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

We Got Wheels!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.