September 30, 2013

A New Home For Gem and Pete

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
- Marilyn Monroe
I made one phone call to a new acquaintance down here and the possibilities for a new barn became almost endless. There was one barn I really wanted to go see. It is a known endurance barn in the area and I had been told they had access from the property to all the local trails. How awesome would it be to ride out of the barn and have all my training needs right there? Very. The two downsides were that Gem and Pete would need to remain separated and it is 30 minutes away. But the ability to have trails right there and knowledgeable endurance people would balance that out. We went last Wednesday to check it out. Unfortunately, we were informed that she used to have trail access but the property between her and the forest was restricted now and it was an 8 mile trailer ride to the trails. It became a good back up barn if nothing else proved worthwhile.
What was amazing was the vast amount of offers to put Gem and Pete in people's private yards. I couldn't believe it. Every day I got a new text of a new person who was willing to fix up the fencing and put the horses at their house so they could be close and stay together. I have never come across friendlier people ever in my life. The hubs and I discussed our options thoroughly and while the private boarding was an amazing offer, the lack of an arena or trails would make riding next to impossible during the week (not that I have been riding lately any way) so we put those as a last choice. Then I got a text about a local barn that was only an additional 5-10 minutes farther than the current barn with a large, lighted outdoor arena, a pasture where Gem and Pete could remain together and even better it was laid back and as frosting on the cake - $50 less a month than we were currently paying. I just had to go check it out.
I happened to have a gap in my schedule last Thursday, so I called them up and ran over there and it was great. Super friendly, laid back owners with a real at home feel. No odd rules about blankets or farriers or anything really. The pasture Gem and Pete would be in was large enough for the two of them, but doesn't have as much grass as I would like. There is some and this is the end of the growing season so most places are very eaten down, but it is an adjustment from the large, lush pastures of W Farms. Had we moved straight here from the arctic north it wouldn't have been any change since the pasture is larger than up there with about the same amount of grass or just a smidge more than they had before.
The arena is spacious and has lights for my evening rides in the dark. They feed hay and grain as needed per the condition of the horses. It is on 55 acres and they said they have some trails cut through it that if you walk takes about 45 minutes, so for us would be about 10 minutes so is the same as at W Farms. They would be outside 24/7, but the barn has the largest stalls I've ever seen and we can use them whenever we want. For the price, I don't see how we could get better. My only concern is the lack of grass, so I will be keeping a very close eye on their weight. I am not a fan of the quality of hay down here in the South versus what I am used to up north, so relying on hay isn't so great. We will see. The hubs and I have toyed with the idea of purchasing the awesome hay from our last barn in the north and running up with the trailer to bring it down for Gem and Pete.
I called the hubs to let him and know and we decided it would be worth a shot. While there are other boarders, they don't frequent the barn much and if they are anything like the owners they will be easy to get along with. Given the other options - either far away , private so no riding ability, or super expensive - this one seemed like a good choice for us. We planned to move them in on Saturday morning and called W Farms to give them a heads up.

September 27, 2013

The End

Ok...well this is getting long and whiny so I will wrap it up here. All these little things kept piling up and began to make life not so enjoyable around the barn. I began to dread going and would try to tack up quickly and head out to avoid the "we need to talk" from the BO. It never worked, but I kept trying.

Two final events occurred that pushed us both over the edge. The first was our farrier. I chose her at random on the internet. I refused to use the barn farrier due to his reputation for making horses lame. When I showed up on Saturday D and S (who I really like) were both there. I brought Gemmie in and D made some comment or other. I told her our farrier was coming. She made some other comment and I told her that we were using someone else. She asked who. I was now getting irritated with the questioning, but I told her it was a barefoot trimmer named K. She replied "Oh, does BO know?" I said I doubted it. She then said "Well, there is bad blood there" I snapped back "Good thing she isn't paying for this then" and left to get Pete. Sigh. You can refer back to the foot post for the farrier story if you care to.

That was on Saturday morning. Sunday afternoon I wanted to go by the barn and check on the horses to make sure they were still happy on their feet and to re-measure Gem for hoof boots which I seem oddly incapable of doing correctly. The BO showed up and started off in her condescending tone "We need to talk" Sigh. Again? She then informed us that we could not use the farrier we chose because of undisclosed personal reasons between the two of them. The hubs tried to reason with her saying that our professional relationship with the farrier is not related to her personal feelings, but we were just told that (continue condescending tone) "you are used to businesses and this is a family establishment" Umm... kindly quit telling me what I am used to and no you are wrong. Wisconsin was a family owned establishment. We were told we could use any farrier we wanted. Apparently not. We asked if there were any professional reasons we should avoid this farrier (like hurting horses, being late, changing fees etc...) and was told no she just doesn't like her. Then she told us we could trailer out to meet the farrier in the future. Huh? Oh...and please don't tell her anything. you want me to call the farrier who I have an appointment with in 6 weeks and tell her not to come, try to find some random roadside location to trailer to, and yet not explain this sudden and irrational decision? No thank you. I will not get put in the middle of your personal problems. I'm not being loyal to someone I barely know, but really? This is getting old.

We left and talked about things and decided we needed to move the horses. It just is too much of a hassle to cross lines we don't even know existed. I wonder how long it took for D to tattle tale on us to the BO. Do you think she waited until we left to call? We debated on timing since we had no clue where to move them to. I have a new friend who has a lot of horse connections in the area (and also has "bad blood" with the BO) and so I called her and asked her if she new any boarding establishments. She knew a bunch. Or if we would prefer we could have them in her backyard. Or in her friend's yard. Or in another field she knows can be leased. Or...or....or...lots of options!

September 26, 2013

Downward Spiral

Gem is super important to me and I want her to remain healthy and happy for a long time. She is my riding partner and even though we don't always see eye to eye, she is stuck with me and I with her and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am not super neurotic about her. She is an outside animal and will get rained on, will sweat, will have some times when she is cold, will show up with nicks and bites from time to time. I get all of that. Honestly, I do. But when she started coming in every single day with a new bloody, swollen kick mark on her hide I got angry. I even tried talking to the BO about it and was told she got them from tree limbs. No. No this big swollen mark in the shape of a nice metal shoed hoof is not from a tree limb. But fine. BO said she was moving pastures to get her out of the trees. Ask me how surprised I was to find that the marks kept on happening even in the new treeless pasture.

But still, all in all Gem was doing ok. The large pastures and hills were keeping her in better shape than my lack of riding was, so we were going to stay. But the problems kept coming up. Each time I would go to ride, something would interfere. My limited time kept getting eaten away by crap I had no interest in. I got conned into going on a "trail" ride one evening with the BO and her sister. We set out from the barn to get some conditioning done and I was excited. Maybe there were trails I didn't know existed and I was now going to be shown how wonderful they truly were. An hour of slowly walking around the pasture later and both Gem and I showed back up at the barn in a sour mood. The most annoying part of the ride was the fact that the sister took the lead and refused to give it up even though her horse walked at about the pace of a turtle in molasses and Gem just plain walked faster. I would pull up beside her and Gem would inch past. The I would be informed that we would be turning soon in whichever direction I happened to be on (so if I was to her right we would be turning off to the right, left/left) but never saying where exactly so that I would have to pull Gemmie up and wait for her to slowly pass us. And did we turn? Yes, but just in a tiny circle. It was all just to maintain her lead. Annoying. Eventually I just plowed ahead and when she inevitably said we would be turning, I would just say "ok, go ahead and we will circle back and catch you". Ha! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!! Any guesses on how many rides I've been on with them since? 1. Because I was stupid and forgot and how much I hated the first one.

Ok, but still that's not a real reason to leave the entire barn. Just avoid going out with them. I chalked it up to one more annoying experience and moved on. Now, the hubby had been having a completely different experience at the barn than I had been. Being a guy, I guess the BO wasn't threatened or something and she treated him nicely without scolding, stopping him riding to explain why he stunk so bad etc... He thought I was exaggerating my frustration. Until the weather got a little colder (and by that I mean in the 80s instead of the 90s). The BO mentioned to me that they required blankets on the horses 24/7 once the weather turned cold and their definition of cold was 60. I informed her that we didn't blanket in the arctic north unless the temperature got below 10 degrees and yes the horses were outside in the snow and wind. She countered with the fact that it rains and the horses get wet. I shot back with the fact that snow is wet as well. I told her to speak to the hubs because honestly I was tired of always being talked at. Next time he showed up, she brought up blanketing. He said no. Our horses are likely to look like yaks again this winter not knowing it wont be below 0 most of January and are at risk of overheating as it is. She dropped it. The next time he showed up she was prepared with a catalogue and pointed out all the lovely horse blankets to him. He said no. By the third visit, third conversation the hubs had just about had it and was now at my level of the barn wasn't bad and the horses were well cared for, but man going there is just obnoxious.

But even with that we weren't going to leave. Gluttons for punishment, we talked it over and with the proximity and health of the horses being good, we were going to stick it out. But still....things just kept piling on.

I mentioned boarder, D, in my foot post. She is always present. She is talkative but not in a super friendly nice way. More in a trying to push your buttons and start trouble sort of way. I just ignored her. One incident made me seriously dislike her even though I had nothing to do with it and was just a bystander. I showed up to ride and when I got there I was asked to look at a young girl's arm. Apparently she fell off and landed hard on her arm and it hurt. The arm was bruised, but not broken. She was embarrassed and so close to tears. I told her not to worry. I've fallen off Gem so many times now I can't even remember them all and most were from silly mistakes. It happens. She smiled. Apparently, she had been riding D's horse. Nobody was blaming the horse. They were just worried about the girl. D came over with the horse and announced loudly to everyone around that the girth was loose. So loose that it was the cause of all problems. In fact it was so loose she had to tighten it 5 holes. Now, I looked over at her saddle and it only has 6 holes. So in order for her to have to tighten it 5, the girl who rode would have had to basically not put it on at all. Which wasn't the case. D just wanted to place all blame on the poor girl who after hearing this and being stared at by everyone started welling up with tears. Sigh. Some people. I tell this to highlight the overall personality of the boarders there. They are all snitchy middle aged women who try to weasel their way into your business not to be friends or helpful, but to find something to shove in your face or a way to feel superior to you. I ignore them all as best I can, but as my next story will show, sometimes I just can't.

September 25, 2013

Boarding Life

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.”  
- Baruch
I understand that boarding is a compromise between what the horse owner wants and what the barn owner (BO) can do/wants to do. Honestly, the hubs and I really try to be as low key as possible. Our needs are simple and we will follow the rules of the barn as long as they are made clear to us. If there is a rule we can not live with, we will leave. I don't expect rules to be changed for us. All I want to do is go to the barn, get my Gemmiecakes, tack her up and forget the world.
I don't stir up drama between boarders, mainly because I just don't care to. I don't use the barn as my social hour. I use it as my time to decompress and bond with Gemmie. Basically, leave me alone and leave me out of it. I won't butt into your affairs with your horse and I I to butt out of mine. All I want for Gem is a safe and healthy environment where she is getting the nutrition she needs to be fit (not fat or skinny) and to not get the crap kicked out of her by her pasture mates. If you tell me you provide a service, then provide it. Otherwise, I will be there to meet my farrier and vet every time. I will not ask you to do annoying tasks such as hand walk my horse for me, pull or put on various equipment (boots, blankets, fly masks etc) or to feed an ungodly amount of various supplements. This is a business transaction - I am paying for a service that you are providing. No, you are not doing me a favor by allowing me to pay you to keep my horse. My money is for services rendered. I will be tidy and leave the barn as I found it every time. I will respect your property and that of other boarders and not touch what is not mine. I will put up with a fair amount of crap as long as Gem is healthy and happy and I am still enjoying myself. Once going to the barn becomes a chore something needs to be re-evaluated and changed.
Unfortunately, going to the barn has become a chore. For many reasons which I will bring to light here over the next post or so. The story begins pretty much at the beginning (don't they all?)  and ends last weekend when I was finally pushed past just being annoyed with the situation and into wanting to leave. Which we are. I have put in my 30 days notice and we are looking at a new barn tonight after work and I have a few other options hanging out there as well. None seem perfect just yet and I know I will need to compromise something on my list, but we will see where we end up.
So what has been going on? Well, let me tell you! In general terms, there is a mashing of personalities going on. While the hubs and I do not purposefully go out of our way to go against the grain, we will stick to our guns about something we feel is correct for us and apparently what we think is correct is just about as far off as what the barn thinks is correct as you can get. About just about everything. My first "annoyance" occurred about a month after we got here and the horses were finally taken off quarantine and  allowed in the barn to eat. We were aware that they would be split up. We weren't thrilled with it, but rules are rules so we said fine. What didn't need to occur was placing Gemmie in the outside back left corner of the barn and placing Pete in the outside front right corner of the barn. As far away from each other and out of sight as possible. Really? They couldn't be across the barn aisle? Fine. Be alpha female BO. I can live with that. What got really old really fast was that everyone felt the need to tell me every single time how they think Gem and Pete miss each other and how sad it is. Really? Rub it in a bit why don't you? It finally stopped when I snapped something not so friendly at someone about how it wasn't up to me to me separate them.
Next up was being scolded like a little school girl (which in general I don't take very well) for not cleaning out both horse stalls and scrubbing both water buckets when I am there. Huh? I am paying for full care board. Full care board means I show up, ride and take care of my tack and that's just about it. The feeding, turnout, water and stall cleaning is done by the barn. Otherwise it is partial care board and cheaper. It was explained to me in a very condescending tone which I didn't appreciate, that at this barn since it is family owned (um...aren't they all?) when I show up I am responsible to clean my own stalls and water buckets. Eh? Explain again to me why I'm paying you? But fine. I did it and vented to the hubs about it and we carried on. Really it makes going to the barn a hassle. I spend from 7pm-9pm at the barn. I ride for 30 minutes. The remaining time is spent getting scolded for something I did wrong, getting ready to ride, getting finished with riding and cleaning two stalls and water buckets. I pay so I don't have to do the latter.
Time kept marching on though and I got used to the headache of doing their chores for them. They know I have limited time and that I only show up at night. If I rode during the day the stalls would have been done the previous night and I would have nothing to do, but I ride at night so I'm stuck with it. Again, its just a show of alpha female going on and I bit my tongue because we liked the location being so close to home and we liked the large grassy pastures. But the hits just kept coming....

September 24, 2013

New Footsies for Gem and Pete

Feet. I work with feet all day long (being a podiatrist and all) and yet I still find them to be very interesting structures (in a completely non fetish kind of way) meant to carry us tens of thousands of miles in our lifetime and yet they are small and fragile. The horse hoof is the same way only built even more strangely and so I find it a fascinating subject. Trimming the hoof can be a scary ordeal since the soundness, rideability and overall health of the horse relies on good solid feet being underneath them. There are certified farrier schools, but there are also numerous people who learn on the fly and set up shop. Finding a new farrier in a new place is stressful.

How do you find a farrier? If boarding, the simplest thing to do is use the farrier that the barn uses or at least the majority of boarders. The person will already be familiar with the barn and you could assume they do decent work or they wouldn't be there. Of course, assumptions are never a good idea and we have learned the hard way that this isn't always a good way to go. The first farrier I used was a barn farrier and made Gem lame. We found our fantastic farrier in the arctic north this way and became friends with him. He never made them even tender over the course of three years. We miss him.

When we made the Big Move south we had our arctic farrier trim them right before to bide us some time. I started asking about the barn farrier and was not happy with what I was finding out. One boarder who is smart enough to know better said that she loved him, but oddly enough every time she brings her sound horse up to him she leads a dead lame horse away. Huh? Put two and two together there lady! I heard a similar story from too many people to want to even think about using him, but now I had no clue who to use. Knowing that I like my horses barefooted, I searched the web for a barefoot trimmer and came up with exactly one option - K. A self proclaimed barefoot trimmer with a lovely website and a fair price. So I booked her for last Saturday and nervously waited to see what she would do. When I called her I told her where we were (W Farms) and she said she knew the place and how to get there. See you Saturday.

I know enough about barefoot trimming to ask the right questions and be able to spot BS when I hear it. I had a host of questions ready to test her knowledge and make sure she wasn't going to hurt my horse. She lacked personality, but (arctic farrier you don't count) it seems to come with the territory. She was promptly on time, handled my horse calmly and answered all my questions with the proper buzz words to appease me. She didn't touch the parts of the hoof that I knew shouldn't be touched and didn't make them look all wonky. I made a return appointment with her for 6 weeks. Interestingly enough, two boarders (one of which I severely dislike) who were present during this (oh! and play a vital role in tomorrow's post) pulled her aside at the end to ask her advice on their horses who were foot sore. I found these interactions to be very interesting. Interesting enough to bore you with them:

The first person, S, has a mare who is shod in the front, but barefoot in the back. Her back feet look lovely, but her fronts are wonky and she is always painful after a trim. She asked K her opinion about pulling the fronts and letting her go barefoot. She only rides on property in the grass. Personally I see no reason why any of the horses on the farm are shod since none leave the property and spend all the time either on grass or sand. But, I digress again. K gave her opinion that, yes they could easily go barefoot and that they were overall healthy hooves. S asked me if she could join our 6 week rotation and use K and I was happy to.

The second person, D (who I dislike), has a gelding and is the above mentioned lady who can't seem to figure out why her horse is always so lame after being trimmed by wonder farrier. She plays an extremely vital role in all my drama of late. Anyway....after scowling at the farrier through my and S interactions she asks her for a second opinion on her horse. K spends significant time looking at the hooves, testing for soreness and explaining to K the difficulty the horse is having since the wonder farrier decided to cut away all toe and all heel leaving little for the horse to comfortably walk on. What was amusing was D's inability to understand that K is a professional herself and that her time is money. D kept asking K if she felt that her original farrier could fix this or that and what to tell him. K was patient through all of this. I would have told D to either pay for my services or understand that her farrier created these issues and the chances of him fixing them are slim, but good luck with it and left. are some pics of Gemmie's lovely feet. I took them so that I could get her some new hoof boots. I am working with a patient woman (and fellow endurance blogger - see Boots and Saddles) in California who is going to send me some trial boots and see how things go. I am apparently brain dead when it comes to measuring the hoof though because I have now done it twice with similar results and they just aren't matching up with what is realistic. She offered up another technique which I will try tonight and see if I can clear the hoof fog from my brain. Enjoy!

Right front

Right front

Left front
Back left
Back left

September 23, 2013

Girls Night Out

“Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”
- Danny Kaye

I am going to start with the fun from the weekend because it is Monday and I'm at work staring down another 5 days without my son and I need a little fun. Unfortunately I only have a couple pictures to share because I don't like posting pictures with other people on the internet (except the hubs or with permission) so you will just have to take my word for the fact that I wasn't all alone :)
Lets set the stage: a stormy Saturday night. Five women set loose from their spouses/significant others and children with money in their pockets and stress on their mind. Empty stomachs all around. A pizza shop called the Mellow Mushroom.
The five of us (4 from my work and 1 from the hubby's) met up for dinner just after 5pm. It really was raining pretty hard, but we all arrived in good spirits ready to have some fun. The only rule was no/limited work talk which we stuck to pretty well. We laughed, we ate, we talked about life and hobbies and spouses/significant others (in mostly good ways :) It was fun, but we had other places to get to and were on a little time crunch
Moving on: same five women, same night only now the rain has stopped. Cut to a small shop down the street full of paint. Paint? Yup, paint. Its called the Cabernet Canvas and soon the whole place will be filled with people making creativity history. Ok, maybe not history, but having a lot of fun anyway.
We walked in pretty clueless and all a little giddy even without alcohol involved and picked our stools. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that our choice of seats wasn't the best, but in the end it didn't matter. We grabbed our paper plate pallet and set it up with paint to match the sample - red, white, blue, black, yellow and green acrylic paint. We each had one large paintbrush and one smaller round paintbrush as well as a cup of water and a paper towel. And a completely blank, white canvas.
The teacher for the night (not an exceptionally friendly or outgoing woman and she was a little disappointing since she only ever moved one time and it was to give bad advice to one of us) sat up front with one finished painting for reference and one blank canvas of her own. Once it was time to start she informed us all to make pink (by mixing red and white together if you weren't aware of that already from kindergarten, which by the way the hubby was not when I asked him later that night) paint to paint the entire background. We all did with various different shades...hues...I don't know the difference between them. Then we literally sat and watched paint dry and complimented each other on such a great job.
Next up was painting in a white moon and two white owl eyes followed by a blue body, wings and a tree. This is where we learned that sitting to the left of an artist who is right handed doesn't allow for much real time visualization of the painting that was occurring. We all did, some too low on the canvas, some too high, some too far to the left (me) and so on. While the process is fairly idiot proof, you can still muck it up if you try hard enough. We kept plugging along, complimenting and making fun of each other and ourselves in turn and trying to stay caught up and not frustrated with our own lack of inherent artistic ability.
Work in progress
I had been pretty happy with mine until the tree when I realized I had placed my owl too far to the left leaving little room for the tree branches. It turned out ok in the end though. Next up was adding curly cue twigs to the tree. This was the downfall for most of us. The small brush we were given was pretty worn out. You couldn't make anything a fine line and I needed a fine line. The one woman in our group said that next time she is bringing her own brush! I fudged my way through it though.
We eventually began to add in the head, tail and feet as well as the rest of the eyes which was the last thing we did.  It took 2.5 hours to do the entire painting and in the end none of our looked like the reference painting, the teachers, or each others but they all turned out fantastic!
My Funky Owl Painting

I believe we all had a ton of fun and we left saying that we would have to do it again soon. The place has the calendar up through the end of October with some nice looking Halloween prints in there. It is only $35 too which is a steal I think. I can't wait to go back!!!!

September 22, 2013

So Much To Write About

Sorry for making your life less enjoyable by stripping you of my daily blog entries last week :) It was the first boring week that I have had the pleasure of living through in a long time. I went to work, I saw patients, fixed some problems, didn't fix some others, schedule a couple surgeries. I went home and got to spend time with my son in the evenings before bedtime. What I didn't do is ride. I wasn't feeling great all week and was just exhausted in the evenings and going to the barn has become a chore, so I took the week off of riding and just chilled on the couch. One night I fell asleep at 7:30pm. Sad, I know.

The end of the week was most decidedly not boring at all, in any way. Five big things have happened since Friday, four of which I will share in separate posts because all are pretty detailed and deserve a big post to themselves. The fifth is a work incident (that didn't directly involve me, but will indirectly affect me) that caused major drama at work on Friday that I fear will continue on Monday. I dislike work drama. Work is annoying enough without it. Unfortunately, I don't think writing specifically about work is appropriate, so I am going to leave out the specifics on this. I know it is a tease, but let me calm any concerns by telling you that it affected the support staff and not my specific job. It did make Friday highly un-enjoyable and filled with stress which set up a need for a great weekend which kind of did happen and kind of didn't.

I have to put some thought into which topic should take priority and how I want to write each up, so tonight is just an introduction into the next several days. I think I will start with the fun post and work my way from there.

To give you a heads up on what is to come this week:

1.) I had the first girls night out in I can't remember how long and it was amazingly fun. A few pictures and a story to come - most likely tomorrow to brighten up Monday.

2.) New farrier and new pretty hooves for Gem and Pete.

3.) Barn drama. I think I dislike barn drama even more than I dislike work drama probably because the barn is my refuge from stress so when that is stripped from me I get pretty angry.

4.) Tack issues.

Lots to come this week and who knows what else will pop up in the meantime. I hope to get a nice ride on Gem tomorrow after work which will be the fist since our impromptu trail ride last Sunday. That 50 mile ride seems sooooo far away at the current pace, but hopefully that will change soon.
Get ready to be inundated with information!

September 18, 2013

Impromptu Trail Ride...Part 2

Maybe it was the cooler weather. Maybe it was the new location. Maybe it was the horde of mountain bikers. I don't know, but those horses were on fire. I've never seen Gem so tense. She was about to jump out of her skin at any moment and kept flipping back and forth to be able to see everything going on around her. I was able to get the saddle on just fine, but she wouldn't keep her head down to get the bit in her mouth. Eventually I was able to just shove it in there (not my preferred method) and hook it to her bridle (I adore my halter/bridle combo!) so we could get going. The hubs and I decided it would be prudent to walk them a little down the trail on foot before mounting up.

Since I had stopped paying attention to the hiker lady I was pretty clueless on where to go. The hubs explained that it was one big 11.3 mile loop with several smaller loops and connector trails flowing through it to make it smaller or add miles. It was also broken into three sections by two dirt roads and a dam. I said I wanted to go left to find the bear. In retrospect that probably wasn't the smartest idea, but we never did run into him so it was a non issue. We headed off to the left on an orange marked trail which led downhill and began as a rocky double wide trail.

We were a little wary of the footing given that our last trail ride was such slow going, but it cleared up pretty quickly. I don't like trotting downhill much (that's an entire subject all to itself) so we walked for a ways. I remembered to get off at around the half mile mark to adjust my tack and then we headed down the last steep downhill. At the bottom things got interesting in a great way. The trail puttered down to a very narrow single track. By narrow I mean trees on either side close enough to crack your knee if you weren't careful as well as tree branches overhead at perfect eye level. The footing was sans (that word is just for you hubbybear!!) roots and rocks and we took one look at each other and took off at a brisk trot.

I giggled pretty solidly for the next hour. I think this one trail made up for the complete lack of switchbacks in the remainder of the state because it never went straight for more than a stride or two. We twisted and turned and ducked and dodged our way around a very pretty lake. Pete was having a blast too. Gemmie was uncertain as to why I was laughing so much. Pete would just plow through the low hanging limbs and dodge between the trees. Gemmie felt the need to duck beneath it all and so she trotted along ducking her head and glaring sideways at the closer trees. It was hilarious!!

We eventually made our way back up a ways and slowed down to a walk. Both horses were pretty drenched in sweat which was odd given the cloudy 75 degrees out and the fact we only had gone about 1.25 miles. I pushed Gemmie out front and we slowed way down as she slowly picked her way down the winding trail. I did start to ask her for a bit more than a 0.5 mph walk and we managed to even trot a few steps. She was a GREAT girl out front though. After the first minute or two she began to really stride out at the walk and take an interest. We made 90 degree turns around trees and up over fallen logs and down gullies without batting an eye. When a mountain biker came up behind us we pulled over and Pete ended up taking the lead again. To my surprise (and delight) Gem was kind of ticked off about it. Her ears went back a bit and she started trying to find a way around him! Good girl Gemmie!!!! That's the first time in almost 4 years that she has not wanted to just chug along behind Pete!!

At the 2 mile mark we began debating about turning back around. Since we really had no clue where we were or if this trail was a smaller loop or just part of the 11.3 miles and we knew the horses were already beginning to tire we worried that pushing too much farther would be trouble. The trail came to a fork and we went right which popped us out of the woods and back onto a nice wide uphill trail. We decided that we would ride to the top and turn around if it didn't look like it went back to the parking lot. The footing was superb and the horses had been so good and willing and so we gave them a treat and opened them up a bit. Gem pushed out a 16.1 mph canter uphill and wasn't even trying that hard!!!! Go Gemmiecakes!

Even better, once we reached the top we recognized it as the trail we headed down in the first place so it ended up being a nice little technical loop. We followed it back and took a short trail to the right which popped out right at the trailer. We debated pushing it a bit more, but the horses were just covered in sweat. We only rode 2.6 miles, but I think the technicality of the trail made it a harder work out than we thought. It was better to end of a good note and we headed home.

I must say that was one of the best trail rides to date and I am so glad we found it. The system is called Isaqueena and is definitely worth the extra drive to get to.

September 16, 2013

Spur of the Moment Trail Ride - Part 1 (of only 2...I promise!)

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
- Mae West
Fall in the South is amazing, but is definitely playing with my head. I'm used to crisp mornings that continue into crisp but sunny days, the sound of leaves crunching under foot, the smell of pumpkin and an overall sense of urgency to get out and enjoy life before you are shut in for the winter. Down here the mornings are still in the upper 60s and the days in the mid 80s. Things are still green and humid and everyone is acting like it is just another summer day. The fall decorations being put out seem out of place. The only hint of fall thus far is a subtle change to the wildflowers - instead of whites and pinks and purples they are now yellow and gold and orange. I'm still wearing short sleeved shirts and capris when up north I'd be breaking out my hoodies and pants. I have been told that the leaves are beautiful when they start to turn, but I am just not certain when that happens. Until then I will keep enjoying my late summer days.
The in-laws came to visit this weekend from up north and we were happy to have them. We had infrequent visiting when living in the arctic north. Apparently there just wasn't much incentive to go up there. Since the move, we have been fortunate to have many visitors down here and are loving it. Unfortunately, W picked this weekend to develop a healthy dose of stranger danger. It was decided that some alone time with his grandparents would be good for all involved and so the hubs and I found ourselves with an afternoon alone. What did we do with it? Hit the trails! We loaded up a confused looking Gem and Pete (it was late morning by then and we never trailer that late) and headed to a trail system I found online.  I remembered my GPS watch, but not my camera and so unfortunately there are no pictures.
It was about 15 minutes farther away than the Butch Kennedy trails we rode last time and we were cautiously optimistic that they would be of better quality. The directions were laughable - "turn sharp left between the country convenience store and church" - and we were surprised to make it without getting lost. The parking lot was a small strip of gravel with no exit and we were really worried about making it both in and back out. There were several mountain bikers there, a horse trailer and some hikers. We managed to pull in just off the road, but that put Gemmie into the entrance and I was really concerned someone would pull in and hit her (luckily that did not happen).
We unloaded the horses and then went to take a quick look at the trail map which ended up being a great idea although not for the purpose of gleaning useful information from the map itself. It showed various loops and said the entire thing was 11.3 miles, but it wasn't super user friendly since it didn't show where any trail heads were or mention anything about trail markings. we were standing there talking about it a woman finishing up a hike came over and informed us and a hiking couple beside us to be on the look out for a bear she came across off on the trails to the left. That completely freaked out the hikers to the point where the woman refused to go and her poor husband had to try to convince her she wouldn't be mauled by a bear. It just peaked our interest even more. As we spoke with her, it turned out that she was an avid rider herself and knew the trails well so she talked at me (since none of it made sense and I stopped paying attention after the words "bear" and "to the left") and then talked with the hubs who was paying attention. In true SC fashion, she then gave us her business card and home number and said to call her with any horse questions or to learn more about the local trails. I still haven't gotten used to how friendly everyone is around here.
We turned away from the map and headed back to our calm and well behaved been there done that horses only to find that they had been replaced with fire breathing dragons......

September 14, 2013

Heart Rate Monitors - Final Part

Have I dragged this post out long enough for you? Can you tell nothing exciting has been happening at the barn lately?

Surprisingly enough the heart rate monitor lasted through several rides both on the trail and in the barn's outdoor arena before I gave up on it. The plethora of data I had expected to gain from it just never materialized. I had numbers and more numbers and even more numbers, but in essence they either meant nothing or just confirmed what I already suspected.

So what did I learn?

For starters I learned that the authors of those training plans are full of crap. I'd love to meet one someday and see if they even follow their own plans because I don't see how it is possible. I couldn't get Gem's heart rate even close to their suggested level and even if I could there is no way to maintain it for any length of time. Maybe if I lived in the Rocky Mountains and attempted to gallop her up them full speed. I don't know.

The more important thing that I learned from my experiment was that paying attention to my horse was more important than paying attention to my watch. I had read that the monitor could inform you of when your horse needed a break or if pain was ensuing because you would notice an increase in the heart rate. That is true. But it is also true that just knowing your horse and paying attention to them easily does the same thing.

When Gem is doing a power trot and gets tired she jumps to a canter. I had always figured it was because the canter was easier for her then the fast trot. She is inherently lazy, so I highly doubted she would choose to do a gait that was more strenuous than the one she was already doing. It turns out that I was right - her heart rate would drop considerably in the canter. It was the same on up hills. She chooses to trot hills rather than walk and I let her. Again, it turns out that walking up a hill has a higher heart rate than trotting up the same hill. Her heart rate recovered pretty quickly with the change in gait too. It didn't take a very long walk break before it was back to almost baseline. A long canter stretch would get it pumping, but dropping to a slow trot would cover ground and allow her to recover. Unfortunately, I had already inherently known these things, so it really didn't tell me anything new. It did reinforce my belief that Gem is exceptionally good at taking care of herself and that I really need to listen to her. If she asks to walk it is  generally for a good reason.

So the monitor found a new home in the back of my closet. I did really like the GPS to see how far we had gone and a basic idea of how fast, so I replaced it with my Garmin which I love.

September 13, 2013

Heart Rate monitors - Part 3

After all that trouble getting the monitor situated and all set up correctly, I was excited to get on and get going. It being winter in Wisconsin, riding outside was "at your own risk" and since I didn't have time to deal with frostbite to all my extremities I headed to the indoor arena. My incredibly bright "pat myself on the back" idea of trialing it at the barn first quickly became a very dumb idea. I hadn't spent a whole lot of time inspecting the construction material of the indoor arena and that lack of attention to detail became my downfall.

I jumped up on Gem, hit the "ON" button and strode off staring down at my watch waiting to see her heart rate data. Nothing was showing. Either her heart rate was so incredibly low that it wasn't registering or something was wrong. I got off and inspected the electrodes. They were well saturated with cold water and pressed firmly against her body. I turned it off and then back on and tried again. Still nothing. Now I knew my horse had to have a heart beat of some sort, so obviously something was wrong. And that's when I noticed the building I was riding in. It was made out of metal. The worst type of material to allow a satellite signal to come through and hit my watch. Darn. All that work for a whole lot of nothing. I was deflated, but rode on anyway and just ignored the monitor. When we were done I untacked her and looked for rub marks and was happy to note it did not affect her at all.

I spoke with the hubs and the weekend was supposed to be sunny and not deathly cold, so we planned to hit the trails to try the thing outside. I made sure to wet the electrodes at the barn before we left and the drive was only 20 minutes, so they remained nice and wet when we arrived at the trail head. This time I noted that we were in a nice free and open spot without cover and when I turned it on I got a nice read out. Her heart rate was low - in the low 40s. Great! We walked off down the trail and I made note to look at the watch periodically to see what it was telling me. It told me that at a walk her heart rate remained very low - upper 40s to low 50s depending on the terrain. Ok, great! I was excited about all this new data. When we picked up the trot and I noticed it was still low it began to dawn on me that I had actually no clue what these numbers meant. I had no actual reference point to compare them to and so while they seemed interesting they were in fact useless.

I did remember a training guide that used the monitor as the main focus of all rides. I recalled a data point that was frequently used - a set of intervals of 10 minutes at a heart rate of 180 bpm. At the time I didn't take much notice of it since I didn't know anything about heart rate, but as we picked up a canter up a hill and I noted that her heart rate remained below 100 I began to question the possibility of hitting that mark and maintaining it for 10 minutes. What would I need to do? I asked her for a faster canter. Nope, nowhere close to 180. I finally asked for a full out gallop and we still only got to 150. The only time during the entire ride that her heart rate came close to 180 was when she spooked at a tree branch on the ground. Ok...I get it...the way to get her heart rate up is to scare the living crap out of her for 10 minutes straight.

With that idea thrown out the window I began to play around with different gaits and looking to see what it did to her heart rate. Was a fast trot creating a higher heart rate than a slow canter? How quickly did her heart rate recover at the walk after a long trot? How about after a canter? How about going from a canter to a trot? Hills? Jumping over logs? I kept track of the impact of terrain and gait on her heart rate as we went down the trail. I found it all very interesting.

September 12, 2013

Heart Rate Monitors - Part 2

The monitor came in two parts and really simple instructions. Like most things in life, however, it was not so simple. There was a watch for me to wear with a display of the heart rate, speed and distance travelled. It worked ok, but lost the signal to both GPS and the electrodes easily. The second part was a strap with an electrode on either end. The distance between the two was astounding - I swear it could have wrapped around a bull elephant. Ok, maybe not that big, but much larger than any horse wearing a monitor would require. My small Gemmiecakes could have had it wrapped around her twice and still had excess.

I decided to try it out at the barn first which was both very smart and incredibly stupid at the same time. My first problem was that it was winter in WI which in general is a problem, but for this specifically it made applying the electrodes difficult. They needed to be against the skin. Gem in winter looks more like a yak than a sleek endurance machine and there was about a foot (ok...maybe 10 inches :) of hair between her skin and the electrode. I stubbornly refused to shave her, so I just cleaned the area super well and hoped for the best. The one electrode was to go under the girth and the other on her shoulder under the saddle. I was concerned about anything being smushed up against her causing rubs, but in the end I needn't have worried. She never had a sore from it. The main difficulty with this set up was the aforementioned long strap. With both electrodes tucked safely into place, I still had a large amount of strap to deal with. With no good solution coming to mind I ended up just placing it under the saddle and as expected it ended up coming loose about 30 seconds into the ride and annoying me the entire time. I never did come up with a good solution for it.

Once I had the entire thing set up I decided that it might be a good idea to turn it all on and see if it worked. It didn't. Huh. Apparently the instructions were missing one key element to the entire thing: a medium through which the current could work. Theoretically a horse wearing a monitor works hard enough to sweat. Sweat just so happens to be a great electric current medium with the salt and other minerals in it, so I suppose the manufacturer just assumed it would be ok. They overlooked one main fact: a yak horse just starting to work is not sweaty. Gemmie was drier than dry. Nothing was flowing through those electrodes. This is where my idea to ride at the barn was a smart idea: I had water readily at hand. Had I been out on the trail I would have been SOL. Go me! Unfortunately, this meant that I had to undo the tack to get the electrodes off her, soak them in a nearby bucket of frigid water, and then replace the set up and the tack. A major pain in the butt.

Once it was all back in place I turned it all on and was excited to see a signal from the strap to my watch. Now I could have information galore!

September 11, 2013

Heart Rate Monitors - Part 1

“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.”  
- Edgar Allen Poe

Oh, the joys of being na├»ve. You know that point in a new interest/hobby when you have just enough knowledge to be dangerous? You are gung-ho about it and want to do it right, but you actually have no clue what that really entails or means? What do you do? You turn to books, the internet and friends who have been at it longer than you (not hard since you just started) and ask so many questions that they are no longer your friends. The onslaught of new information makes your head spin and you pick a spot and jump on in head first hoping that the pool is filled with water. Later, you look back in disgust at all the money and time you wasted on useless things, but it is all necessary to help you figure it all out.

That was me in the winter of 2011. I was a newbie to the endurance world, but I was hooked and I wanted to do it right. Endurance places a unique amount of responsibility on the rider - you are not only responsible for your own fitness and nutrition, but that of your horse as well. You don't have to worry about that with a bike or running shoes. I take that responsibility very seriously. If Gem gets hurt, it is my fault. She didn't wake up that morning and decide to trot for 10 hours. She wanted to bask in the sunshine eating herself into diabetes. It was my idea and because of that I need to make sure we do it right.

I went to the internet and books for help and found a whole world of useless gadgets that were deemed absolutely essential for proper endurance riding. Never mind the fact that we completed 50 miles without all that stuff. Now that I knew it existed, I had to have it. I could no longer plead ignorance. One gadget that seemed promising was a heart rate monitor. Many touted the usefulness in both training (use target heart rates as goals) and monitoring how the horse is doing during a ride (a sudden spike in heart rate may be an early warning sign of pain or fatigue). I got a basic, entry level unit for starters and prepared to be inundated with charts full of useful data that would get me across the finish line in tip top shape.

September 10, 2013

Hair Rant

Warning: this post has nothing to do with riding, endurance or goals and everything to do with me ranting about a recent experience.

I love hair. You really can't do anything to mess it up. Even if you get the worst haircut of your life with terrible highlights that glow in the dark and make you look like a vampire all you have to do is wait a little bit and it will grow out. Or re-cut it. Until you get old enough (or have a medical condition) that it begins to thin and fall out, the sky is the limit. It is the simplest way to make a big change without really having to commit to anything. It is great. When I get bored, I get my hair cut.

Personally, I would love it if just for once a patient would show up to my office and allow me to do whatever I need to. But no, they always say they can't stop running a million miles a day to allow things to heal, or they can't wear a fracture boot to work and can't take time off, or they don't want a steroid injection or they refuse to wear anything but high heel shoes etc.... Then they return and wonder why it still hurts.

When I go to a hair salon I sit in the chair and tell the person to do anything they want to. I'm game. I've had my hair shorter than the hubs' and as long as I could stand to grow it. It has been straight and curly (it is naturally curly). It has been almost black and bleached blonde and everything in between. When I tell you to be creative and do anything you want to, I mean it. Liven it up a little. My only restrictions are 1) it still has to look semi professional for my job and 2) it either needs to be long enough to allow even the smallest, bobby pin filled pony tail or so short I couldn't even think of doing it - the in between length drives me crazy. Everything else is fair game - super straight, lots of layers, bob, pixie, reverse bob, textured, highlights, all over color, low lights etc.....anything. I better walk out of that place knowing that my money actually made me look different.

So when I finally got some extra dough to get my hair cut and ended up with a big blank spot in my schedule I was excited to sit in that chair in a brand new-to-me salon and see what magic would be conjured up. I told the girl the above and sat back.....

And she trimmed a half inch off my hair, told me it was pretty the way it was and asked for $30. Huh? A half inch? Really? That's the only thing you could do with shoulder length hair and a lot of wiggle room? So I made her flat iron it and put some gel in it and left very deflated. Yes, I could have been cranky and told her to redo it, but it wasn't worth it. At least it looks nice and no bridges were burned, so when I get it done the next time they will still have plenty to work with.

Oh! And to make matters worse, I went to pay with my debit card and she told me they don't take cards. Really? It is 2013. Everyone takes cards. Or at least understand you are rare enough to warn people when the make the appointment. I didn't just walk in. I called and spoke to her first. Luckily for her there was a bank in the parking lot with a drive up ATM that I walked through. I am usually a very generous tipper (she would have gotten $10 on a $30 bill), but since the bank charges $3 to use the ATM and mine charges another $2 on their end, I deducted that from her tip and gave her $5.

I may return to the salon again - it was clean and open and modern looking, but I won't be using her again. Frustrating.

September 9, 2013

I Told You Life Is Never Boring

“Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”
- Dr. Seuss

Sunday morning dawned cool and beautiful as always down here in the South. Our typical morning ritual began without a hitch - the hubs got up with W for breakfast and I laid in bed wondering why on earth mornings come so fast. After breakfast the hubs and W headed out front with our 2 dogs and I got up to get my day going. That's when things took a sharp left turn for the day. Personally, I think it took a turn for the better. The hubs disagrees. You have to love marital discord.

So what happened? A tiny, adorable and homeless puppy happened. Who could ask for better than waking up to see a cute puppy face at your door? Well, apparently the hubs could. Of course his reasoning behind it all is fairly sound, but when has logic ever beaten out a heart full of emotions?

When the hubs took our 2 dogs and W out front Sunday morning he saw the puppy hanging out in the next door neighbor's driveway. The neighbor didn't seem so happy about it (what is up with grumpy men?) being there. The story went that she had shown up the night before and spent the night sleeping on his front porch. He wanted to keep her. His 4 year old daughter wanted to keep her and had named her Carly. His wife said no.

Being the bleeding heart that I am (which is the reason we have 2 dogs and 3 cats in the first place) I ran inside and grabbed a dog collar and leash for her. We were worried about fleas, so she went out to our fenced in backyard until the hubs (veterinarian extraordinaire) could look her over. Once she was pronounced healthy, happy and friendly, she came inside to meet the horde. I guess it has just happened so gradually over the years that I didn't even notice it, but my dogs have become fuddy duddys. They are old now and just lack that puppy charm and lack of grace that makes having a puppy worth all the pee and nighttime potty breaks and chewing and energy. My dogs took one look at her, grumbled, and the big one went to bed and the little one went to hide in the corner. Not a great welcome. I love my old man (13 years old now) and lady (6 but she is a giant breed so that's old for her) and wouldn't change a thing with them, but having that puppy around really, really made me miss it when they were young and full of mischief and energy. Its been a long time since we had a young animal around - even my cats are old now at 10, 9 and the youngest at 4.

She is a cute little 12 week old pup with beautiful coloring. She is a pit bull and my hubs loves the breed. Very family friendly and outgoing, but couch potatoes at heart when not active. Honestly, she fits into our lifestyle and family very well. If only she came into it a year from now. I spent the whole day going back and forth on what to do. Any other time in my life there wouldn't have even been a discussion - she would have been ours. She is obviously not a stray. No fleas, in good health and weight and is already mostly house trained. She asked at the door to go out and didn't have any accidents in the house all day or night. She slept in Bones' old dog kennel overnight and when we went out and was very good about it. Someone had loved her at some point.

I would love to keep her and cried this morning when the hubby took her to work with him to try to find her a good, loving home. It just isn't a good time. Two older, lazy dogs are great right now because they leave W's toys alone and don't care that our time with them is limited due to playing with him. They get excited for their morning walk and weekend hikes, but after that they sleep all day. I don't have to feel guilty when I go to the barn or when we play with W inside all day. They are fine and happy. A puppy needs a lot of time and attention and time is one thing I don't have right now. I also worry about her jumping up on W when he is trying to learn to walk and knocking him down or scratching him or nipping him or just ruining all of his toys. All things I don't have to worry about with Bones and Hero.

So, in the end, the hubs had little to worry about. She will stay at the clinic for now until she finds a good home. If she is still there in a while, we will contact the local pit rescue group and see if they have room for her. She is so friendly and cute, I doubt it will take long. I just want to make sure she doesn't go to an outdoor only home. It was just so cute watching her pounce on toys, run amok for no reason except to experience the joy of running amok and experience new things. We get that every day with W, but I really miss that in my old dogs and cats. Someday we will get a puppy again when the timing is right and W won't be at risk. Some day.

September 8, 2013

Butch Kennedy Trail

Miss Thing Looking For Me
We finally got off to the trails on Saturday morning!! It has been in the works for almost a week, but I didn't want to post about it in case it didn't happen.

We got a babysitter for W for 7 am Saturday morning. I had hoped to be on the road by 7:30 and to the trail head at 8, but that required the truck to be  hooked up Friday night and the hubs wasn't up for it (he would have had to hook it up and run the 6 miles back home) and the babysitter was late and once we got to the barn someone asked if we could wait until 9 so they could join us, but I had had a message on
the barn board all week with my number and hadn't got a call so we said no we had to go and after all of that we finally left the barn at 8:15 and arrived at the trail head at almost 9. I'm getting used to being an hour behind schedule :)

Trail Map
Gem wasn't too happy to see me so bright and early on a Saturday morning. She usually gets Saturday off. The hubs hooked up the trailer while I got Gem and as soon as she saw it her ears perked up and she was excited. I tied her to the trailer to brush her out and she started pawing at the ground in impatience. She knows what the trailer means and she was happy for the change of pace.

New trails are always slightly stressful because you just don't know what to expect. We had been
 spoiled in the arctic north with great flat trails and smooth footing that you could fly over. All 4 of us loved them and we got used to that pace as our norm. Fortunately, there was a trail map in the parking lot and it even listed the various trail distances. We picked the 6 mile loop and headed out.

T. Ed Garrison Arena - part of Clemson University
The entry into the woods wasn't so great. You could tell the trail gets used a lot and the clay was sticky and deep. It was pretty slow going. After a little ways in it dried up pretty nicely and we were able to pick up a nice trot for a bit. The trail was all single track and winding through the woods which were surprisingly dense. Usually that is one of our favorite types of trail, but this
trail turned out to be much more technical than
than we had expected or were used to.

I don't know if it is because of the heavy traffic the trail sees or because of the rain this year or a combination of both, but the trail was full of foot bruising roots that reminded me of our Iowa endurance ride. Every time we managed to get in a decent trot, we would have to pull up due to an extremely rooty area or a ditch or rocks. I think Pete got pretty annoyed with the pace. I know the hubs did.

Pete and the hubs maintained the lead through the majority of the ride as usual. Gem just hates being out front - I think she takes the responsibility too seriously and she has to look at everything to make sure it is safe. She goes at a snails pace (seriously - at one time we were going at 1 mph. I walk faster than that!).
The Trail

Unfortunately for the boys it meant that they

 were the trail cleaners for us girls. The trail was a landmine of spider webs. The hubs was dodging them left and right and ended up coated in webs and spiders. It was particularly amusing when we were trotting to see him try to dodge at speed :) I did give them a break and put Gem out front a couple of times. She actually did the best to date when in the lead. We even came across a scary creek crossing (steep entry with a tree down on the other side as well) and she crossed with only the slightest hesitation. Good girl Gemmie!!!

There was one spot where the entire trail was washed out. We found the spot where people were going around it, but it was super steep and you had to walk over a slick rock to cross and then back up again. Pete went first and for the first time in 3 years refused to go. I don't know if it was the trickling water or the red clay (he doesn't seem to like the color of the dirt around here), but he just refused to go. We ended up getting off and leading them across (Gemmie and I went first - take that boys!!)

The trail also had some nice up and down hills. I'll post the GPS stats at the bottom, but it ended up being a nice hilly ride. That is definitely not something the horses are used to - most of the trails up north were flat. At about the 4th mile or so, the horses started getting bored of the slow the pace, tired of the roots and just generally tired, but we were on a loop and had to keep going forward. They were game for trotting over the sections that allowed it still and so we knew they were doing ok. At mile 4 I also stopped to tighten my saddle.
Gem is the queen of blowing out her stomach when I first put it on. I really need to remember to stop in the first mile to do this.

All in all we had a good time. I really think we could get faster at it once the horses get used to the terrain and in better shape for it. It has been a year since Pete went on a decent trail ride and this was definitely more strenuous than what we are used to. If we can get out once a month this fall I bet we will see a huge difference in the pace fairly quickly. I'm hugely opposed to nailing metal shoes into my horse's feet, so I may have to move horse boots up on my wish list if all the area trails are going to be like this. 4 sets aren't cheap though.
The Red Clay Earth Around Here
My tack held up pretty well. I do need to get off her earlier to move the saddle back and tighten up the girth. It was barely tight at all by mile 4! The first 3 miles had some steep downhills and the saddle didn't move forward much at all. It did in mile 4 which is why I got off, but I think that had more to do with the girth being loose than anything. I was super happy with the fleece cover - no rubs at all even with the terrain and length of riding. Wahoo!! An $8 fix worked for once :)  I continue to love her halter bridle. I forgot to put the breast collar on which may have been smart anyway. I should try it in the arena first. I really, really want to get a crupper and hope to by the end of the month before our first hunter pace in October. I want to train her on it in the arena first.

Looking Gorgeous As Usual
GPS Stats:
  • 5 miles (GPS is always off when in heavy cover. You end up loosing signal and once you get it again it just draws a straightish line between where you were and where you are now. The map said 6 miles and it probably is around 5.5-5.75)
  • 1:39:25 ride time
  • 3 mph average (wahoo!), but a man of 10.3 mph which is a fast trot pace for her. We didn't canter at all.
  • 793 ft elevation gain
  • 839 ft elevation loss
I find the elevation interesting. This trail was a loop - so we started and ended at the same spot. How could we then lose more elevation than we gained? Shouldn't it be equal? How did we end up at the same spot then? was a great work out for Gem both mentally and physically and I can't wait to get out there again!!!

September 7, 2013

Big Girl Panties

Well, that title should land me some nice Google search hits :) Won't they all be surprised when it is just a boring story about Gemmiecakes?

I had an amazing ride Thursday night. We didn't go far. We didn't go hard. We didn't go long. But we went somewhere new and it was all Gem's idea.

If horses wore panties, Gem would have had her big girl ones on Thursday night. She never ceases to amaze me. The arena is always busy on Thursdays and I generally avoid it and just go on Friday, but I have other plans and so Thursday it was. W was a super sleepy baby and went to bed at 6:30pm (he even slept in on Friday morning too) so I had some extra daylight to play with.

The hubs had surprisingly given the BM the green light to use Pete once a week and Thursday turned out to be his first ride. The girl on him is super nice and has a gelding who could be Gem's twin (only he is a Quarter horse and not an Arabian) in both looks and personality. I feel for the girl. Pete was a nice change of pace for her and afterward she was beaming and had a ton of fun. Go Wonderboy! I'm nosey even if my horse is not, so I took longer than usual to tack up as I watched Pete over her back. Sneaky, aren't I?

I decided that spying was more important than going off on the "trails" and so once I got up on her I steered her toward the grassy area next to the arena. I figured we could still get a decent work out in while getting a good view of the Pete action. Again, aren't I sneaky? Gem apparently had other ideas. The grassy area is bordered on two sides by the gelding pasture which is huge. I generally turn the area into a small arena and ride it in a circle like pattern and so we headed out toward the pasture with the plan to make a right turn once we reached the fence. Once we got there though, Gemmie strutted out through the gate and into the gelding pasture like we had done it multiple times before. Huh? I asked Gem where we were going and she just kept trucking out into the pasture. Ok. I'm game for that!

She rode super well out there. A little slow and look-y but we walked the perimeter without any major occurrences and then made our way back. If she became tense, I let her turn back toward her comfort zone and then slowly widened the oval back again the next pass. We made it almost clear down to the woods at the bottom of the pasture. Once down the hill I figured we could work on some hill work and so I asked her to trot back up to the top. She did, although she was tense and spooky at nothing. Once back to the top we turned around and went back down. I asked her to trot up again and this time she took off! We rushed up the hill at a 14mph pace and jumped over a small ditch in the process. It was a ton of fun!!! I did make her go back down and trot up again just to let her know she actually did have to listen, but man was that fun :)

All in all it was a great night at the barn :)

September 6, 2013

Unhappy Boarder

Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman (or mare).”
- Maya Angelou

Ever since Gem got caught up in her pasture last weekend, I have been worried about her. No, she didn't hurt herself beyond some superficial scratches, but I can't keep from wondering what drove her into the woods in the first place. She isn't a particularly nosey horse. That takes effort and Gem is all about low energy usage. There were no scrumptious grasses hidden to lure her in. So why go in?

The only explanation I can come up with is that she was running to escape one of her herd mates. I know which one too. A stocky brown mare with a crooked white stripe down her face named Classy. Classy, my butt! I've seen her chasing Gem off the water trough and she has forced me to be the crazy horse owner who chases a horse away to let mine drink after a work out. I have no issues stooping to that level. Gem is very low key in a herd. She doesn't vie for the head honcho spot (again too much effort and responsibility) and leaves everyone else pretty much alone. At first I figured it was because Gemmie was so new to the herd and it did settle down for a while. But on Tuesday night I noticed yet another new mark on her hide and this one was definitively hoof shaped.

I got angry. Gem is getting all marked up. Yes, they are all superficial. Yes, horses will be horses and sometimes come in with a mark. But all these superficial marks are starting to add up to one messy looking pony and I am tired of it. I pulled her over to show the BM in the middle of her lesson. She tried to pass it off as a scratch from the woods. I told her there was no way that was from a branch. I'm not going to allow Gem to get hurt. She told me that she had thought of a plan. Ok, fine, but it better be a good one.

Her thought is that Gem is going into the woods to say hello to the other horses across the fence (perhaps, but only because her herd is a bunch of cranky ladies that she doesn't like) and if we eliminate both the woods and the neighbors it should all go away. So, the whole farm is getting an upheaval. The geldings are getting moved to Gem's current pasture, the other herd of mares (currently next to Gem) are going to the geldings' pasture and Gem's herd are getting put out back behind the barn. That way no horses will have immediate neighbors.

Personally I think that is a lot of hoopla when all she really needs to do is move Gem out of her current herd and in with the other group of mares or better yet take Pete and her and put them in one of the empty pastures all to themselves. But, no. Why do something simple when you can make it more dramatic and time consuming and annoying?

September 5, 2013

Ride Updates

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing"
- Oscar Wilde

The good news: nothing uber exciting has been happening during my rides lately. The bad news: it doesn't give me much to write about. Collectively the rides over the last couple of weeks have been interesting enough, but not on an individual, blog worthy level.

I ride 3 days a week. Or at least I try to. Gem seems quite good at sabotaging my only long day at the barn. When she isn't doing it, the BM is (like Tuesday night when she decided to delve into my saddle fitting woes while I watched the sun slowly setting lower and lower taking my chances at a good ride down with it). I had originally hoped to get an hour long ride in during the week (times 2) and then a two hour long ride on the weekend. Reality slapped me upside the head though and I came to understand that asking that of Gemmie when we have not been up to a whole lot and she is still coming out of the pasture sweaty isn't very kind. I have now backed off to 30 minute rides during the week and an hour on the weekend. It seems to be working. She is already showing signs of decreasing belly mass and some muscling is coming back.

The arena work is still boring as anything. Around and around and around we go. If I could figure out a way to post my GPS information you could all have a good laugh at the ride picture. It looks like I gave W a nice big red crayon and he scribbled a big oval over and over again. She is calmer which is in part due to the work and in part her settling in. I even got a big "wow that looks nice!" out of the BM. Apparently Gemmie is changing her view of the Arabian horse. Way to go Gem!! Be an ambassador for the breed :)

I have been riding at night-ish lately. At first I was pretty worried about how Gem would react to the decreasing visibility. There are arena lights that I put on, but they tend to cast little pools of light with shadows in between. I won't jump after dark, but I do ask her to trot and canter and she is doing pretty good all in all. The darker it gets, the more tense she gets, but I expect after a long winter of short days she will improve. The best news is that it is September and still hot out. My friends in WI are starting to post about 40 degree days and needing sweat shirts. I am still in capris and a t-shirt. Have I mentioned how much I love the South?

I keep crossing the billets on my saddle, but I don't see that it is doing a whole lot other than putting a kink in my billets. I'm going to try it on a longer ride and see, but I think I am just going to go back to the normal way. It is less confusing. Some day I want to have a professional saddle fitter come on out and take a look at Gem. Maybe she can just alter some things and make it be magical. Doubtful, but you never know.
Normal billets

Crossed billets

September 4, 2013

Holiday Fun

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep and miles before I sleep."
- Frost

I'm going to interrupt the normally horse-centric posts for one about the rest of us. Shhh....don't tell Gem.

What to do with a 3 day weekend and beautiful weather? Be outside of course! And we definitely were. Saturday was hiking with the dogs at Saddler's Creek State Park followed by taking W to the swimming pool for the afternoon and then another walk for the pups around the neighborhood in the evening. Sunday was barn day, but I didn't ride (see Sunday's post) and hiked around the farm instead. Then we played all day and walked the pups in the afternoon. Monday came and we wanted to do something different. Ever since moving down here and realizing how close to actual mountains (well, east coast mountains anyway) we would be, we have been itching to go hiking. Before the arrival of the awesome baby backpack we were limited in distance and difficulty level, but now we have freedom.

A patient recommended Table Rock State Park as a great hiking destination that is only 45 minutes away, so we mapped it out. It is only 3.5 miles (and 2200 ft of elevation gain) to the top of Table Rock and if we were lucky enough we could then hike 2 miles over to the next summit (can't remember the mountain name right now) which is about 200 ft lower and then head back for a nice 12 mile round trip loop. Being somewhat realistic in expectations, we figured we would shoot for Table Rock only on this trip and do the rest the next time.

One major change in our lives since W joined our family is the complete inability to leave the house in under an hour. Before W we could just leave. Now we have to grab his bag and pack it so full of various objects that you would think we were going away for a week. By the time that is done, he needs a snack and changed and then finally we can head out to pack up the van and leave. It doesn't seem to matter where we are going or for how long. It always takes an hour.

We got to the trail head later than we wanted to and W had decided to not nap all morning (nothing new there) and stay awake during the drive as well. This made for a tired baby from the start, but we were prepared. His nice, comfy pack was waiting for him and we even remembered to bring his lunch. The trail head was super busy. There is a nice lake there with a swimming area and even a high diving board and it was packed with holiday revelers. We were a little disappointed with the trail at first because it was paved, but once we got past the ranger station building and the first of several beautiful waterfalls, all the urbanites dwindled and we had a dirt trail and trees to keep us company.

I started off with W on my back and we headed up. And up. And up. I swear the corps of engineers had never heard of a switchback! Instead of making a nice trail that zig zagged its way up the mountain, they just cut stone steps into the side and made you go straight up. We passed several really nice waterfalls on the way up. W LOVES moving water and that helped get him out of his cranky funk and interested in the walk.

We knew the weather was warm out, but at home the humidity had been relatively low compared to what we are used to. Not in the woods. It was HUMID. I was almost immediately covered in a film of sweat that just wouldn't stop. The hubs was even worse with it literally pouring off of him. Thankfully, the backpack came with (thanks to the generosity of my father-in-law who sent the whole set up to us) a 2 liter water pack that we had filled up before we left home. We needed it. I wanted to make it the first half before giving up W to the hubs, but after 0.5 miles in, my legs were feeling it. I didn't want to fall and hurt him, so I handed him over to the hubs who took him the rest of the way. I immediately felt 10 degrees cooler and way lighter (he is 20 lbs and the pack has weight plus all the things we crammed into it - I bet it was 40 lbs).

We got to just beyond 1 mile and W lost it. He began crying and fussing nonstop so we pulled over. We prepared his lunch (aren't we such good Sherpas? Why doesn't Gme provide lunch for me when I am riding her?) and hoped he would settle back into happy baby mode, but he wasn't having it. He was exhausted. Why the kid refuses to sleep ever is beyond me, but we made the decision to turn back around and not ruin anything.

I let the hubs keep W for the trip down. I dislike steep down hills with slippery rocks and really didn't want to risk falling with W on my back. We made it down very quickly and he fell asleep about 10 minutes from the car. His neck was cranked to almost 90 degrees while asleep and I am very glad we didn't push onward. We need to figure out something to make him more comfortable while asleep up there. Maybe a travel neck pillow?

All in all it was a lot of fun. We were disappointed that we didn't make the summit, but poor W had put up with it for 90 minutes and had just had enough. He woke up back at the car and stayed awake all the way home. We were tired and thirsty and hungry but he wanted to play, play, play so we did for an hour before I forced him to nap. Then we took the dogs for another walk and called it a night.
A great weekend!!