Monday, August 31, 2015

Not Dressage Skillz

I haven't ridden in a week. The reason? That blinding pain I experienced last Sunday is a kidney stone and I have been dealing with the immense pain that is ongoing in this horrible experience by eating Advil like candy and parsing out the eight tabs of percocet I got at the ER as slowly as I can. I just want to cry. This weekend was the Rocky Mountain Iberian Horse Show that I had planned to show in, but it's just as well I couldn't because I wouldn't have managed to ride all three phases any way.

OMG, this really hurts.

And from what I have heard from everyone, this can go on for two weeks. I may not survive.

(All of that was written earlier)

I actually ended up going out to ride for a short amount of time. J helped me with the tack, the stall and the feed. About ten minutes into my ride she said "I think you've found something to help". I came out of my zone and said "What?" She asked, "How is your pain level?" I said, "What?" Yes, I am very eloquent when I am riding. We rode in the indoor thinking it was cooler than out in the 95 degree sunshine, but it devolved into a fight (Gods Ashke hates the indoor) so we got one circle at a nice canter in each direction and then went outside. Outside, Ashke gave me the most incredible canter for six big circles to the left and several more to the right, on a fairly loose rein, and stopping with a breath. (Makes me despair about this winter, although J did say I should just put up an obstacle even if it's just the gate and two barrels. She does have a point.) Then we did some rollbacks, although I wasn't pushing him to slide stop or spin too fast, since I almost came out of the saddle last time.

Then we were done and I came home to veg in my recliner and sleep.

So, I thought it might be fun to list the non-dressage skillz Ashke has mastered.

1. Trailering
Ashke walks on the trailer without any issues. He will stand quietly in the trailer while we load all of Eddy's things. He handles all of our trips without shifting or kicking. In fact, the only time he gets upset in the trailer is when Cali is hanging out just outside and the two of them are mourning their lost relationship.

2. Standing tied at the trailer
He's done really well with this in several different circumstances. He does great standing at the trailer while we are tacking up and doesn't get nervous when I am out of sight. He stands with a loose rope and doesn't pull back. At the Tarrin Warren clinic Ashke was asked to stand tied at the fence or the trailer for several hours without any issues. He paced a little bit at the end of the day when everyone else was gone, but overall was awesome.

3. Standing in the wash rack
It has taken calm persistence to get him to walk calmly into the wash rack. There is no guarantee that he won't snort and dance a little when he walks in, but he never pulls back. He will stand while I wash him and will only protest a little with flattened ears and closed eyes if I wash his face. (He still does not like the penis cleaning action or any water what so ever in that region - he will bunny hop in place to get away from it.) He will move from one side to the other with a verbal request. He seems o enjoy the water when he is hot.

4. Standing for mounting
Ashke is excellent at this and will stand still when I go to mount. It doesn't matter what I use as a mounting block, such as a large rock, the fender of the trailer, a low fence post, a side panel, the side of a hill, the edge of a ditch. I can ask him to position himself correctly and he does, then I put my foot in the stirrup and lightly weight it. I ask him if he is ready, while putting a little weight in the stirrup. Nine times out of ten, he will shift his weight and brace himself for me to swing up. Then he stands quietly until I ask him to walk off.

5. Trail Manners
This is still a work in progress, although our last two rides have shown me that Ashke understands the concept, he just has some trouble with the execution. We rode second on several occasions at Indian Creek, following several feet behind Eddy on a loose rein. Our biggest issue is that Eddy walks pretty slow when he is in the front, so as long as the trail is difficult and must be traversed carefully, Ashke can follow without climbing up Eddy's butt.

As a side note, Eddy is doing really well as a leader on trail. There are times when he is strong and fearless. Then there are the times when he steps to the side and just stops. That's when Ashke goes back to leading. I think as we get more miles and more experiences, Eddy will lead more and more, until we are splitting the time.

6. W/T/C on Trail
And gallop some as well! Ashke is great at all three gaits on trail, with or without his gloves. The type of trails we have cantered on have been singletrack, double track and wide, flat trails. A lot of times I allow him to pick his pace unless I am pacing him to increase his time or improve his condition. One of the great things he has shown in the past month is an increased bottom to his endurance. I credit adding whole oats to his feed and eliminating the amplify (because Purina) and he had reacted really well to that change and he was cantering with plenty of energy as we were headed to the trailer on our last trail ride. He is also very good about cantering or full out gallop through heavy grass (although he does sometimes jump the weeds he sees) maintaining both balance and his dexterity. This is huge for a horse that used to stumble in the arena.

7. Solid Senior Horse
Ashke is a great senior trail horse. He worries about the horses we are riding with (which includes J) and takes care of them, being a solid shoulder when they need it. He has handled ponying AMaar, even though that was a completely new experience. He has helped Eddy a couple of times with the same type of thing, going back to ride over an obstacle with Eddy at the same time.

I'm sure there are other things that I'm not remembering, but this is enough to go on with right now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dowdy Draw: Mesa Trail

Sunday dawned early and I discovered that when one rides 8 miles either straight up or straight down, the front of your thighs is somewhat sore. J got up and was sore all over. She opted to not ride, which left me with the option of riding out from the barn or hauling the trailer on my own. I opted to try it on my own. K and I made arrangements, I made myself lunch and headed to the barn.

I love back up cameras!!

I was able to hitch up the trailer on my first try, then pull it around and loaded my horse. I felt like such an independent adult. Knowing I can do that on my own is a great feeling, but I would prefer to share the responsibility with J. She's a great driver. I got K and Eddy (who trotted onto the trailer) and we headed for Flatirons Vista. I cut the first corner a little tight and bumped the trailer on the curb, which kind of shook me up, but I will know next time.

When we got to the trailhead at Flatirons Vista, we got the trailer parked and the horses unloaded. I pulled out the soft rubber curry comb and started on Ashke. As I moved to currying his barrel on the left side (using my right arm) I felt something pop in the middle of my back and all of a sudden I couldn't move, or breathe, and the pain radiating from the spot was enough to pop beads of sweat out on my forehead. I told K something had happened and I needed to sit down. I sat in the trailer doorway for a moment, struggling to take a full breath and not cry, feeling the pain radiating through my torso. I wondered if I needed to go to urgent care. I wondered if that was what a gallstone felt like. Or kidney stones. Or maybe a heart attack. I thought about calling J and having her come rescue me. K came over to check on me and talked me into taking some Advil. I did that and drank some water (thinking if it was kidney stones, maybe that would help. I know, not a rational or reasonable person when I am in pain.) K asked me if we should load up and head back, which I replied with a resounding no. Moving slowly I was able to get the gloves on Ashke, get him saddled and the saddlebags attached. I was very stiff through the middle of my back and having problems bending over, but I figured once I was on the horse I could ignore the pain. Which actually worked until we got back to the trailer.

Our original plan was to ride the Marshall Lake trail, which is open and very barren with lots of rolling hills. It was the ride we were on when K lost her phone a month or so ago. When we went to get on I asked her if she wanted to do the entire loop, which would make the ride more like 20 miles than the 13 she had first calculated. She was game so we headed west out of the parking lot.

I cannot describe the thrill it gives me every damn time I ride under the Flatirons of Boulder.

We rode across Flatirons Vista, then down Dowdy Draw.

There was one scary moment on this downhill, when we stopped to let someone go by and I took the next pic. As I was putting the camera away, Ashke (who never likes to stand still) started back down the trail and managed to step off the edge with one hind foot. K said it was the scariest thing she has ever seen. Ashke maintained his balance and kept us upright, but I can see how people could fall off the trail on the Tevis ride. In Ashke's defense, there was vegetation there, but it was hiding a drop off in the bank that you couldn't see.

The picture worth falling off the side of the mountain for.

At the bottom of the draw is a stream that has a fairly steep approach that I have always gotten off and hand walked Ashke down. This time, I stayed on and asked him to carefully take us down. He hesitated a moment, trying to decide if the way I wanted him to go was the best option, then carefully took us down to the water. It was maybe three inches deep but he took a good long drink anyway. There were several bike riders waiting on us and I apologized for the wait. One of the guys said "It's all good, I could stand and watch him drink all day." But it was said sincerely, actually, like he really meant he would stand and watch all day. Eddy followed us once we were out of the way, pausing very briefly to flip the water with his nose, then came up the trail behind us. The guys on their bikes laughed and waved as they proceeded on their ride. 

As we came up the trail toward Community Ditch, there was a pit toilet off the side of the trail. K suggested we stop and use it while we could. I agreed and we rode past the Ditch toward the building that held the toilets. I said to K, "You know, we really should ride the Mesa trail to Chautauqua Park. We could do lunch there and ride back." K said, "That's a really great idea, since J isn't with us and that trail is closed to bikes." So, we decided to do that ride instead, since J can do the Marshall Lake loop with us.

I stood and held the horses while K went to the toilet. Just as she came back out, Ashke suddenly flipped his head up sharply and snorted in alarm. As his head flipped up some kind of bug (which had stung him) flew off the end of his nose and whacked me in the side of the face, just next to my eye. It was buzzing when it hit and I yelped and swatted at it. It hurt like hell. I really thought I had been stung. Ashke was flipping his nose up and down still squealing a little bit in pain. I had a welt on the side of my face between the edge of my helmet and my eye. K looked and said there wasn't a white spot (stinger puncture) and although she was sure it still hurt, she really couldn't feel anything. Ashke tucked his nose into my hand and rubbed the skin back and forth for a good five minutes. I think it got him right on the front of his nose above his lip and between his nostrils. We both decided our injuries were a long way from the heart, so we continued on our way.

As we head toward the Dowdy Draw trailhead to cross the road and hit the Mesa Trail loop.

On the far side of the road that leads to Eldorado Canyon (another place we need to explore) heading toward the Mesa Trail.

We crossed the stream coming out of Eldorado Canyon and got down to water to let the horses drink.

Ashke drank long, deep and well. He has figured out the need to take care of his water intake.
Eddy, not so much yet, although he does like to splash and try to lay down.

K told me the trail was 7 miles from the trailhead to Chautauqua. With the four we had already ridden, that would make it a 22 - 23 mile round trip.
That sounded doable.

The trail was pretty rough, though, showing signs of the heavy flooding of 2013, and aggravated by the heavy rains this year.

You can see the washout to the right of the trail. Although the first part was fairly easy to ride, it was straight uphill. For almost two miles. We trotted and cantered a bit at the beginning, and then the horses just put their heads down and powered up the hill.

Still going up. It was about this point in the ride when I hiker going the other way offered us $100 to let him and his wife ride our horses (we us leading them I assume) back to their car at the trailhead. I think both K and I considered it, but I hate to hike in the paddock boots, so we laughed and kept on.

And then the trail began to get more difficult. And there was a rumor of a rattlesnake, but we didn't see or hear it.
We were still going up and it was getting steeper with more severe trail damage from the rain.

As the trail became steeper, it also became rockier and more technical. There were steps built into the trail, some of them at least as tall as Ashke's knees. This required Ashke to lunge up the trail in a series of small jumps. It was also incredibly rocky, with rocks forming some of the "steps" we had to go up.

Maybe two miles up, Ashke ripped his right hind boot off. K saw it immediately and told me I needed to stop. I dismounted and removed the boot, recognizing that the gaiter was completely ripped off the outside edge of the boot. The glove doesn't fit his feet well enough to continue like that and I had no duct tape with me, so I pulled both back boots. That was the set of rocks we were scrambling up that made me think "I wonder if this is what Cougar Rock is like". Trust me,  I understand that Cougar Rock would be a hundred times worse, but this was pretty intense for us at that point.

We topped off one of the climbs and crossed a small meadow. 

At this point I think both Ashke and I were done. There was a really steep part of the trail, where we were lunging up a series of steps at least knee height and in some places close to chest height (the horses could walk up them like a person so sometimes there were smaller rock parts that could handle a footstep that we couldn't utilize) and Ashke just stopped, chest heaving and looked back over his shoulder at me like I was freaking crazy. I had to agree, but at that point it would have been worse (maybe) to turn around and go back. I was calculating in my head the possibility of taking another way back, by linking to the trail system in Boulder and taking another way home to the Marshall Lake loop. (Got to love the trail system in Boulder - they all link together).

And then we would have a repreive in the footing.

But it wouldn't last. Eddy tried going off trail, but Ashke wasn't happy with that option, since it was still rocky.

There were rock walls maybe 12 to 14 inches tall to help control run off and trail maintenance. That was fun. Especially on the downhill.

Lots of sumac and some poison ivy, which K was very good at identifying.

Eddy led for a little while, but he just got slower and slower and it was hard to keep Ashke behind him. We moved ahead. There was a small trickle of water at the bottom of a small gully we crossed and Ashke drank well from it too.

The trail was just pure rock. With steps. And rock walls.
Rougher than Indian Creek and about 400 additional feet of elevation for the day.
Not really what we had planned to do. In my defense, I had no idea that the trail was like this and K said it was a lot rockier than the last time she had hiked it several years ago.
The scenary was awesome though. And there was a nice breeze in the morning to help keep things cool.

About this time I asked K what time it was (almost one) and how far we had traveled (3.6 miles since the trailhead which meant we had another 3.4 miles to go) so we opted to stop for lunch.

Our lunch stop spot, which concided with the connection to another trail. 

Just after we dismounted and I started putting my lunch together, a woman walked up and started talking to us about endurance. She used to do LDs on her Appy/QH horse and really missed it. We chatted about horses and running (she was trail running) and the damn trail we were on, while K and I ate lunch. Based on her information and what K remembered, we opted to take an alternative route home. After we were done eating and drinking and hanging with the endurance rider turned runner (she did endurance in Georgia and doesn't have a horse here) we swung up and headed east.

East meant we moved out of the trees and into the blazing sunlight. And the wind died, so it was plenty warm.

Even down below the ground was rocky.

Undulating prairie, with tall grass and hidden cactus.

The Eds trucking a long. You can't really see it but he had a very contented look on his face.

From a distance we could see the stock tank, but wasn't sure there was water in it because it was so dark. There were cattails and other plants growing in the water, with a thick blanket of moss on the top. Ashke flipped the water and moss with his nose until the water was clear and then he drank deeply. Under the moss, the water was clear and crisp looking and I was tempted to sample the water myself. It reminded me of a scene in Savage Sam, where the Indians made a mesh out of green grass to strain out the blicky stuff from the water. I wondered if I could do that here. Then Ashke thought about climbing into the stock tank and I was yanked back to reality. 
I did not test the grass mesh theory.

We had a couple of nice canter moments on the trail, which was not as rocky as what we had been traveling down.

After traveling east, we turned South again.

And we were a long way from where we had started. The haze is actually smoke from Washington and Idaho trying to burn all the things.

Headed back toward the mountains and back into the rocks.

Seriously, this trail was the rockiest we had to do on this ride. Although not by much compared to the trail leading over the Mesa. 

We stopped at the stream/river and let the horses wade. Eddy finally drank (14 miles or so) and then we crossed back across the street to the Dowdy Draw trailhead. K and I talked about the quickest way to go home. We could turn east and ride community ditch to the Greenland plateau, or we could back track to Dowdy Draw and ride back up it. K thought the community ditch would be the easier ride, but I was pretty sure it would be longer. I called J to tell her we were probably an hour away from reaching the trailer and then I still needed to drive us home. I told her I would call her when we reached the trailer and let her know we were okay.

K and Eddy took the most direct route back to Dowdy Draw. There were some really nice places where we could canter and the boys were very willing to move out. Even after all of the altitude and rough trail they both had gas in their tanks and were willing to go. Cantering through the grass along the edge of the creek was magical and both horses moved in a smooth, ground-covering canter. Maybe even a touch of a gallop along there. Somewhere in that ride from one trailhead to the Draw, I began calling Ashke my Braveheart. He was so willing.

And then we were striding up the Draw, with long, strong walking strides.

Eddy and K turning the corner on the switchback coming up the Draw.

On the top of the Vista, we cantered most of the way back from there. At one point, Eddy had cantered away and Ashke had just watched him. I was letting him choose his pace and was willing to walk home if he wanted. He glanced over his shoulder at me and I said, "If you want to canter, canter." He snorted and took off. Three strides in he slammed on the brakes and came to a complete halt long enough to poop, then launched himself into a gallop after the Eds. We walked the last half mile in to the trailer (rocky trail) and then set the boys up with their after ride mashes. I was exhausted when I called J to tell her we had made it back. She could hear it in my voice and offered to come park the trailer for me. I took her up on the offer, wanting to be a little less exhausted the first time I try to back the trailer into it's space. 

I checked Ashke's back and he was a little sore on the right over his loins. I was not surprised. We did another 1750 feet in elevation plus he was jump/lunging up the rocky trail for a good portion of the day. I made the mistake of not pulling the BOT blanket on him (for which I must plead fatigue) and by the time I got him home he had stiffened up. He was sore to the touch at that point, and almost cringed away from the water as I was washing him off. I rubbed Sore No More into the tender spots on his back and tucked him into his stall with his mash. He will have off until Saturday.

When I checked him Monday morning, his back was still sore, but only in the loin muscles, where he would have over used them to propel himself up the rocks. I did some light massage and some deep energy work on the area, which seemed to help. By this morning, he was as good as new, with no reaction to any specific probing of his back.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Indian Creek: Stevens Gulch

On Saturday we decided to try Indian Creek again and do the seven mile loop that was described to us by two women we met at the end of our ride last time. We were told to go up Indian Creek until we saw the turn off for Steven's Gulch. They both thought it was an easy ride. J thought she could handle a seven mile loop (we had done almost five miles last time).

We decided to take the Forest Service Road to the top and then follow the trails down, thinking it would be easier on J. It still kicked her butt, but she powered through.

Our boys were very up and trotted and cantered up this hill. Ashke was in such a great mood and was playful and energetic for the entire ride. The Eds was awesome as well.

 My rock star!!

This was the high spot and it only took us about fifteen minutes to climb up. We had to hang out and let J catch her breath, as she was struggling a bit with altitude issues and the 900 feet she had just climbed. Once she was ready, we headed downhill.

Downhill is better, but the trail left a lot to be desired. The start of Steven's Gulch.

Mountain Trail Ponehs.
Doesn't Ashke look great?

 Smoke from the fires in Washington and Idaho. 

Such beautiful country.

There was a fallen tree with a leaning tree a couple of strides beyond. I got off and hand walked. Eddy just stepped over. So, I got back on and we went back so J could get video.

Video proof our ponehs rock.

J's "between Coyote's ears" shot on Steven's Gulch.

Perfect example of perseverance - K didn't give up on a very difficult horse and now he is a great, willing mountain trail pony.

The Steven's Gulch trail went down a lot  - like all of the elevation we had climbed up.

The trail was really rough, with a lot of deep mud, rocks and sand.
J ended up walking a lot of the trail.

Another of the logs we stepped over.
Eddy stepped over, and Ashke had a small jump.

Eddy led for a while and Ashke followed behind on a loose rein.
Much better trail etiquette.

Heavy undergrowth.
Large log.

J lifting Coyote over another large log.

The Eds walking calmly over the large log. 
It was taller than his knees.

Ashke locked on the log, picked up a lifted trot and gracefully went over the log.
He prefers a small jump over stepping over the log.

The trail was hard. Thick undergrowth and not intended for a bike.
Not really intended for a horse, either.

The trail in places was a couple of feet deep.
With thick mud in the bottom of the trench. 

For about a mile, the creek was the trail.

It was beautiful.

It was great training terrain.

It was also what I would consider advanced mountain biking.

We did 7.75 miles in about three hours. J walked a lot of the Steven's Gulch trail (very heavy undergrowth and she couldn't pedal her bike). And by the time we started up the uphill back to the trailhead, she's was pretty exhausted. We did 1400 feet of elevation gain, according to K's app. Both horses were moving strongly when we reached the trailer, and finished strong.

J was pretty much at the end of her energy, which we fixed with cold gatorade and a snicker bar. We loaded up and headed home. The trails are absolutely stunning, but just like Buffalo Creek, it's a bit above J's ability at this point. We are thinking that the next ride we do, K and I will ride to Waterton Canyon to meet J as she drives around. Maybe the boy will come with us.