October 27, 2015

The Ideal Day for a Rider

This article about the Ideal Day for a Runner came across my newsfeed and it got my wheels turning. It seemed like the perfect topic to spin off for riding. Of course, everyone's ideal day will be different and I would love to see some of you post what your ideal would be. I'm guessing it wouldn't start quite as early as mine ;) Also, this is for a regular ride, not a competition.

1.)  At 5:30 am the alarm goes off, but you are already moving stealthily through the bedroom pulling on your riding clothes. The sun isn't quite up yet, but you are excited anyway. For once you didn't even groan getting out of bed.

2.) When you enter the kitchen you see it - your Garmin nicely plugged in with 100% charge. The Camelbak bladder with cold water is waiting in the fridge and your favorite granola bars are tucked into the side pocket of the pack. You congratulate yourself on having prepared everything the night before - for once!

3.) The truck roars to life just as the sun begins to rise and you grin when you see the tank is full.

4.) Once at the barn, the truck aligns perfectly to the trailer and hooks up seamlessly in one go. The sun creates the perfect colors overhead as it rises and you head off to get your horse.

5.) Your horse is standing by the gate with ears forward awaiting your arrival. She nickers a hello and you slip the hater on guiding her out to the trailer. The weather is getting to the perfect temperature: mid 60s with a slight breeze to keep you cool as she eagerly self loads and you head out.

6.) The trail head is empty in the early morning light and you mount up with anticipation. The trail you selected is perfect: a combination of technical single track twisting through the woods and wide open fields allowing for canters and gallops.

7.) Your horse moves out beneath you with ears forward and a happy spirit. She glides through the miles feeling strong, willing and brave. The Garmin registers 6-7 mphin the woods 10-12 mph out in the open.

8.) Half way through there is a fresh creek where your horse fills up on both water and fresh green grass along the banks as you munch on your granola bar. She is showing no signs of strain from the ride and everything just feels effortless. You are riding in perfect balance with your horse.

9.) As the ground disappears under her hooves, you start to plan your next race. She can handle it, you are more than confident of that. A 50? Why not two days of 50s?  If she can do that, why not a 100? On a day like today anything feels possible.

10.) You finish the ride with a gallop back to the trailer. She chows down on her mash, miraculously not getting any green slime on you, and you head home with a massive grin on your face. You make it in time for lunch with the family and your heart and soul are at peace.

October 26, 2015

Annual Soup Party

While this weekend featured no riding and a missed costume party style hunter pace, we did get to enjoy the beauty that is the barn's annual soup party.

Each fall, the BO invites past and current boarders along with their family and friends to come out to the barn around 4 pm. Everyone is asked to bring their favorite soup to share. This year I brought white chicken chili and added it to the growing display of soups that were already taking up every available inch of the table.

The BO and his wife bring oversized soup mugs, spoons, desserts, sandwiches and thermoses full of the best hot apple cider around. It is a really fun event that I have grown to look forward to.

Since I ride at really odd times, I generally do not get to see any other boarders and this event also allows me to meet the others and chat it up a bit. I got to meet the owner of Gem's newest BFF, a haflinger mare, and her gaggle of children that torture love on the beast. Putting faces with names and horses with owners was nice.

Wyatt spent the entire times digging the in the saw dust pile and playing with a boy a few months older than him. It was neat to watch him play and share his digger and dump truck toys. He moved over to the arena at one point and the old crippled gelding came over to investigate. In the process of saying hello he also downed all of Dusty's apple cider and begged for more. I guess the old guy wanted in on the party.

The evening grew chilly as the sun went down and I shouted off a hello to Gem who was enjoying the green shoots of fescue that pop up in the fall. She raised her head long enough to acknowledge my presence and the fact that I was not holding a halter and then went back to grazing.

Haley found me towards the end and asked when the next pace is. She was disappointed that we would be missing the Halloween pace, but Dusty was going to be working. Unfortunately, I doubt she will get to go to the next one either even though she is overflowing with excitement. She is only 14 and works at the barn everyday after school for her board and also takes care of a barn down the road for extra cash. Her mom doesn't help her financially with the horses (I do not judge this at all because I do not know their situation or the relationship). $40 for a pace is a lot for her to come up with as it is and I don't ask her to help with gas money at all since I would be going anyway and she is already at my barn. Yes, the extra weight probably eats more gas than if it was just Gem but that is negligible to me.

However, half the paces take place in NC and half here in SC even though most are within an hour drive of the barn. Since we take mostly back roads to get to these places, I doubt we would get pulled over or in trouble but I am a firm believer in following the rules. This means that I refuse to travel out of state without a health certificate. I told her she would need to get one, but I think the cost would pretty much mean she would have no money to go to ride. Which is sad.

I wouldn't feel so bad for her if she was 16 and could get a real job that paid decent money, but at 14 you pretty much are stuck to odd jobs that pay cash under the table. I am trying to figure out if I can get her to do something for me like clean my tack or bathe my mare to earn some money and help pay for the rides. I would offer to just cover the health cert, but we are drowning a bit ourselves lately with Gem's injury and then Wyatt's ear surgery and I have had to get creative to afford the paces myself.

Anyway...that went a bit off track.

Back to the soup party....

They just started a bon fire when we got ready to head home and said our goodbyes. My tummy was full of various types of homemade soup, pumpkin roll, cookies and hot cider and we went home with that fall warm fuzzy feeling. Of course, it being 80degrees out helped with the warmth too :) Gotta love fall in the south.

October 23, 2015

When Reality Hits it Hits Hard

In my youth my mom would drop me off with my Aunt to stay on her farm for a week several times throughout the summer. We would ride, canoe, shop and explore. She took me to WV, Gettysburg, Maine, MD and countless small local trail heads. I loved every single second that I spent with her and my Uncle. My mom would allow most things to occur, but I distinctly remembering her putting her foot down when they wanted to take me up in a hot air balloon. Of course, this was her sister and she knew her extremely well and knew she wouldn't let me get hurt.

Last Sunday, as I hooked up the trailer, I saw Haley's mom pulling out of the barn drive. I walked over to introduce myself to her assuming she would want to meet the person who was driving her 14 year old daughter to go ride. I shook her hand, told her where we were going, that it was well marked (well...that was mostly true), and that there would be people everywhere. I explained that it was as safe as riding on trails could be made and to not worry.

She really wasn't worried and just shook her head in response and told me to have fun.

I walked away feeling perplexed. Here I was, a complete stranger to this woman, and I was preparing to load up two horses and go ride. No way would my mom have let me go gallivanting off with some girl she didn't know. She would be wondering where the responsible adult was.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was the responsible adult.

Holy crap. When did that happen?

That woman looked at me oddly because she saw me as a mid 30s working mother of a 3 year old who had been riding for forever and here I was trying to explain how many responsible people would be around.

There needn't have been other responsible people because I would be there. Crap.

I have officially turned into an adult.

October 21, 2015

Tryon Hounds Hunter Pace 10/18/15


If Saturday was one of my worst horse outings, Sunday more than made up for it. Truth is I wanted to bail. Had I not promised Haley, the 14 year old at the barn, that she could come with me, I would have thrown my alarm across the room at 6:30 Sunday morning. As it was though, I couldn't do that to her. Instead I got up and got around.

The plan was to have her horse and gear ready to load at 7:30 am, but at 6:40 am I received a text that she was all ready and would I mind if she went and got Gem for me? After the previous mornings shenanigans I was more than willing for her to tackle the job. Turns out Gem walked right up to her.

Waffles: What we doing' ?  Gem: Eat while you can, they are all crazy!
We swung by home to pick up Wyatt and have Dusty follow us in the van. Just shy of an hour later we pulled into one of the most gorgeous farms I have ever seen.

The arena is straight ahead and filled with jumps around 4'
The barn was nicer than my house
The ride secretary pointed out where to park and I asked him if I was allowed to peak inside the barn. He laughed saying that was where the bathroom was, so go ahead. Then he said that the place was designed by Michael Pollard of international eventing fame (and who I did a course walk with at Rolex in 2012). No wonder it was so nice!!

One row of stalls with the other behind the wall to the left
After registering for the ride, we both tacked up and headed down to the start. The timer counted us down, told us it was around 10 miles and sent us off on our way.

The trail ran alongside the cross country course and I gawked at the size of the jumps, ditches and obstacles as we made our way along.

You could never convince me to do this bank complex
Soon we found ourselves skirting along a field and crossing a road staring at the mountains in the distance.

Waffles is a 7 year old Arab/Paint cross who to Haley's knowledge had never seen water, bridges, roads etc...I was a bit apprehensive for them, but it soon became apparent that they were a much bolder and solid team than Gem and I were that morning.
Gem has never been a good leader. In fact, for a long time I was afraid to go out solo based on how awful she was when in front of a group. She isn't the most fun at times, but on Sunday morning she was worse than ever. Every stick, leaf, change in sun light, change in footing texture etc...that she came across made her jump out of her skin. It was ridiculous. Finally I sent Haley ahead and Gem relaxed so I knew she wasn't in pain. I sent her out front again and she was back to being a nut job. What struck me so odd was how well she led when we rode with Sheree the week before and how dominant she had been leading at Biltmore with the unknown riders.  4 miles in and I finally figured it out.
Waffles is out in Gem's herd and is much higher up than Gem. Waffles isn't the alpha but she is not the bottom like Gem. Gem was 100% not comfortable being out in the lead to a mare who was ahead of her in the herd dynamics. She was perfectly happy to go behind or beside. Once I figured that out I just let her be happy in the back.
The trail coursed through some woods and then would pop back out into the open with more views that made my jaw drop.

About 2.5 miles in we came upon a bridge.

This wasn't just any bridge. It was metal with see through support beams. The river was flowing beneath. The footing was asphalt. To make it even worse, someone was working young cattle on the other side and we could hear their calls. Gem was having none of it. I try to not dismount for things, but I did this time to avoid injury and we walked safely across passing a signs that read "Two Way Traffic". We would be coming over this again on the way back.

The trail then made it by the cows and back along fields of hay and corn and then would duck into the woods again. We kept a great pace and I opened Gemmie up to some long canters through here. She was bare on all 4 and moving great.

The gravel road above ended at the half way check mark and a 3 minute hold. They offered up beverages and I asked for water. Gem was sweaty and immediately got down to business:

She chowed down during the entire hold while Waffles looked around confused as to what we were doing standing in a field.

We got counted down and told to continue on our way and had yet to come across any other riders. I had looked at my watch and we had kept up a 7 mph pace through the entire first half and I figured we could actually have a shot at placing this time. HA!!

Leaving the hold we followed a paved road for a short distance when we came across a big hand painted sign reading "SLOW HORSE CROSSING" and saw a pink ribbon on the other side of the road just after the sign. We had been following pink ribbons the entire time and saw none ahead, so we crossed.

This led to a long, steep gravel road and we saw both hoof prints and pink ribbons.

Going down following pink ribbons we saw on the right
Except when we got to the bottom there were no more of either. Hmmm... I looked around and saw a bunch of pink ribbons leading up a hill 90 degrees to my right. It led up past a farm house and I thought it was odd, but there were ribbons and it would explain the other hoof prints going away since this was on grass.

We went up the hill and dogs came chasing down off the porch. Crap. The owner then came out and I asked if we were going the right way. We were not. I didn't think so. He told us to continue on straight past his house and we would find it.

We did, but that put us into another person's backyard and we could see no ribbons anywhere. We decided to turn around and go back to the base of the gravel hill to where we last made a mistake. Having made it past his dogs again, we saw other pink ribbons off in the field at the bottom of the hill and headed that way. Half way down the owner came back out and yelled out asking if we were on the pace. Once he confirmed that we were not crazy, he told us to head to the river and follow it to the correct trail.

These directions did put us on the correct trail eventually and we were both so happy to no longer be lost. Unfortunately, the trail was at a T and I could see it coming from my right and going left. Not knowing how much trail we cut I told Haley we had to follow the trail backwards until we made it back to our mistake and then turn around. She was not too happy with this because it would most certainly mean not placing, but cheating is cheating even if done unintentionally. We made our way down the trail and came upon a very confused rider. I quickly told her we were going backwards and that she was correct.

Once we got up an extremely steep hill we saw the backyard we had come across when we made it past the dogs earlier. Then we saw the road. We had crossed it too early after the horse crossing sign. Darn. The horse's got turned back around and we made it down the hill and back on track. We had added about 2 miles and lost a solid 30 minutes in getting lost and finding our way back to our mistake.

The rest of the ride went uneventfully. The trail continued along fields and into the woods and we opened the girls up to enjoy the footing and the chilly morning.

At one point we came along a still lake mirroring the endless blue sky above and we let the girls go. We galloped along with the tears stinging my eyes and my breath caught in my throat. Gem dug deep and carried me up a hill that crested to look down on the world.

The lake in the distance is where we began to gallop
After that we let the mares settle and continued to keep a good pace as the miles just ticked on by. The last major obstacle to go through was an underpass right before the bridge. I had seen the trail coming from that direction when we went over the bridge on the way out and now we were back.

I dug my heels into Gem to let her know we had to go through and when Waffles baulked a bit, Gem just marched on in. Thankfully no cars went overhead while we were under.

Sadly this meant we only had to cross the bridge again, snake through the woods and be back home. It was ending all too soon even with the added miles.

As we approached the finish, I told Haley to canter on in and we both crossed the finish with a big grin. The photographer was right at the finish and I can't wait to see the pictures. We finished in something just over two hours and just shy of 12 miles.
Wyatt and Dusty met us at the finish and I chatted his ear off while Wyatt and I sat on Gem taking a short ride around the cross country field. One of the RMs was leaning against a fence when he heard me tell about getting lost. He perked up and asked "Oh, so you got lost there too? We got word that a landowner moved some ribbons." I told him where and how we went and he said that the pink ribbons we followed (and some riders before us had too) were just landscaping ribbons and while they were identically hung and identical ribbons, they were not the ones to follow. The ones to follow to the correct turn had been removed.  
This stuff happens and was not RMs fault, but what did annoy me was that he then radioed over to the hold to have them fix it. Ok..I get not wanting riders lost or going through someone's yard, but this is a timed event and we were early out on the course. We lost 30 minutes and ended up being 34 minutes too slow. Had we not gotten lost we would have placed. Crap happens and it isn't world ending, but I'm starting to get tired of losing for stupid reasons.  
We feasted on hamburgers, beans, coleslaw, hot dogs, chips and cookies and then loaded the girls up and headed home. I was really proud of Gem.  Even with only making it 6 miles the day before she had completed a fast 18 miles total in two days and was still ready to go. Unfortunately we will be missing the next Hunter Pace. Dusty picked up a shift at an emergency clinic to help cover some of the extra expenses we have had with Gem's surgery and then Wyatt's and it happens to be that same Sunday. My only complaint about the entire series is how impossible it is to get in touch with anyone in charge. I earned a wildcard by riding in the year end awards pace last spring which in theory earns me a completion in a ride I can't attend. I have emailed and facebook messaged the lady in charge to ask how the process works and have yet to get a response.

October 19, 2015

Ctrl + Alt+ Delete: Clemson 30 mile Equathon

My alarm was set for 4:20 am, but it never went off. I was awake at 3:30 am on my own accord. The cats and pups were all snuggled up with me and it took real effort to extricate myself from the warm covers and fuzzy fur.

It was pitch black outside and a cold 40 degrees. My truck's headlights were the only thing illuminating the barnyard and I was shocked that I got the trailer hooked up in one go. This gave me some extra time to get Gem and I looked at my watch as I reached into the truck door to grab the flashlight that lives there. It was 5:10 am. I needed to leave the barn by 6 am to get to the ride on time.

My hand reached out and searched for the flashlight that I knew was always there. Except this time it wasn't. Dusty had last used it for his run at Biltmore. He is notorious for never putting things back where they belong and then later getting angry when he can't find something. I got annoyed, but the trailer was already hooked up and I had a flashlight on my cell phone, so I went out to get Gem.

I walked the perimeter of the pasture calling out for her and using the wimpy light from my cell phone flash. One lap around and I began to understand why you can't find a lost horse in the wilderness at night. I then headed into the center and found her herd mates. No Gem. That is when I heard it. A soft pounding of hooves just to my right. I shined my light, but it was useless. I called out to her and she squealed in delight in response. More hoof beats. She was circling around me squealing and farting in glee.

My shoes were soaked through from the wet grass, I was chilled to the bone and I knew that had I had a real flashlight I could spot her and follow her with the light. I lost it.

Tears of anger stung my eyes and I cursed Dusty's lack of putting things away, my damn mare for being bad (Yes, she was being bad. No, she didn't know I had a time limit, where we were going or that I had paid money for this ride, but she did know we were going somewhere given my appearance before dawn and she did know to not run away from me like that), and the fact that now I was late. I tried to call Dusty to get him to bring me the flashlight and save a bit of time, but he didn't answer.

I stormed out of the pasture, ran to the truck and drove the whole thing home. Once in front of the house I slammed through the front door, threw open the bedroom door and, close to foaming at the mouth, told Dusty that if he didn't get his ass out of bed right that moment nobody was going anywhere. He crawled out of bed and I let it all out. I was furious that he couldn't just put the damn flashlight back in the truck. That he couldn't take his phone to bed in case I needed to reach him.

Wyatt was roused from his sleep, poor kid, and we all went bac to the barn. Dusty called the RM and asked if it was ok if we came a little late. Ride start was at 8 and vetting was at 7. At this point we would be lucky to arrive by 7:30.

I went back out to the pasture, this time with a flashlight, and spotted Gem immediately. She took off, but I was able to stand still and spot her with it watching the glint off her eye. She circled around me, bucking, galloping, farting, and squealing. I cursed her name.

Eventually, after another 30 minutes, she walked right over to me blowing hard and arching her neck. I slipped her halter on and walked her out of the pasture. She loaded up and we were finally off.

Thankfully, everyone needed to vet in that morning and I managed to sneak her in at the back of the line, vet her through with all As and tack her up before the start. I put her front boots on her and left the hinds bare. Clemson is our old stomping grounds and she could easily do it all bare if not for the crack growing out of the front right. I changed into dry socks and shoes which improved my mood ten fold and got ready to ride.

I think this is now one of my favorite Gemmie pictures.

The runners trying to keep warm as the ride start approached

At 8 am the 30 and 15 mile Ride and Tie participants were off and then at 8:05 am they let me go. We would be doing the green 6.5 mile loop to the red 9 mile loop and back to camp.

Last spring Gem and I waited 5 minutes to start and then never saw another horse or runner again. This time, as we left the road and entered the woods about 1/4 mile from the start, we not only passed some runners, but also saw their horses waiting for them tied to some trees. It was really neat seeing the horses looking back for their runner. I could tell those horses who knew their job as they were all napping with a foot cocked and looked back. Those who weren't so aware were starting to get antsy and fidgeting against the tree.

We passed the horses and Gem got confused. She tried to stop, but I told her she would see them again and urged her on. About 1/4 mile later and we got passed by the front runners. There was one man-man team who was being extremely competitive and they came charging up behind us. I pulled over and let them pass which would end up being a routine for the morning.

Gem was not going to be left behind. She charged along that trail keeping up and ignoring my attempts to slow her down. We were going along alternating trotting and cantering and then they pulled over to tie. Gem was again confused as I told her she needed to keep moving. I got her to move out, but then she decided she couldn't possible move out on those trails. I mean, come on. There were roots, rocks, tree stumps, dips and climbs.

Of course as soon as another ride and tie horse came up to us and we pulled off, she would charge headlong after them at break neck speed. It got old.

To clarify, I am not afraid to go fast over those trails. I don't mind Gem feeling good and moving out, but she must do it in a safe and sane manner. When she locks onto the horse in front of her, she only looks at their butt and ignores all else. Rocks? Roots? Small dips in the trail? She sees none of it and will trip, stumble and slip her way around with no room for thought. That is dangerous.

At one point, about 3.5 miles in, we were once again chasing down another horse when I saw a dip in the trail. A tree root had created a drop about 18"-2 feet in height and in the past we have always navigated this at a controlled trot or walk. This time she was in full canter and took it like a cross country down bank. I laughed and asked her out loud if she was now an eventing horse. At this point I said screw it. You want to careen around like a mad man? Fine. But when that horse pulls over for a break, you will not be allowed to slow down at all. You want to be an idiot? You can be an idiot for all 15 miles.

We travelled like this and would chat it up with the riders who caught us. I really enjoyed talking with one woman who was both an excellent rider and runner and was on a horse who knew his job and performed it beautifully. They were an inspiration to watch. Gem and I cantered along side of them down the gravel access road quite a ways until she pulled over to tie.

After the gravel road, we dove back into the woods and were moving along fast, but now more in control. I was finally able to unclench my jaw and let the reins out slightly to ease the burning in my shoulders and neck. That is when I felt it. A slight wobble on her front left. I looked down and her boot had flipped up over her hoof just like the front right had back at Biltmore at a fast pace.

I pulled over and got off. She was steaming and started to paw as runners came and passed us. I think everyone, both on the ground and mounted, asked if I needed help. I didn't want to slow anyone down from their ride and passed, but was so thankful they asked. One guy nearly insisted that he help, but at that point I knew there was no help and told him to enjoy his run!

The boot would not come off. The cables would not stretch enough to allow the shell to slide back over her hoof and into place. I tried to spin it around and get it off the back of her leg, but nope. The captivator would not budge.  I pulled, pushed and twisted to no avail. We were screwed.

It was a good thing that I knew this trail so well because we were 5.5 miles into the ride and would have been in for a long hike had I not known I could continue on green back to camp only 1.5 miles away. We were nearly a the junction of the green and red loop. I called Dusty and asked if he could meet me at the road where green and red split and see if he could get the thing off. He agreed and I started hiking forwards to meet him as he came backwards.

He met as at the road and I held Wyatt as he tried to pry the boot off using a hoof pick. It didn't work.  We would need to go back to camp. I suggested wire cutters and a strong fire to melt the damn things to a puddle of red plastic.  I propped Wyatt up on her back and we walked back out of the woods. Wyatt was stoked to be riding in the woods for the first time and giggled the entire was back.

Once back to camp, I marched over and told them I was pulling. Dusty thought I should go back out barefoot, reconnect to where green and red split and finish the ride. Maybe I should have, but I was done. All the frustration from the morning, her behavior under saddle and now this came bubbling to the surface and I was just done. I felt terrible because that meant Dusty wouldn't get his run and Gem now had her first ever pull, but I had zero left in me to go back out and start again.

In the end, we ended up having to unscrew the captivator to take the cables out and get the boot off. Gem was covered in dry sweat, but was otherwise unfazed. We vetted out and the ride vet shook his head saying that she didn't look like she had worked at all that morning.

I tried to get Dusty to go out and run his loop anyway, but he declined. He too was in a less than enthusiastic mood and we agreed to just call it quits and count our losses. We packed up and headed home.

Of course once home we realized that we had left one of Wyatt's toys behind and then couldn't find his shoes either. And the next day I would find that my red mohair girth was MIA too. Saturday should have just never happened.

What did I learn? Some days just aren't meant to be. Renegades don't work for Gem in a competitive setting. Pulling when both you and your horse are doing well really sucks.

Oh and Wyatt looks really snazzy in my shades.

October 16, 2015

I'm Famous!!

Ok...Not really.

There is a back story that has existed for the last 11 years to go along with this. You see, Dusty has the habit of weaseling his way into all facets of my life and takes ownership.

Exhibit A: My senior year of college Christy had the idea of starting a bar league sand volleyball team. I was all game. In typical Christy form, once she started it she kinda flaked out on the actual details such as attending meetings and filling the team roster. This all fell on my lap. My dad, several classmates from college and even Dusty some nights all agreed to play and we enjoyed a chilly fall season in the sand. After that ended, my college had a mini indoor volleyball tournament and having spent the fall playing with a lot of my classmates, we decided to form a team and enter. We ended up pissing a lot of people off since only 3 of us were actually enrolled at the school and we won the whole shebang. Volleyballpalooza was a great time. In the end our picture ended up in my yearbook. Only I wasn't even in it and guess who was? Dusty.

Exhibit B: Fast forward to podiatry school. I am on the student government body, initiate Spirit Week full of daily activities and prizes, put on a continuing education seminar, am vice president of the soccer team, volunteer at the yearly scholarship fundraiser and graduate with a 4.0 GPA. Dusty hangs out with me most days at lunch, plays on the soccer team and joins in the annual flag football tournament. Guess who ends up being featured in every single yearbook for all 4 years? Dusty. Guess who doesn't? Me.

And now we have Exhibit C.

Dusty has participated in one LD several years ago on Pete and wasn't a big fan. He comes to some rides when he can, but with Wyatt around he doesn't get a chance to even crew for me. he basically hangs out and has fun watching Wyatt get muddy. In truth he isn't an endurance person although I do believe that if Wyatt were to get into it, Dusty would quickly be on the look out for a suitable mount so we could all compete as a family.

Well, you could just imagine my chagrin when I flip to the back page of the October EN news and see this picture:

Yep, there is Dusty and now he is even getting Wyatt in on the gig. Dusty has managed to weasel his way into EN news when I will most likely never have a prayer of gracing the pages with my own face.

At least I got credit for taking the picture.

(Note: while there is no joking font, please read the above in the light hearted manner in which is was intended. I am tickled pink to have one of my pictures in the magazine and very proud of Dusty and Wyatt for making it in there)

October 13, 2015

The Renegade Saga

"Saga" isn't really fair. It has been more of a "journey" than a true "saga", but semantics.

Just in case anyone is interested in the specifics of how they are working and what we are doing to make them work:


Both are viper shells size 135 x 125 with original renegade captivators. We went with the original shaped captivators due to her tendency to run a little higher heel than ideal. From the start, it was determined she would need the extra wiggle room in fit.

The front left has the small size and the standard black cables. This boot fits as close to perfect as I think it can get. The pastern strap has a gap and still gripes the velcro well and the toe strap has the perfect amount of extra under the keepers with the right tension for fit. It has stayed put without twisting through all the mud, hills and water I have thrown at it through both Biltmore and my latest muddy ride at Croft. The only thing I have yet to attempt is cantering which has been put on hold in her rehab schedule for another week.

The front right originally had the small captivator as well. With the new shape to the heel bulb, this was too tight even with the cables lengthened. It was recommended to go up to the medium size and this seems to be working out nicely. It was also suggested to try to lengthen the medial cable a little more than the lateral to let it slide up over the heel bulb. Pre recent trim, the boot fit a little off and popped off the front of her hoof at mile 6 of Biltmore going up a steep hill in the mud and rain. I tightened the toe strap, which then resulted in a lot of extra, and it remained on for the last 2.5 miles. Sunday's Croft ride was post trim and her hoof fit a million times better. In fact, I think I need to the shorten the cables now with the lower heel and better mustang roll, but I couldn't do it pre ride Sunday. I had not thought to clean them post Biltmore and the mud had dried inside the cable track. I didn't want to force the issue and break a cable, so I left it go for another day. I will be cleaning them post ride from now on. Even with the slighter longer cables and less than perfect fit, the boot stayed on for the entire muddy Croft ride. The only thing I am a little confused on is the toe strap length. If my memory serves me correctly, shortening the cables should result in even more length to the toe strap. I want less since it already goes well beyond the recommended length past the keepers. I don't really want to lengthen the cables though because it already felt a little loose going up over the heel bulb. I don't know. The toe straps are the most confusing thing to me in the whole process.


These are proving way trickier.

Originally I had ordered the 125 x 115 size viper shell which fit perfectly in width, but was way too short. We went with the small viper captivators and those ended up being too small too. We then went up to the 130 x 120 with the next size up captivators. Well, unfortunately, these are a great fit for length but too wide. I have shortened the black cables to the point where the ends are poking out the other side and the toe strap is excessively long. I can't snug them at all and there is a mild gap along the side.

Post recent trim had the hoof setting into the boot better and the gap has nearly gone away. The toe strap is still extremely long and not snug at all. The solution is to try a smaller set of cables and a shorter toe strap out so that I can hopefully snug it up a bit. These haven't come in the mail yet. The bummer is that this is the best size for the hinds. The size down is too short and the original rennie shells are even more round in shape. I am crossing my fingers that shorter cables will work. Even with the less than ideal fit, they still stayed on through everything at Croft. I am just not very confident that they would stay on at a canter or through water.

So that is where I am at with the boots. As always, Ashley over at Renegade has been super to work with. She responds quickly, is a wealth of knowledge and always seems to have something to try next. I love this company.

October 11, 2015

Life is Better With a Friend

Lake Craig

Saturday came and brought more rain. The soak you to the bone, chill you to the core type of all day long, dreary rain. I knew the moment my eyes opened that the Pace Sunday would be postponed. What made it more unfortunate was that the junior rider at the barn finally got permission from her mom to go. She was to meet me Sunday morning for her first ever off property ride. She is 14. I double checked the website to verify my suspicions and, once I confirmed that the ride was in fact postponed a week, I texted her. Hopefully she can still go next week.

Saturday night a friend texted me to see if I had plans for Sunday. I told her I was heading to Croft to do the 6.5 mile Forest Mill loop and adding on the 2.4 mile Johnson lake loop. I would be at the trail head around 830 am. Remember the whole mom + horses=? post a while back? Well, one of my points was to get used to riding alone as you fit in your time in the early or late hours of the day. Sheree is not a morning person and so she said she would see if she felt like getting up early or not.

When Sunday morning dawned cold and dreary, I immediately texted her a change in plans: meet at 1 pm when Wyatt went down for his nap. The sun was supposed to come out by then. She was all too eager to agree to the new plan.

Sheree had some major health issues with her all star endurance mare last year resulting in a final diagnosis of advanced, chronic Lyme's disease. She has been treated and a local endurance vet gave the green light to return to work, but Sheree wants to work her in an arena for a bit to see how she reacts. Instead she brought the horse she has on loan from a friend of hers, Linen.

Sheree and Linen
Linen is a 16 year old Egyptian/Polish Arab mare who wasn't broke to ride until very recently. Her original owner died when she was 8 and willed her to Sheree's trainer. She just sat in the pasture, untouched, for the majority of those 8 years since. Sheree has had her on loan for about 6 months, I think, and she is really a great mare. In fact, if anyone is looking, she is in need of a home and is free. She has no health/soundness issues and no behavior issues beyond a lack of miles.

I put all 4 boots on Gem and then turned my Garmin 310xt on. Or so I thought. It was dead. Apparently it still uses battery when shut off (so is it ever really shut off?) and I am not used to that. My old Forerunner was actually off when it was off and so I could just grab it and go. I need to get better at always putting the 310xt on the charger. I quickly downloaded Endomondo on my phone and just used that instead, but I don't like using my phone for GPS. 1) I can't leave the app on screen and take pictures, so I either lose the ability to snap pics like Sunday or I can't read the GPS readings and 2) I like to not use battery on my phone so I have it in case of emergency.

We headed out on the Forest Mill loop which I know really well. It became apparent early on that Linen wasn't confident enough yet to lead and so it fell to Gem.

Gem is an interesting horse. At actual competitions, be it a pace or e-ride, she becomes extremely competitive and tries her best to block others from passing with a strong need to lead a group. On conditioning rides, good luck getting her to lead at all. The mare really isn't a fan of conditioning. Well, she had no choice on Sunday afternoon and as the sun finally decided to peek around the lightening burden of clouds in the sky, we headed out a brisk trot.

She was in rare form. The recent heavy rains resulted in a lot of trail debris which the park had done a great job clearing off to the side. It didn't matter: Gem's nemesis is downed limbs, stumps and trunks. She spooked her way left and right as Sheree laughed behind us. I did my best to control the rising tide of frustration and continue to praise her efforts of not being eaten by wood.

The trail was surprisingly firm given all the water it had seen in the last several weeks. There were some spots we had to walk or else slide, but for the most part we could still move out. I noticed a big difference in her movement with just the fronts booted versus the hinds. I am not sure if it is because they fit a little too big and are a bit floppy or what, but she just doesn't stride out in the back as well with the hind boots on.

The footing was mostly slick, red clay that was also strangely sticky. I knew it was a good test for the boots and Gem didn't slide much at all. In comparison Linen had steel on front and bare behind and slipped in the clay quite a bit.

At the junction of Forest Mill with Johnson Lake, we decided to forgo the added loop. It runs right alongside the lake and having seen how full Lake Craig was we knew there was a good chance the trail would be under water. Instead we enjoyed the rising temperature and chatted down the trail. It has been a very long time since I rode with anyone else. My odd riding schedule combined with the mostly retired riders around me who go out mid day, just doesn't allow for much companionship on the trail. It was pure joy to chat the miles away and laugh at our horse's idiosyncrasies together. I really missed it.

All too soon, we were back at the trailers and it was time to go home. I examined the boots and was both pleased and more than a little surprised to see that none twisted or came loose over the preceding 6.5 miles of clay, hills and standing water. Seriously, only the front left fits ideally and yet they all continue to stay on. I am truly shocked and very impressed with the boots.

Two very muddy front Renegade

Ignore the odd stance. She had just finished peeing when I took this quick shot.  

Sticky Carolina clay covering the toe strap and coming over the top of the boot. 

Four very muddy boots
Look at all that mid inside. If they stayed on through all of that, I'm not sure what will make them come off.
The front boots 
Gem looked really good at the end. She is already getting her super thick yak like winter coat and this time of year gets very tricky to manage. I palpated her hinds and the swelling was present but very small. I asked Sheree to take a look and she told me I was being paranoid. They were most likely wind puffs and so small that nobody but me would even have noticed them. It was a relief to have someone else see her in person.

We headed back home swearing that we would ride together again soon and I truly hope we do.

October 9, 2015

What is in a Name?

I have not been in love with my blog title from the beginning. The actual web address is www.agemofahorse.blogspot.com, so a normal person would name the thing "A Gem of a Horse". I thought about it and love the play on words (you know, it is her name, but she is also a great horse who was a diamond in the rough...) but the pragmatic side of me screamed "what will you do when she isn't here anymore?"

The thought of continuing to write on a blog titled after her when Gem isn't a part of it anymore made my stomach clench. Instead I chose something else and have basically felt ill will toward the name ever since. It is too long. It has nearly nothing to do with the actual content. It is blah.

My next thought was to have ENDURANCE loud and proud in the name. A quick internet search gave me some good ideas, but then it hit me: while endurance is a passion, in reality it only plays a small role in what Gem and I do. It would be a big bait and switch to pull someone in looking for a pure endurance blog only to not read an endurance related post for months on end. My next endurance ride isn't until April of 2016 over a year since our last one in February of 2015 (oh wow...seeing that in writing really drives that point home...ugh). That idea was thrown out the window.

So if not a stupidly long name, nothing specific to Gem and nothing screaming endurance...then what on earth should  call it?

Then it struck me.... The Roaming Rider.

It holds a lot of meaning for me.  I have now lived in four different states, lived in six different cities, had Gem at seven different barns, and have ridden her in rides in seven states. Nearly every weekend, I hitch the trailer and head out to some new trail system. I think that counts as roaming, don't you?

In addition to physical roaming, we also bounce around various different types of riding...early on we jumped and briefly toyed with the insane idea of attempting eventing, endurance riding, equathons, ride and tie, hunter paces etc... I would love to do Cowboy Mounted Orienteering same day next summer and when money get a little more plentiful, take dressage lessons.

In the end, I think The Roaming Rider fits Gem and I pretty darn well and when she is sadly no longer the star of the blog and is instead roaming about in her pasture enjoying retirement, the next horse in my life can fit into the blog and begin our own story.

Gemmie Update: Hoof Growth

Trimming Gem's hooves has become something I both look forward to and enjoy. Watching the hoof respond to stimuli, change with it and grow has been fascinating. I am lucky that she has strong, thick, fast growing hooves which can easily accommodate any mistakes I make in quick order. In the beginning, I only used the fine edge of the rasp and did it laboriously, wearing both her and myself out after only two hooves. Now I have graduated to the courser side and can knock out all four as long as I keep up with it every 2-3 weeks. I hope to get a hoof knife to help with her bars in the near future.

Last night was hoof trimming night and Gem walked happily up to me in the pasture to find out what I had in store for her. The evening was warm with a crisp breeze carrying the scent of freshly mowed grass. She still has the filling to the hind legs even with no work in the last 2 weeks and standing in a cold downpour for most of that time. As I tied her to the trailer I watched her stomp heavily and repeatedly with the hind legs after some unseen pest. Maybe the filling has something to do with that? She was stomping very hard and I have never seen her do that before.

I brushed her out and hung a hay bag for her to munch on while I worked. The only hoof to note is the injured front right. Her heel bulb remains well healed and the hair is growing back. The medial bulb sits higher and more proud than the lateral and it may still remodel some, but I think this is the way it will be from now on. Not a bad outcome considering the damage done.

What was more interesting was to see the amount of new hoof since the last set of pictures. I know people say it takes a full year to grow an entire hoof capsule, but she is moving along much faster than that. I don't have the exact same angle as the old set, which is a shame, but these are close enough. The new ones are from 10/8/15 and the old ones are from 9/3/15.

The first two pictures are of the lateral front right after the shoes were taken off and she was trimmed on 9/3/15.

You can see the "bulge" as the new hoof wall began to grow in wider than the old one.
The red arrow shows the point of the new wall which was creating an area that looked like it was going to crack. The shoe is still present here.

Next is the lateral front hoof from 10/8/15:

Look at all that new hoof! This is just one month's worth of growth. The new wall has not cracked, but has a very distinct delineation from the old and is growing in white. It remains hard, but the color is off. This side was not injured, but did have some rubbing from the cast.

My paint skills are amazing, aren't they? The red box shows just how much new growth has happened. The yellow line shows the angle the new wall is growing in versus the old.

 I don't have a comparison from 9/3/15 of the front of her hoof, but here is the new one:

Red line shoes the new band of growth
 The medial, injured side is growing as well (thankfully):

Medial side 9/3/15. You can sort of see the anterior growth line as well to compare to above.
The blue arrow shows the crack that formed from the laceration entering the hoof wall and the subsequent metal wire sutures to hold it back together. The red arrow shows the entry point into the hoof capsule and the area the surgeon was most concerned would grow out a crack.

Medial side now.

The red arrow is showing the level of the horizontal crack which at the back of the hoof is only an inch from contacting the ground. This crack is the reason al her rides are now in the Renegades to avoid it all coming off. The yellow arrow shows that vertical ridge that extends from the scar on the heel bulb. She will most likely always grow this due to the damage created. Once it grows all the way to the ground, I will be able to better assess if she can travel barefoot or not.
Things are coming along nicely. Both the crack on the medial side and groove at the junction of new and old hoof will grow completely out. If she continues this rate of growth, it should be out by the end of spring. I'm not overly concerned about either of those. What I will keep an eye on is the vertical medial wall crack.