Thursday, December 29, 2016

Treats

I had an awesome ride last night. After my last lesson, I asked Amanda for a list of things to do during our off lesson rides. I have such a hard time remembering all of the things, I don't want to ride the test over and over since Ashke will learn it and want to do it on his own, plus I get distracted and forget to do stuff. She sent me this: serpentines, transitions, shoulder in, leg yields, spirals, leg yields at the canter and more transitions. That helped a lot and gave me direction in my ride.

I don't think that was the only reason my ride was awesome, though. I read an article on FB about how treats are a more effective training tool than wither scratches. Or praise. So, I loaded my hoodie up with a baggie of treats a friend gave us for the holidays. Ashke knew they were there - he saw me put them in the pocket.

There is only one issue with riding with treats in your pocket . . . . Ashke really believes that he should be rewarded for everything, so it takes a few minutes to get him to realize that he only gets a treat at the end of a set of exercises. Otherwise, we spend our ride taking one step, then asking for a treat.

We did great serpentines with distinct changes of bend and light, easy transitions. After doing that up and down the arena he got a treat and a walk break. Then we did shoulder in. For the first time I felt like he was actually doing the shoulder in and walking at a normal pace at the same time. Sometimes we get so cramped we stall out and it is a struggle. Not so last night. Again, he got a treat after we had a good shoulder in going in both directions. (By now he has figured out no treats until the set is done. And the set will be done quicker if he really puts out the effort.) Then we did leg yields at the walk from the rail to X and back to the rail (part of Novice B test), which he did really well at. It is harder going from X to the rail when the rail is the scary corner of the arena, but we did it going in both directions and then a treat. Then leg yields at the trot. Treat. Then canter leg yields transitioning down to the walk at the end of the arena. He did awesome! Treat. Then canter circles with a transition to the walk as you approach the rail. These are very tight circles and he did them very well. Treat.

That was the end of our ride.

Notes: he was stopping off my seat very well. I'm not sure if it's because he suddenly figured it out or if stopped was the only position he gets treats from, but we only had to add a reinback twice. He seemed to be extra willing to try for me, or at least for the treat. I really wish I could figure out the trigger for his snort and ear pinning when being asked to canter. I would like it to be soft and easy, like our trot transitions. 


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 Goals

I almost don't want to do this post, since I am still reeling from 2016 . . . this year can't end quick enough for me. In the spirit of setting myself up to fail, here goes.

1. Qualify for National Championships in Working Equitation

National Championships for Working Equitation is in Oregon, over Labor Day weekend. Pedro Torres is going to be there for a special demo. We have a slide in truck camper and the ability to travel with Ashke that far. I just need to qualify by getting a 58% in the dressage test and 58% in the Ease of Handling, without a DQ in Speed. I have two local shows (Expo and Adams County Fair) where we will be offering B-Rated shows that I can qualify in without having to travel to find another show.

2. Explore Trails in the Area

I'm not setting a distance goal this year. The past two years I've set goals for distance and it hasn't happened. This year I have a lot of shows to practice for, so that is my focus, although I know that J and I will hit the trails on the weekends. It would be fun to explore new places as well as hitting all of our old haunts.

3. Horse Camping

I want to go to Vedauwoo and camp at the campground there. They have horse corrals and I'm hoping there is a water source as well. To be able to spend days riding there, teaching the dogs and horse to go together and enjoying my favorite place on earth with Ashke would be the best. It will also give us some practice with camper and trailer before traveling to Oregon in September.

I think that is the extent of my goals. At least they should be achievable. I hope.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 10 Questions

Does your horse need shoes?
Yes, as a matter of fact, he does. Dr D believes that he needs the extra support in traction the shoes seem to give him. All I know is that he hated the hoof boots, they changed how he carried himself and his feet were too thin to go bare and still do the rides we have been doing. I'm not going to ride less and I want him as comfortable as possible, so shoes it is.

What do you think of the barefoot vs. shoes debate?
I was pretty committed to keeping Ashke bare. I think that the stimulation of the frog and hoof are overall better bare, however, I really believe in doing what is right for the individual horse.

As far as the debate goes, horses have been domesticated for 6000 years. They are no longer wild creatures running about on the plains, being eaten by anything faster than they were. I have no doubt that in an overall sense, horses live longer and are useful longer than if they were wild, and part of that process involves some kind of hoof covering to protect them over uneven ground. It is naive to believe that we can recreate that type of hoof conditioning within our modern method of care, because acres and acres of rough terrain with varied locations of food and water, which necessitate the constant movement of the horse, don't really exist in our culture any longer. If the individual horse can maintain themselves without shoes then more power to the owner. Mine could not.

As far as the hoof boots go, I was blown away by the write up Gail did on her blog about an article in Endurance News. The author said that for every pound of weight added to the end of the hoof, it is the equivalent of eleven pounds added over the center of gravity. My metal shoes weight about 8 oz, while the backcountry gloves I put on Ashke weight almost two pounds. The weight difference between shoes and boots is 22 pounds vs 88 pounds. That explains so much of what I was feeling and how Ashke was acting. We will stick to shoes.

Favourite season for riding?
Fall. I love the temps, the colors and the feel of the air.

How many shows do you think know you’ve gone to?
Three as an adult. All three were Working Equitation.

Do you consider yourself a good rider?
Decent for my age, my weight, my injuries and the number of years spent without riding. Ashke seems okay with me.

How experienced do you think someone should be to own a horse?
Experienced is what you should be at the end of the process. Realistic may be a better question. I think people get caught up in the dream of a horse, without being realistic about cost, maintenance, facilities, extraneous items and how much they need to learn. Horses can be done on a shoestring budget, but that isn't always what's best for the horse. Lessons can help with the riding/handling part, but the other stuff needs research and learning and desire.

Have you ever gotten into a fight with your trainer?
I had a trainer I did not work well with and it did not end well. It wasn't a fight, so much as an agreement to ignore each other. I don't think I could fight with my current trainer - she's awesome!

Describe your dream horse.
Ashke. Everything I ever wanted and more.

Does anyone in your family ride?
My mom did. My sister did when we were young. My littlest brother did until he was eight, and was a complete natural. None of them any more. My niece rides via a therapeutic riding center in Washington. She seems to love it.

If you could ride any horse in the world, which one would it be? Why?
Oxidado. I would love to ride the speed course on him.
         

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stupid

Will I ever learn?

Ashke has been stiff for about six weeks now. Not horribly, but enough that I can feel that slight hitch in his step and although he has been great in our lessons, it's taken forty-five minutes of warm up, shoulder in and haunches in to stretch out his right hind. Then we have about thirty minutes in the sweet spot, maybe less if there is a lot of canter work, before his leg gets tired and he tells us he is done. It has been apparent on trail as well and although he is tracking through, the "drop" part of his step with that leg has been noticeable both visually and audibly. (He goes clip, clip, clip, clomp).

I was trouble shooting with Amanda two weeks ago about his joint supplement, his supplements in general and the distinct turn the weather has taken in the past two weeks. I decided afterwards to go into Smartpak and see if maybe I could tweak them a bit. I evaluated the options on the joint supplement and decided to tweak it just a bit to see if it helps. It can't hurt, since the levels of MSM and the other anti-inflammatories are the same, but we are adding a little extra glucosomine to see if it helps with his left patella. I then turned to muscle support and realized that we've been missing the lysine.

Fuck!

I completely missed that it wasn't still in his supplements. We had ran out one smartpak ago, I forgot I was out and made up our most recent bags of supplements without it, since my local agfinity store was out as well. I soon as I saw lysine listed on Smartpak as muscle support, I went and found some at the local store. I added it to all of his supplement bags a week ago. Since then, I haven't ridden, in part due to the weather (subzero temps) and in part due to holiday work stuff. Ashke has played with the ball a lot in the last week and although he was moving very good, it's not the same as being ridden. He can self-select to move in a way that minimizes the impact on the parts that hurt. We really can't do that under saddle.

Last night was amazing. He was loose and comfortable as soon as I got on, even though the temp in the barn was in the low 20's (I think it was warmer outside, since the Chinook winds are blowing). We did spiral circles at trot and canter, leg yields at the trot, serpentines where we move between walk and canter, with halting from my seat, shoulder in, haunches in, square corners at the trot which then evolved into three quarters of a circle at the trot and crossing the diagonal. Then we worked on that at the canter. We also did slow collected trot to an extended trot, back to slow. He was amazing. At the end we worked on small canter circles around two cones, with a change of lead in between, on an elongated figure eight. We almost had our first flying change, with him adding just a step of trot in between.

So, the lysine is now added to the smartpak, along with two other amino acids for muscle support. One of these days I will learn.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Goals 2016

Hahahahaha!!!

I had a lot of goals last year and I pretty much didn't make any of them. Let that be a lesson in never setting goals again.

1. HCWE
This I did. I have been a board member for almost a full year now and am loving the sport, the Club I belong to and the people I get to meet and ride with. It has been a great year for WE, with consolidated rules and a year of shows under our belt. I expect 2017 to be fantastic! This was a win!

2. Clinics/Shows
I did clinics and shows at Expo, but had to scratch from the show due to a slight irregularity in Ashke's gait. I rode in the Rebecca Algar clinic but not in the show due to Ashke's injury in his left hind. I rode in the clinic and show with Tarrin Warren in July and won. Then spent the rest of the year waiting for Ashke's reinjury to heal. Not exactly a win, but not really a fail either.

3. Riding Four Days a Week
This I have been fairly consistent on. Sometimes, due to weather or other events, it's been three times a week. We do a consistent two arena rides and two trails rides. I call it a win.

4. Develop Canter
Definite win.

5. NATRC Ride
Fail. Didn't have our slide in camper yet. Probably not going to make my list for 2017, either.

6. First LD
Fail. See above.

7. 500 Miles on Trail
Fail. I have done 327 so far in 2017, so not shabby. But not the goal.

Never drink soda again. FAIL.
Nothing else to say about that.




Thursday, December 15, 2016

Heartstopping

I woke up Tuesday morning at my normal 5:20 am time, stumbled to the bathroom and checked my phone. There was a text from A, which included a picture. My heart stopped.

The caption said barn fire in Brighton.
Red siding. White garage doors. The picture I had received was much smaller.
I just couldn't tell. 

I started frantically trying to find the address while my heart and mind screamed "no" silently. Over and over like you do when you really don't want it to be true. The unreal factor in your mind. Trying to find clues in the photo that would tell me for sure it wasn't my barn. I turned on the television while scrolling through the newscasts on my web browser, my heart in my throat. Finally, I found the information that the fire was further south and east, really in Adams county. Not my barn. 

Thanking all of the Gods. Profusely. There were no words for the relief.

I don't know that there is anything more terrifying for a horse owner than a barn fire. There were sixteen horses that perished in the fire on Tuesday morning. It is believed that the fire started from a refrigerator or heating lamp housed inside the barn. The building was engulfed in flame when they got there and couldn't even attempt to get the horses out. The firefighters were hampered in fighting the fire due to the lack of a water source for their pump trucks, since the barn is not on city water. Water had to be hauled in for them to pump from.

I'm very thankful that it was not arson, because if someone was deliberately setting barn fires, no one would be safe.

I'm very thankful that my barn has outside doors for each run that can be opened from the outside, with a safe fenced area where the horses could be released safely, away from the flames. Because you want exit routes from burning buildings that make getting the horses to safety easier. And perimeter containment so you don't have to worry about finding them later.

I am so very, very thankful that my heart is safe. 

I can only imagine what the other horse owners are feeling right now.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reflections

I've been thinking about responsibility and risk for the past week and a half. The accident with Tia really brought into focus the significance of those two concepts in relationship with horses and I wanted to share my thoughts and how they apply, from my point of view, to riding in both the arena and on trail in the hopes that others might benefit. Doing this also gives me the opportunity to refine my philosophy.

Everyone who decides to swing a leg over the back of a horse starts as a newbie, because while some of us may be more gifted in our ability to ride, none of us arrive here knowing how. Aside from the riding part, there are all of the aspects of horse husbandry that we also need to learn and be responsible for once we embark on this journey. For some of us, our journey begins at a very young age, in our childhood. We are given the opportunity to learn to ride and care for horses as an aspect of an activity our parents facilitate, guided by our parents, trainers, 4-H leaders, etc. Some children are taught via a riding program where they are taught on school horses, expected to learn some aspects of horse husbandry and are somewhat limited in the amount of time or exposure they have to both horses and barn life. For others, it starts as tween passion that eclipses cheerleading and love interests and often results in the ownership of a horse of their own and the resulting responsibility, although still under the guidance and bank account of their parents. For a large segment of adult amateur riders, it is a decision made as an adult, weighed on a scale of pros and cons, often after the children have grown and left, born from a beloved dream of someday being able to care for and ride a horse of our own. That said, the beginning point for all equestrians is that of an uneducated new-to-horses person.



When a person decides to ride,  work with or own a horse there is, by definition, a lot to figure out. A new to horses person must learn to ride (because let's be serious here - the riding is the best part), learn to groom and care for the feet, learn basic first aid (because horses), find a safe place to keep the horse, learn about feed programs, hay vs pelleted food, supplements and salt blocks. Additionally, the owner should also expect to manage maintenance costs (feet, wormer, vaccines, Coggins). These are the basic blocks of knowledge and experience a owner/rider should have before embarking on a journey of horse ownership.

I think there is a real difference between taking lessons, leasing and actual ownership that some amateurs can't predict based on their foreknowledge, prior to purchasing their first horse. As a student, the rider may be expected to groom, clean feet, tack up, ride, cool out, untack and put away their horse (some programs they don't even do that much). The trainer or horse owner is responsible for board, feed, medical, feet, etc in the care and housing of the horse. If something happens to compromise the horse's ability to work, most trainers with school horses can easily substitute another horse so that the rider can continue to take lessons, regardless. A rider who has been taking lessons has some exposure to horse husbandry, but not the legal responsibility for the horse. Or the financial.



I think the move from "somewhat responsible" for a horse to the position of owner is often taken without the rider really recognizing the impending costs. There is a lot more than any sane person not completely in love with horses would undertake. The financial burden of horse ownership was the deciding factor in my twenties that forced me to relinquish horse ownership for more than twenty years. Between my idyllic, if painful, childhood/early adulthood and now has been a lifetime of experience not related to horses that shapes my understanding of the responsibility now. I knew prior to bringing home Ashke what kind of financial burden this would put on our family, mostly, from a budget and cash flow perspective. J and I talked about costs, financial and otherwise, prior to embarking on this journey together. I am, as an adult, completely responsible for the care and maintenance of my horse. There is no safety net of parents to fall back on and no free pasture to send my horse to in the winter. I am totally responsible for everything. It is a hard thing, but I know where the line is drawn in the sand financially, what we can afford and at what point we have to start making really hard decisions. 

In some ways, horse ownership is easier today than it was in my youth. I don't have to worry about getting up at 4:30 am to feed and water my equine friend, nor do I need to worry about breaking ice out of their water tanks during the winter. I can pay a boarding facility to do so, and to clean up after them on the daily. I don't even really have to remember to worm or vaccinate, since most boarding facilities help their boarders manage that process with a local vet. Those are the extra things my board pays for every month. That leaves me responsible for any supplements I believe my horse should have, off cycle vet visits for injuries/colic/stupid horse stuff, farrier work and riding. From a responsibility point of view, my monthly money reduces what I need to worry about (hay, picking out the stall, adding or taking off blankets) and frees me up to spend my time doing the really fun stuff, like showing, riding and playing. I do think, however, this umbrella of care reduces the real and immediate responsibility of horse ownership.

Trail Obstacle

Although it may look like you are paying to have the heavy lifting done, you are still responsible for your horse. From a legal and moral standpoint, you are responsible for what your horse does to other horses, people, facilities, etc. There is no grace period or learning curve allowed from a legal standpoint: once ownership transfers from one person to you, as the new owner, so does the responsibility. This governs handling the horse from the ground, sharing arena space with other horses, trailering, and riding on public or private trails. If you make the decision to buy a horse that is not completely trained or one that acts in an unsafe manner, you take on the burden of being responsible for the outcome of that horse's actions. No excuses. Whether you come to adult ownership with any prior experience or as a newly minted equestrian, the legal and moral responsibility is the same. Horses are dangerous animals with a mind of their own and faster-than-human reaction times. They come programmed to fight or flight. Every rider has the same level of responsibility to educate and improve their knowledge of horsemanship and horse behavior, regardless of prior experience in order to lower risk. The lack of knowledge is not an excuse for poor horsemanship and does not change an owner's responsibility.

Think of it this way: equestrians have the same level of responsibility to manage their horse as a driver has in handling their car. Both can be dangerous. Both can be deadly. Both require maintenance, feeding (fuel), caring for and learning how to handle them in every situation. An adult driver learns the rules of the road by instruction, learning the law before getting behind the wheel and learning how to how to handle a car. They must take classes and tests before being allowed to drive alone. A driver would not expect to be given a pass by a police officer at the scene of an accident because they are new to driving.

Terrifying

Equestrians have the same level of responsibility in learning to manage their horse as they do in learning to drive, except it is up to the individual to educate themselves, since there is no test or license required. In my opinion, I believe trainers, horse traders and breeders need to be held to a higher standard when selling horses to untrained and inexperienced riders. If not legally, than within the horse community. Unfortunately, many new owners go into horse ownership with stars in their eyes, looking at the outside of the horse, rather than approaching horse ownership as a risk assessment. There are dangerous horses out there; horses that won't keep their feet on the ground; horses that have no problem with running over humans; horses that are bargy and aggressive; horses that bite. Those are all issues that stem from mishandling by humans (although I do think there are true outlaws - those horses are consistently vicious in my experience, with no redeeming factors.) Unfortunately, I think women especially are attracted to "good looking" or pretty horses, and lead with their hearts rather than assessing the risk in a non-biased way. And perhaps trusting that the horse professional they are working with has their best interest in mind, rather than just trying to unload a horse.

No horse is bomb-proof, which is why so many equestrians advocate wearing helmets 100% of the time. Everyone comes off their horse at one time or another. It is a part of riding. Being an equestrian means the rider must acknowledge the risk and assess what is likely to cause your horse to spook before it happens. This will help all riders be more safe in general, while limiting the damage the horse can possibly do to both humans and property around them. It will also limit the potential damage that can happen to your horse, because a horse in a panic is catapulted into flight, with no reason to stop. That risk assessment, evaluating the environment in which you are riding, evaluating possible threats your horse will view as threatening, evaluating the danger you pose to those around you, all need to happen all of the time.



The other thing that has to happen is every rider must ride every step. Mark Rashid, in one of his books, talks about doing a ride with the Old Man. He and the Old Man are out on trail and Mark is off in his own world in his head, thinking about school, the weather, every thing but the horse under him, lulled into complacency by the movement of the horse and the events of the day. The mare he is riding spooks and throws him. Mark gets up and asks the Old Man why that happened and the Old Man disgustedly tells Mark he shouldn't be surprised, since he stopped riding an hour and a half before that. The point is that we must be present in the moment every time we are on our horse, working with our horse, handling our horse. Our horses live in the Right Now. The challenge for riders is to meet them where they are and remain there with them. Not to day dream. Not to make to-do lists in our heads or think about the tasks we need to do the following week, the unfinished laundry or the bills that need to be paid. To be present. To ride every step.

In the arena, this means learning to ride in a way that does not endanger yourself or others. All barns have rules for arena riding, with minor variations based on barn manager or set up, but at a minimum learning to go left shoulder to left shoulder, learning to call out to the other riders when doing something different from just riding  the rail (circle, cross diagonal, etc) and learning to make choices in gaits and direction in order to minimize interference with others is part of the risk assessment of riding in an enclosed space with other horses. The overall risks are lowered in an arena, but a rider must learn where the "scary" areas are: a particular corner or end of the arena where the boogie man lives; a wall that makes noise when the wind blows; obstacles or items that are stored in various areas; doors and gates where horses are coming and going. All of those things must be recognized and assessed even when riding in circles in the arena. The one thing a rider can count on, however, is that everyone in the arena at least has a passing acquaintance with horses or they wouldn't be there.

Wildlife

Out on the trail, the risks are magnified and the rider is called to be even more present, to ride every step, the entire ride. For one, an equestrian will meet other trail users: bike riders, runners, walkers, baby strollers, dogs, other horses, wheelchairs, kites, fallen trees, brush, rocks, gates, roads, and wildlife. All of those things and more can appear to be threatening to your equine partner. As the rider, it is your responsibility to assess the risk at every step along the trail, to do what you can to help your horse find both confidence and comfort in your presence. Additionally, the rider has a heightened sense of responsibility due to the presence of non-equestrians on the trail. There can be no assumptions. Bike riders can ride up behind the horse without alerting the rider to their presence. Little kids are drawn to horses and think nothing of racing over to pet whomever they meet on trail. It is the equestrian's responsibility to ensure they are mitigating the risk to others, themselves and their horse by being aware of their position and gait on trail. Make no mistake, if a person is hurt on trail it is the rider's responsibility both legally and morally. You are the one who choose to bring your horse out into a public venue and by doing so you are legally responsible for it's behavior. It becomes even more important to ride every step. To be present and aware every moment you are with your horse.

Risk assessment on trail is much more involved than in the arena. The rider must do a visual assessment of all fixed trail obstacles (rocks, fences, benches, bridges, bushes), offer support to the horse (adding leg, steadying the rein, talking out loud in a reassuring voice) before the horse reacts. In this fashion, a rider has the opportunity to tell their horse that the rider has assessed the situation, identified the obstacle and made the decision that it isn't an issue, thus increasing the rider's reliability in taking care of the horse's safety, from the horse's point of view. Then there is the risk assessment of mobile trail obstacles (wildlife, people, cars, strollers, bikers) that the rider must do. Mobile obstacles or other users on the trail are more likely, in my experience, to cause a spook or shy because of the unexpected nature of those obstacles. Even on familiar trails, the rider must be alert and assessing every step, because nothing is static and trails change (bright green iron benches get put places that bench wasn't the last time we came by.)

Wolfes!!

Think of risk assessment on horseback the same way motorcycle riders assess risk on the road: search, evaluate, execute. If a rider is paying attention, your horse will alert you to what is making them nervous on trail: an ear or hard look, slight hesitation in their gait, a raised head or tightening of the jaw against the rein. Their senses are more attuned to their environment than ours and they will alert you to what they see prior to you being aware. There are things that you can do to redirect your horse's attention. I like leg yields on trail, if the footing allows, or a very collected trot, with a change of bend every ten steps. That exercise can be done regardless of how wide the trail is. By redirecting your horse's attention from their environment to an exercise you have hopefully practiced in the arena, you can diffuse the situation before your horse explodes and you are on the ground, or worse.

The bottom line of being safe with horses is to be present, to pay attention, to use critical thinking skills and the risk assessment method of search, evaluate and execute to provide yourself with a game plan you should have in your back pocket before you ever take your horse out of it's stall. To do less, is a violation of the trust you hold between yourself and your horse. It is also a violation of your legal responsibility to the public.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ball

This week has marked the first real cold spell we've experienced. I did a lesson on Monday, which went well. Ashke is struggling with his right hind and I've decided to change up his supplements to see if I can get him a little more support. In the meantime, I am riding him in the long BOT blanket that covers his hips and this seems to help warm him up quicker and keep him loose longer. I am seeing some intense muscle building up behind his shoulder, where I was beginning to see it last year before our leg trauma. We worked on canter, in between shoulder in, haunches in, leg yielding at trot and canter. He is getting so much better, although I can tell the canter work is making the right hamstring sore.

After Monday, the temps plummeted. I took a bucket of hot mash out to him on Monday and changed his blanket to the heavier fill, which immediately warmed him up. Last night, we went out to check on him, took him a bucket of goodies and his ball. When we got there, I stripped the blanket off him, removed the BOT quick wrap we are still using on his leg (he scratches with his other hind foot and breaks the skin if it's not on) and turned him loose in the arena with T. He and T ran up and down the arena with Ashke rearing, bucking and chasing (at a very safe distance) until T couldn't run any more (the air was very cold). By that time, J was starting to work on his ball, Ashke saw her out of the corner of his eye and stopped. He recognized what she was doing and he began asking her if he could play with it.

Impatient horse began rearing in excitement, then tearing around the arena snorting.

The other horses were pretty freaked out, but he was so happy.
The ball still needs to be inflated, but it was cold, T wanted to go home and Ashke didn't want to wait any longer.

More ball play. 

There were places in the arena where it was too scary to play, which T helped him out of.

I cannot tell you how much I love this horse. We will work on inflating the ball the rest of the way (so it fills the bag). J's pump has a pressure gauge and there was no pressure inside the ball yet so we have a ways to go before being worried about exploding it (that's a real fear for both J and myself - no clue why). The barn used to have a soccer ball and the BO said that it should be amusing to watch the horses become accustomed to it over the next week or so.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The End

The Saturday after Thanksgiving we did a ride at Chatfield with J, K and Tia. It was the final day in what has been a long, beautiful Indian Summer that stretched from the middle of September to the end of November. It was one of those late fall days where the sky is brilliant blue which enhances the golden colors of the dried grass. It was warm enough that I was riding in shirt sleeves and Tia stripped off her outer layers to ride in shirt sleeves as well. J had been really looking forward to riding the canal, although A couldn't join us, and Tia was game. The four of us took off down the trail on the east side of the South Platte.

The temps were in the low 60's with no wind.
Just a stunning day.


Eddy kind of blends into the colors of the field.

The trails through the grass are always a technical challenge for the bikes, since in some places the trail is deep in the ground with the sides coming up to the top of the bike tires. It seemed much easier for the bikes than the last time we rode this trail, seeing as the grass was much shorter in places and not so over grown. After about a mile downstream, we turn East and climb to the Highline Canal.

 This sign was new. There is a couple of huge stables that are right on the canal. I wondered if those riders were having issues with the bike riders on trail.

For part of the canal Ashke and Eddy were in front of the bikes, but then deer started to leap out of the canal, cross the trail in front of us, and bound away toward the river. The first time that happened it was a six or eight point buck, with deep black points of color under his jaw and belly. He stopped in the middle of the path and watched us as K and I held the horses still to watch him back. Finally, his curiosity satisfied, he bounded effortlessly over the fence, heading west toward the river. We continued on and came upon this:

Eddy alerted us to this one. J said there were a group of five of them down there.

Needless to say, the horses became more nervous and twitchy. I asked J and Tia to go ahead, thinking they would flush the deer out, plus Ashke is a little less spooky when J is leading. I tried a brief canter along the canal, but he was bouncing so badly in response to the potential deer, that we just settled into a trot, while Eddy pulled up next to us. As we caught up to J and Tia, K and Eddy surged ahead and pulled up next to Tia. I held Ashke back, not wanting to get that close to the bikes, knowing it was risking an accident.

Sure enough. Something rustled in the canal and Eddy spooked sideways and back, throwing K over his shoulder, and crashing into Tia. Tia told me afterwards she thought Eddy was falling on her. I knew, from my vantage point a couple of horse lengths back, that he had finally done what I had warned K about over and over and over. He had spooked sideways and not given any fucks about running over the person next to him. Tia went down to the ground and he stepped on her lower leg and the bike tire, while still spinning away. K, on her belly on the ground, had a hold of his reins and got him stopped. Tia scrabbled away from the bike and up against the fence that borders the canal and began her assessment. J had dropped her bike and came back to settle Eddy, since he was still terrified. She calmed him down and then handed me the reins so she could go help Tia.

Tia has NOLS training and we both knew that she had both the presence of mind and training to self-assess. I was watching her from on top of Ashke (who had moved back a couple of steps but held stock still during the accident - such a good boy) and saw her assess her leg. That was the one thing I was most concerned about, since I had seen Eddy come down square on her leg just above the ankle. I truly believe that had the frame of the bike not been there to support the bone, it would have broken Tia's tibia. As it was, she was deeply bruised on the outside of her leg from his hoof and the inside of her leg from the frame of the bike, but nothing was broken. J gave her a compression wrap to help keep the swelling down, some advil to help with inflammation, and double checked her pupils for signs of a concussion. Luckily, she had taken the impact on her shoulder, and although she would see a chiropractor the following week to get treatment for whiplash, she hadn't hit her head.

J also checked on K, who had gotten up and taken Eddy from me. She seemed fine. Eddy was fine. Tia's back bike tire was completely bent and two of the spokes were broken. There was no way she was going to be able to ride back to the trailer. She and J carried the bike and tire back to the road access we had just passed and left her there to wait for us. J, K and myself headed back to the horse trailer with as much speed as felt safe, with Ashke following J at a mix of trot and canter. 

Once at the trailer, tack was stripped quickly and the horses were loaded. We had ridden about five miles and neither of the horses were hot or sweaty. Once loaded, I guided J through the back streets to where we had left Tia, loaded her and her bike, then headed for home.

It was not the best way to end our final ride of the fall. Winter is coming and trail riding times and places will be very limited.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Taz: 1996 - 2016

 
Baby Taz

J and I first started living together in January of 1997. We had a two bedroom apartment that J had with a prior room mate, when the room mate decided to move back to where they had come from, taking her two cats with her. That was the first time J had ever lived with cats and she decided she really liked it. When her old room mate left, J brought home a cat that had been rescued from the street. She was a Russian Blue and gorgeous, but she never really settled into living happily with us. She took to carrying a stuffed animal around in her mouth, making mreow sounds. We misinterpreted that as a request for a small fluffy kitten.

Taz was a barn kitten from a mixed litter and J fell in love at first sight. He was eight weeks old, so born sometime in December of 1996. We paid our $25 dollars and brought him home with us. He walked into the house, hissed at Ash, raced into the bedroom and peed on my pillow. That was our introduction to Taz.



Ash was very unhappy and refused to bond with him at all. He took to trailing along after her and attacking her tail. She began to lose weight and make her displeasure known. We eventually rehomed her to a single cat house with a woman who doted on her, so they were both happy.


For Taz, we brought home Preacher, when Taz was about seven months old. Taz began to purr the moment he saw Preacher and the picture above is fifteen minutes after they first met. They were that close their entire lives. They were best buds right up until Preacher died. Taz, for his part, never really became house broke. He used the litter box intermittently at best. He really wanted to be an outdoor cat and I think if we had been out in the sticks he would  have been in and out of the house at will. Unfortunately, city living does not really make that a safe option.

My favorite memories:

 

The windows were tall enough I could stand on the windowsill, which was about a foot above the floor, and not touch the top of the window.
We lived in an apartment with very high windows. The screens for those windows were taller than I am. Taz would climb them. The screens would fall out of the window. Taz would hoverboard on the screen to the ground some thirty feet below. Then he would take off into the bushes surrounding our apartment complex. One day I heard the screen come out of the window and him fall. I raced in and looked out the now wide open window to see him standing on the screen below me. I shouted Taz! His ears went back and his tail went straight up and he bolted across the parking lot.

Taz up a tree, on leash

He loved to walk on leash. We had a harness for him and would take him to the neighborhood park where it was fairly quiet. He wasn't ever afraid of dogs and would arch and dance toward any that tried to bother him. He was a bruiser and never lost a fight. We would meander around the pond and he would chase bugs and leaves at the end of the leash.

He loved to camp. We took him with us to Vedauwoo for years. There was a sagebrush place where the sage filled up a patch of ground. As soon as the truck would stop moving he was out and into that sagebrush patch, where he would hunt butterflies and mice. Every once in a while, J or I would call for him and he would come trotting out to say hi, but then went right back in. He loved climbing the pine trees, although the first time it took him most of a day to figure out how to come back down. Once he did, that became a favorite pass time.

He loved J. She was his down to the bone. Even after he became frail, he would leave his warm hotel and curl up with her for hours on end. He was a bad boy in so many other ways - he never stopped peeing on all the things - but he loved her with everything he was.



He went out on leash. The front of our condo has seven rose bushes and he would wander around under their leaves for hours. He caught birds. He hunted for mice. On occasion he would wander into the front room of our neighbor's condo and hiss at their cats. He would find a sunny spot and sun, then curl up under a bush and sleep the day away. He loved being outside and I know he would have been so happy to live on a farm or in a barn.




Ten years ago he moved into a room of his own. It had a cat tower, water, food and as he grew older, his own personal heater. Preacher shared it with him for the last four years or so of Preachers life. They were allowed out to socialize and love on their humans while under strict watch (otherwise pee) and Taz spent hours outside in the evening and on the weekends. He was very content and happy with his own kitten and their bachelor pad.



 It's always difficult to watch an animal go into decline. You know the time is coming and all you can do is measure the waiting days against the pain and possible suffering the animal could be going through. We knew when Preacher went to the Bridge that it was a matter of time, but in that mysterious way that animals have, Taz outlived his kitten by almost three years. Preacher had always groomed Taz, who had long hair, and kept him free of mats. When Preacher left us, that task fell to J, who would spend time brushing his long hair out, trying to keep it from matting. At first I think Taz helped, but as time went on it was too much work. In October I brought home my horse clippers and we clipped the hair on his back and sides. I needed to do his legs and belly as well, but his tolerance was gone, so we left him that way. He seemed more comfortable and although the hair was shorter, he wasn't bald. I planned on working on his legs the next weekend, but we didn't have that much more time.



The weekend before Thanksgiving he stopped eating. We tried some raw food and tender morsels to see if we could whet his appetite, but to no avail. J spent a lot of time holding him over the weekend and on Monday night, she said it was time. The vet we use could not get us in on Monday night and so we rearranged schedules to take him in on Tuesday morning. J held him in her lap in the car while I made the arrangements, then we took him into the room. They administered a sedative, which he was a little fussy for, then settled into a semi-comatose state. J and I were both crying pretty hard by that time and in my head I asked Daniel to come and take him away. I had my hand on Taz's body when the doc began to administer the medicine that would stop his heart.


Daniel stepped up behind me and lifted Taz out of his body before his breathing stopped. I felt Taz pull free of his body and said, "he's gone" as his chest lifted another couple of breaths. He did great honor to J and me to be there so strongly when Taz passed. J smiled a few moments later and whispered "he's not in pain now and so very happy". He was in a tipi with Sitting Bull's wife (we don't know her name) playing with all of the feathers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanks Full

Thursday, which was Stuff-yourself-day, I spent cooking and watching TV. The cooking was followed by watching my almost seventeen year old eat five plates of food in eight hours. And not small plates of food. The part of me that exalts in feeding others was temporarily satisfied with the amount of food consumed and astounded when he finally announced he was full. I was beginning to worry he would eat all of the leftovers without stopping to breathe. Then he proceeded to sleep for twelve hours. I guess that's what happens when you consume half of a 18 lb turkey, at an average of a little more than a pound an hour.

J and I decided to do a short ride from Adams County Fairgrounds along the South Platte. It was close and an easy trail, considering we were both food lagged from the day before. Ashke was excited and interested in being out and my focus was on letting him move at whatever pace he picked for the duration of the ride. It took almost an hour of riding to get him loose and the sound of his hooves back to normal. The right hind "plops" onto the ground when his right hamstring is stiff and sore. The trail was closed south of the platte so we just tooled around the trails that were open. Managed nine miles in two hours without rushing at all.



The race up the riverbank toward J was so much fun I had to do it twice. He was feeling very good at this point, since he bolted into a hand gallop coming up the bank.


It was wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable to be able to ride in shirtsleeve weather Thanksgiving weekend. It looks like winter might be making its way into the state in the next week or so, so I rode fully cognizant that this might be the last shirtsleeved ride until next spring.

We hauled back to the barn, unloaded and said goodbye to the boy. We got home in time to meet Tia, who came up for the weekend. We went to see the Accountant (made my top ten movies of all time - a most excellent film) and had dinner at 3 Margaritas. The high point of my night was when T, who had NOT wanted to see the film and had instead been arguing we should see Fantastic Beasts again, turned to me and said it was better than FB. He wants to go see it again. It is almost good enough to spend the money on to see twice in the theater. It was a good day for all of my peeps.





Wednesday, November 23, 2016

And Another

Last Sunday I did a ride at Hidden Mesa that I haven't had time to process and post about. I will work on getting the video off of the GoPro and into a blog post. One of the issues that cropped up, however, was Ashke being a bit off on his right hind.

This played a part in last night's lesson. I think the changing weather is effecting how comfortable Ashke is under saddle. He struggled a bit to get warm and loose enough to bend, even at the trot. We started out with lots of walk, some trot and a brief canter before the lesson started. He was rough on the left lead, which is indicative of that hamstring being tight. The weather is much colder and chilly than it has been, so I am going to need to address methods to help him with that particular injury. I have some thoughts and we will see. Luckily, he was not cross cantering or bunny hopping, both are compensation methods for that hind leg, and Amanda said he was tracking up nicely when we started our lesson.

We started with some more canter so she could assess what was happening with him. After a short canter in each direction, Amanda had us working on a 10 m circle at the trot until he loosened up and began to bend. Once we had that release in one direction, we moved to the other direction. Finally, he was able to relax into the bend and we began to get some swing in his back. Amanda had me start the canter circle coming to a walk at the rail. On the right lead, he was soft, quiet and collected and after three circles we stopped. It wasn't going to get any better than that. When we turned to the left, we struggled a bit. He was trying very hard to maintain the proper lead, but it must have been somewhat painful, because he got pissy about it. More pissy. Instead of flaring back at him, we stopped and I rubbed his neck and face, until he finally relaxed enough to try again. This time we got three or four decent circles before stopping.

Next was trotting serpentines, working on maintaining bend and our cadence regardless of direction. He did awesome. I was too tired and my legs felt like spaghetti, which I have been reassured, means the lesson was good. Next we did shoulder in along the rail. Then haunches in. Then Amanda had us do haunches in moving from the far side of the arena to the near, while watching myself in the mirror. That was very good, because it gives me a way to check if we are doing it correctly when I am riding by myself. Finally, we worked on the shoulder in at the trot.

We took lots of walk breaks in between and Ashke stretched down a lot. I know that helps him when his hammie is bothersome.

Finally, we worked on cantering a figure eight. Amanda is trying to get me to really be clear in my seat before the up transition to a canter in the other direction. Ashke bucked once when we were going to the left (harder on his right hind leg) and so we walked a bit before I asked again. We finished on those.

I need to be sure to be riding four days a week. The best thing for his stiff hind end is consistent work. I'm also going to attach my BOT insert into his turnout sheet so it will help with keeping that muscle and ligament warm and loose.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Indian Creek to Chatfield

I have a story to share before I share our latest ride. Last Sunday, J and I got up and left the house early. I met K and we did a ride, while J met up with A and they did a singletrack bike ride near A's house. The plan was to be back to the house before 11 am, when Mom would be up to watch TV. K and I rode out around the edges of the fields behind Morelli's, which I had ridden a year ago. It ended up being about five miles and was a decent ride. There was a point where we were riding through short grass and came to what appeared to be a ditch. I approached slowly, looking for a ditch or hidden holes, but still didn't see the wire hiding in the tall weeds until Ashke had stepped across  it with one foot and gotten it tangled in his front feet. It has always been one of my fears that we would get tangled in wire and he would freak out. I told him to whoa! firmly but not fearful, then asked him to stand. He did. I dismounted and untangled the left front which had not crossed the wire, but had trapped the wire in his royal tendon boot. Then I untangled his right front, reached down and lifted the hoof out of the wire and then asked him to back up. He did everything I asked calmly and without even twitching a muscle until I asked. It was an amazing moment. He seemed completely unphased by the incident, although I stood and shook for a good fifteen minutes afterwards. Thankfully, it was not barbed.

Okay, now for the ride we did on Saturday.

We did this ride in June, when the weather had finally turned toward the beginnings of spring rather than the end of winter. This weekend was the opposite end of that, with what could possibly be the last of fall and the beginning of winter. The temps were in the mid 60's and although K, J and A were a little cold, I rode the entire day in short sleeves and was incredibly comfortable. It was beautiful, with bright, deep blue skies and incredible views.

I took a bunch of videos with the GoPro. I think they turned out pretty well. We started at Indian Creek, rode up to the Colorado Trail, turned north to Waterton Canyon, then rode the river trail to our normal parking spot at Chatfield. K and I rode 16 miles, while J and A rode 19 or so. I didn't take any videos of Waterton, since it is a road through the canyon and not real exciting. Although, A did share some pics she took which I will post.


The trail starts downhill for about a mile. Not too steep but a consistent downhill. Then we head up.

There is a combination of dirt and rocks. The rocks can get very gnarly.

The main part of the uphill was pretty steep. Ashke was breathing very heavily at the top.
We stopped and waited for their breathing to normalize before going on.


Eddy led a lot, especially in the mountains. The trail was pretty eroded by the traffic and lack of moisture this year. Some of the rocks were pretty intense to traverse. I did get off on one, where the slick rock was convexed and wider than a single step. Ashke handled it well but I was glad I was off his back.

The Colorado Trail has a very intimidating drop off on one side.

At the top of Waterton, K and I ate lunch while waiting for J and A to arrive. I was kind of surprised that they weren't there when we arrived. Both of the boys got a couple pounds of feed dumped out onto the ground for them to eat, plus Ashke got a handful of baby carrots to gobble up. After we finished up lunch, we headed down the canyon to try and find our wayward company. We met them ten minutes down the canyon. J had issues with the bike pump and it took her a while to get air back in the tire (after flattening it), plus they had been waylaid by bighorn sheep.

This is the River Trail along the South Platte. Love this trail.

Wait for it . . . .
So much fun.

Eddy did get kicked by Ashke, who hates that Eddy runs up on him. It might have been better to have Eddy in front of Ashke, but I don't trust Eddy to stop and not run over J and A on their bikes, so he has to be behind me.



Doing a log across trail. There were a lot of trees down due to beaver activity.

Ashke drank well at the river both times he was offered water and again at the trailer. Eddy didn't drink at all, which does not bode well for his possible endurance future. Even at sixteen miles and he sweated heavily. K may need to think about salt or electrolytes to help trigger him drinking. Ashke sweated early on the mile uphill we did, but was cool and dry the rest of the day. Eddy had sweat dripping off his shoulders and chest. He is such a mountain goat, I swear.

We loaded the horses as the sun dropped behind the mountains. Six more weeks until Solstice and possibly snow on Thursday. Really happy we got this ride in.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Today

I grieve for our Nation, for our Children, for each person who lives in the United States.

I am grieving for the opening this election has given groups of people whose existence is rooted in hate to make of their hatred, National policy.

I am grieving that the structure of our primary religious culture has encouraged the hatred being directed at "others" in our society, that they spew that hatred while claiming to be Christian. 

I am grieving that the anger and frustration of our populace fueled the belief that electing a man who spews hatred and encourages white nationalism will fix the underlying issues of our working poor.

I am grieving the loss of safety and security I felt last week on a personal, national and global level.

I am grieving the loss of safety and security for people of color, people of differing religious beliefs, the poor, the homeless, the gender-nonconforming, our LGBTQ community, women, children, refugees, immigrants and the global community.

I am grieving the lesson my bright, beautiful, inclusive young man is learning from this election and the risk it puts him at going forward.

I grieve for my friends who are going to lose their health insurance and those who mistakenly believe Obamacare is the issue, not the for-profit health management organizations and big pharma.

I grieve for the wilderness we will lose to clear cutting and oil production, for the increasing carbon emissions and increased number of pipelines, for Standing Rock and all our Indian nations who are the only ones standing up in protection of our nation's water supply.



I grieve for the loss of compassion, empathy and selflessness.

I grieve for all sexual assault survivors who now have to face a sexual predator as our President.

I grieve for all of my friends and family who voted Republican out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to a party that sold its soul a long time ago and who, in doing so, have condemned myself and my family to increased risk of violence.

I grieve for all of my friends and family who voted for the President elect or Gary Johnson out of outrage at the establishment's treatment of Bernie and who, in doing so, have condemned myself and my family to increased risk of violence.

I have never felt so scared in my life. "Terrified" does not really do this overwhelming feeling of anguish and fear justice, but it is the best word at my disposal.

Terrified for what this election means for my retired parents.

Terrified for what this election means for my Latino and Latina friends and family.

Terrified for what this election means for my Black friends and family and all those who believe Black Lives must Matter as much as white lives.

Terrified for my friends and family who are Muslim, Wiccan, Pagan, Jewish and atheist.

Terrified that it will be a small step from the vocalized hatred of the alt-right in this election to concentration camps, lynchings, brutality and bullying directed at "diversity".

Terrified that the nuclear arms race might have been reignited by this election and the potential for using nuclear weapons exponentially increased.

Grief stricken and terrified.

Maybe by tomorrow I will have found the resolute commitment I need to survive the next four years and to face the fact that the civil rights we have worked for over the past fifty-five years could be wiped away, for everyone. Maybe by tomorrow, I will have found the courage I need to work for change in our government: term limits for Congress and the Senate; an amendment to the Constitution changing the election process for the Presidential election; state laws to prevent gerrymandering and voter suppression. Those things will make a difference going forward.

Maybe by tomorrow, I will have regained my emotional equilibrium and be able to see a way past my grief and fear.

That day is not today.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Trail Riding Tips

Due to riding in different sizes of circles in an arena, which is not great blog fodder, I decided to put together some tips for people who are interested in or are trail riding. These rules do not apply to endurance riders, since that requires a lot more than I am going into here. These are guidelines for pleasure rides on a variety of trails.

1. Plan Your Ride
There is a great app called the MTB Project. It is a crowd sourced trail guide built and developed by mountain bikers and it covers everywhere in the US. J and I really like it because it gives great detail about the trail and pictures as well. Included in the description is driving directions, elevation gain and loss, recommended direction of travel and footing. Although all of that information is directed at bikers (which I ride with) there is still a lot of good information to be gathered from the app. Usually, it also provides trail hazards and indicates when the trail is closed to one type of traffic or another. We rode Little Scraggy and Soapstone because of this app. Finally, it gives both J and I an idea of how difficult it will be for her to ride, what kind of obstacles Ashke and I might have to maneuver, and what kind of grade we will be facing.

Then we do some research. I look at the trail on mapquest or google earth (how I found the East-West Regional trail) and try to figure out what we might be facing, how long the trail might be, and if there is water available on trail. I look at the parking lots and what is safe for horse trailer parking (which is how we found the trailhead for the South Platte). Last, I look for water sources (like cattle tanks on the Soapstone) to provide water for the horses. Water and heat can really limit where and how long the ride is, because although we can haul water for people with us, I have no way to haul in five gallons of water for Ashke. Fifteen miles is about the maximum I am willing to ride without water for him to drink.

Once a trail is picked out, we do exploring. That involves driving by in the car (if the trail is local), sometimes that means driving out the horse trailer and just hoping things work out. An exploring ride is undertaken with the understanding that we have no idea what we are getting into or what we might face. J and I explored Soapstone with just the two of us, because we don't take it personal if one or the other says it's time to turn around and head back. It's fun to do the research and set expectations. Riding the Indian Creek trail was that way this summer. I had mapped it out, estimated the time it would take to make the ride to the top of Waterton Canyon, brought plenty of snacks and drinks with me, but still had the risk that something would keep us from making the ride. We ended up exactly where I thought we would be at exactly the time I thought we would be there, which worked out wonderfully. The hard part about riding a trail like that is the lack of communication with J, since cell service in our mountains is non-existent.

2. Be Prepared on Trail
  • Bring water, gatorade, snacks, and lunch. Keeping yourself fed and hydrated will help with altitude, energy level, dizziness, and decision making. Pack a variety of edibles and more than you would expect to want or need. If you are doing back country where you might get stuck for more than a day, you might consider a small water purifier. They make them now to fit inside a water bottle, which is small enough to pack on horseback. We also bring a collapsible bucket for the horse, although we have yet to have either of them drink out of it.
  • Bring treats for your horse. Carrots or apples for the moisture they inherently have, or a bag of feed (I prefer Triple Crown Senior). The last time we did Indian Creek, I supplemented the treats with a bag of TC Senior that fit in one of the packs. I knew from the terrain it would be hard to find forage and so wanted to provide a meal that Ashke would enjoy. It's easy to feed just by pouring it out onto a flat piece of rock or a patch of short grass.
  • Bring the proper attire. This will vary depending on season. The tricky times are spring and fall. During those seasons, this should always include a jacket, a beanie type hat and a pair of warm work gloves. The weather here can change quickly, despite forecasts, and if you pack for prevention, you won't ever find yourself shivering in 19 degree weather with no gloves or a hat. I would also recommend work gloves in your bag regardless, because you never know when you might have to move downed timber or wire. Be sure to wear boots that you can both ride and hike in, since there is nothing more miserable than trying to hike in godawful cowboy boots. Hiking for five miles with a poorly fitting pair of boots sucks rocks, as my son would say.
  • Bring some basic common sense items: a basic first aid kit (make sure it has waterproof matches as part of the kit), sunscreen, ibuphrophen, a multitool with a blade and wire cutters, a hoof pick, paracord, and a rope halter and lead rope. These are all basic necessities if caught out on trail with an emergency, like turning the wrong way and getting lost. (At a minimum, you can tie your horse safely to a tree, start a fire for warmth, to signal for help, or to boil water to drink. Thirty minutes with your knife and a little ingenuity will create a lean-to shelter to keep you safe and your horse will warn you of any danger. This is where having a little extra food comes in handy.) The other items will help if you need to McGuyver something on trail.
  • If you are riding in the backcountry or in an area where help is not close and immediate, or the potential for getting lost exists, I would also add a hammock (they pack small and don't weigh much), water filtration system, and an emergency blanket to your pack (the kind with the foil reflective material on the inside). Being prepared is the difference between being comfortably lost in the wilderness and all kinds of bad things happening.
Do I ride with all of these things all of the time? No. We don't go that far back into the wilderness most of the time, nor are our trails that dangerous. I do, however, follow the first four points pretty religiously. It is better to have it and not need it, than to really regret not bringing it with you. The last bullet point would be added if there was significant danger of not making it back to the trailer by dark (never ridden the trail before; in backcountry where there is limited contact with other humans; the intended distance is much longer than a normal ride). Or during a season where you could have an abrupt, unexpected change in weather (spring and fall here).

3. Share the Trail
This is an issue all trail riders are going to have to deal with, since it is impossible to find horse only trails. All of the trails I have access to in Colorado are multi-use trails, which means there are bikes, dogs, people, strollers, backpacks, umbrellas and children to contend with. I would suggest despooking your horse to bicycles before setting out on trail, since they are the most prominent, fastest moving and most silent traffic you will have to deal with on any given day. Don't get hostile or abusive with them, they are the ones driving trail access, especially in the back country. The mountain bike community works to fix trails, expand trails, and maintain access to a lot of trails in the mountains. The Little Scraggy trail we rode was cleared and built by several groups of mountain bikers.


Yes, I know horses have the right away, and just like you I can get crabby about other trail users. However, don't be a dick. Bikes have to stay on the trail and we do not. Verbally greet them, tell them you will move from the trail as quickly as possible and then do so to let them go by. Be especially aware in the parts of the trail where bikes will be traveling downhill at speed. That is their fun zone and the thing they live for and the last thing you want to do is kill their mojo. I am pretty lucky in that I ride with a bike and she acts as an ambassador to the biking community when we are out. But even when she isn't there, I pay attention to those little details.

Be polite. Say thank you. Acknowledge their patience and willingness to stop and wait. Wave them on if you can, and above all BE NICE. You are an ambassador for every single trail rider out there: if you are nice, they will remember and be patient with the next rider they come across.

4. Be Aware of Your Limits
When you are riding with a group be aware of your limits. And the limits of your horse. It would be best if that conversation occurred prior to hauling out, but if it didn't, be vocal about what you are willing to do prior to starting the ride. It's no fun for anyone if you were thinking three mile easy ride and you are riding with someone that wants to do twenty with a nine mile an hour pace. As both the pace and length of your ride increases, be aware of what your horse is telling you. On some trails, there is no easy access for any type of emergency vehicle and the last thing anyone wants to do is walk out ten miles with a lame horse.

Know what you are comfortable with as far as trail obstacles go. Are rattlesnakes a deal breaker for you? Then stay out of their habitat. Is your horse barefoot? Be aware of how rocky the terrain is where you are riding and make adjustments ahead of time. Understand how long you have to ride, when the sun goes down, and at what time you need to just turn around and head back. The law of diminishing returns applies to trail riding and the last thing you are going to want to do is ride unknown territory in the dark.

Make sure you are fit enough for the ride you want to do. There is nothing more difficult than getting out on trail and not having the strength or stamina to finish the ride. Know your limitations. If altitude gain and loss (mountains) stresses muscles and joints that are used to flat riding, don't go as far or as fast on those type of rides. It's not fair to your riding companions or to your horse if you can't finish the ride, not to mention, if you are in the backcountry an emergency like that might end up causing the kind of overnight emergency we are trying to prevent.

5. Stay with Your Group
I don't care how experienced you are, you stay with the group you started with. Yes, that might mean you have to ride slower or for less distance than you wanted, but you need to recognize that horses are herd animals and separating one from the others is going to result in a lot of undue stress on your animal. If there are only two of you, separating them is going to cause stress for both, which means that both riders need to be okay with that. If that is in your plan, make sure you communicate that up front. If everyone isn't onboard, then plan your ride alone. It creates a safety issue to separate horses on trail.

This also applies to obstacles on trail. If, for example, there is a log down and your horse clears it like the winning round at WEG, don't just keep going down the trail. Stop and make sure that all of the horse and rider combinations have cleared the obstacle before continuing on. Some of the biggest wrecks I have seen on trail have resulted in one horse trotting off down the trail and the second horse freaking out at being left behind and not paying attention to what the rider is telling them. Be aware of what might be an obstacle for someone else, but doesn't seem like an obstacle to you. Crossing water is a prime example. Keeping your horse close will help create a "safe" zone for the other horses and they won't feel like they need to rush the crossing just to stay close. In heavily wooded areas, it can be a disaster for a horse to leap over a small stream instead of walking because of low hanging branches. Be vigilant!

6. Check Your Pride at the Trailer Door
Get off your horse and hand walk if necessary. Be aware of what constitutes a serious obstacle or hazard on trail and then get off your horse to negotiate it by hand. Being too proud to get off or too obtuse to recognize the real hazard you are facing can get you and your horse in big trouble. Don't hesitate to ask for help in determining how to deal with the obstacle you are facing. I know that I will always dismount to cross large patches of slick rock, because I don't want Ashke to have to balance us both in a situation where he might slip, especially now that he is wearing shoes. Your horse should gain confidence from you on the ground with them and will negotiate the obstacles easier that way.

7. Have Fun!!
Pick your riding partners carefully. Finding someone who wants to ride the same type of trail and distance is key. Make sure you are well suited to each other and can at least laugh about the foibles you will face on trail. There is nothing worse than riding several hours with someone you are struggling to spend time with. Have fun on trail. That's why you get out, right?

Happy trails to everyone!!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Progress

One of the things that Ashke and I really focus on in our lessons is improving our canter. I don't know if he's gotten stronger, if he finally has figured out he doesn't need to race, or if it's a combination of the two, but he has turned a corner and is beginning to understand the canter we want is as slow as he can without breaking down to a trot. On Friday afternoon, Mom came out to see the barn and the new camper and to watch me ride Ashke. J came with us to pull the battery out of the camper (should always pull it out over the winter) and she also took video.





It is definitely much more difficult for Ashke to canter on the right lead and he gets more pissy when we are moving that direction. There was one point where I was trying to get him to bend before a canter depart and he kicked up and hit the bottom of my shoe. I didn't get upset but I did make him move in a circle until he stopped trying to argue to me and finally calmed down a little bit.





He did the 15m circle (although to the left he drops in on his shoulder and I need to remember that) and then the loop to the quarterline from the Novice test. He nailed it to the left.


It was hard the first try. The mounting block did not help and the standards in the back corner makes it hard to get to the rail and back out to the quarterline, so we tried it the other direction in the arena, which made a huge difference.


I certainly love how far he has come and how well he is doing. It was awesome to have Amanda riding Cody in the arena at the same time, since she acts as a calming blanket for both of us. I also checked most of my anxiety at the door before I came into the barn.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Attitude

So, I had a lesson last night. I was hoping we would have a clean slate and be able to work on the stuff we've been progressing on, but it seemed like Ashke was still in the same headspace I found him in on Saturday.

I take full responsibility. I am really stressed right now. As an avid political science nutjob, and someone with a lot of rights I could potentially lose, I have been closely following the election. Can I just say that I am having a hard time dealing with the amount of misogyny that it takes to choose a child rapist over a woman who sent a bunch of emails that resulted in no action taken against the US; to choose a pathological liar who has cheated and scammed his way to billionaire status over a person who has spent their life in public service; to choose a man who brags about his ability to assault women with impunity over a woman who has stood faithful to her vows. I am speechless with sorrow, trembling with fear and holding onto hope with the edges of my fingernails. It's no wonder my horse is a tense freak right now.

I tried to ground and compartmentalize my anxiety into a neat bucket in the back of my head before I walked into the barn. Ashke greeted me with a nicker and seemed happy to see me. I got him brushed and saddled, then started our warm up around the edges of the arena. He was still more up than forward, braced than relaxed, head up and fighting me rather than obedient. (Amanda said I should shoot for obedient rather than submissive, because he is not a submissive horse). He jumped, spooked and tried to bolt when the garage doors came down, but I was ready for it and just laughed. He was so very tense.

We started with serpentines. Trot-walk-trot. Then canter-walk-canter serpentines. There was a single pole in the middle of the arena. We sometimes walked over it, sometimes walked past the end and a couple of times we sidepassed over it. It gave Ashke something to focus on while we were doing the serpentines. It took awhile to get some decent bend. We incorporated the spiral circle at the canter in each direction and then back out. We did the canter a 10m circle, transitioning to a walk as we approached the rail and finally after a bunch of those, he began to get light and listen to my seat. We did leg yields at the trot, shoulder in and haunches in at the walk, and then I worked on keeping the canter as slow as possible without breaking to a trot. To the left he was amazing. To the right, he struggled and so Amanda had me add in a leg yield to help him balance. At the slow, collected canter our transitions down were much better and almost entirely off my seat.

Then Amanda had me work on the haunches in on the diagonal. That was hard, but we managed a couple of decent steps in each direction. That was when Amanda told me we were doing a half pass. I was pretty stoked. We finished up with some solid, balanced working canter on the rail, with me adding the leg yield to help him be balanced to the right.

Overall, the lesson was very good, Ashke tried hard, and I was able to forget for awhile all of the fear and anxiety I've been dealing with. I do think that I need to get back to a four day a week schedule, even if that means riding three weekday nights. And Ashke is telling me he would love to get back out on trail again. If our weather holds, we should be able to ride on Saturday the 12th.

K found herself a synergist that actually fits Eddy really well for about half of what one new would be and it is an absolutely beautiful saddle. I wouldn't mind having one for Ashke. However, every time I mention it J sticks her fingers in her ears and goes "la la la la la la la". Its an affliction. I should get her seen by a doctor.