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.