January 20, 2014

Our Own Hunter Pace

I hope I never get used to beautiful 56 degree and sunny days in January. I hope you never get sick of me bragging about them :) Coming from the Arctic North where a day above 0 degrees Fahrenheit was a heat wave, every sunshine filled day here in the South is like a gift. Ask me in August if I still feel this way :)

I think I have made more adult like and mature decisions in the past 6 months than in the previous 31.5 years. Ick. But that is life and so instead of heading to the hunter pace I so desperately longed for, we headed to the local trail head instead. And saved about $250. And still had fun.

Gemmie needed a mental break badly. She has been so good on our solo trail rides, but I can tell she needed time to zone out. Pete hadn't been off the farm in over 2 months and he needed it as well, so we planned for a sitter for W for the morning and headed out together. Gem has had some issues getting on the trailer lately and I braced myself for trouble, but once she saw that Pete was onboard she marched on in happily without a second thought. Poor mare just really doesn't like going alone.

The trail head was pretty empty with only 2 other trailers when we pulled up. We hit the green (hubby says it is blue) trail in the proper direction since the hubby hadn't been that way and Pete just about tore off the hubby's arm. He took off down the field at his super trot and poor Gemmie had to canter to barely keep up. She really isn't a fast horse. We flew through the first mile and hit the woods and the hubs asked if I could go out in front to give him a break from holding Pete back. We moved in front and immediately slammed into Gem's 0.5 mph leader pace. She takes leading so seriously and has to make sure nothing could be a potential threat. It is pretty annoying. Pete hates being behind her and bites her butt the whole time to get her moving. We didn't last long in the lead.

Pete leading the way along the access road
I get to look at Pete and Hubby butt on most of our rides

It did cause Pete to chill out and get his brain back in order which was good. He was just so excited to be out and about. Gem was huffing like a freight train by the end of mile 2 (which we reached in just under 15 minutes - a real endurance pace). Pete was super sweaty and I could smell Gem sweat as well and we were early on in the ride. Time to chill for a little. It is always interesting to see when Pete asks to walk versus fly. He loves to fly through the woods especially if it is twisting and turning and usually is happy to walk the straight and open parts.

We wandered along the access road giving them a breather and then headed back into the woods again. As soon as Pete saw the twisting trail he asked to trot and off we went again. Gem got tired of trotting and picked up a nice smooth canter instead which I enjoyed. She is very good at switching her leads on trail herself to make turns.

Selfie :)
Back into the woods we go!

An already tired Gemmie
We wound our way through the woods, up and down the hills and around the turns with Pete in the lead with ears forward and having fun and Gemmie grumbling under her breath. I do love her. We made it to the track around the lake and the breeze coming off the lake coupled with the loss of the sun behind the hills made it a bit brisk. The trail was too tight and steep to trot, so we walked a got a bit chilled.

But we were soon back up out of the woods and onto an access road once more. I was having a lot of fun and didn't worry about my saddle moving at all. It was great!! At one point Gem started to really lag behind. I think she actually dozed off while walking because Pete started to trot off and she kept barely walking. Usually she picks up after him right away. He got a little ways ahead and out of site down a steep bank and she finally perked up and panicked. She took off at a canter forgetting to mind her feet and went crashing down the hill stumbling over the roots and a full out canter. I was laughing at her.

The hubs turned around and started laughing at poor Gem trying to catch up. He agreed that she must have dozed off walking down the trail! He then remarked "well if the saddle didn't move forward after all that, it never will" and you know what? It didn't budge!!!!!! I can't express how awesome that is!

Back out onto an access road under a brilliantly blue sky

Selfie #2

We enjoyed the nice wide access road and passed by a couple hikers. I had stopped paying attention to the trail marker a long time before because I was in the back enjoying my own mental break and figured the hubs was doing the job. I recognized the trail from our last time out, but we were doing it backwards this time. We came out of the access trail to a trail map and couldn't find anymore green (blue) makers. Only yellow ones (which designate either a short cut or extension but no way to differentiate from the two since both are the same). I recognized the parking lot and trail map but couldn't recall where to go, so we took the yellow trail.

It turns out that the reason I recognized this map was because I had gotten lost there on my shorter rides before and turned around to go back at that point. We had missed the trail coming off the access road at some point. This yellow trail was a short cut which took probably a mile or so off the ride, but we knew where we were and the horses were doing well so we didn't have the heart to turn them around.

By this point Pete was enjoying being off the access road and into the woods again and picked up his trot. Gem had lost interest and stopped paying attention to her feet and just went crashing down the trail tripping over every root and rock possible. I was worried she was going to hurt herself and so we plowed ahead of Pete to slow down and made it back to the trailer in one piece.

I thought for sure Gem was used up and sooo tired.

A SUPER sweaty Pete after a great ride
Super, super sweaty

Pete was caked in sweat. There is a hose at the parking lot and we debated hosing him down. 56 is warm, but not warm enough for me to feel comfortable hosing my horse off in cold water, so we loaded up to let him dry and then the hubs groomed him super well back home to get all the crusty salt off.

I untacked Gem:

Ummm...where is the sweat?
Sigh. Seriously like no sweat on her at all. Her chest was a little damp. That's it. And she was acting like she was ready to fall over. I don't push her hard enough. At all. If I wasn't against others doing my work for me, I'd look at sending her out for a month or two at a training facility to whip her in shape. Its all mental for her. And that makes it mental for me. That girl is going to start sweating!!!

January 16, 2014

Saddle Saga Continues

I have heard nothing but chirps from the various places I blasted with both saddles. I'm not a very patient person and this is killing me a little bit. Unfortunately, I have chosen almost the worst time of year to try to sell it. I've been told that the spring is prime saddle selling time as the new competition season starts to amp up and people want to make changes. Personally, I would think anything new would be introduced in the winter to allow time to adjust to it prior to competition season starting, but what do I know?

I've been trying to figure out how to move the saddle. The hubs is all for me waiting a bit more. Keeping things out there and seeing if they get a bite or not. Honestly this is the best way for me to get what I want out of it. Unless I have to drop the price to get interest anyway.

I am leaning towards sending it out to a consignment shop. I've found two that were recommended by a fellow blogger who has experience in selling high end saddles. They both take a 20% commission and this drops my bottom dollar to a little below what I want. But if it gets it sold it would be worth it. I contacted a place in Maryland and they are interested. They are more geared toward dressage and hunter/jumper versus eventing which is a little bit of a draw back since this is an eventing saddle. But they have a good track record and handle trial periods, pay pal fees and the rest. I mail them the saddle and they blast the internet as well as local sources and have it at the shop. They do allow a trial period, but if the person purchases the saddle after a trial period it is more expensive than buying it outright. Gives incentive to not trial it.

The second place I emailed is in Texas. They handle high end saddles as well, but also deal with cross country/eventing saddles. They are picky about which brands they accept and WISE is not on the list. I emailed them anyway to see if they would be interested and will give them a day or two to respond.

I'm finding that buying a brand new concept saddle isn't such a smart idea after all. Its not that it isn't a great saddle, because I will stand by my opinion that it is, but its that nobody has heard of it. There aren't any used ones for sale because not that many have been sold. The few who have them love them, but it just hasn't caught fire in the community. So, in order to sell it, the perfect person has to come along. In my mind I would be more likely to find this person with better exposure through a consignment shop whose job it is to sell saddles. They don't make money unless they sell it.

The Wintec is another story. I'll keep that myself to sell. It isn't worth a whole lot to make using a consignment shop worthwhile. I will repost that one in another couple weeks to keep it fresh and wait until it sells.

In other news - I'm not going to the pace on Sunday. It just costs too much and right now money needs to go elsewhere. The pace itself isn't too bad - $35-40 a rider, but times that by two, add in gas for a 2 hour drive and babysitter fees for about 6 hours and it ends up being a $300 outing. Ouch. I thought about going alone with Gem and having the hubs entertain W while I ride, but Gem really needs a mental break. She has been going out solo a lot lately and a date with her boy Pete is in order. So, we are going to hit the Butch Kennedy trails close to home with no entry fee instead. W will only need to be watched for a few hours total (instead of 6) and gas is minimal. We will still have a lot of fun and get the horses out. Its been a long time since we rode together so I am very excited!

January 15, 2014

The Foot Debate - Part 3: Shoes

I bet you can't wait until the trails dry up and I can ride again so my posts become more entertaining, huh?

Shoes. For me this is a last resort. I don't condemn or judge anyone that uses them. I try hard not to be black and white about much in life. For some horses, for some people, and for some circumstances shoe are the best or even only option. And that's fine. For me they are the end of the foot debate road.

Pros of shoes are many. For starters they have been used for pretty much all of the ridden horses existence and really if they were that harmful they would have been abandoned a millennia ago. Or that's how I see it anyway. Shoes are nice because they provide while not true shock absorption per se at least they raise the sole off the ground giving clearance from hurtful footing such as rocks. Being metal you would think they would be slick on rocks and wet surfaces, but for some reason I'm sure physics can explain, but I can not, hey provide nice grip in these situations. Another pro is the fact that once they are on they are minimal maintenance. Baring any unforeseen occurrence, they should stay firmly in place until the farrier removes them and so you can ride whenever you want without taking the time to apply them. Rocks and dirt rarely get underneath the metal part of the shoe and no rubbing on extra parts of the leg occurs.

Cons are also numerous though. I don't like the thought of hammering metal nails through her hoof and keeping metal on there. It doesn't allow the hoof to contract or expand as it should. If a shoe is lost right before or worse during a ride, your only option is to either scratch or pay a large sum for an emergent farrier visit. I have heard that some larger endurance rides have a farrier present for this circumstance and if the shoe fell off without damaging the hoof you can put it back on and continue the ride. But too often this isn't the case and a large chunk of hoof was taken off with the shoe.

After having an internal debate what I would really like to do is keep her barefoot and try to save up for some boots. It is the ideal for me: keeping her barefoot when not needing anything else (pasture, arena, soft trails) and then having the ability to add support and cushion through the boots when needed.

In the meantime (until my saddles sell and I have the $ to get the boots) I am going to continue exposing her feet to various terrain and watch to see if they respond by becoming thicker, stronger and better than ever. Who knows? Maybe I won't need boots eventually.

January 14, 2014

Trying To Sell My Saddle Saga

I hate selling things. I would honestly rather just give it to someone who needs/wants it when I no longer do. I don't barter or haggle. If I am buying something I will pay the asking price. I don't like worrying about scams and people trying to rip me off. In general, I am not enjoying trying to sell my saddle.

I blasted the internet with ads for both the WISE Equestrian and Wintec saddles. I even paid $15 to have the WISE listed on Eventing Nation. I figured that would be a likely spot to sell it. I listed it for $3,000. That's how much I want for it. I should have listed it for $3,250 and let someone talk me down to $3,000, but see the above: I don't barter or haggle.

Unfortunately, I have not sold either yet. I have had one response to the Wintec ad on craigslist. I have that one listed for $250. I bought it for $600 4 years ago and it looks brand spanking new. $250 is a good price. The woman emailed me and asked if I would travel an hour to drop it off. I said sure (worth the drive to get rid of it) but then she asked if that was my lowest price. Um? I don't understand this question (and have gotten it several times). Why would I just offer up a lower price? Make me an offer and I will counter it or accept it. Don't make me make you an offer to buy it from me. Sigh. So anyway I told her if I was driving an hour it was firm at $250, but if she was willing to drive the two total hours distance between the two of us that she could make an offer and I would consider it. I figured that was being fair. Well, then she asked if I had stirrup leathers, irons, a girth, a pad and the entire gullet system. Huh? Read the ad. I have listed everything included: 1 saddle plus two gullets. Nothing else. The gullet system alone is $100. That would make the saddle only worth $150 and that's too low. I told her no and she said ok, but no thanks.

My WISE saddle has been even worse. I have gotten 2 scammers emailing me. The first was obvious from the start. A guy wanted to purchase the saddle for his wife in MO, but he was on a navy ship and had no access to his bank account and could only use paypal. Oh and he had a shipping agent who would pick up the saddle and ship it to him. Ummm...no. Check/cash/money order only. The second was harder to ferret out. I received a nice email asking about the condition of the saddle, any extras and price. I repeated my ad which annoyed me because it was all in there, but oh well. They were fine with the price and would pay by certified check. Great! But then the other shoe fell and they again mentioned a shipping agent who would pick up the saddle. They refused to give me physical address. I will only ship fedex or ups with signature upon receipt to have proof it arrived. They said they would pay me the $3000 plus add some money in for shipping that I would give to the agent and if there was any excess to give back to them. Uhhuh. Right. So basically you give me a fake check for $4000 and I mail out to the agent $1,000 and then find out the check is fake and lose $1,000. No thanks. I told them the above rule of shipping with signature on receipt and haven't heard back. Scammers.

Here is an idea: why don't you get a real job, make real honest money and pay your bills instead of trying to rip others off? That way you are a decent human being making a positive impact on society instead of a bottom dweller.

I tried to offer my saddle to a local girl who has been wanting one. Allowed her to give a deposit and make payments and even let her try it out. She took it to her trainer who promptly told her it wouldn't work because the stirrup bars are in a bad position and could potentially cause a pressure point. Without even putting it on the horse or sitting in it. Sigh. Her loss. Its a great saddle at an amazing price. I'm sure Phillip Dutton who made it and the host of other 4* riders know nothing and would put the stirrup bars in a bad spot. I love how trainers (generalization here from my own and friends experiences) only like one specific saddle and turn down anything outside of what they know without a second thought. Again, her loss.

So, I still have both saddles. I still need to sell them to pay for the new Advantage that is in the works. But the good news is that I have the demo still and should hopefully be able to attend the hunter pace on sunday with it. Anyone want to buy it?

January 13, 2014

The Foot Debate - Part 2: Boots

Hmmm...so where was I? Oh! Talking about feet.

The next step up (well, in my mind anyway) is boots. There are a ton of different boots available for your horse. Some are rated for higher mileage than others and some are toted for ease of putting them on. In the end, I think which boot you chose will be based on what features you like and which are deal breakers for you.

The benefit of boots in my mind is the ability to keep Gem barefoot when in the pasture and when riding on soft ground (like the arena in the evenings or on trails I know are easy on the feet) and still allow me to protect her feet for those trails that are rough. Research shows that the boot allows the hoof to expand and contract unlike a shoe and won't impede the health of the hoof overall. This makes sense to me especially since she wouldn't be wearing them 24/7. They also aid shock absorption and give traction. And some come in pretty colors that would make her look spiffy and match our red and black motif.

What's the negative to boots? For me it is cost. This is a hot debate when this topic shows up on forums and such. The initial outlay for the boots is expensive and like all things being used in high demand situations, they wear out and need replaced. How often depends on how often the are used and on what type of terrain. Most pro boot people claim it is cheaper in the long run to boot because you usually either pay just a barefoot trim or learnt o do it yourself and shoes need done more frequently and at higher cost. This may be true for people who shoe every 6 weeks year round and pay a lot for it, but my $35 every 10-12 weeks is way less than the cost of boots.

Another negative for me is that with boots you need to trim way more frequently, like every 4 weeks or so. The boot needs to fit very snugly in order to stay put and the hoof needs to be the correct size for your boot. So you need to keep it trimmed. If you are using the boots every time you ride, the hoof won't naturally trim itself with those miles so you have to either pay your farrier to do it or do it yourself. Some suggest purchasing two pairs of boots (more $$) with one a slightly larger size than the other so that when you don't trim it still fits. Seems like trimming would be better.

Last I always worry about anything being put on my horse. I don't know how some endurance people get away with it, but some pictures I see the horse in loaded down with packs and spare boots and water bottles and more packs. Personally the less on Gem the better for me because that is less chance of rubbing and sores. For her feet, the boots can twist, can get sand or mud in them, can rub on her legs etc... It is just another thing to worry about during a ride. Loosing a boot would be less traumatic to the hoof during a ride than loosing a shoe and if I happened to have a replacement boot I could put it on myself. If not, I could remove the matching boot (so she would have two missing fronts or two missing backs and not three on and one off) and finish up the ride.

If I do decide to go with boots, my eyes are fixed on the Renegades or Renegade Vipers. In red up front and black in the back. I would want the backs a different color so it would be less likely that I would mess them up. There is a lot that goes with boots. My hope is that I can sell my WISE saddle for what I'm asking (anyone want to buy it???) and that will pay off the new Advantage saddle. Then if I can sell my Wintec (how about this one???) which is also up online then the sale of that would buy my first set of boots.

Don't worry - there is a part 3 tomorrow!!

January 7, 2014

The Foot Debate - Part 1

Ah...the great foot debate. Shoe the front, shoe all four feet, wear boots, go barefoot. I've spent a great deal of time reading about the pros and cons of each option. I have also been a follower of the Rockley Farm blog for the past two years now.

(Brief interruption about the blog: a lady in the UK has set up a rehabilitation farm to take horses diagnosed lame and unable to even walk comfortably in various therapeutic shoes. She takes the shoes off immediately, sets them outside on various terrain, gives them nutrition and exercise and 12 weeks later sends them home with brand new, sound and pain free feet. If you have any interest at all, I encourage you to check it out. The before and after shots are amazing and if you have the time to scroll through older posts you will see these horses performing on the rockiest trails I've ever seen. All 100% barefoot.)

I am in no way an expert. I know so very little about the horse hoof and function. But I have some common sense and I read a lot. Gem is currently barefoot on all 4 and I don't own any boots. I would like to own boots (I think) but they are expensive as everything in the horse world is and I am still not convinced about them yet. Why is she barefoot?

She wasn't when I first had her join our family. She had front shoes that were grown into her hoof and required an hour of strenuous work to remove a single one. I had her reshod in front because I had always rode a horse with shoes up front and didn't know any better. I kept her shod until winter in WI hit and her feet became packed with ice and snow. I asked our farrier the options which included pulling the shoes or using pads to fill in the foot. I didn't like the idea of pads trapping moisture and who knows what under it and so I had him pull them. I had planned to put them back on in the spring but when spring came and we hit the trails we found them the be either nice soft dirt or sand. The trails up there had very few rocks and even fewer roots and it didn't seem worth it. She did very well and was never hesitant or sore. I did all my 62 "endurance" miles barefoot and some of those trails were rocky. She did fine and was never foot sore.

Then we moved down here. The trails here are either rocky, full of roots or on roads. So far she has done pretty well barefoot. The hunter paces have been on trails as described above and she wasn't foot sore. But I make her walk on the gravel and am very careful with her on the rocky or root filled sections. The trails I have been conditioning her on are also like the above. The wide open sections that aren't twisting and turning through trees are on access roads and either paved or gravel. I ask her to walk these. I am beginning to wonder if I should change her foot strategy and if I do, to what?

Barefoot:  To me this is the standard to which I hold my horses. Unless there is a specific reason a horse can't be barefoot, they should be. I like natural and horses are not born with metal nailed to the bottom of their foot. Yes, I know horses today aren't foraging over miles and miles for food, but still. Natural is better. The foot can adapt to terrain, but it does require effort in nutrition and putting those miles on them. In time I hope to figure out how to do a barefoot trim myself because in reality it doesn't seem like it should be that hard to rasp the edges a bit. The Rockley Blog doesn't trim at all - the horse self trims with the miles put on. While I am not quite brave enough to not get her trimmed ever, I have seen myself the difference in her feet now that I am riding her on trails more and more. They just don't need trimmed very often. She has a large pasture that she grazes on (and runs away from me in) and is doing a darn good job of trimming her own feet. In addition to all those reasons, I like the fact that it is less expensive. A barefoot trim here is $35 and we have been doing it every 8 weeks (or actually probably longer than that even). If I ever learned to do it myself it would be free. I also really like the complete lack of stress associated with her barefoot feet. I don't have to call out the farrier on an emergency visit to pull a half twisted off shoe. Or miss a ride because that morning she ripped one off. During a ride she has nothing to lose off her foot and we end just the same as we began. All very big benefits.

The downside is all the rough trails. She hasn't been hesitant to date, but I don't want her to get foot sore. I ask for a walk on the gravel and we lose time and pace doing that. With the winter rain, her feet became softer than I have ever seen before and that did make me worry about her foot health. I'd like to go stomping down any trail without concern. The hubs thinks putting more miles on the rough terrain barefoot will in time strengthen and toughen them up. Rockley Farm would agree with that. And maybe they will. I just don't want a problem to occur before she has a chance to do so.

January 6, 2014

Saddle Ordered :)

I'm soooo happy and excited!!!

I placed my order this weekend for an Advantage saddle. I can't tell you how awesome K is to work with. Not only does she respond quickly and in detail but she is willing to work around some things.

I ended up ordering the western saddle without fenders in chocolate brown with a black seat. Medium tree with average shoulder angle, no loin lift and straight bars. 15" seat. Sheepskin skirts. The shoulder angle gave me some trouble, but in the end this one fits her so well that I hate to make big changes to it. I also ordered her special wool pad with shim system so if I need to lift it up in front I can.

I added on a mohair cinch in red because why not? And EZ ride stirrups.

I wanted to get a full sheepskin saddle cover but the price started getting a little high and after talking with her I may not need one. The demo saddle I have been using has a different seat in it than what I ordered and she hasn't needed to make a sheepskin cover in a long time since she switched the foam in the seat. I'm going to try it without and if I decide it would be nice to have I can always ask for it for my b-day or anniversary or Christmas next year. It isn't a necessity.

If you look at her website she offers custom tooling on the leather and really enjoys doing the artwork. I don't have a lot of extra cash to spend on non essentials with the saddle, so I didn't order anything. K came back to me asking what custom artwork I would like and said she would do it at no charge. No charge!!! I can't believe it. So now I am racking my brain for something special to have her add to it. My cynical side is telling me not to do anything too out of the ordinary in case I have to resell the saddle down the road. But I don't know.

I don't want roses or hearts or flowers. She specifically asked for something with meaning to me. I am leaning towards a horseshoe with a dog paw print in the middle of it to symbolize my puppy as well. The hubs said to have her out my best pup profile on it but I don't know if I want to do that or not. I may though. Not sure.

I have some time to think it over and decide what I want. It will be engraved on the saddle for forever so its a big deal.

In the meantime I can keep the demo as long as nobody else wants it and so the next hunter pace on the 19th is a go! Unless someone else wants it before then.

My saddle and my original Wintec are both up for sale on various websites and I hope they sell quickly. I have never sold tack online before so I am a little nervous about it.

January 3, 2014

New Years Day Ride

Bound and determined to do the entire 6.5 mile loop at Butch Kennedy, I dragged the family out at 11 am Wednesday morning. The morning was overcast and slightly chilly, but warm enough that W could go for a hike in the pack while I rode.

Being New Year's Day and not everyone going to bed at 9:30 pm like I did the night before, I figured the trails would be empty. We got a slow start due to breakfast for the horses being later than usual (they were just being fed when we pulled up at 11 am) but we got hooked up, groomed out and packed up in short order and headed out making the trail head around 11:45. And this is what I saw:

A jam packed parking lot. I have never seen it so busy before!! There were horses and riders everywhere. There were quite a few Arabians being tacked up in what appeared to be endurance gear and one even had a fading number painted on his rear end. If I was more social I could have introduced myself and seen if I could join them, but I'm not so we ended up going out alone. Some day I will meet the local endurance riders, but not just yet.

A group of 5 Arabians and their riders headed down to the trail head right in front of me and once over the bridge of doom I heard "Are you ready" and off they all went. Off Gem and I went at a much more sedate pace up the initial trail. It was pretty muddy and sloppy and I worried the entire trip would be slow going again, but it quickly dried out and the entire trail was mostly dry with some sloppy wet spots.

I had two goals: make the entire loop and don't get lost. I succeeded in both although the second one was sketchy a couple of times.

The first 2 miles was old hat for us and we picked our way along walking the bad places and trotting the rest. Gem was doing very well, the saddle was looking good and I was sitting fairly comfortably. We pulled over a few times to allow larger groups to pass us and made our way along. The trail is set up so that the markers are on your right. I have never been able to figure out how to get on the trail to do this and so I start at the end with the markers on my left. It works out nicely though because I always pull off the trail for others to pass and this way I see them coming at me.

Once we got to the dirt access trail which had been the farthest point in the past, I pointed Gem down the trail and she started to pay attention. She knew the old sections, but this was new and she started to have an interest in her surroundings. I tried to keep her to the side in the leaves and dirt, but the mare likes to go down the middle of the trail. I'm beginning to debate internally about her remaining barefoot or not. More on that some other day.

We cruised on up the hill and then went on back into the woods on single track again.

Some spots were so covered in leaves I could barely see the trail. Gem has no clue what a trail is either so it makes it interesting. She will just keep plodding along and doesn't care if it is bush whacking or on a trail or not. At one point I dropped the reins to grab some pictures and she just walked on up a big hill through the bushes and off the trail without a care in the world. Silly girl.

Some spots were pretty rough with mud and there were a lot of super steep sections. Steep enough she had to tuck her rear end and slide down. And guess what? That amazingly wonderful saddle never budged an inch. At about mile 3 I gave up watching the saddle and relaxed into the ride and it felt great to not worry so much about my tack.

We passed a couple more groups and kept making our way along the trail. We hit another road I got off to jog a bit. And by a bit I mean about 0.25 miles. But hey, it is something. I did notice that the EZ ride stirrups don't stay run up my leathers at all, so when I jog with her they swing around. I need to come up with a solution for that.

We actually picked up a 9 mph trot and maintained it going down the access road for quite a ways. I was just beginning to think about asking her to canter a little when I noticed a marker going off on a single track through the woods at a sharp 90 degree turn to my right. We made the turn and back to the tight, twisty turns we went.

The second half of the trail wound around by the lake. It was really pretty and when the trees broke up a little there was a nice view of the mountains in the distance. Gem wasn't in the mood to stop though and so I got what pictures I could. After spending all this time teaching her to go, I don't want to fight over making her stop for nothing. She was great about getting off the trail and standing quietly when others passed us and she trotted when asked so I wasn't going to fight over pictures.

There was one section of trail that made me nervous. It was single track, muddy, and steep with added logs, stones and a creek crossing. We picked our way down carefully and I realized that I had been feeling very secure in the saddle at that point. I hadn't been paying that much attention to it and the thought that I was secure made me happy.

At the bottom of that steep section was another bridge of doom:

It crossed over a small creek and then back up the hill we went. I was a little worried, but Gem plodding over it without much comment.

More single track through the woods and then we popped out into a big field.

There was a little road to cross and then a trail heading to the left which I followed. I didn't see any trail markers, but it was the only option, so we went on down. I asked for a trot which she gave me and we headed on down the road. We passed another couple riding and I figured we were doing ok.

But then I saw this:

Yes, that is a trail marker (the green and orange triangle) on the  same sign post as a "No Trespassing" sign. Hmmmm....so do i go down because it is marked or do I turn around because it says not to trespass? Who's bright idea was it to do this? We stopped by it and I contemplated it for a  bit. To add to the problem there was a house (a scary looking, run down shack really) up ahead past the sign. It looked like I would be riding down someone's driveway. I decided to go forward since I hadn't seen any other options and shortly after a trail snuck off to the left and into the woods again and had my trail marker. Phew!

On and on we went. I don't know if Gem got tired, bored or just mentally had had enough but with 2 miles left to go she got spooky on me. She started to shy at fallen trees, big rocks and rustling leaves which she hadn't done the last 4 miles. She had a lot of energy still, so maybe she was just tired of the slow pace. I don't know. It made for a more annoying last 2 miles though.

After I saw the 1 mile marker (remember, I went backwards, so it was counting down for me) we popped back out onto another road. But this time there were no trail markers or anything. I had 3 choices: straight, right or left. And nothing to give me any clue as to which was to go. I decided to go straight and eventually saw a small trail to the left of the paved road.

I followed this until I saw the backside of the arena that sits next to the parking lot and then we popped back on the backside of the lot.

So now I knew how to go the correct direction on the trail. I may still go my way though. It is nice to see people coming at you, but then again I don't want to be the one person breaking the directional flow.

Back at the trailer I untacked and noticed a few things.

1.) Even after 6.5 hilly miles Gem still did not break a sweat. Yes it was chilly out, but the other horses were sweaty and she didn't have a drop. Hmmm...

2.) Her fur was completely flat under the tack. Not a single ruffled hair. I emailed K to see if she thinks we even need to make fitting changes at all after this ride and will see what she says.

3.) My knee didn't rub at all and I wasn't sore. My butt was a little sore from the hard seat, but a sheepskin cover will fix that nicely.

January 2, 2014

Welcome to 2014! :)

 A day late. Sorry about that. Life is busy. Most horse people are filling their blogs with goals for 2014. I'm not a super goal oriented person. I like completing tasks and such and I do make long term dreams/plans, but in general I don't make short term checklists. They stress me out too much. I like to think of the larger picture instead, so my 2014 blog post is somewhat different than others.

In general I hope for a happy and healthy year filled with laughter and good memories. 2014 is the year that I want to complete my first 50 mile endurance ride. A lot of things need to occur in order for that to happen and I am trying to take them one step at a time.

First up on the list is getting a saddle that fits. I won't be going anywhere until that occurs. I am 99.9% sure I have found it so now to worry about the logistics of ordering it.

Second will be conditioning. I've been thinking through my plans and how to make it work with my full time mom job, full time doctor job and only so many hours of daylight available. I think I have a realistic plan that will work. At least for a while. Once I knock #1 off my list I can get back to working Gem and the good news is that she has historically held onto her fitness once I get her there with minimal maintenance.

Outside of that there are some little things that need worked on such as her confidence out solo, increasing speed (a big problem for us right now) and maybe later on in the spring finding come riding buddies. Add to that some gear I'd like to work on getting and my current internal debate on barefoot vs shoes vs boots.

But in general it is all gearing toward getting to the starting line of our first 50. I know which one I want to do and just need to work on getting there. I want to use the hunter paces as much as I can for conditioning rides since they are closer, cheaper and easier over all to work into life.

In my non horsey life I started my picture a day challenge again. I did it in 2012 and loved the results. You take a picture every single day for the year. At the end you have 365 pictures to look back on. I love pictures but am bad at remembering to take any so this was great for me. Residency made it difficult at times when I never made it home from one work day before the next started again, but even those pictures remind me of those hard times. I already have 2 taken :)

Happy New Year and I hope 2014 brings you all happiness, health and that you meet your goals and dreams for the year.