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Warning: SUPER photo-heavy post!

The evening after my last post, I came home from work to find that I had a WALL! Which was kind of crazy and awesome. From the interior, I could see where the two big windows for that side would be and it really made everything start feeling "real" amidst this very surreal experience of making this dream come to life.

Look - a wall!
Behold the Tyvek-wrapped glory
Framed window in tack/feed room
Framed window in hay area
Wall from the inside. Hay on left, tack/feed on right
Looking inward from the back door. Hay and tack/feed on left, stalls on right.
Nice to see my grass visible in photos...wish the birds hadn't consumed so much of the seed - ugh.
Start of the tack/feed room floor
And so begins the evolution of my barn door vista - just for you Emma!
Ta da! Super psyched about this window. Will have another on the wall behind me.
Back door forest view

I was on travel due to work on July 9 and 10 and thus missed a 48 hour window of barn happenings. I was slightly disappointed, but knew that coming home Wednesday evening would be made all the more exciting.

And was it ever!

I came home late Wednesday after making time to grocery shop and see the horses in Elkins. By the time I arrived home, Dave was already off with his buddies playing golf. He's very much enjoyed watching my excitement each night, so it was kind of weird to not have him here for this night's big reveal.

When I walked out the back door my jaw just dropped. The majority of the roof on the near side was complete, the bottom paneling (snow/weather protection) was up leaving a space in the middle for the eventual board-on-board white oak, and the windows for that side were in.

And bottom paneling! OMG.
It's just so amazing.
Windows installed!
Looking so good.
Won't see this view forever once the tack/feed room walls go up, but it's neat for now!
Even better as a pano
From the corner stall looking out
Concrete footers for the overhang posts
From the edge of the future dry lot looking toward the barn/house You can really see how low it is compared to the surrounding landscape.

Dave selected the roof color (which is also the same material for the bottom panel) without any input from me. I knew I'd love whatever he chose - and I do! It looks SO good in ALL light. Very earthy and subtle. I cannot WAIT to see the white oak paired up with it on the finished product!

July 11 was a lost day due to rain. Additionally, I know you're all completely shocked to hear this, the excavator did not return on the 11th as planned. Ugh. I have feelings about this but I'm choosing to be an adult and move past them.

BUT! Something pretty cool and barn-related still happened on July 11...

Knowing that we'd be building fence in the near future, I wanted to finalize my plan for how the fence and dry lot would tie into one another. I knew I'd likely end up modifying this once the excavation was complete and the lay of the land changed. In fact, I spent a good hour pacing around with a survey wheel on Wednesday evening as I sussed things out. Unfortunately, I just couldn't quite see the whole picture from the ground.

But I knew I could see the whole thing from a higher vantage point. And as luck would have it, I have a friend who could help in that regard. I dropped him a line to see if he could drop by sometime in the next week to help me out. He agreed and said he could come up the next day!

And so, in between storms on the 11th, my friend brought his drone up to nab some aerial shots for me. It was pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Starlight Lane Farm! The (subtle) mow line on the left is the edge of my property/pasture.
The brown blobs are the trees we will be milling/using for firewood. The dark dirt above the trees is the topsoil that remains
to be spread (waiting on completion of dry lot and French drain). The lighter area above the topsoil is where I have seeded and
mulched to get grass growing again. Above that is where the ground will be disturbed for the French drain - no point seeding yet.
And the flat area where the barn is will eventually be a dry lot/reseeded with grass.
You can see the steep ass slope behind the property. It basically drops straight down for a ways and there are numerous rock outcroppings.
The elevation in our living room is 3,737'. The visible mountain top center is Mt. Porte Crayon and Buffalo Lick is to the right.
Our big, flat ridge. Dry Fork to the left and Red Creek to the right. 
Slight rotation clockwise from previous shots. 
Another turn in the clockwise direction; our property is due left. Fighter jets and sometimes military cargo planes love to train up here.
They cruise low through the valley (next image), appearing at eye level with us up on our ridge (400' above the valley floor),
and then dip down into the hollow that begins on the right of this image. I'm told the terrain up here is perfect practice for the Middle East.
Canaan Valley. To the left (and out of view on the right), the Monongahela Nat'l Forest. Canaan Valley State Park and the
Canaan Valley Nat'l Wildlife Refuge lie on the valley floor extending as far as the eye can see to the north.
Looking toward Canaan Valley Ski Resort (opposite side of the Weiss Knob, which is the main mountain in view here).
The blob of unmowed land visible here is on the opposite side of my property, which is visible in the bottom right.
And here we are full circle again.
Misty West Virginia mountains
I may or may not be secretly plotting to get hay off my neighbors vast mowed field next year 😂
A lower view of Starlight Lane Farm
Laughing at Taiga as she baffles at the drone.
A very curious husky

I absolutely love the perspective of these shots. I know I wax and wane about living on top of the world, but these images really show that off. I wish the barn wasn't under construction and the grass was up all around, but c'est la vie. These images are still something I'll cherish and look back on because the process is so freaking cool. Hopefully we can get some more taken sometime in the future when everything is complete and the vegetation has grown back everywhere.

Dave was back at it on July 15. His big goal for the week was to get the roof on completely so that they would have an area to work even if it rained. In order to do this, he needed to first get the posts erected for the overhang outside the stalls and install the beam that the rafters would rest on. From there, he'd be able to install first the over hang roof and then the remaining section of the barn roof.

He made great progress on Monday getting each of the four overhang posts installed, the beam installed, and completing the framing for the windows on the north side of the barn.

Look at all those windows/windows-to-be!
Really looking different now that that overhang is coming to life.
Looking in from behind the barn.
Those windows are amazing and will lend amazing evening light.
Overhang coming to life
My precious.
That spot of water is the only place it pools on the entire barn site. The excavator says once we get the French drain in, it shouldn't
be a problem at all. He's really, really impressed with the drainage up here. And he's seen a lot of things, so that is high praise.
I also mowed on Monday night. Gah it looks so much better. Now to get that wood and the topsoil taken care of so this vista is cleaner.

Tuesday was spent finishing up preparations to put the roof on the overhang.

Hard to tell the difference from here...
But as you get closer...
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Long time, no update! But worry not, we've been very busy. A few weeks of amazing weather lent itself to lots of progress on the barn! And epic amounts of rainfall (which caused catastrophic flooding everywhere below us, ugh) provided proof that even without a French drain installed (yet), we've got damn-good draining soils. Seriously, we had 4½+ inches of rain in 3-4 hours one night and five days later we received 2.5 inches in < 1 hour. Each resulted in just a few puddles that drained in ~24 hours. I'll take it!

It actually looks like a BARN now!

Once the first half of the excavation work was completed, my stress level about everything became [nearly] nonexistent. My coworkers ask about the barn daily, and, much to their surprise, I tend to just shrug and say, "It's moving along," without much detail.

The biggest contributing factor to my lack of stress is that Dave is incredibly careful and precise where his work is concerned. As a result, I have no anxiety over the barn construction. Each day when I come home from work, it's a fun surprise to see what they've accomplished. It's also fun to witness Dave's excitement about the design work and get to collaborate with him on little design details. I'm going to have a very pretty barn when everything is said and done, it seems. Much prettier than I ever imagined anyway!

A Quick Aside to Discuss MORE Design Modifications!Before I dive into a photo-by-photo progression of all we've accomplished since my last update, I realize I have some quick updating to do. The structure has continued to change [in relatively minor ways] since my original design. I knew changes would be a part of this process, and I am glad that I have been flexible about it all because the changes just keep comin'!

Doors/Aisle: So, once upon a time, I was only going to have one double-door into the aisle from the uphill side. The way we envisioned the barn on the landscape would have left the back door (along the woodline) opening up to a downhill, wooded area. It seemed silly to have a big double-door there that would never be utilized. It also made sense to keep openings to a minimum for winter winds. However, things changed major once we saw what we would really be working with down in that big ol' hole we created during the excavation process!

So now, the back door will be a big double-door where hay is delivered and where the vet/farrier can access. There's a surprising amount of space back there for a single vehicle to maneuver and there are a lot of options for how we can bring a trailer through. It makes a lot of sense, too, from a hay delivery standpoint because the hay storage is situated in the middle and back third of the barn where that door opens. This will make unloading and stacking a lot more efficient.

The "front" door isn't going to be a sliding barn door at all. We haven't fully decided what exactly it will be, but bottom line is that it won't be a big door that spans the aisle. There isn't enough room between the toe of the slope to really turn a vehicle into the barn, so no need for something huge. I still want to maintain the utility of a door to pass through with a horse in hand and the wheelbarrow or whatever else, but we can skin that cat a lot of different ways. I'm letting Dave worry about how best to do it and am consulting with him as needed.

Windows: Originally, I'd planned for 1 large picture window in the tack room, 1 smaller window for the other tack room wall, and 2 smaller windows in the stalls with a wall. The only thing that is still true about this statement is the big picture window. For the other tack room window and the window into the front stall, we will have big 4' x 4' windows that will actually open (and are screened). We might do the same for the other stall in the back, but that is TBD. (And lest you worry that I'm limiting my storage space in the tackroom with big windows - worry not! There is ample space in that 10' x 12' space for all of my tack + grain/supplements + room to grow.)

In addition to the above windows, Dave has added a window to the hay area because we already have it (leftover from when he built the house) so why not?! It'll be blocked by hay for part of the year, but I'll just make a point of using that area of the hay storage first so that we can enjoy some natural light sooner.

And Now, Progress Photos!The posts were all placed.

Corner posts and a couple others
All but one post, still excluding the overhang posts
A hole not yet filled in
So much going on in this image, which is what I wanted to capture...
Levels, lines, holes, scaffolding, ladders, posts, bracing...
Finished post-in-ground
Standing in a stall looking across the aisle and through the tack room up toward the house

Framing began.

The barn! And Dave!
Partial framing of both walls. Hard to see, but on the posts near to the house there are little cut out shoulders. This is where
the top 2x12 will rest that the trusses will then sit on
2x12 mentioned above now set in the shoulders on both long sides shortly before the trusses were set to arrive

And on June 27th, after a lot of hustling on the 25th and 26th to prep, the trusses arrived!

Unloading the 10 trusses
Placing the third truss
Placing the third truss
Dave with spreaders or spacers, I can't remember the technical term, but he's making sure the trusses are spaced correctly
and then securing them in advance of more framing/bracing.
Had to get some shots of Dave!
Placing a spreader
Nailing a 2x4 to brace and support the trusses
All done! Really starting to look like something, now! Still some posts to be trimmed (corners).
View of barn from the front yard to give perspective on how low/protected it is. The winds generally come from the right
of this photo and/or from immediately behind where I'm standing. While I expect drifts will occur on this side of the barn,
the horses should be very well protected from the brunt of the winter winds/snow - which was the whole idea! 

Dave really hustled to get ready for the trusses. He wanted to help guarantee that the crane was there for the least amount of time because it is expensive. The arrival of the crane and placement of the trusses coincided with a meeting with the electrical company that I'd taken off work for, so I was able to be present for the whole thing. Very cool!

On June 28, the roof was framed/braced more until they ran out of 2x4s to complete the work.

Corner posts nipped down to size and the majority of bracing complete for the roof. Plus a preview of the insulation panels
that precede the metal roof. Dave hadn't worked with this material before and wanted to see how it was going to play out.
A preview of what things will look like from the inside looking up.
A completely braced roof ready and waiting for final framing pieces + panels!

They'd hoped to do a bit more than they did on the 28th, but when the hardware store only delivered part of the order, it hamstringed progress. Deliveries are only made on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so not much of anything was able to be completed on Friday. Womp, womp.

Last week saw more progress with the arrival of more materials, framing, prepping the tack room floor, and prepping for the barn doors - which Dave is designing from scratch!

Closest corner of barn is the tack room and you can see the floor of that area beginning to take shape
Looking down the aisle from the main doors 
Hay storage leading into the tack room and the future front door.
Tack room!
Hard to see, but the window (on the ground bottom right of barn) in the hay storage area will be here...
Easier to see the framing now.
Framing out the tack room floor. Subfloor will be placed on this and then I get to enjoy a beautiful paneled maple floor as
the finished product! More leftovers from when Dave built the house. I'm not complaining!
Looking straight down the aisle from the back door to the front door. Hay storage leading to tack room on left, stalls on right.

Everything is really starting to come together and Dave says I should really start to see "big changes" this week and next. Which, like, I already see "big changes" so I can only imagine how exciting the next two weeks will be! He worked on his own on Saturday and on Sunday (with my help!) this past weekend for several hours because things have reached the "fun" point for him where he geeks out hard(er) than he already has and enjoys every piece. (Yes, he was "that kid" who was always building shit with Legos lol.)

Tentative plans going forward over the next two weeks include: finishing the framing the structure + doors/windows, placing the posts for the overhang over the outside stall openings, getting the OSB (oriented strand board) up, finishing the subfloor for the tack room, beginning the roof, beginning the siding, and completing the excavation work...

Unfortunately, the excavator is delayed - again. And, again, it's due to other delays out of our control with my future office building. (Grumble, grumble, insert snide comment about government work...) He was supposed to return July 1st for a three-day stint to complete my French drain, dig trench for the utilities, lay the water line and electrical conduit, and spread stone for the barn and the dry lot. But unfortunately things have been pushed back to this Thursday (the 11th), "maybe".

I'm understandably frustrated with the second delay of the excavator because it pushes back when we can install fence and get the horses home. But! I'm grateful progress on the barn can still happen while we wait.

So, as is our theme with these posts, stay tuned for continued updates as everything progresses and to hear whether the excavator makes it back in time to finish before I complicate his life by putting fences up. 🙈
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I had hoped to provide this update on Friday, but then my computer up and died. Most irritating thing in the whole wide world. I'm only grateful I had all of my photos backed up. Sobbing a bit over the loss of my Lightroom catalog (which hadn't been backed up to my external HD in quite some time), but I will suffer that loss knowing I do at least have the photos and can re-edit as I need in the future! ...and you can bet'cha I'll be backing up ALL things more often in the future to try to mitigate any future technology failures. Ugh. Technology, I hate you and I love you.

At any rate, onto more fun topics!

Like the big hole that was dug in my yard last week!

It probably doesn't look dramatic to those who aren't as intimately familiar with the land as I am, but OMG. When they started digging down to grade it was quite a shock for me. I mean, I knew this would happen, but it was so different IRL. I just couldn't fully picture it in my head spatially prior to the initial cuts.

With each progressive scoop, my thought process was something like, "Shit, that's a lot of dirt. Shit. That's a lot of dirt! Shiiiiitttttt! That is so much dirt. OMG. There is no going back. This is a thing and it is happening."

But let's back up a little bit. Because one does not simply start digging dirt for such a project. At least not on a mountain in West Virginia where there are slopes and trees to contend with!

So, as I last updated, the excavator arrived on June 7 and got a jump start clearing trees:

Friday's progress

And while I was at work on Monday, they finished clearing the trees, sorted the trees into to-be-milled and to-be-firewood piles, ripped the stumps out, buried some stumps, and burned the remaining stumps and branches.

What I arrived home to on Monday
Welp, guess my trees are gone!
Smoldering remains
Trees used to obscure this view!
Right of center is the road bench I've discussed in the past. Trees used to line the uphill edge where I'm standing straight
toward the remaining trees visible in this image. I think we cleared a total of 20 trees for the project.
Gorgeous large cherry that will be milled for the interior of the stalls (I wear a size 7 glove for reference lol)
Another beautiful cherry
I sent this to the excavator with the caption: The direwolves have claimed the throne. Long live House Stark!
He loved it.

On Tuesday, they cleared off my top soil in preparation for the real earth moving to begin. 

Now, I know my development was once a 200-acre farm. And I know we've got some decent soil for a ridgetop. My neighbors lawns that are only mowed and not treated otherwise are LUSH. But watching my topsoil pile up as they separated it made me realize I don't just have decent topsoil. I've got some dank ass topsoil. No wonder the yards and pastures that remain on this ridgetop are so damn nice!

Look at that topsoil! LOOK AT IT. OMG.

Even the excavator noted to me how damn nice this stuff was. I don't think I'm going to have much extra, but if I do I plan to do a partial trade for my hay with it. The perks of buying hay from a landscaper! lol

Once the topsoil was cleared, they set up their surveying tools to figure out how much they'd need to excavate to reach grade. The answer? 7 feet.

That both sounded like a LOT and not much at all. I knew it would be okay in the end, but I definitely couldn't visualize what exactly the "end" was at this point! Fortunately, I trust my excavators completely and knew all would be fine whether or not I could imagine how it was going to end up.

And so, the dirt ballet began.

Father in dozer, son in excavator, dirt ballet in progress.

Repetitive scoop after scoop of the excavator and push and shove of the dozer proceeded as the father and son team expertly danced the machines around one another in a beautiful and powerful dance.

By the end of Tuesday, they were halfway done with excavation.

It doesn't seem like a big drop, but keep in mind that machinery isn't exactly little!
The dozer is basically sitting in the future barn.
The front of the operator seat and the arm/bucket are in the future dry lot
Because why not?
The sunset was really starting to glow. Never mind that the windchill was in the 30s later this night...
I had to! Still need to send this to the excavator lol
Friday afternoon, Monday night, and Tuesday night.

And by the end of Wednesday, things were looking really nice. I could not believe the change by the end of the day! It really came together beautifully.

Wednesday mid-morning
Wednesday at lunch
Wednesday evening
A Kenai for scale. 
Dekalb loam soil for anyone curious
Standing on the sculpted track down to the road bench looking toward the house. Still some topsoil left to spread up top!
Road bench incline down to the left. The bank in front of me in this photo will become a much gentler slope down into the
pasture when they finish.

It was so much easier to see how things would come together after they finished Wednesday. With the exception of a bit more earth sculpting where the dry lot will release into the far pasture, things with the earth moving are pretty much complete.

Despite being lucky with weather all week, the rain finally made an appearance on Thursday, prohibiting hopes of finishing that final bit of earth work or spreading gravel.

On Friday after it dried out a bit, they did manage to get one load of gravel dumped, but then they had to pull the dumptruck out of the site with the dozer due to the soft ground.

One load of stone...

As a result, they opted to finish spreading the stone Saturday morning.

Unloading the second load of stone in two piles for easier and more uniform spreading
Boom! That's gonna be my barn!!!!! Also, note the new lumber shipment lol

And that's where we left things at the start of the weekend.

The excavators will be back after their contracted duties are complete at my future office site in about 2 weeks. At that time, they will finish land sculpting, install the French drain, the trench for utilities, and complete my dry lot. In the mean time, Dave has a nice graveled spot to begin work on the barn!

My assignment this evening, other than oggling over whatever Dave has managed to accomplish will be to get the banks that won't be disturbed again seeded and mulched. Eee!

Can't wait to continue to watch things unfurl and provide y'all with an update soon.
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I've lost track of the times over the years I've shared something in this space only to have things reverse themselves within 24 hours of posting. But you know what? In this instance, I'm really not gonna wonder or complain much about the hows or whys!

Late Thursday, right as I was about to flip my phone to airplane mode for the evening, I received a text from the excavator:

I stared in disbelief for a moment before sharing the news with Dave. Fortunately, Dave's fumbling to set up a contingency schedule for our previous 3-week delay hadn't resulted in any hard plans yet, and he was able to accommodate this new schedule to the new barn schedule. HUZZAH! 

I can hardly believe my good luck that my future office was delayed for just the amount of time we need to get my barn project off the ground. I had previously been concerned that Dave's schedule of jobs was going to get all cattywampus with the excavator's delay, thus resulting in a longer delay. It's beyond serendipitous that things are working out this way.

And so, on Friday as I sat peacefully reading a book in my living room, I heard the telltale whine of a heavy engine and looked outside to see the equipment arriving. Never in my life have I been so overjoyed to see heavy equipment.

Excavator + extra bucket heading to parking spot
Barn will be just downhill from front of excavator

I wasn't certain if they would start on Friday or not and had planned to head to town to run errands, but after they returned with the dozer, I heard the drone of the engine and opted to hangout for a little while and watch. 

See, while I spend a lot of time working on the environmental side of construction (reading project descriptions and analyzing how the action may impact the environment directly and indirectly), I rarely see this kind of thing in action. It was SO cool. And so very practical! I knew it would be, but still, some things you can't fully comprehend until you actually watch them happen. 

He just marched down there and started plucking trees out of the ground as if he was picking flowers
And boom, suddenly the treeline looks different
Limbs in one pile, trunks in another, stumps in a third

Bye bye tree - YouTube

The day reached a point when I knew I was going to have to head to town, so I sauntered over to speak with K before leaving, "This has been SO COOL to watch!" I grinned, approaching him. "I sit behind a desk and don't get to actually watch this kind of thing so much as read about it. It is completely FASCINATING. Your son must think you're the biggest hero in the world because you get to play in the dirt and tear shit up every day."

K, laughing, "He does. And yeah, this is pretty much how the start of any construction job goes!"

We discussed the project a bit more before parting ways for the weekend.

What a difference an hour makes....

They're back out there today, though I'm unfortunately not teleworking with my birds-eye-view of all of their progress. I don't expect them to do much more than finish clearing the trees today because of the rain in the forecast. Though I can't wait to see the progress when I get home!

This is just step one of the process, but I am so very exciting things have started. It all just felt so surreal before. To see things happening and to watch the landscape change makes it all feel so much more real. I hardly have words for my excitement...

More updates to come later this week as things progress!
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That about sums up my headspace since Monday afternoon.

Despite knowing full well that construction delays are very probable and basically guaranteed, I can't help but feel very disappointed and sad at the inevitable delay that I'm dealing with for the barn project.

Photo from a happier moment last week
A very chill drinking ride with Staniel

This past Tuesday was supposed to be our start day. Well, actually, last Tuesday was supposed to be but it got pushed to this week. Well, I got a call on Monday around 3:30p from my excavator saying he ran into an unexpected issue (someone else's past error that he had to clean up) on one of his current jobs. He was really apologetic about it all, even though it wasn't something he had no control over. He shared that due to this setback coupled with his contracted obligations at my future office building, it was going to be 3 weeks or so before he could come up and start my project.

Cue: sad trombone music.

As he told me all of this, my face and body fell in disappointment. I know there is nothing I can do about it and I know it isn't his fault and I know these kinds of things are so expected with jobs like this. But it doesn't make it any less disappointing or make me feel any less sad.

Just. Meh.

I know everything will be okay in the end and it isn't the end of the world, but I can't shove off the feelings of disappointment and sadness right now, y'know? I was just so excited to see things Get Started. To see my literal life dream unfold before my eyes. And now, despite knowing it will happen (eventually) and knowing that my current feelings/thoughts are quite flawed and irrational, I just feel like I'm stuck spinning my wheels.

Just the happiest little QH ears you ever did see

I'll pull myself out of this feeling of stagnation in due time. Though the blog may be a bit quieter than I hoped while I wait for this delay to pass. Hopefully I'll have more exciting updates in a few weeks...
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Seven years ago today, I brought Q home. I cannot believe it has been so long already!

She has taught me more about horses, myself, and life than I ever could have dreamed and has carried me more miles than any other horse in my life to date. She has completed 11 endurance rides and we have ridden in five states during our time together - which is a lot considering I'd never left the state with a horse prior to her!

I look forward to many more years and many more lessons with this little spitfire mare. Hopefully we'll find ourselves in a dressage court for some of it!
Thanks to Chelsey for helping me capture these photos!
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I'm not usually one to go on big shopping sprees. For most intents and purposes, I have all I need. And I'd rather spend my surplus funds on experiences more than gear/clothing when I can. But when you're building a barn, spending priorities change! I've got a barn to furnish, after all.

Knowing I'd need to shop for the barn, I thought ahead to when there were likely to be some pretty solid sales. Considering the barn timeline, Memorial Day sales seemed like my best bet. And they didn't disappoint!

First, I nabbed four 12' gates and flitted to Tractor Supply on Friday morning to bring those home.


Figuring out how in the hell to bring home a 12' gate when no one around you has a 12' trailer is real fun. Fortunately, it worked out ...sorta... the trailer was still only 8' and the gates had a bit of overhang - but they were super solid! Now they're home and waiting for when we install the fence later in June.

Next, knowing I'd be hauling horses sooner than later, I hopped on Amazon and grabbed the aftermarket tire pressure monitoring system Jen posted about.

I'm pretty anxious in general when hauling, but when I break down the "whys" behind that anxiety it comes down to two things: the tires and knowing whether or not the horses are comfortable or fussing about. Fortunately, both of these things are easily remedied with some Amazon purchases! (Though, admittedly, getting the cameras will come a little later.)

Being able to observe the tire pressure in each tire from my driver's seat is going to lend so much more peace of mind when I haul. After having a tire blow out spectacularly on Grif and I on a friend's trailer in 2017, my worries and anxieties about it happening again have only grown. I don't mind having to change a tire, it's just the not knowing immediately that it's blown that bothers me. I want to be able to pull over ASAP if I have an impending flat and address it. Now I'll be able to do that!

As for the rest of my purchases, I headed over to Stateline to enjoy the 30% off orders >$129. Additionally, when you buy multiples of things from them, they often discount them further! Having those savings plus 30% off sounded pretty sweet to me since I needed to buy multiples of most things I was ordering. Ultimately, I saved ~$145. I'll take it!...even if the additional shipping costs from the weight of it all gutted me a bit.

So, what's coming my way, soon?

One fence energizer for obvious reasons.

Two pairs of cross ties to facilitate with grooming and vet/farrier visits.

Three zebra fly masks because they were one of the cheapest fly mask options. #sorryhorses Though, admittedly, I'm looking forward to my neighbors' reactions to these! lol

Three water buckets and three corner feeders for each of the stalls. At a later date, I will likely do the DIY insulation to the water buckets a la DIY Horse Ownership.

Four 2-way latches for each of the four gates. My current barn has these and I freaking LOVE them. They're so simple, save time coming in and out, and are easily locked. I especially love that I can bring multiple horses through the gate and then just give it a light shove and watch/hear it click securely closed.

Six tie rings. Because they're pretty damn handy for a multitude of barn necessities. I may end up needing more down the road, but six seemed like a good starting point.

And, last but not least, six saddle racks. I currently only have four saddles, so I've got some room to grow my collection (lol). But mostly I wanted the ability to set some of my heavier endurance pads (sheepskin + memory foam inserts) and a spot for the bareback pad so I'm not stacking them on my saddles.

And finally...

I, like any proper person, have amassed quite the pad collection over the years. I definitely plan to have some more towel bars out in the aisle to let these puppies dry out and not stink up my tack room, but for their ultimate storage, I needed something for the tack room. I wanted to be as space-conscious as possible, too, and a system that could go behind my tackroom door seemed wise.  Unfortunately, horse pad-specific versions of these start at $60 and only go up from there. And those are only for a 5-bar! Boo.

Enter: IKEA! I nabbed three of the above for $45. That's space for NINE pads! Or, honestly, more because I can double up the lightest pads if needed.

It feels really good to have all of these purchases knocked out. I still need to nab a trough, muck rake, shovel, and a hay basket + net, but these are things my local TSCo provides the best prices on that I can pick up between now and when the horses come home.

Set start date for earth moving is June 3. Fingers crossed that date holds and we get this party started for real!
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May has been, and will continue to be!, a crazy month for me. I didn't intend for it to be this way, but it's just how the cards were dealt.

The month kicked off with my trip to Biltmore.

The cutest GP mare ever who had a lovely "evasion" of one tempis

I was home for a short few days and then headed off to DC to visit Austen and audit Janet Foy.

Red bat with light detector attached (temporary - has already fallen off bat)
Or, as I prefer, BAT RAVE!
Some of the red bat's vocalization after we released her.
Did you know: we can ID bats to species (or genus at a minimum) based on their vocalizations?
Isn't science the coolest?

Immediately following the clinic, I headed to a training on bat acoustics for work for the week.

My less-than-enthusaistic yard helpers
While I was removing the native layer of vegetation (and rocks...ugh) to build this flowerbed.
It looks small here but it's actually 8.5' x 6.5'

I had this past weekend home to enjoy some glorious weather and tackle some long-planned yard work, which felt SO good to accomplish. Though there is more yet to tackle in the coming weeks!

Galloped up this hill. Stopped for requisite snacking. Duh.
And yes, that is a leopard print bareback pad and a hot pink bridle.
Heading back to the herd, pausing for model photos.

I had Monday evening to briefly and quickly visit the horses, stuff them full of treats, and enjoy a lovely bareback meander on my forever best boy.

And now, I'm attending yet another work training out of town for several days. When I return home, it will be for less than 24 hours before bouncing off to audit a Mary Wanless clinic near DC - something I have been looking forward to for literal months since I found out about it!

If weather and luck hold, when I return, we'll be breaking ground on the barn! At which point I will put down roots much closer to home for almost 2 months while we complete the project.

Pano from the back porch of the future farm! Barn will be far right.

But lo and behold, things are already moving forward for Starlight Lane Farm!

She looks even prettier at sunset than she ever has! Just wait until that barn is built...

This past weekend, one of my farmer neighbors brought his tractor up to begin brush hogging my future pastures. I say "begin" because the fellow who helps and was doing the work this day busted a wheel on the brush hog and had to roll out without finishing the job, but I've been assured they'll be up this week to finish.

Grazing deer running from me because I mimed a karate kick in their direction 

It's a long way from being where I know it will be, but it's a huge step in the right direction and that thrills me to no end because the land hasn't been mowed since prior to 2015. It's been a happy little field of goldenrod and hawthorne for awhile, but I'm very confident that with some TLC (regular mowing, a soil test, recommended fertilization and seeding), it'll become what I know it can based on the rest of the open, mowed spaces on our ridgetop (which was once a farm and is still partially maintained as such for hay). One step at a time!

Big ol' pile of white oak! Barn will be just beyond it by about 25'
It smells soooooo good

Another exciting development? The wood for the exterior siding also came home the day I headed to DC.

Heavy freaking stuff!

It's remarkable to me how freaking heavy an individual board of this stuff is. White oak is dense, y'all. I don't think I could carry one board by myself. But the density and quality of white oak is exactly what will make it durable. It doesn't hurt knowing that my barn is most definitely not going to fly away in the crazy winter winds we get up here either!

White oak home, white oak barn!
House has been standing for 10 years and the siding is still raw (no stain or protectant) and looking great!

Bonus? It matches our house. Which was the impetus for choosing white oak all along.

In addition to the newly mowed pasture and the siding, the coated wire for the fence arrived. I've got four 70+ lb. boxes of brown coated wire sitting in my garage awaiting the day we install the fence (later in June).

And to top it all off, I found a local hay supplier! I am very happy to have that [very big] box checked off my "must do" list - it feels so good. Big bonus that it is a local friend with a quality hay pasture I've eyed longingly for years (and based on the soil map, it's the same soil type as I have so fingers crossed the pasture will be nice like this one day). I'll probably help make it, too, which will be a lot of work great workout and learning experience.

It's wild orchid season! These are pink lady's slippers.
They're the "truck nuts" of the flower world....use your imagination.  

I'm a bit sad to have to put seeing my horses on the backburner this month, but c'est la vie! Soon enough, they will be coming home and I'll see them all the time. For now, I'm grateful they've got a good situation with ample pasture to enjoy and friends to play with.

Things will probably [continue to] be a little quiet over here as May wraps up, but with any luck I'll have time to put together some posts on my Mary Wanless take-aways, and I will absolutely be updating about the construction process as more develops in coming weeks!
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Shortly after I tossed aside my hopes of attending No Frills earlier in April, Lauren reached out to me about being her sponsor for the Biltmore 50 on May 3. (In AERC, a sponsor is an adult ride who agrees to ride with a junior rider for the duration of the ride.) I’ve crewed this ride for an FEI rider once and again for Sara on her first 100. With added time to put weight on Q during April and knowing the grass was coming in strongly already, I accepted her proposal, excited to finally have a chance to ride at Biltmore!

It’s always been a dream of mine to ride at Biltmore, but one that didn’t work out in the timeline I’d hoped after Q tore her LH suspensory at the end of August in 2016. As I’ve written about at length since the injury, I’ve brought Q back slowly. In addition to rehabbing her suspensory, we’ve rehabbed our fractured relationship and our trust/confidence in one another. Slowly and steadily, with a lot of patience and a lot of time and miles, we made it back to where we were and then beyond. Since then, I’ve been eager to put everything to the true test of an endurance ride.

My new favorite ride photo by Becky. I bought a hard copy and the digital version because I like it so much.

So the short of it? Q exceeded any and all expectations I had for her. She carried us to a completion after 50 miles of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever competed on. She led for nearly half of the ride, 12 of 15 miles of the final loop, like a total BOSS. Does this mean that we don’t have more to work on? Absolutely not. We’ve still got lots to improve on, but this new baseline is lightyears ahead of the old one and I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled.

The long of it? Gather your drink of choice and settle in for the first endurance ride story on this blog since June 2016, and I’ll tell you.

The haul down on Thursday was uneventful and Q seemed relaxed and traveled well. When we stopped to check on the horses halfway, she was happily snoozing and had eaten a fair bit of her hay. Once we arrived in camp, we made quick work of setting up camp, registering, and quickly headed to vet in.

Dr. King vetted Q in. I shared with him that this mare has a unique way of going that, while normal for her, isn't typical for other horses because she swings her head and her barrel all about. He passed her with a "B" and marked "rolling" on her card. I’ve gone to a lot of pains to learn how to describe her unique gait to vets over the years, it is always a stressful thing for me, and "rolling" was yet another new one to add to my repertoire. Q is rarely lame, but she doesn’t look exactly like the others so some vets will ding us for it.

It's certainly a pretty home
Though I'd hate to have to clean it - especially all the bathrooms!
But it does make for some fairy tale photos!

After we vetted in, we attended the ride meeting where I listened closer than I have in ages. It felt weird to go through motions I hadn’t gone through in years! I took a lot of notes just to be certain of things on trail, as I hadn't ever seen these trails in person. Stagg, the trailmaster, recommended knowing the color and distance of each loop and assured we would be fine. Sara had told me as much earlier in the week, too, so I didn't fuss too much over it all.

After the meeting, it had cooled off to a lovely degree so Lauren and I headed out to stretch the horses' legs. Our goal was to ride the start of the first loop up to the overlook of the Biltmore mansion. It was a gorgeous little ride of the perfect distance (around 4½ miles). We trotted at the beginning and mostly walked home, making it back into camp around sunset. We used what little daylight remained to prep for the morning and finally crashed into bed - a little later than I’d hoped! I lay out my attire for the morning, cleaned and re-bandaged my nasty blister due to swelling from two paper wasp stings on my left foot before falling asleep.

Loop 1: White Forest, 15.2 miles

Fortunately, I slept remarkably well that night. I woke around 430, fed Q, and walked a few things down to our crew area. In no time at all it seemed, we were atop the horses and heading out on trail!

We walked out a few minutes after the start. As we picked up a trot, both Lauren and I discovered we had super fresh horses. So fresh that I forgot to start my GPS for the first 1¼ miles, d'oh! In fact, they were so strong that they continued to pull our arms out for the whole loop. Q was bold and forward, but honestly a little too forward! I wished for a bit instead of a hackamore for the first time in ages!

Eventually, we settled into a small bubble of our own. Mickey and Lauren led much of the loop. We twisted through pine forests nearly the entire time. It was pretty and a bit more treacherous than I’d imagined due to the leftovers of the flood that plagued the area 2 weeks prior. I'd be really interested to see the trails again in a year after they've had more time to rehab them back to their original splendor. (Don't get me wrong though, they'd done a STELLAR job getting them cleaned up as much as they had in 13 days!)

Mixed pine forest
Behold, Mickey's butt. He literally pooped one micro turd every ¼ mile

Toward the end of the loop (closest to camp), Q was leading and became an absolute witch. Things that hadn’t bothered her before when she’d led for spurts of this loop were suddenly the cause of huge alarm. She reacted more and more strongly and became dumber and dumber until I finally dismounted a short distance from camp because I was so frustrated and scared by her idiocy. Like, mare, I know that you know where you are, and I know that your opinion is to be done with work right now, thankyouverymuch. But FFS! This behavior is NOT the way to share that opinion! 

And so we walked into camp, pulled tack, and checked pulse. Q was at an easy 48 bpm and Mickey was in the 50s, so we headed for vet check.

I informed the vet that she hadn’t drank much and I was concerned. I noted our history and how it was our first ride back in a few years and I was just nervous about a lot of things. The vet smiled kindly and said she’d check her closely. I also joked for her to not judge the rider's trot out because I would most definitely be lame on my left foot from my blister (horribly positioned between the joint of my big toe and the ball of my foot).

After our trot out, the vet said she found the problem: Q was lame in her LF (just like me?!). In an attempt to better understand this lameness, as I'd felt nothing under saddle on trail, I had another person trot her out for me so I could stand with the vet and try to see what she was seeing.

I saw…nothing. I saw my mare’s loosey goosy way of going with her head looking all over, bouncing all about while her barrel swung left and right. I noted to the vet about Dr. King saying she had a “rolling” gait at vet-in, and also noted that this was normal for Q. Despite this, the vet insisted Q had a grade 3 lameness and a slight head bob upward whenever the LF landed. She also let me know all of her other marks were perfect and her CRI was 52/52. Beyond the supposed lameness, Q was doing GREAT. And so, I had the rest of the check to ice Q's foot and see the farrier before representing.

I went immediately to the farrier who tested her hoof every which-way and said she was fine. He even had me trot her out twice and assured me it was just her way of going – she was completely symmetrical. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me to hear from an absolute stranger who hadn't seen her move before! He asked who vetted us and I pointed the vet out. The farrier said she was his vet and he’d talk to her and let her know his opinion based on what he’d seen. I thanked him immensely and set off to the tent to ice Q’s leg and attempt to keep my mind as calm as I could (ha!).

A pretty photo of the house to break my wall of anxiety-ridden text

My mind was absolutely abuzz with stress and mild panic. I was disappointed, certainly, but not so much at the thought of being pulled and missing the ride. No, I was disappointed because I had put so much time and care into bringing Q back, just to have the same issues with her unique gait. And mostly? I was really sad because I realized I was going to have to give up on this sport I loved so much because she didn’t fit the vets’ definition of fit to continue. There would be no point wasting my time and money to travel to rides to continue to get pulled each time because this little mare is simply a bit different in her natural way of going.

Lauren's mom gently coaxed these concerns from me as she iced Q's leg and I sat there trying to put some food in my system. A rider who has successfully competed in the sport for decades was nearby our tent and overheard me lamenting my anxieties, fear, and sadness to Lauren’s mom. This rider told me she understood; she once had a horse who always trotted out “lazily” no matter what they did. Vets always called him "too tired" to continue and so she eventually quit racing him to avoid the continued hassle of dealing with the comments. I smiled weakly at her and thanked her for sharing that with me – it was nice to commiserate with someone else.

Still, my mind argued, this lady has many horses to choose from and doesn't seem to be overly attached to any one. She's the kind of rider (from my outside observances) who loves the sport and will find a suitable mount to succeed; her family has many horses and her daughter rode two this weekend alone - what a dream! As for me, I love the sport, certainly, but I love this mare more. I'm not going to cast Q aside for another horse just to find success in this sport. I'd just as sooner find a different discipline or not compete at all in endurance.

Finally, the time came for my recheck and I headed back up, resigned to my fate and planning my future of other activities with this little mare that existed beyond endurance (dressage? eventing? backcountry travels? hunter paces?).

The vet who had seen us 40 minutes before wasn’t available. Another vet took us and asked if I wanted him to vet us solely or if I wanted the option of a vote of 3 vets. I just kind of stared at him and stuttered some noises as I tried to process what he’d said. The concept of a vote was new to me. He showed me a huge kindness in this moment and said, “I think you should do a vote. It’s really in your favor. If I think she’s lame, that’s it, you’re done. But a vote will help you both out.” I nodded mutely and he called over several other vets, one of whom I was familiar with for his stellar reputation and one whom I was not. The vet who had recommended the vote nodded to me, “Down and back if you would.”

And another photo of pretty ponies + Q ears to once again break this wall of stress-text

I turned and trotted Q down the lane, gritting my teeth through the pain of my blister each step of the way. As we trotted back, I didn’t even make eye contact with the vets. I couldn’t bear to. My mind was in a dark place, and I was just so sad to lose this sport. After we’d stood for a few seconds, I looked up cautiously to see them exchanging tokens for a vote. The formality surprised me, but I tried to conceal this emotion as I awaited the outcome. A few seconds later after counting the tokens, they said, “You’re good to go!” My eyes frantically searched theirs in total and complete shock. “Really?!” I gasped aloud, tears flowing freely down my face from the shock and relief of hearing this. They smiled at me, a few laughing, and one noting, “You really need to work on your poker face!”

I don’t exactly remember what happened in those next few moments, but suddenly all 3 of those vets and another one or two were circled close around me. It must have been a quiet moment at the vet check! Dr. Marcella (the vet I was familiar with due to his reputation for being so awesome) handed me a handkerchief to wipe my eyes as each of them in turn shared more advice than I could have ever hoped for. They discussed Q’s conformational flaws, her weak hind end, [currently] underdeveloped topline and hindquarter musculature, and her tendency to be on the forehand. They talked of her swinging head and barrel and how she was inconsistently asymmetric and how it wasn’t necessarily lameness, but it didn’t appear “normal” either. They noted that she’s a horse who could benefit from a much faster trot out and my way of trotting her out did her no favors. They noted that I should take time in the near future to trot her out on various surfaces and figure out what would do her the most justice. They also said that I should size up every trot out lane at future rides and finesse my way through the vetting line to try to get that lane – preferably with a vet who I knew had no bias toward her unique way of going. They then added that I should absolutely film every single trot out from the vet-in onward at rides and told me that this would be valuable information for any vet later in the ride and that showing a vet these videos wouldn't constitute "arguing" with a vet as I worried it would. We talked about dressage and cross training and ways to further improve her.

It was an intense few minutes where I nodded, agreed, and wiped tears from my face a lot before Dr. King finally wandered over with a box of tissues and made me take several, joking that Dr. Marcella's handkerchief was probably disgusting. Finally, the tallest vet grabbed me by the shoulders, smiling ever so kindly as he said, “Now, go out there and have a good loop. And if you’re still over hydrated when you come back, we’ll try to make you cry again.” A joke. I smiled, laughed weakly, still in shock, and thanked them all profusely once more before heading to the crew area.

Loop 2, Black Bridge Access to Orange West, 20.4 miles

Back at the crew area, Lauren’s mom hugged me. She could see that my emotions were wrecked from the stress of it all. She helped me to get Q tacked back up and get Lauren and I back on trail for what would be 20 of the most beautiful miles I’ve ever ridden.

I was silent for the first 3 miles of the loop as I settled my emotions and headspace. Q led these miles boldly for me while I worked through my shit. She picked up this huge trot that seemed to say, “Hey lady, it’s okay. I’ve got this, let’s go.” Finally, we crossed the French Broad over onto what Stagg, the trailmaster for this ride, had promised would be beautiful trails. Boy, were they ever!

After a short stretch in a mixed deciduous and pine forest, we emerged into the Biltmore vineyards where I gasped a little at how picturesque the scenery was. We traveled along and through these vineyards for a mile or two before going through another stretch of forest and reemerging to beautiful fields and the lushest cow pastures I’ve ever seen. We wound down to the French Broad, back up through meadows with mountain vistas, back to the river, and through the forest once more. Lauren and I traded the lead intermittently throughout, utterly in awe of the beauty around us. What a stellar loop!

Vineyards + mountains!
Impatient Q-bert
Nomming Q-bert
Q touring the vineyards like a proper young lady
Cabernet franc
The French Broad and leading Q ears!
Resplendent fields
Gaahhhh the Appalachians in spring make me the happiest
Absolute magic
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