Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ears At the Top

Yesterday a new endurance riding mentor and friend picked Deli and I up in her trailer and took us to a riding park. It was sunny but not unbearably warm, and when we got there the park was all but empty. It was an absolutely lovely day to ride: much of the park involved riding through groomed trails where we were surrounded by fall colors and falling leaves. The sky was brilliantly blue, and the river we rode along at one point reflected the color of the sky, and the trees. Our companions were superb company, and I probably chatted someone's ears off asking questions about endurance riding and talking about horses in general.

It was Deli’s third time trailering out to trail ride – and the first time she trailered out to ride with an unknown horse. We were lucky that the gelding was as sweet and polite as can be, and Deli was not at all concerned by him close to her or far ahead of her (he never got behind us because he was a much faster walker!). It probably helped that she seems to be in her last heat before winter. That could also explain why she felt a bit lazy despite having quite a bit of gas in the tank – being in heat makes her lazy.

We worked on simple things – and these trails were easy so we even got to do some trotting and a short bit of cantering. Deli was not that forward at the walk, which is how she shows her uncertainty, but she certainly became more relaxed as we rode on. She even led for some trot work when we were riding around a large farm field though she was less willing to trot out in the front in the closer confines of the woods with all its blind turns (though she was happy to keep pace with our gelding buddy).

Overall I’m QUITE pleased with her. She was less spooky and nervous than I expected. She definitely looked at a couple of things in that suspicious way horses do, and refused to do more than put her front feet in the river, but she did go into some muddy spots and puddles and was clearly curious about where she was and happy to be out and about. Even if she was slow at points she never refused to keep moving forward, which is great. She also pretty much hopped into the trailer both times despite being nervous. She didn't even scream that much as we pulled out of the driveway! I am amazed with how much she trusts me sometimes, given that trailers for the past two years have meant I was moving her to a new barn. As we do more trips OUT to trails, she will realize her home-life isn’t being uprooted every time I ask her to get on a moving box and drive down the highway.
I gave her a bath when we got home using some lovely herbal-smelling medicated shampoo. Soon the Pacific Northwest will welcome in the long rainy season. Since Deli's in pasture board again I really want to keep on top of her skin health – a bad case of scratches would squash our plans of endurance rides in the coming spring. 
At home again. Her winter woolies are pretty evident already.
Right now I’m tentatively planning on the time and location of our first sanctioned endurance ride: Home On The Range. The big downside of this particular ride is that it’s quite far from us – in Eastern Washington. The eight-hour trip may be worth the stress what what I hear hear is a fairly easy ride with forgiving footing (somewhat sandy) in the rolling grassland  on the arid side of the state. I also hope to do the limited-distance ride at Mt. Adams. I volunteered at the last Mt. Adams ride (in May, 2013), and was awestruck by the scenery and brisk mountain air. However, the more challenging terrain of the Mt. Adam's area (along with rocky footing) makes me think that a less physically daunting ride would be preferable for Deli's first time competing!

Monday, October 21, 2013

New goals, new directions.

This blog has been dead. I’m bringing it back to life.

Deli and I have had just about two years of boarding-barn misery, compounded and complicated with injuries. This month we moved again, and I hope this change is going to open up new doors and allow Deli and I to move beyond “survival mode” and pursue the sport I have wanted to get into for a very very long time: ENDURANCE!

It’s a sport I believe Deli will enjoy as well. She’s in her element on the trails. She's all happy ears and interested in exploring. When she’s feeling confident, she’s naturally forward. I need to push her comfort zone a little at a time to increase her confidence, and I'm aware she is very out of shape and coming back from various injuries right now. We have a green light from my vet, but I plan to be cautious as I condition her up for a limited distance rides next year. Limited distance (LD) rides are typically 25 mile rides that need to be completed in a 6-hour time span. I think we can do that easily enough. If she does well in the spring and early summer next year, I'm also open to trying a slow 50 mile ride with Deli.
There is still a lot of uncertainly in my life – I’m seriously underemployed and trying to start my legal career. I graduated law school in January 2013, passed the Oregon bar exam my first go-around, and have been looking for permanent employment since. I leaving myself open to relocating because that may be what needs to happen to really pursue my dream career. But why worry about that eventuality before it presents itself?

It’s fall in the Pacific Northwest. It has been a beautiful season – dryer than typical. Even though I love the rain, I’m not a fan of the mud and how it dampens winter trail riding opportunities.

As it stands we have a couple goals to get us both to our first endurance ride in the spring:
  1. Get us both in shape. This means I need to start up regular running and/or hiking for me, as well as strength training (specifically for my core) again. I had a lull over the summer. It means as much trail training and riding as I can get this winter with Deli, including dressage lessons as I can afford them.
  2. Figure out hind boots that work for Deli. My barefoot lady is doing well with the Easyboot Gloves I have for her front feet. Her hind feet are a little more irregular so I need to work on them and figure out a booting strategy – particularly since the trails that will be ride-able this winter are those that are rocky!
  3. Get Deli comfortable with having her mouth handled. For endurance vetting-in requires a capillary refill test and Deli HATES to have her upper lip flipped up and really thinks you are strange if you try and push a finger into her gums. She’s even worse for getting tubed, though I have an “easy wormer” getup for that so it’s less of a priority then having her cooperate for the capillary refill test. At one point I tried to get her used to having a syringe in her mouth by dosing her with apple and molasses every time I went out for nearly two years. And that didn’t work at all. Of course, when I casually play with her mouth she’s fine. She’s fine for biting and takes the bit willingly. Luckily, everything else about the vet check should be fine. She trots in-hand great since I often lead and job with her in-hand. She’s fine having her heart-rate taken. She will flinch if the vet really jabs her back hard, but that’s to be expected since she’s a sensitive-skinned girly.
  4. Have at least one horse camping experience in a low-stress environment. It would be best for Deli to get used to the idea of staying overnight away from home BEFORE we deal with a crazy ride camp!
  5. More experience with trailering and not making a big deal about it. I'm constantly impressed by how endurance horses I've seen hop on the trailer relaxed and even eager to be going somewhere new. Deli will get on, but it's not fun for her (yet). It's important to me that she enjoys her work to some extent. The trailering issue is important to me because, given how much Deli and I have bounced between barns the past two years, I wouldn’t be surprised if she associates trailering with having her world uprooted. It’s amazing she has hopped on the trailer so easily to move barns all these times. Given that our new barn does not have good trails for conditioning (that we have been able to access yet), I believe I will get ample opportunities to do this!
These are our goals. With horses, of course, you have to be flexible. It's not one of my stronger personality traits, but for Deli, I've learned I can do it.
Our new home; Deli is on pasture board again at last. She does best on pasture or 24/7 turnout. We experimented with different kinds of boarding over the past two years, and they just don't work well for either of us.
With good luck, I’m hoping we can be ready for a LD ride in the spring. I’m shooting for the Mt. Adams ride in May, though I hope I can at least take Deli to a ride before then to get her accustomed to a ride camp because Mt. Adams is a BIG ride if this year was any indicator (I volunteered there this year). BIG means a busy ride camp, and I'm sure the ride camp will be the most stressful part for Deli.

Otherwise, I am really looking forward to working with some experienced endurance riders! I have tentative plans to ride with at least two riders here in the PNW over the winter. The endurance community seems to be a great one, and I hope riders I meet aren't overwhelmed by the number of questions I ask!