So, without further ado:
It is a new year and I look forward into the days yet to come. My soul is aching for that 50 mile completion, so I put in writing three goals: get a saddle that fits, get Gem in shape, and claim that 50 mile completion. The first order is getting a saddle that fits and doesn't ride up her neck. I've been trialing an Advantage saddle for a few weeks and on January 6th, with glee in my heart and only a vague concept of how I will eventually pay for it, I place my order for a new one to call my own. I plan on 6-8 weeks for delivery and with a heavy heart place my beloved WISE saddle on numerous websites for sale. I also place my Wintec and a few extra girths online.
But on New Year's day itself, I load up Gem and head out to a brand new trail system to brave the wilderness alone. This trail system will quickly become a second home to us, but on this day it is all new and we are both horribly out of shape. Luckily, the day is bright and I manage to follow the trail markings without getting lost. I do run into this display of brilliant human common sense which causes a brief moment of introspection as I figure out what to do:
Who on earth places a trail marker on a NO TRESSPASSING sign? Sigh.
The month continues to move forward and I keep getting the same scam over and over again and I question why people don't just get a real job? Things are looking bleak for a safe and secure sale and to brighten things up Dusty and I hit the trails together on the first date in a long time. We travel the trails at Clemson under a brilliantly blue winter sky.
It is now February and I find that I am growing anxious with each passing day that my new saddle will arrive before the old one is gone. The Universe has it's eye on me though and I read a great blog post about how to sell high end saddles safely and effectively. What perfect timing!! I decide to ship it off to the Maryland Tack Exchange and see what they can come up with. Of course, the Universe has a cruel sense of humor and an impeccable sense of irony as well, and, just one short week later, I receive an email from the company that they have heard talk of WISE closing shop. This will, of course, make my saddle less desirable and therefore the already too low price should be dropped even more.
In non horse related news, I have finally reached my breaking point in my job. While it is a stable and well paying job, it is also highly stressful and no fun whatsoever. Staring down 30 years of this nonsense makes me want to hurl, so I join the numerous members of my past and current family in becoming my own boss and announce to the world that I will be starting my own private practice. I also think that starting the Insanity work out is a great idea, so I drag poor Dusty down with me and at 7 pm each night we are squatting and jumping our way to better bodies.
I quickly realize that I do in fact despise squatting and jumping more than I thought was possible and so early in March, not even half way through the program, I happily quit a routine that was improbable in the first place.While the sun is beginning to stay up later and the weather is becoming more glorious by the day, Gem decides that she needs to unmistakably show the world how bad of a horse owner I really am.
I panic. Are these bite wounds? Fungus? A weird prelude to certain death? It turns out it is none of the above and instead is simple seasonal alopecia. It appears as though Gem is trying to ditch her arctic winter coat for a more subdued Southern belle summer style, but the summer hair is not able to keep up and come in fast enough. I keep the areas lathered with the best horse product around, Belly Balm, and soon enough the small new shiny summer hairs fill in the gaps and hide my neglect.
A most remarkable thing happens mid month: my WISE saddle sells for full asking price against all odds. I am elated for about 20 minutes until it is brought to my attention that I made an expensive blunder while forming my new business and guess how much the fix is going to cost? Exactly! One WISE saddle. Bummer, but at least I can afford to fix it and now will just have to come up with the funds for the saddle some other way. Speaking of saddles... shouldn't my new one be arriving any day now? It has been 2 months.
I manage to squeak in a short trail ride on Gem solo and after a brief encounter with a speed boat that makes me question my life expectancy, I place a plea online for a riding buddy. S is kind enough to respond and so with March quickly fading into the past, we meet at Clemson and have a wonderful 9 mile ride together thus starting a new friendship. Unfortunately, the ride ends with a two hour battle to get Gem back on the trailer. S is wonderful and offers to trailer her to my barn in her rig which Gem complies with and I embarrassingly accept.
This sets Gem up for a tough start to April. One sunny Saturday afternoon I set the trailer up, grab my lunge line and dressage whip and settle in for a day of trailer loading 101. It takes a while, but soon Gem learns that this is one fight she will not win and eventually decides to give up this battle (I'm certain she still plans to win the war though).
To celebrate my 32nd birthday, S offers to trailer up for the Biltmore Hunter Pace on the 13th. This is amazing since the hubby has tried everything to ruin the day: no gift, forgets to pick up the cake before bakery closes and then writes happy 34th on my 32nd birthday card. The day is simply amazing with a bright blue sky, sparkling green grass on rolling country hills and the pop of pink spring flowers. Gem gets hot and tired, but otherwise holds her own on a hilly 11 mile ride.
May. What a great month you are! Having finally made some riding friends in the area (seriously, it is insanely hard to make friends in a new town as an adult), I am beginning to be exposed to new experiences. T (I met her shortly after meeting S) sends me a text wondering if Dusty would possibly be interested in vetting a Ride and Tie at Clemson. He laughs and says why not and I quickly text S to convince her to be my partner in the 8 mile event. We find a sitter for Wyatt and then find ourselves bright and early at the familiar Clemson trail head getting ready to start.
The Ride and Tie goes off without a hitch and S and I make our way down the trail, swapping off riding and running, on what turns out to be more like a 9 mile trail. We are having fun and keeping up a decent pace until about 1/4 mile from the finish when I make a wrong turn on foot and start the race all over again. Luckily, I have a fully charged cell phone on me and S calls wondering how on earth she beat me to the finish line when I was on foot well ahead of her. Ooops! I figure out my error, with her help, and turn around after making the 8 mile race a 10 mile one. It was still a blast and gets me jazzed to do more.
After the excitement of this ride and Gemmie looking fantastic and like she barely did anything at all, S and I head to Sumter for my first experience at the Brick House trail system. We get lost, which is becoming an unfortunate habit, but the trails are nice and the company is even better. We manage about 15 miles before calling it a day back at the trailer and heading home.
I begin to wonder if that new saddle I ordered back in January will ever arrive.
I am a fairly low key horse owner. I don't spend loads on supplements, expensive food or tack. I basically keep it to the bare essentials which is great until you find yourself riding in a pair of disintegrating chaps and driving around a disorganized and slightly dangerously packed trailer. To fix these two things, in early June, I order a pair of black Just Chaps half chaps and a groom organizer. I fall in love with the organizer, but the chaps fall short of their Ovation predecessors. I am beginning to feel more and more like a real endurance rider and less like a complete fraud. Always a good thing.
But June is a terrible month that I won't ever be able to forget or think about without tears. The absolute, hands down best dog to ever walk this planet, Hero, is lost to us and joins his friends of days gone by in the meadows and wooded trails in Heaven. You can read my farewell to him here. I still think of him often and while most times it brings a smile to my face my heart is still broken and I find tears stinging my eyes.
This month is a month for changes and after saying a heart breaking farewell to my best friend for 14.5 years, we pack up our home and move across town to be nearer our jobs. This puts me a crappy hour away from Gem though, so I begin the hunt for a new farm.
The end of the month promises better things to come and I sign up with the most excitement I've felt in weeks for a 25 mile LD at Biltmore in July. I make plans for her last minute conditioning and as usual the Universe laughs in my face and throws curves that I learn to navigate around.
With 4 weeks to go until the event, Gem and I hit the trails for what turns out to be the most miserable, hot and humid conditioning ride to date. Just look at how crabby Gem looks!
We only manage 4 miles before we are both so sick of each other, the weather and being dehydrated that we call it quits and plan to fight another day. The following weekend Dusty runs in his first 24 hour race and puts in a respectable 62 miles before shock brings him down around midnight. I am very proud of him!!! With only 2 weeks to go, I sneak in a 10 mile ride at Clemson and then prepare to let her rest until the big day.
After the sadness and changes that June brought, July has to be better and it doesn't disappoint! The 12th finds us standing at the start line of the Biltmore 25 mile LD ride waiting anxiously to begin the adventure. The trails are beautiful and the weather is perfect. Gem comes off the first loop looking like she hasn't done anything and I get yelled at by the ride vet that I am riding too slow. I am riding with S and her junior and we are all having a great time. Dusty and Wyatt show up at the hold and help where they can and before I know it we are off once again. A short time later we are pulling back into camp for our first 25 mile completion in 3 years!! It is a wonderful weekend and confirms in my own head what others have been telling me all along: Gem can easily do a 50.
Having successfully completed 25 miles with no back soreness or tack issues I start to wonder if I should just buy the demo saddle I have been riding in since December. It has been 6 months since I excitedly placed my order for a brand new saddle from Advantage and no saddle is in sight. What is the enemy of good? Better. With that in mind, I inform them that I will just purchase the demo saddle and call it a day.
The hour long drive to see Gemmiecakes is starting to drag on me by the end of the month and after an extensive and exhaustive search, I settle on New Life Farm. It isn't perfect, but it cuts my drive in half and lets the Dynamic Duo remain together.
Shortly after this Einstein joins our family. He is a 7 week old Boykin Spaniel and I have high hopes that he will some day become a great trail riding partner. He is playful, snuggly and puts up with Wyatt exceptionally well. Welcome to the family!
August is now here and summer is in full swing in the South. While I will ride in temperatures as low as -5 Fahrenheit, I can't seem to force my leg over her back when it is above 90. By default Gem is ending up with a great mini vacation. I make plans to go to Jubilee in VA, but bail at the last minute due to logistics and lack of conditioning. I also finally realize that there is no way I am going to make the September 50 I have had my sights on since the beginning of the year. Bummer :(
Dusty and I manage to squeak in a quick date and the first Dynamic Duo trail ride since January and head off to Croft State Park.
I must admit, come September, I am feeling a little sorry for myself having had to bail on both Jubilee and now the 50 at Biltmore. I finally find a suitable, and doable, replacement in the Barefoot Shine and Wine in TN in October and the fire is relit! Poor gem doesn't know what hit her as I up the ante on our conditioning program once again. Early on I have a heart attack inducing incident with a massive spider late at night. Those things are creepy!
By the middle of the month, the 35 minute drive to the barn starts to get old and I am once again on the look out for new digs for the Dynamic Duo. The outlook is bleak having just scoured the area a few months ago for a suitable barn, but hope springs eternal and I look anyway.
One perfectly harmless Sunday morning I load her up and head off to Sumter to get a 20 mile conditioning ride on the books. It is the worst conditioning ride ever, but we manage a solid 18-20 miles and in retrospect this is the best thing I could have ever done. The ride takes 5 hours to do and while it isn't hot and I am not pushing the pace, it is still a long time without food or water. Afterward Gemmie gulps down her water and eats every morsel she is offered. From this point forward she no longer turns her nose up to any food offered before, during or after a ride. I also learn the importance of carrying water and a granola bar with me as well as eating breakfast before heading out.
Towards the end of the month, Dusty heads off to run 50 miles at Biltmore for Run for the Horses and Wyatt and I join up near the end to welcome him across the finish line. He finishes in a great time with a huge smile on his face.
At the end of the month I move the Dynamic Duo into what will hopefully be the last boarding barn they ever see. It is a wonderfully laid back barn with a 40 acre gelding pasture and a 35 acre mare pasture filled with grass, an outdoor arena and manicured grassy tracks surrounding the pastures for riding. The weekend following the move, I take Gem on one final 20 mile conditioning ride at Clemson and then let her sit until our big day.
One overcast day in October I find my stress addled brain attempting to function as I pack, load and head off to Barefoot Wine and Shine 50 mile ride. Unfortunately I let my stress levels peak and I ruin what could have been a glorious start to a wonderful ride, but I quickly find some new friends and everything turns around 10 miles into the ride. We finish in 8 hours 8 minutes with a great CRI and some concerns over her hydration status. Otherwise, she looks fit, sound and happy at the end and I couldn't be prouder of her.
Soon November rolls around and brings delicious fall weather with it. Gem gets a major holiday as I lose my riding focus and motivation. Wyatt learns the joys of riding as we play around the farm and Gem gets regulated to ponying duty for the month. Since daylight savings time has ended and killed off my week day riding ability, I start running again. Just 2 miles around my hilly neighborhood in the evenings a few days a week. It is a good start and hopefully by the time our next 50 rolls around I will be in better shape.
As time continues to pass December is upon us and I finalize my ideas for 2015. A spring 50 attempt and a fall question mark depending upon my spring completion. Gem's condition goes back online and we hit two wonderful hunter paces during the month. It begins with the Clemson Pace on my favorite trail system. We push hard and come up in 7th place which is respectable. This is followed a couple weeks later by the River Valley Pace where her brain shuts down and we spend the time re learning how to be a trail horse.
And that folks is a long version of how 2014 went for team Gem. I can't wait to read everyone else's reports.