Friday, April 28, 2017

Long Awaited Good News

Whew. I've been out of town for work and just got back from a vacation....So much to catch everyone up on but most importantly I got great news from the vet about Quest's suspensory.

The vet was scheduled to come out mid afternoon for spring shots so A and I made plans around the appointment. The skies were gray and with scattered rain showers so we moved the horses into the lower barn with cross ties for a thorough grooming session. I also took advantage of the wetter weather conditions to also touch-up trim Quest's feet.

There was still quite a bit of time left over after grooming so we got the horses tacked up and headed out for a ride. I had recently discovered a new area to explore for conditioning and wanted to check it out. Since we had A and Mel along with us, I didn't boot Quest for speed work over gravel and we took it easy with 75% walk and 25% easy trot bursts on pavement.

There were SO many things to spook at on the new trails through neighborhoods, the worst one was a life-size horse lawn ornament. It didn't help that the statue was posed in a super intimidating manner looking like it was ready to charge towards the road. Both Quest and Mel did not enjoy that at all and it took some effort to tiptoe them around the scary horse. Fortunately a couple miles later, we finally arrived at our goal for the day.

The trails on the left looked super inviting but we were on a tight schedule to meet the vet and had to turn around for home. I admit I was immensely disappointed lol but we'll definitely be back again to explore. Quest also took opportunity of the quick rest stop to relieve herself. Good mare! She's always been good about that on the trail which is one less worry for me. 

We made great time going home and arrived 30 minutes before the vet was scheduled to arrive, plenty of time to untack and cold hose Quest's legs. The vet ended up running late so mareface got her dinner too. A group of us at the barn signed up together to share the call fee so there was a good ol' fashioned grazing party afterwards until the vet finally showed up.

Vet D was new to us but she seemed kind and soft spoken. After the shots and blood draw, I mentioned the suspensory rehab and asked if she could take a quick look. I watched with bated breath and after what felt like an eternity, Vet D declared Quest totally fine and 100% sound!! There was scar tissue (I asked her to point it out to me so I could feel it too) were the injury was but it's an non-issue.

I had known in my gut that Quest was fine but hearing a vet officially say that my horse made a full recovery has done much good to my heart and confidence. While I am still sad that we lost an entire season of competition last year, this ordeal has taught me much and I've hopefully become a better equestrian and horse owner in the process. It was a unpleasant and difficult situation that forced me to become hyper-aware of my horse's well being and take it upon myself to learn everything I can to keep her sound, happy, and healthy for as long as possible.

I'm sure there will be plenty more difficulties along the way, but hopefully things are on the upswing for now. We'll take each day as it comes and steadily make our way towards the bigger goal.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Spirit of Adventure

Quest and I had a very productive weekend. We got in a fantastic conditioning ride, played with the trailer, and I hauled my trailer for the very first time!

I had Good Friday off from work and after spending the morning on a family outing, I scooted over to the barn in the afternoon for a much needed (in more than one way) trail ride. Quest and I went to Hawk Watch for the first time in a long time. I recently bought 3 more Easyboot Gloves at an great price used and I booted the mareface all around. We got some sustained speed on the trails over rockier sections and short bursts of trot over pavement. The weather was perfect and we accomplished exactly what we set out to do. We were still a little slower than race pace but it was no matter- the purpose of the trail ride was to test out the hoof boots at speed over terrain and set a fitness baseline.

Both goals were done and done. The Gloves worked super well w/t/c with only one mishap. Despite being ridiculously anal about checking them throughout the ride, I noticed we lost one boot probably 2 minutes after the fact. We had to double back quite a ways before I found it sitting all by its lonesome on the side of the road. I was able to hop off, put it back on with ease, and continued on our way. In hindsight, the boot mishap was totally preventable. I somehow had figured that the "spare tire" aka the boot in the worst shape of the 3 I had bought would work fine instead of using the better/newer one. Quest is the same size all around so I just grabbed any boot and went with it. Well, lesson learned!

As for fitness, I was quite pleased with how much energy Quest had throughout the ride- especially at the end. The trail is and out and back so we have to tackle some pretty gnarly hills going both ways. On the way home, mareface decided to take them at a gallop and I let her open up until we reached the top. It made me grin to see how pleased she was with herself. It was a very warm day so after stripping off tack, I checked sweat patterns (no dry spots and spine was clear!) and let Quest drink her fill of water. I cold hosed her legs well before putting her back in pasture and calling it day.

The next day was trailer practice! Since I still don't have a truck and probably won't for awhile, I did some research and found suitable pick up rentals through Uhaul. The truck had the proper electric connections and tow capacity so all I had to do was  provide my own ball and hitch receiver to get on the road. I've driven trucks before (ex boyfriend had F150) and Suburbans at work so driving a larger vehicle wasn't too difficult. However I never have had to backup, hook up a trailer, or haul before so I intentionally set an entire day aside to take my time figuring everything out at my own speed.

I'm going to brag a little here but I am ridiculously proud that it only took me one attempt to line up the truck with the trailer and then I had A standing outside as a spotter to line up the final inches.

It could have been beginner's luck or whatever, but I'll take it haha I got the trailer fully hooked up and A helped me check that the lights/electric were working. We left the wheel chocks in place because the second task of the day was to grab our horses for some trailer loading practice. I have no idea if Quest has ever been on a stock trailer before so I opted to treat it as a new-to-her experience. She put both front feet inside at first before balking and asking to step out. Okay, not too bad of a starting point to work from. It took a few attempts and mental breaks but eventually she followed me right in. Treat incentives were useful.

The horses were both rewarded with a nice grooming session and grazing afterwards. After putting them back into pasture to enjoy the rest of their weekend, it was time to practice hauling. No time better than the present to create good habits so I checked everything again before pulling out and going down the road a little ways. Before leaving the barn, I stopped to do another walkaround check and then hit the streets for real!

It was very interesting to see how hauling a trailer made the truck feel different on inclines but it was more or less the same on normal flat surfaces. I'm sure it'll be whole other experience with horses for sure but for now, I practiced keeping my wheel base within the lines on my side of the road, making gentle stops and wide turns. My destination was an elementary school parking lot that I had already scoped out earlier in the month. It was usually always empty on weekends and I figured it would be perfect for my practice needs.

I first practiced the simple things like backing up straight and testing my turn radius before tackling the real stuff : backing up on a turn. I used two milk crates to visually mark out an imaginary parking spot and went at it. Both A and I agree that this was definitely the hardest part of hauling a trailer but it is totally doable. While I was very slow, I eventually found the balance between how much to turn the wheel and let up the brakes. If I have any tips to offer fellow newbies, my biggest takeaways were:

- Don't over compensate with the wheel; Small corrections are more than enough.
- The hand at the bottom of the wheel tip is very good to keep in mind.
- Mirrors are your best friend. Use them. A lot.

I hope I don't have to do this part in public any time soon just yet because I'm horrendously slow at it and will require multiple attempts haha but if needed, it's good to know I CAN do it. And to be honest I HAD to learn to do this because its the only way I get my trailer back into it's parking spot at the barn.

I'm glad to say the practice was not in vain. It did take a few attempts but hey, I got it done and nothing got destroyed lol I'll count that was a win for my first ever truck and trailer adventure.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Here Comes the Sun

The weather here has finally decided that it will actually behave and we were gifted with a weekend of sun and blue skies. Temperatures even warmed up so much that t-shirts were appropriate outdoor ride attire and the mareface got her first bath of the year.

Bright and early on Saturday, A and I hit up another spring tack sale. It opened at 8AM so we met up a little after 7AM, grabbed coffee and breakfast sandwiches and made our way south. There was already quite a line forming outside the building when we arrived and after snagging a parking spot in the near full lot, we joined the fray. Unlike the last sale we went to a couple weeks ago, this one was crazy…like shark feeding-frenzy crazy with people were grabbing stuff left and right. It was a little intense!

I fortunately had put together a mental list of things I needed/wanted to find beforehand and managed to snag some pretty freaking amazing deals. Of all the things I bought, the BEST find of the sale was a like-new condition English sheepskin saddle cover that was only $1. These things usually go for $65-70.

I’ve always wanted one since I use my Thorowgood saddle for the trails a lot and put in as much/if not more daily mileage on it than my treeless endurance saddle currently. I considered using it for endurance paired with the Supracor pad but I have gotten butt sore after longer rides (10+ miles) and I could never really justify the cost when I had a perfectly good treeless saddle. But no longer shall I pine away in sadness! I was super excited to try it out  and it was amazing as I imagined it to be...much butt comfort joy. I completely forgot it was even there, which is pretty much the idea.

After the tack sale, A and I decided to stop by Horsemen’s Outlet since we were in the area already. The store didn’t open until later in the morning so I suggested doing a detour stop at Round Valley Reservoir.

I’ve been super curious about riding the trails there for the longest time and after seeing them in person, this place is totally going on my list of places to condition for endurance!

On Sunday, I went by the barn after church to get a quick ride and do some spring cleaning/tack organizing. Quest and I did our first real schooling ride in outdoor arena and there was conveniently a baby cross rail jump already all set up for us. We warmed up with ground poles first and then got right to business.

The sand footing was still wet from the rains last week which made it a little firmer to work on but still a little too deep for my tastes so I kept the ride short and sweet. Our first jumps were trot hops but towards the end of the session Quest tucked those front legs right up (not captured on video though...) Since I’m mostly doing this on my own with no real photo/videographer crew, I’ve been relying on “feeling” the difference of her efforts and reviewing video from my fence-propped up phone. Still haven’t adjusted my stirrups shorter though…Oops.

After our jump session, Quest got her first bath in the outdoors wash stall and got tied to a nearby fence to dry off and graze while I did a big tack trunk cleanout. I like things simple and usually try to get rid/sell/donate the excess. Plus I know an endurance ride will be chaos x 10 million so the fewer things keep track of the better too. I pulled out a bunch of stuff that I probably don’t need to keep so will be posting up some things for sale soon.

All in all, a super productive weekend was had. I'm hoping we get more of this good weather so the outdoor adventures continue to ensue!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Chasing Daylight

Working regular weekday hours is both a blessing and a curse. I am grateful for my job, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always a race against time to fit in trail rides during the week until we get more daylight hours.

While I can (and have) tack up super quickly, I prefer a moderate pace so I don’t mindlessly miss something, plus grooming is a great time to run my hands over Quest for a full body check. Mareface got through winter in decent shape but there has been a bit of feeding time drama with A’s mustang gelding Mel. The horses are fed apart from each other but they are loose in the field. Quest eats SUPER slow, like she really enjoys taking her time with meals. Mel, on the other hand, inhales his food in minutes. He’s a big drafty-built boy and often uses that to his advantage for extra helpings.

Fortunately Quest has since learned to stand up for herself but I can tell she’s still not getting her full portion. Right now she’s a 4 or moderately thin on the body condition scale which isn’t horrible but since we’re going to be stepping up the conditioning intensity and increasing energy output soon, I really like her to have more reserves before we start hitting the trails hard. I’ve talked with the barn staff to make the needed gradual feed adjustments to up the energy intake so hopefully that will make a good difference. Also of note is the fact that their back pasture has been completely closed off to the horses since the beginning of winter to allow it to rest. It’ll be opened later in a month or so though so there will be a fresh forage for them.

As for rides, I got in two back-to-back sessions this week. I was feeling pretty crummy earlier in the week so as it happened there were two sessions one after the other. Even though our rides aren’t super intense yet, I usually like to put a rest day in between to let a mareface be a horse and do horse things.

Earlier this week, it had been raining a ton the past few days so I was keeping a close eye on the forecast. Luckily the weather cleared up by the time I left work so I decided to head out to the barn. I got Quest groomed and tacked up in the pasture, it was gray and extremely foggy out but at least the skies remained rain-free. In case of bad weather, we are allowed use the aisle and cross ties in one of the barns to tack up but I’ve never done it yet since all of my stuff is up by the pasture.

I made sure to strap on my helmet headlight before I mounted up and we set off for a quick trail speed workout. The rains kept the dirt roads clear and gravel free so we were able to get right to trotting once the pavement ended. We got in a respectable 1.5 mile at the trot and canter before we ran out of trail and it got a bit too dark for my comfort.

The sky was looking very ominous as we headed back to the barn at a meandering walk and right when we got within earshot of the indoor arena doorway, the rain started coming down in earnest. The arena was completely empty though (I guess no one is crazy like I am...) so the plan was to do a short cardio session and cool down while we waited for the rain to slow down enough for us to trek back to her pasture. This entire time the drumming of the rain hitting the aluminum roof provided a steady gentle rumble in the background. It was a bit more noisy than what we were used to but it was manageable.

We had just settled into a nice working rhythm when suddenly the rain picked up in monsoon-hurricane level intensity. In a split second, a gentle rumble turned into an ear-deafening roar that echoed and reverberated through the entire empty arena. I couldn't hear myself think.

Poor Quest had no idea what just happened and lost her brain for a moment. She scooted her feet, trying to escape the noise that surrounded us and when she found no reprieve (obviously), she worried more and kept scooting.

I allowed her to move but directed the motion into a circle. It was a madly whirling circle at first but as her brain came back to me, I was able to gradually apply my single-rein stop/emergency brake and slow her to a stop. Entire time I kept my hand on her neck and spoke to her with low quiet easys. At some point I also took my feet out of the stirrups for an emergency dismount just in case Quest decided to go up or escalate her reaction. She did neither but when she did stop moving, I still opted to jump off just in case the rain picked up again and someone felt the need to lose her brain again.

The rain was still thundering loudly but it was nowhere near the ear-deafening roar that had happened a minute ago. While not freaking out, Quest was still extremely distracted so I took advantage of the situation and did some basic groundwork to get her attention back on me- Sending her to either side of me, backup, forward, whoa, turns on fore and haunches. Once I had her dialed into me, I asked her to join up and she happily came in. I had couple treats in my pocket that I use for rewarding positive behavior on the trail; I was very glad I had them with me in this instance.

When the rain finally died down to something more manageable, I closed up the arena and we calmly walked back to her pasture to untack and call it a night. In hindsight, I honestly can’t fault Quest for how she reacted because the sudden noise took even me by surprise. I had to scramble for a bit to get my bearings but I’m glad I was able to turn it into a positive training opportunity in the end. And if I had to choose, I’d much rather go through all of this drama at home first rather than away at a trailhead or an endurance ride. Home is where we do the hard work!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Jump Baby Jump

Quest and I tried something new this weekend. It's not big or fancy at all but it was exciting for us!

Before the little impromptu jump session, Quest and I took advantage of the dreary, rainy weather clearing up that morning to hit the trails for a quick workout. We did a nice w/t/c warmup in the indoor arena first and set off on the trails. The days of non-stop torrential rain swept away the largest chunks of gravel on the dirt roads and we were left some fantastic footing for decent trotting sections.

We managed to get a solid 4 miles in less than an hour and also visited the mini XC course for three hill sprints. On the last sprint,  I let Quest open up and she immediately obliged, surging up the incline in powerful strides with her tail flagged in the air. When we came to a gradual stop at the top of the hill, Quest looked so pleased with herself haha I have to remember to bring my GoPro out next time so I can get video.

Quest and I had gotten a lot done on the trail by then so we headed back into the arena where we had left A and Mel. While we waited for them to finish, mareface and I played with baby jumps!

The standards were already set up so I just reconfigured the poles for our newbie use. We did a quick ground pole trot review first and then moved up to baby cross rails. Quest wasn't very impressed and trotted over them evenly and neatly each time....Well, at least she didn't rush though or start cantering.

I changed it back to the original set up and added some trot poles for the approach. Our first few attempts were more trotting with much gusto but eventually Quest figured out that she needed to pick up her legs.

Slowly figuring it out together
It was really neat to see how Quest used the steady repetition of a basic pattern to figure out where to put her feet. She never rushed or worried though, just took it like "Oh okay, we're doing this now."

I admit that I've never taken actual jumping lessons so this is me messing around and having fun with my horse. So there are lots to improve on, for starters I need shorten my stirrups from trail length to something more jump appropriate and move my hands higher on her neck. I do believe knowing how to jump properly is an essential, all-round equestrian skill to have though so it'd be well worth the time and effort to learn in the long run.

While I don't think we'll ever go huge or fancy since I'd rather save Quest's legs for endurance, this really was SO fun to see if we could actually do it. We both get super bored in the indoor so I think it'd be good for our mental sanity to throw in a baby jump from time to time during our arena work session days just to get the energy up and going again. Best of all mareface seemed to really enjoy herself with her ears pricked up and brain totally engaged. And I didn't eat dirt either- I say that was a win in it of itself haha