catch ride later in the LD season with J’s horse, Dip but he became suddenly ill and had to be put down. It was a sad way to end summer.

In September, Quest returned to 100% soundness and we moved to OF the first weekend in October. The new barn was closer to home/work for me and it had the amenities I needed to begin Quest's undersaddle rehabilitation. Our first rides back were happily uneventful and even included a short solo trail outing. Mareface handled the reintroduction to light work very well and I signed us up for a walk-only hunter pace held at the barn. It was our first "competitive" event in 7-8 months and while we didn't win anything, I had the biggest smile on my face the entire morning.

I also took my first ever "horse vacation" that month and did a 15 mile trail ride at an endurance barn in Dallas, Texas. It was an amazing experience and I gained a new riding mentor as well.

As Quest got stronger, long slow distance was added into the rehab plan in November and we did our first long trail ride walking 11 miles. In the weeks following we did lots of solo walk-only trail rides as the weather allowed and at the end of the month, I added back the trot during our evening arena bareback rides.

The month of December was a continuation of adding more trot increments/time and more trail rides. My friend A moved her horse Mel to OF and we start pasture boarding in the same field. Around this time I invited my friend B to visit the barn. She had never ridden a horse before. Quest was her introduction to horseback riding and mareface was so patient with her newbie rider in the indoor arena. B had a great time that morning and wants to ride more; I would say that was an equine ambassador job well done!

Determined to end 2016 on a better note than it started, I decided to purchase a trailer to get Quest and me out exploring and conditioning next year. There's a lot that needs to happen before we can take advantage of our new found freedom but this is a huge milestone in my equestrian journey.

Looking back, I would say this has been the most trying year in my three years of doing this "horse thing". But to endure means to persevere through the good times and the bad. Quest and I had more than our fair share of bad times but we are getting through them, slowly but surely. Endurance is still our end goal but that will happen in due time. Now that I actually have my own trailer, we'll be tackling this sport at a pace that is appropriate for us without the rush and worry of matching other people's ride schedules.

There's no telling what next year will bring and there will likely be even more lessons to learn. No matter what happens though, we'll take each day as it comes and make the best of every moment. Here's to 2017.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wheels! We Got 'Em

The "no trailer, no trails" situation was a persistent problem from Day 1 of my distance riding journey. After I made up my mind to pursue endurance with Quest, I knew early on it would only be a matter of time before we had to haul out to trails to properly condition and compete at rides. However two-ish years ago and being still very new to horses, ownership, and distance riding I was not keen on getting a trailer so soon and tried to solve the problem every which way.

Unfortunately when Plan #1 (reaching out to local endurance riders in hopes of trailer sharing for conditioning and events) and Plan #2 (moving to WSS/boarding by the trails) both did not work out, I began to seriously consider Plan #3: Procuring a solution. So I did my research, decided what I needed, and started searching high and low.

While scouring my usual FB trailer groups and online sale ads a couple weeks ago, I saw a nice little stock trailer on Craigslist that immediately caught my eye. It was a 2005 TB-height, 2 horse bumper pull- very simple, no frills, and just what I wanted for a starter. The listing was located 30 minutes away so seeing the trailer in-person was totally doable. I reached out to the seller for additional pictures, title and maintenance records. A lady named S replied within a couple hours with the information I requested and we started talking.

I was candid and honest about being a prospective first time trailer owner- I did not want a project and needed something safe and ready to go. S understood my concerns; she works as an animal cruelty investigator for the state and stated it'd make no sense for her to sell something that would be dangerous for an animal. For my peace of mind, she offered to have her trailer service guys check the brakes, electric, and bearings. I had made no commitment to even see the trailer yet but I really appreciated how willing she was to make things work out. Throughout this initial period, I continued to still have a good feeling about the trailer and felt like S was someone I could trust. After some more thinking, I decided to take the plunge and we set up a time and place to meet.

Being a first time shopper, I asked T (the girl who helped haul Quest to OF) to come and check out the trailer with me. Unfortunately she couldn't make it so I had to do the visit alone. S took the trailer to work after it got serviced so we agreed to meet at her office at the township parks and recreation center parking lot.

Formal introductions done, S showed me the trailer while we chatted and I did my inspection. I pulled up mats, crawled under the trailer, pulled tie rings, opened gates, jumped, yanked, tugged, shoved everything possible- checking things that should move moved and things that shouldn't didn't. I also asked S to take it for a quick drive to see how it handled and that the lights all worked. The trailer was solid, decently maintained, and it wasn't big, fancy, or complicated- exactly what I wanted for a starter. When I mentioned using the trailer for conditioning and endurance rides, S looked curiously at me and asked "Do you happen to know someone named J?" "Yes! I rode and boarded with her for about a year."

S laughed and told me that she ran a boarding barn years ago and J kept her horses there before she got WSS. They were good friends and she watched J's daughter B grow up. I couldn't believe it...What were the chances of finding a random Craigslist trailer listing owned by someone who shares mutual riding friends?!

After my inspection, I asked a bunch of questions and we talked price. I managed to negotiate down to something well within my budget and got some new tires with a decent spare as part of the deal in the end. Also included were a quick release trailer tie and a new hay bag. S was more than happy to deliver the trailer to the barn for free, which was a huge plus since I don't have a proper tow vehicle just yet.

S dropped off the trailer this past weekend. After helping me park it in the back field, she went over a few things with me and I got a list of trailer equipment stores and service shops that she frequented. Then we signed paperwork and made the trailer officially mine! The winters in NJ can be pretty hard and long so I took some basic steps to winterize it and got the tires off the ground. Next will be putting some temporary plywood over the windows to try and keep some of the elements out.

Speaking of which, how about my temporary hitch cover made with an empty grain bag and baling twine? lol

It’ll probably be awhile before I hit the road plus I need practice hauling, backing up, parking it empty first...So much to do! Everything is honestly a little nerve-wracking right now because I've never done any of the aforementioned before but I'm SO very excited for what this means for Quest and me in the future. We can now take our time exploring endurance at our own leisure. No more compromising my horse's well-being/conditioning schedule in order to fit someone else's ride plans. We can do this our way, at our own pace.

A whole world of trails has opened up for us!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Blog Hop: 2016 Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange

This was my first time participating in the annual Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange hosted by Tracy from Fly on Over. I saw how much fun everyone had last year and knew I had to be a part of it next round! I really enjoyed shopping for my Secret Santa blogger recipient...I'm glad we were given a budget to stick with because being let loose in a tack store to shop for someone else was a very dangerous thing haha

But let's be honest, getting gifts is just as much fun as giving them! My Secret Santa for this year was Heather from Graduated Equestrian. I had just gotten back from a long trail ride at the barn and seeing a package waiting for me on the front doorstep was the perfect way to end the day.

The initial unboxing revealed lots of goodies already- A handful of candy canes (all of them were broken unfortunately but that will matter little to the mareface lol) and a custom purple sticker/decal that will proudly adorn either my laptop or sketchbook.

Opening the wrapped gifts revealed a container of Stud Muffins- Quest has never had them before so these will certainly be a special treat for her!

And a Manna insulated water bottle! The colors match perfectly with our endurance gear and can be used on the trail and at rides. Thank you so much Heather for the amazing and thoughtful gifts, Quest and I are quite spoiled <3 And thanks to Tracy for organizing and faithfully hosting this exchange year after year.

Have a safe and happy holidays everyone!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Blog Hop: Haiku Farm

I was out of town this past weekend in Detroit so no super exciting new horse-content but I saw quite a few friends on my reading list take part in a blog hop that Haiku Farm recently started. I've really been enjoying everyone's posts so far and decided to join the fun.

It's been awhile since I did one of these, but it's never to late to join the bloghopwagon. So for all you who have been holding out on the sidelines, please join- I'd love to read your responses!

Introduce yourself!
My "about" page has most of the intro information already written instead I'm going to share some random facts about myself.
  1. I have been a huge Star Wars fan since middle school.
  2. My favorite food is pizza. I really enjoy a lot of foods...but pizza is probably #1.
  3. I love greyhounds and sighthounds. 100% going to adopt a longsnoot when I finally get a place of my own.
Introduce your horse(s)!
Quest aka "Mareface". She also has her own "about" page, so spoiled. We've been together since August 2014.

What's your favorite horse sport? Do you cross train in other activities?
Endurance. I honestly can't exactly recall how I discovered the sport but it might have been as unspectacular as me googling "long distance trail riding" and realizing there was a whole organized SPORT and thousands of people who are just as insane as I am. As a spectator, eventing is my favorite to watch. If I ever learn how to jump and dressage properly AND have the money to compete, I would consider giving it a go.

Who else in your family rides?
My younger sister was horse-crazy while growing up and we did our first group riding lessons together at summer camp. She's not into horses anymore but still appreciates going on rent-a-hack rides. I've given her a basics lesson on Quest in the arena once.

My parents are very non-horsey. They don't ride at all but are getting slowly more comfortable being around horses thanks to Quest.

What's your proudest equestrian accomplishment?
Winning Reserve Champion and Rookie Award at the 2015 Muckleratz CTR. It was my first distance riding event ever, first time I ever rode 25 miles in a day, and first time catch-riding. I'm still amazed that I managed to do all that on a horse I only just met the night before and hopped on for barely 10 minutes.

What was your lowest moment as a horse owner/rider?
Getting the news about Quest's front suspensory injury, right at the start of our first competitive LD season. It was a heartbreaking blow to my fledging horse ownership confidence and I was depressed for months.

What's the most important small thing you ever learned in a lesson?
Ride the horse you have that day. This little phrase was something I came up with on my own the first year while learning to ride with different horses. I've always enjoyed trying out new-to-me lesson horses and saw it as a fun challenge to figure out their quirks and get them going as best as they could. This has worked really well with helping me mentally deal with Quest when I have a perfect saint  vs. snorting jigging hellbeast.

Do you have any riding rituals or superstitions?
Not really....or maybe I haven't being doing this "horse thing" long enough yet to have picked up anything.

What are your short term goals for yourself/your horse?
Finish rehabilitating Quest and condition us for distance.

Long term goals?
LDs and CTRs with Quest. For me, get some lessons and learn to jump.

If time and money were no object, what is your dream equestrian vacation?
Ride in Scotland and Mongolia. Inspired by my Texas riding vacation earlier this year, I've made it a goal to trail ride in as many countries and US states as possible. I want to try riding in a new place every year.

What kind of horse activities were you doing 10 years ago?
None unfortunately, I only started riding 3 years ago as an adult.

What kind of horse activities do you think you'll be doing 10 years from now?
Hopefully blessed to still be healthy enough to keep riding. I'd love to be training/campaigning another endurance horse by then too.

What is the quirk about your horse that you like most.
Quest has the go button for trails but she is wonderfully patient with beginners in the arena. I've put four new-to-horse people on her at various times and she never put a foot out of line.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winter Whirlwind

Winter weather is fast approaching, heralded by snow flurries and temperatures dipping below 32F every so often at night. Life has been rather chaotic (when has it not been!) but Quest and I are doing well and still enjoying our time at OF.

Mareface got her feet trimmed during Thanksgiving weekend. Her hooves really slow down growth during the fall and winter so they weren’t too long and I touch up as needed. I did however want her as comfortable as possible since we have been doing more trails (more on that in a moment) and it is always good to have experienced eyes regularly checking my work.

First time being cross tied in the lower barn.
She behaved perfect in the new space. Good mare! 
JA highly recommended her farrier P so I decided to give him a try. While he rescheduled the date/time a couple times and ended up arriving at the barn really late, P was kind and knowledgeable. Before he got started, I filled him in on Quest’s feet history including the suspensory rehab and our distance riding goals, and mentioned that I did the maintenance trims myself.  

To my immense relief, he said I did really well! Apparently usually when owners tell him they trim their own horses, he often finds quite a mess to fix. Once P realized that I was genuinely interested in learning, he was eager to share his experience and would describe what he was doing, calling me over to point out observations on Quest’s feet. At the end of the visit, P ended up gifting me a used rasp. It was “too used” for professional standards, but more than fine for my personal use. He also said if Quest only needed small/simple things done for a trim that he'd be happy to point the areas to address and let me handle it myself to save some money. I was VERY thankful for that. It was definitely a nice confidence boost to know that I’m still seeing/trimming correctly though and it's very fortunate that Quest has good solid feet which are great to learn from.

As the chill begins to set in, it has been too cold to tack up in the pasture on weekday evenings. So we now opt for bareback walks in the indoor and adding the trot back in steady slow increments. It has been an extreme test to my patience…the arena has always bored me to tears but I’m going to remind myself to be grateful for lights, non-dust footing, and being indoors whenever I start to hear myself complain.

The DIY bareback pad I made almost two years ago is still working out great for us too.

Post ride, ready to head back out to pasture.

Our weekends are all about the trails though, cold weather be cursed. Asides from a couple group outings, Quest and I are solo for the majority of our trail exploration adventures. While the barn location does provide direct access to miles of trails, the footing is very rugged and technical at times. I have been consciously avoiding the tough parts while Quest continues to rehab and sticking to easy/moderate stuff for now. Mareface and I were recently able to tackle a few trails that I first explored with Rori about 3 years ago. It was a fun recall challenge and thankfully my memory did not fail me.

Photo from Thanksgiving weekend- featuring a rare flat section of trail.

Rori and me on the trail back in 2014. 
This picture only begins to capture some of rocks and elevation changes.
After taking two horses down the exact same trails, the differences between Quest and Rori become very apparent. Rori is a total sweetheart but she never seemed to enjoy longer rides and lost interest quickly after a couple miles. On the other hand, Quest is 100% game and her energy never seems to end. She motors right along, even when traveling new trails solo. It's nice to know that she's just as eager as I am to plunge forward on a random detour to follow a new trail marker and discover what's around the next bend.

This is definitely not to say the Standardbreds can't be game trail horses, in fact I plan to consider adopting an OTT Standie for my next endurance prospect but I think it goes to show how individual attitude could and does make a huge difference. And bottom line is I've just always enjoyed a more forward horse.

For all the good things I say about Quest, not every outing we do is 100% perfect of course. Biggest homework right now is standing still on the trail- this is imperative for re-mounting, chilling with other riders, or even waiting for right-of-way with road traffic. It has been mareface's weakness for a long time so we're taking advantage of the walk pace to do lots of trail training.

The dam bridge is one-way road traffic so it's absolutely necessary to wait our turn to cross.
Quest was not happy about standing for the light the first few times.
I’ve also played with entrusting Quest to pick out the best path on technical terrain…most of the time it works. I leave her be as long as her selected route doesn't scrape me off the side of a tree. I'd like to retain functional kneecaps, thanks.

Despite the rugged trails, the area has many interesting things to see and explore. For now, Quest and I have trails that meet our needs for a long-slow distance. Knowing us though, we're probably going to very quickly exhaust the places we can actually reach without assistance...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


1. For having a job to continue to afford riding and horse ownership
2. For remaining healthy and physically capable to ride
3. For my non-horsey family becoming slowly more accepting of my horsey-ways

4. For having the opportunity to train and compete my own horse in our first CTR
5. For learning a difficult, yet valuable lesson in patience...some things just take a LOT of time
6. For good friends willing to let me borrow their ponies when I needed saddle time

7. For finding and moving into a new barn with exactly what Quest and I need right now
8. For my adventure mare returning back to 100% soundness
9. (Not as grateful) for moody mare tantrums and jiggy antics...but if you don't have some bad days, you can't appreciate the good days

10. For having a horse partner willing to go the distance and eager to explore trails solo with me
11. For a mare willing to forgive my mistakes yet demands my headspace in the here and now to be a better rider, a better leader
12. For the chance to dream and scheme about distance riding again

Monday, November 7, 2016

Birthday Weekend Trail Ride

JA and I chatted about meeting up for a long ride since Day 1 when I moved in and we finally got it done this past weekend. I had just spent an entire week on the road for work and was really looking forward to being back in NJ and kicking off my birthday weekend celebrations with a low-key trail ride. Our destination for the ride was Hawk Watch, a popular spot for…well, hawk watching. JA was eager to show me the trails and claimed the views were well worth the long ride over. Quest and I need long slow distance. It was a good plan.

Originally it was supposed to be just the two of us, but last minute I found out that there were four other riders who wanted to join our outing. I didn’t think much of it at first since Quest has never had huge issues with new horses apart from making angrymare ears from time to time (probably a huge reason why she failed at being a western pleasure show horse).

The ride to Hawk Watch was uneventful and our group kept a walk-only pace. Quest and Lucy were the fastest walkers in the group and so we took turns leading the way. I was really impressed that despite the fact mareface is the newest horse at the barn and was totally new to the trails we covered, she had zero issues leading the group a good 60% of the time that entire day. Of course she still spooks from time to time when she spots something that takes her by surprise but they are shudder-in-place spooks- The stuff I can deal with.

Riding over the dam bridge for the first time. 
Brave mareface led the way across when we headed home!

We took our time, enjoying the perfect fall weather, laughing, taking pictures and eventually arrived at our destination. True to JA’s claim, the view was absolutely breathtaking.

I took this picture right before the crowds came.
It was so tranquil and you could see for miles around
I wish we could have spent more time there but the great weather enticed a lot of hikers and birdwatchers out of the woodwork. The small area started getting crowded rather quickly and I could sense Quest’s nerves getting amped up. I mounted back up and we walked a little distance into the woods working on trail skills to keep her mind busy on me while we waited for the rest of the group to rejoin. While heading back M, one of the ladies in the group, said she knew of a trail that was “easy, flat, level and safe” that would still take us back home. Since we didn’t know the way to this new trail, JA and I let her horse and everyone else take the lead and we continued on our way. M led us down a section of trail that opened up into a grass path running alongside a small lake. The view was very pretty and I was just thinking to grab my phone for a picture when M suddenly, without warning, took off at a canter with the rest of the group hot on her heels. JA and a girl named S hung back but Quest was not happy about the sudden rapid departure of her other trail buddies and started jigging to try and catch up.

Though Quest was keeping to the trail and not hauling on my hands, the trail was also NOT flat or level as M said it was. I really didn’t want to risk injury to anyone and decided it was safer to dismount and work Quest from the ground to get her brain back on me. It took about 10 minutes (which felt like an eternity) but after firm reminders of the emergency stop to chill and stand, we walked back out to the parking lot and I was able to mount back up. After discussion, we decided to go back the way we came and not risk doing M's suggested route.

The three other riders eventually figured out we had stopped but decided to not to wait and headed back home without JA, S, and me. In the end, it was much better that our group had split up because Quest was much better without the other horses around her. She even led the way home a few times and we returned back to barn sane and quiet as we had left.

While no one was hurt and everyone was fine in the end, I can’t help but be annoyed by the lack of consideration the other riders exhibited- especially when JA and I both went into the ride telling everyone we were doing walk-only. It's been awhile since I did a large group ride and maybe I took some things for granted.

This experience does remind me that I need to continue working on Quest’s “stand and wait” on the trail.  It’s been her weakness from the beginning and I really should be addressing that more proactively. She does it just fine in an arena where there is no stimuli around her whatsoever so this will have to be a "on the trail" training thing. We did lose almost a year to her injury though so naturally trail training things have been on the backburner. I’m not fazed by the setback though; it just means we have to just go out more. We’ll get better with time and practice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

OF Turkey Trot

Since I started riding three years ago, I've always wanted to be part of a barn community that actually DID fun things together- Not just talk and plan, but actually follow through and do the fun thing. I'm an introvert by nature so nothing will ever replace the satisfaction and contentment I get from hitting the trail solo but I won't ever deny or turn away the opportunity to enjoy horses in like-minded company.

This past weekend the BO and his daughter hosted a fun scavenger hunt pace at the barn to celebrate Halloween/Thanksgiving/autumn. The event was very low key and since the pace time was based on a slow walk, I was comfortable that it was safe to participate with Quest.

We partnered up with JA and Lucy and both agreed beforehand that we would ride in costumes (which was highly encouraged). The night before the pace, everyone got emailed the instructions and ride order. To our bemusement, JA and I were assigned to go first at 9AM- it was a little curious why the two newest boarders (JA had arrived in March) were given the earliest start time. Maybe because of the fact we had the highest chance of getting lost and sending everyone else off on the wrong track? lol

New barn has a nice little cross country course that is rather well maintained 

All big smiles at the end
Despite our newbie-ness, JA and I worked really well together. Quest and Lucy got along fine and paced each other nicely. We found all of the clues and only one of the riddles completely stumped us at first- we eventually puzzled it out after a detour but the confusion cost us too much time in the end. To be honest I wasn't too bummed since all I really cared about was having a good, safe time with my mareface in our first "competition" since her injury.

The scavenger hunt put Quest on new trails that we had not yet had a chance to explore together and the mare was rock solid. She didn't even pause at the scary things that apparently spooked other horses (who have been at the barn longer than she has) that day. At one point during the pace, we were passed by a horse on the trail jigging to get back to the barn- Quest paid him no mind and plodded along on a loose rein minding her own business.

Props/kudos/cookies to anyone who knows where our costume was from!

OF is certainly no WSS but for now, we will make do with what we have and take our time with lots of long slow distance walking. JA knows of a lot more places to ride and is more than happy to show me the trails. I'm excited to see what other things the new barn has to offer (:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Back on the Trail

It's been a little over two weeks since the barn move and things are still going swimmingly. I will admit that I was little tense for the first few days after we arrived and had to refrain from constantly checking my phone for updates. Some readers may recall our welcome gift from the last barn move was an emergency vet call and stifle radiographs...So I don't think my concern was unwarranted!
Fortunately Quest and Harley have complete run of two private pastures so there is plenty of space for either to escape unwanted attentions. However I don't think that will be necessary because they are still absolutely IN LOVE with each other.

I'm certainly not as experienced as some others when it comes to boarding at different barns but from what I have noticed, I am satisfied with my decision to move to OF so far. The BO is friendly, attentive, and has been prompt with addressing my questions. I have already met a handful of boarders that love to trail ride and are eager to show Quest and me the trails directly accessible from the property.

The facilities are pretty nice. With the shorter daylight hours, I appreciate having access to a nice indoor with lights and non-dust footing. I do tack up Quest in the dark pasture, which is not as nice, but I'm becoming quite the pro at efficiently grooming and tacking up using only my headlamp for light.

However none of that puts a damper on the simple joy of being able to see my mareface more often than not. Keeping Quest close has been instrumental for her rehab as well. We're making steady progress with undersaddle walks and handwalking, doing one vs. the other depending on what time allows. While the arena still bores us both utterly to death, we have been keeping our minds busy playing with basic walk dressage movements (thanks Liz for the suggestion!) and I have been doing a tune up/self-evaluation of my own riding and painstakingly working to improve my 2ptober time (4:30 as of last night).

When good weather allows though, we have been venturing out on the trail and this past weekend Quest and I hit the trails undersaddle for the first time in almost half a year. A couple days before the trail ride, I had taken Quest out on trail once on a handwalk. She was relaxed and attentive the entire time- she genuinely seemed pleased to be back out exploring again.

The success of that walk made me very curious to see how she would fare undersaddle on the trail. It had been quite awhile since we last did this and she was going out solo.

Well, she was simply awesome. No antics, no arm pulling, just a nice forward walking march.

We did have one sticky moment where we had to pass by two motocross bike riders. Quest has seen ATVs and motocross bikes on trail back when we boarded at KBTC but it had been awhile and we were on unfamiliar/new-to-her trails. The motocross riders were very courteous and seeing us coming from a distance away, they stopped their bikes, got off, and even took off their helmets.

Quest was fine approaching the bikes to a certain distance but did not want to go forward after that. When I asked her for forward, she decided to back up instead. I did not want to risk doing any tight turns because of her suspensory so if she wanted to back up, she'll have to do it past the obstacle. I stopped Quest right next to the bikes and gave her time to process before we went on our way. I profusely thanked the bike riders for being patient enough to give us the time and space to figure it out. They were even kind enough to wait until we had walked out of sight and were far enough on the trail before starting their engines back up.

Six months ago I would not have dared to let myself think about trail riding but here we are now. I've got my adventure mareface back and I couldn't be any happier.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Trail Riding in Texas

For the past couple years, I've made it a personal goal to try and hit up the trails in states that I get to spend some extended time in. Work sends me to Texas quite a few times during the year but the nature of my travel schedule often doesn't provide enough flexibility to snag saddle time. After years of trying though, I finally got to check Texas off of my riding bucket list this past weekend!

T resided in Dallas a number of years ago and wanted to go back and revisit the trails she used to ride on. I was game for an adventure and had the PTO available so we set up a extended weekend vacation and flew out to Dallas last Saturday with two goals in mind: 1) Ride horses and 2) eat foods that NJ has continued to fail to replicate...namely Tex Mex and BBQ brisket. Spoiler alert: Both goals were thoroughly accomplished in the 5 days we were there lol

The first ride location was about an hour north of Dallas at BMR, a barn owned by an endurance rider named M. M was originally from Europe and now an avid, active AERC competitor in the Central Region. That being said, her barn was no ordinary run-of-the-mill stop for tourist hack rides and offered several trail riding packages including a 4-hour trail ride expected to cover at least 10 miles with w/t/c in open Texas countryside. There was an even longer ride option, but T was apprehensive about the time and distance so we opted to do the 4 hours.

After arriving at the BMR and taking care of paperwork, M introduced me to Thunder, a 12yo paint TB gelding and my partner for the day's adventure. I was pleased to see he was outfitted with biothane tack and a treeless endurance saddle. While making the ride reservation, M inquired about our riding experience including saddle preference; I was grateful that she honored my request for an endurance saddle. As it turns out, the saddle was a Black Forest Shasta, which was the same exact brand and model I use with Quest so I had zero issues with saddle adjustment and comfort the whole day. M got me situated and mounted up first, then took care of T and a girl in our group named N. With everyone saddled up and ready, our little group of 4 set off for the trailhead at a walk.

I cannot begin to say how incredibly lucky we got with the weather the entire trip. High 60s in the morning with mid 70s in the afternoon, blue skies and sunshine throughout- perfect for riding. There had been rain a couple days before so there was some mud and a few lingering puddles at certain points were you could see how thick and clay-like the mud was at its worse. However enough time had passed that 95% of the trail was thoroughly dried out for M to give the okay to open up the horses to trot and canter for long extended stretches. And the views...just wow. It was amazing to see just how different the southern freshwater plains terrain and vegetation was from the tall deciduous forests in NJ. I couldn't stop taking pictures and video the entire time.

Permanent horse corrals at the park camp site. How cool is that!

During the walk break sections, I got a chance to chat with M about endurance riding. It was fascinating to hear firsthand how the terrain and humidity factored into how she trains and prepares her horses for rides. I commented that I really enjoyed Thunder and how he handled. M proudly commented that he was used to help pony and train her green endurance Arabians. I could totally see why he had the job- sane brain but with plenty of get up and go to really move out. She asked about Quest and was sympathetic when I told her about the rehab we were currently working through. M left me with some suggestions about future plans so those will be stewing in my head for bit until it is the right time to act. However best of all she praised my positivity, "That's the attitude that will get you far in this sport."

The ride ended up being 4.5hrs long due to fact M wanted to do a little extra and take us to the lake for pictures and let the horses cool in the water. We ended up covering about 15 miles (I was clever and packed my GPS for this trip) and everyone had big smiles at the end. M also genuinely seemed to enjoy our company on the trail, even saying that she would love to have us back again to set up a special private overnight ride. There aren't that many people who want to do the distance/time so group rides like ours were sometimes few and far in between. I seriously wish I lived in Texas just so I could train with her and would love to have her as a mentor. We plan to keep in touch though so I'm grateful to have her on as  "remote" endurance mentor lol

Two days later, our next riding stop was MCR. According to T, years ago the barn used to be a devil-may-care, nonchalant sort of place where they let anyone of any ability ride w/t/c anytime, anywhere. For obvious reasons, things have changed a lot since so despite informing them about our riding experience, we were required to go out with 3 trail guides for a check ride before we were placed onto their "advanced riders" list. The latter didn't bother me much though because once the lead trail guide realized that we really actually did know how to ride, sections that were supposed to be walk/trot instantly became canter/hand gallop lol

Note the check guide's shirt lol

My mount for this ride was a 15yo red roan AQHA gelding named Renegade who did barrel racing back in his glory days. According to the trail guides, he was one of fastest horses at the barn. I'm usually game for speed and enjoy forward but for some reason I was perfectly content with the nice steady lope Renegade offered all day.

Call it premonition, call it whatever you want but I think that easy going pace was what prevented us from mishap when a dog and his owner suddenly popped out of the woods and badly spooked the horses. The lead trail guide, T, and her check guide had already galloped past the area so Renegade and I were the front and center when the dog zoomed out towards the trail while we loped by. Renegade shied sideways and nearly went over- somehow I managed to stayed on and brought him to a safe stop a few yards down on the trail. My check guide behind me was not as lucky and he went overboard. Fortunately he was able to get back on after a couple minutes and we finished the rest of the ride with no further mishaps.

I'm really happy to finally check off Texas from my ride bucket list and this vacation was certainly an experience of a lifetime. Don't know what the future may bring but I'd love to trail ride in other states, maybe even other countries, and see what they have to offer. I might be biased, but the view between two ears is really the best way to experience the outdoors and natural wonders of the world.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Saddle Up

I missed this view so much <3
Quest and I ride again!

Autumn brings the best riding weather but also the curse of shorter daylight hours. I arrived at the barn on Monday night to rapidly fading daylight. Since we pasture board, our tack up area is in the pasture itself which has limited/no lighting. A bit of hustling was needed to get tack out and fortunately I had organized my stuff the day before (in daylight) so it wasn’t hard figuring out a working system again.

Quest was hanging out with Harley by the hay feeders next to the gate so it was quick easy grooming and tacking up. Despite my mad awesome speed tacking skills, the first hours of nightfall had set in by the time I was finished- the roads were dark and the wind was gusting strong; I immediately scratched any thought of riding on the road and opted to handwalk to the indoor arena.

There were two boarders in the arena when we arrived. After introductions, I told them that we had just arrived the day before. They were very friendly and gave us the room to work on the ground. Since mareface has never been in the indoor arena before, I led her around for the first couple minutes so she could inspect and touch noses with everything. I love how curious she is and how quickly she figures things out. Some horses you look at and just know they have a fun personality.

With curiosity satiated, it was time to ride. We re-discovered what a mounting block was (Quest insisted at first that wasn’t necessary for her stand anywhere close to it), and I hopped on. Complete non-event. It was like not a day had passed since our last ride together in six months.

As tempting as it is to trot and canter, we are sticking to strict walk-only routine for this month. So we walked and walked…and walked. She got a little sticky at the beginning, one of the arena bay doors were open with stuff piled up outside, and she tried giving it a 20-foot passing berth at first. We had a talk, smart mare figured it out and it was not a problem again. We called it a day after about 15-20 minutes. I palpated her legs when I hopped off, no reaction and RF was cold and tight. It was a very good first ride back. Quest seemed happy to work a little, though just as happy to return to her boyfriend in pasture. 

Hey girl. Who's that pretty mare
Our second ride was last night. When I arrived, Quest was standing in the middle of the pasture, gave the cutest whinny and trotted over to me by the fence. I didn’t see Harley anywhere and guessed that S had pulled him out for a ride (according to his owner, he hasn’t been ridden in almost half a year so NOT seeing him in pasture is unusual).

In the past, lonely Quest means pacing Quest. While still anxious, the mareface wasn’t running the fence though (at least when I arrived). I’m really hoping she has started to figure out that being alone for a couple hours is not the end of the world. And she does have friends over the fence line to visit with, so there. Tonight Quest did want company though and she tracked my every move as I grabbed tack and grooming things. She can be rather aloof at times so seeing her stick to me like glue was a nice change.

I got her tacked up and we headed back into the indoor arena. S was there riding with Harley and talking to a girl, who introduced herself as A. I hopped on Quest and we got back to our walking. Two more people came into the arena shortly after, one of them was taking a lesson so I made sure to get in my 2ptober baseline time (2:20!) before finishing up our walk to stand and watch from the middle of the arena. The trainer J didn’t remember me from when I leased Rori and had his hands full with his student and later on helping S with Harley (he was bucking at the canter). It was interesting to watch and good for Quest’s brain to get used to working around and standing still with other horses trotting and cantering (and bucking).

Walking back to pasture in the pitch dark. Spooooky.
Thank goodness for my helmet headlamp.
All in all, two great rides so far. Back in the saddle for the first time in six months and it was a complete non-event. I never thought otherwise but there is always that 0.00001% chance. I'm so happy I got my mareface back <3

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Place

Quest and I said goodbye to WSS this past weekend. A barn move has been in the works for awhile but I didn't want to say much until things actually happened. As with most things in life, a LOT of things really needed to fall into place first for everything to have worked out...and some how, it did.

During my month long hiatus from blogging, I took a hard look at what I wanted to do with Quest in the future. My first and foremost reason for moving to WSS was so that mareface and I could get a safe start to endurance riding by boarding with experienced mentors to help us train, condition, and transport us to rides. I was never happy only being able to see my horse once/twice a week...but it had to be done.

When Quest got injured, there was no hesitation in my mind to give her all the time she needed to recover. As I suspected though, I grew very restless from the lack of saddle time and thought I'd be okay borrowing horses from J and B. Despite all good intentions, there were times I showed up at the barn all dressed for a trail ride only to discover that everyone (rideable horses included) were away for the weekend. It was a sad reminder that everyone was out having fun on the trail and my horse was still broken and unable to compete. It really sucked on the days I just needed to grab some saddle time to get lost in my thoughts.

A few months ago, I found out from my friend T (not the Icelandic-owning T) that there was an open pasture board spot at OF, a barn I used to ride at. Readers who have followed this blog when it started back in 2014 might remember this is where I leased an OTT Standardbred mare named Rori for a few months before finding Quest. During my time there, I networked with some awesome people and we stayed in touch after I left. After a year of "weekend warrior-ing", the thought of actually being able to see my horse during the week sounded like a dream come true. There was an enclosed indoor arena, an outdoor arena, long grades for hill sprints, and trails to help us get back into long slow distance conditioning. I would pay for the convenience of course, but it would be worth it IF Quest stayed quiet/continued recovering/adjusted well to the change. I stopped by the barn for a quick visit, talked to the BO, met the barn management staff, and left feeling it was the right decision for us. It was worth a try at the very least.

My biggest worry going into the move was keeping the stress level low for BOTH of us. I need not have stressed though.

I arrived at the barn after church and took my time. After fetching Quest from pasture, we did a  groundwork refresher. Walk, whoa, backup, and yield hindquarters. Smart mare remembered it all- lots of licking and chewing, I rewarded her and we called it a day. I allowed her to graze while I got her groomed up and we waited in the small paddock for T to arrive. T's trailer was a 2-horse ramp, straight load. I wasn't sure if Quest had ever been on one of those but whatever, we deal. Mareface followed me right up and we were ready to roll out in less than a minute. 

The drive over was uneventful and Quest unloaded just was well when we arrived at OF. While she was still anxious about trailering, mareface was far from over-the-top losing it and barely sweat at all.  J and C, the barn management staff who live on-site met us shortly after we pulled up and they went to go fetch Harley, Quest's new gelding pasture buddy. While we waited, a lady named J led her POA mare Lacy over to were we were hand-grazing and started chatting. I found out J loves riding the trails and has explored most of the places directly accessible for riding so that was very good to know! After taking stock of her new surroundings, Quest also went for a big roll- something she has never done before after unloading at a new place.

J and C came back and led us over to Quest's new home. First off was a lead line tour of the pasture boundaries starting from the lower field with the run-in shed, salt block, and the water trough- the important stuff. Harley was in the upper field and came cantering over when he saw Quest appear with us. The introduction went without a hitch. Harley immediately fell in love with Quest and actually started blocking other geldings from across the fence line that tried to "steal" his mare away. Despite being in season, which definitely didn't help calm the poor geldings lol, Quest was totally unmoved by all the boy attention and kept following me politely on the lead line while we continued our pasture tour with J. I was so impressed with how chill she was the entire time. No stupid spinning or rearing, just healthy and sane curiosity.

At the end of the tour, Quest was so calm that I felt satisfied enough to let her off lead to hang out with Harley. The two of them hit it off immediately and even started mutually grooming each other- it was pretty stinking adorable. J, C, and I stood by the paddock gate and after awhile Harley's owner, a young girl named S, showed up and we were formally introduced. I then learned that Harley, like Quest, was also an auction horse pulled from Camelot. Auction horse rescue buds.

I hung out at the barn for awhile to unload/organize my tack area and stuck around long enough to watch Quest get her first dinner. She had a great appetite and finished every bite. C texted me last night and again this morning with updates- Quest is still eating great and all is well. Hopefully this "not stressing about moving thing" keeps up because I can totally get used to it.

 And so here we are. New place, new adventures.