Because what's a plan without changes?! I fully expected there to be changes throughout this process and I'm sure there will be more. I'm having a blast with the entire process though, so working through these things has been been enjoyable for me.
Roof ModificationA big thank you to everyone who commented on the last post! I enjoyed the conversation generated from it all.
Coincidentally, one of the design points that was commented on the most - roof runoff to the trough & potential toxicity of the roof runoff - changed within a few days of publishing the post.
Dave has been crunching numbers and sketching different design options all this time and asked me one morning, "Are you set on having a roof to match the house?"
Without hesitation, I replied, "Absolutely not! Why? What are you thinking?"
"Well, would metal be okay?"
"Hell yes. You'd originally noted that it would be a lot more expensive. That's the only reason I gave up on it."
"Well, when you look at the number of trusses necessary for shingles vs. metal and you think about the ease of installing the metal panels vs. the shingles and then consider the life of the metal over the shingles, I think metal is going to be the way to go. I've still got to look at a couple things, but I'm pretty sure it won't alter your budget more than $1k."
"Sweet! Metal it is. Pick whatever color you think will look best."
Looking toward the house from the far corner of the property. Can't wait to repeat this shot next year once the barn is in.
Ah, the joys of having a contractor for a husband! And the fortune of knowing his opinions about colors for this barn (and most structures) are very in-line with my own likes/preferences. In fact, other than requesting that the trim be a contrasting color to the rest of the structure, I've given him full control of selecting the colors for the whole thing. I'm kind of excited about the surprise of it all.
Fence ModificationThe second change that has come up is for the fencing. Originally, I'd planned for hi-tensile electric to be installed by a professional crew. They prefer to install uncoated wire and the cost of having them install coated wire was exorbitant, which was why I left it out of the plan. I recognize the pros and cons of coated vs. uncoated, but was comfortable with my decision to go with the uncoated because my horses have lived issue-free in fields with uncoated wire for their whole lives. It's just what is common around here. With limited options to board a horse, you take what you can get. 🤷
The barn will be where the center of the photo is in a few months!
While there is still a possibility for more changes so far as who will be doing the installation, the new and current plan allows me to upgrade to coated wire with some pretty intense cost-savings! I'm very excited about this development. As long as my HOA doesn't nix it, things should be good and I'll have an electric fence with brown coated wire.
Location of the Barn and Dry LotA few nights ago, the excavator was able to come out for an updated site visit with Dave and I ...yet another snow-covered site visit. D'oh! But he has so much expertise that I wasn't very concerned about the snowfall causing difficulties.
We marched down to where I foresee building the barn being, which involves most of the earth work. I told him that I was willing to part with my big beautiful beech tree to make site prep easier, something he'd asked about during our first meeting. It's a beautiful tree, but it has some early signs of beech bark disease and will die one day because of it. He nodded along and said he was surprised it didn't look worse, as most trees in the area that size have succumbed to the disease in more dramatic ways already.
My pretty beech tree
I also noted that I had changed the layout of the barn by 90° since his last visit in the fall. The center aisle would now be perpendicular to the road bench instead of parallel. This would mean more difficulty sloping the land to allow access to the big double doors which caused the excavator to groan a little.
He asked if there was any way to turn it back. I noted that I really preferred to keep it as it was to help protect the horses/stall openings from the weather. I was aware it wouldn't be ideal to have to do the earth moving to make it this way, but it benefits the horses so much more.
The excavator calmly pointed out how much more earthwork would be involved and the whys and hows that made it trickier, more expensive, and less ideal to achieve my vision. Dave and I nodded along, grateful for his guidance and expertise.
"That makes sense," I agreed, "So, without totally blowing my budget out of this realm, do you have any recommendations for how we can do it and keep the aisle and overhang in such a way to protect from weather?"
He stepped back, thought a moment, and replied, "Well, how do you feel about moving the structure up the slope into the field a little bit? You'll lose a little pasture by doing this, but it will be a lot easier to do. You'll probably even save some money by doing it this way and will be able to leave that beech you like so much."
On the opposite side of the property - what will be a natural XC jump! The tree survived a past trauma and now grows horizontal before shooting back upward. It's larger than it appears here and I can't wait to clear out the landing and approach.
I thought about this for a few moments. I was hesitant because I really wanted to preserve as much pasture as possible!
Observing my wheels turning, the excavator proceeded to explain where the downslope side of the building would be in relation to the current surroundings.
I listened, still thinking, and walked to the point he indicated for where the downslope edge of the building would sit. "Okay, I'm going to walk into the field. Tell me to stop when I reach what you envision the upslope edge of the building to be." I knew the dimensions of my building, as did he, but estimating how far to walk in relation to the current slope of the land while trying to also visualize it becoming a flat slope (Pythagorean theorem & trigonometry, anyone?) wasn't as obvious to me as I knew it would be to him because he does it for a living.
I walked uphill until he told me to stop, and then turned around where I was, trying to get a feel for how the building would look on the landscape and how much pasture I'd be giving up.
The excavator noted how the dry lot would line up in relation to the barn and pointed out how the earth removed for the barn could be used to level out the dry lot area. I nodded along, noting to myself how the change wasn't that significant and that it wouldn't result in too much pasture being given up in the grand scheme of things.
"Okay," I finally agreed, "This change works for me." He smiled.
We continued to discuss construction of the French drain and the dry lot and what I should put in my submissions to the HOA's architectural committee. Overall, it sounds like the slight change in the layout will only make things easier and possibly cheaper. Definite wins.
Keep in mind the trees "in the field" are actually just shadows. And the French drain will pipe the water further away, but the majority of the excavation will be as above. The pipes won't require as much impact past that point.
Oh, and uh, I guess I have a farm name? It helps that the road the farm is on has such a pretty name. I'd wanted to make the name something with "starlight" because our views up here on a clear night are absolutely unrivaled. I keep referring to it as Starlight Lane Farm though, and it's sticking.
Dave asked for the excavator's opinion on things to do with the trees that would still need to be cut, sharing that he'd been having trouble finding boards of the correct thickness to line the stalls with. The excavator grinned and said he had a portable mill and would be happy to mill them on site for us for $0.55/board foot.
Dave looked at me, I looked at him, and we grinned. The boards won't be completely cured as is the preference, but for lining the interior of the stalls and the hay storage area that little bit of shrinking won't make a big difference.
It thrills me to no end to be able to use some of the trees we cut within the structure itself! Cherry and maple-lined stalls? Don't mind if I do! (Worry not, I already talked to my vet to guarantee that cherry heartwood isn't toxic to horses like the leaves/fruits/stems/pits. The maple is all Acer saccharum (sugar), which doesn't have the toxic properties of it's cousin A. rubrum (red) it seems.)
I doubt the uncured wood will work well in the tack room to save some dollars there, but either way, Dave plans to finish it with lovely wood floors and walls thanks to some leftover material he has from building the house 10 years ago! I can't wait to add splashes of color to that space with all of my tack and horse-related art. Eee!
If the schedule holds, we'll break ground on everything at the end of May. So stay tuned for future updates!
Winter is such a hard time to keep the blog updated with our riding goings-on. It is such a hit-or-miss time that is complicated by 6-day work weeks (ski patrol + normal job), turbulent weather, sickness, short daylight hours, and - new this year! - abscesses.
I love to include photos when blog, but sadly this time of year is generally not very photographic as far as riding goes due to: the drudgery of most of the workouts (very basic exercises), the darkness that consumes those workouts due to complete lack of an indoor, and very dirty horses that live outside 24/7 with zero access to a warm-water washrack.
Nonetheless, we HAVE been riding. I've documented those rides in writing in my day-planner, noting time, mileage, and anything else memorable. In a perfect world, I'd like to have Q legged up for a 50 in the middle of April. But considering the complications listed above, it isn't easy! However, with longer days firmly in the present and DST coming up on March 10 (huzzah!), the future is bright (literally and figuratively) for more riding.
So, to sum up what's been happening in the world of my horses and riding the past three months, I give you my training notes and monthly summaries.
December (12 rides; 4 hours, 47 minutes)
Q - Following the lesson with Griffin on the 5th, much of the month was spent practicing homework. We successfully learned turns on the haunches, and Q excelled at them! She learned them more quickly than Griffin by a long shot. Additionally, we put in a lot of long, slow hours in the back field climbing the hill again, and again, and again. The ground was wet throughout the month (not a surprise) so marching up and down that hill was a great way to pass the time in a way that benefited her body without worrying about bad footing.
Riding off into the light
Despite the footing and the meager amount of riding, I am still so pleased with the progress Q made this month. All of these small rides are really adding up to build her confidence and trust which makes a world of difference in our relationship. She nickers upon seeing me and meets me before Griffin does at least half the time - something I never would have imagined happening! It's such a good feeling to have this improved relationship with her.
Grif - The lesson was such a great start to the month. We worked on lesson homework all month with the addition of lots of hill climbing. It was very basic work, but it really helped him to begin re-establishing the topline he lost during the late summer/autumn months. His TOH improved greatly, but still lacks the ease that Q can execute it. Regardless, I am grateful to finally HAVE a semblance of TOH on this horse as it was the most basic of things we struggled with for so long. The curse of not having an instructor and eyes on the ground to help me work through things!
A new-to-us teal pad, thanks to Austen!
Stan - Living the cushy semi-retirement life through the winter, this guy only had to suffer two rides in December. He helped me exercise the dogs and generally just enjoy life.
It's a hard life being a pasture puff, just ask Stan.
His weight was okay, though not as plump as I'd like to see him this early in winter considering how much hay he usually eats. Unfortunately, returning after a summer away did not guarantee he kept his higher status in the herd. In December, especially, he was chased off the hay more than I'd like. Fortunately though, things have seemed to balance out as the season has gone on and he's looking lots better.
January (20 rides; 13 hours, 47 minutes)
Q - Lots of ponying happened this month as a way to get work in while making the most of the short daylight I have after work. Something is far better than nothing so far as workouts go during the winter! Bonus, we fit in one 12-mile rail trail ride where she led for more than half of the ride.
She was very impatient once we turned for home and became very rushy and then spooky over nothing because I wouldn't acquiesce to her requests to race home. We definitely need some solo miles to work through this.
Proof that my horses have been clean some this winter.
Overall, I was really pleased with this little horse this month. The ride on the 28th, following several rides that we practiced homework from the January was pivotal. Q was super fussy and anxious the whole time, but she still tried her heart out to listen to what I wanted. There was a lot of bit clanking as she thought about what I was asking. We had some good lateral work at the walk, which worked just as I always dreamed it would by keeping her fussy mind busy focusing on me. This prevented her from spooking or doing other stupid evasion tactics that are not enjoyable to ride through. I'm very hopeful that as we continue to practice and hone her responsiveness to my seat and leg, and her strength and coordination with lateral work improve, I will be able to prevent huge blow ups on trail when she becomes nervous by keeping her mind focused on me/the work.
Celebrated his "gotcha" day at the end of January! He's been in my life since 2012.
Grif - So many hills, and so much homework practice! His topline and overall body condition continued to improve.
At our lesson, I ended up only riding for the first little bit before handing over the reins to LC. It was wonderful to see her work him. I learned so much by watching her, listening to her explanations, and asking clarifying questions of my own. He was a little bit confused at first, but quickly caught on to what she was asking, further proving to me that I am the weak link - which I very strongly suspected and was not the least bit surprised by! In fact, it was really exciting to see him move so well for her because it means if I can fix myself (so much easier without the whole spoken language barrier bit lol), then he will improve.
Since that lesson, I have modified the position of my lower leg a little bit and practiced all of the other homework LC gave me. Griffin and I both are doing so much better.
Those ribs are officially out of sight now.
Stan - Just one ride this month to get the dogs out and about for a good evening of exercise. He was very amenable to everything, though very pokey and lazy unless I prodded him forward with lots of enthusiasm. I can't be too upset about this though as it's what makes him such a perfect horse for friends to enjoy.
February (8 rides, 6 hours, 40 minutes)
Q - This was definitely the hardest month so far for riding of any kind. I feel like a lot of the progress I made with Q (and Grif) was setback. I was sick on and off from the end of January through the middle of February three separate times. Couple that with wet weather that prevents crossing the stream to the high pasture to fetch the horses unless you're in hip waders, and it was really a bum month for riding.
Free lunging because it was windy AF
Fortunately though, the final week of February granted us lots of sunshine and NO precipitation. Praise be. I forgot what any semblance of dry ground was like. I'm made up for lost time by getting out more frequently in the longer evening hours.
The biggest wins to date have been our two most recent rides incorporating the cavaletti. She has a tendency to be so very worried they might grab her legs that she always rushes and flings herself over/across them. On the first day, I talked to her and reassured her and praised her endlessly as we walked back and forth over one set to a ground pole. Within a shorter time than I imagined, she sighed and released all of the tension from her body. She was still a bit looky-loo about the surrounding environment but without the tension. She walked over the pole like it wasn't even there and then tackled the 18" high setting with just as much relaxation. The next ride, she wasn't concerned at all. Huge win!
Grif - The end of January and the first week+ of February were a down period for Griffin due to an abscess. Ironically, a barnmate's horse had an abscess that lasted about the same amount of time in the same hoof, immediately preceding Griffin's. I monitored the hoof and just waited it out, & by the second week we were back in business.
In general, Grif has been a lazy ass this month. I think it is a combination of warm weather days with his winter coat and being bored with the work we are doing. In years leading up to this, we had a lot more variety in our lives with access to lots of trails and jumps. Until we return to Canaan, we don't really have trails and I only brought my cavaletti and some ground poles down to Elkins because it is such a chore to transport all the jump standards and the XC ramps.
All the same, his strength is building and his body is showing that off little by little. I feel really good about the progress we have made, even if I have had to carry a whip on more rides to encourage his sluggish butt along.
View from the top of the hill I've climbed so many times this winter.
Stan - Just one ride again this month. He was eager at first to have my full attentions - until I started tacking him up! Then his body language was quite indignant toward my ministrations. How dare I deign to do anything more than give him his daily grain ration and release him back to the field?! Tough titty, Stan.
We did a few circuits of the very small trail loop on the property and even did some work over my 18" cavaletti. In true Stanley fashion, he balked at each cavaletti the first time I asked - something he's done since he was 5 years old whenever I want to jump him. Once he gets it out of his system, he's much more willing though, and we proceeded to trot and canter over the cavaletti several times. I had a huge smile plastered across my face as always from riding him.
Mugging me for treats last Wednesday night.
The only other Staniel-happening of note this month was his first choke. It did resolve on its own after 20-25 minutes but, ugh. It was stressful. I was grateful to have my vet to text with throughout because it was so different from what I'm used to. Q and Grif have had mild chokes many times. They always resolve on their own after a few short minutes, and I feed the sloppiest fucking mashes ever to help prevent it. Stan, in a hold-my-beer fit of glory, managed to choke on a super sloppy mash because he attempted to bolt it down. He developed this bolting habit with his food last fall when he was in with a herd of 20 horses for a month (ugh) and had to compete a little bit for food (double ugh).
It sucked to watch him struggle through it because he was so uncomfortable and not stoic about it. He paced and paced and fussed and fussed, and every minute or so his neck would spasm and contract in the worst way. His eyes screamed pain and fear with each spasm. Finally though, right as I was about to have the vet out instead of on stand-by, it passed. He gave me a cold shoulder as if I had caused this horrible thing, then promptly cocked a hind leg and took a nap. Fortunately, he seems to have 'made himself a memory' from it as he hasn't bolted his food since.
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My 5 day spring weather preview began with this surprise rainbow in the morning. I very rarely get to enjoy rainbows from the front of my house!
After having a solid taste of spring last week, I felt renewed and ready for the predicted 5 to 10 inches of snow followed by single digit temps forecasted for the weekend and into this week. It's early March, after all, and this weather is fully expected and normal. And honestly, considering the craptastic winter we've had from a snow perspective, I'll gladly welcome the opportunity to ski something more than loose granular and ice for a few days!
The weather will break soon enough and riding will be easier. Still, considering my schedule and all of the things that make this time of year so much more difficult for riding, I'm pleased with my 40 rides and 25+ hours in the saddle! I was feeling pretty down on myself about not riding at all until I looked back at the overview of each month. It's not as bleak as my mind wanted me to believe.
I keep reminding myself that in a few short months my ponies will be in my backyard and I'll see them every single day. It'll be so much easier to fit in rides once my commute drops from 50 minutes to a 200-foot meander! Until then, I'll be making the best of what's around and riding as often as I'm able.
I'll be honest, a small-acreage farm was never my dream. My horses and horse farms I grew up around in this area have expansive 20+ acre fields with ample grass. A farm like this is what always dreamed of having for myself.
However, when I moved to Canaan, I knew my options for fulfilling my dream would be more limited. Land of any amount in Canaan comes at a premium price, unfortunately, because it is a vacation destination for so many. Additionally, very few real estate offerings were suitable for horses, within my budget, and/or had the kind of acreage I'd dreamed of. Even adjusting my original dream of 10-15 acres of pasture to 5-10 acres of pasture proved to be a big ask in this mountainous vacation destination ripe with more wetlands than firm ground.
Over time, I surrendered to the reality that no matter what I found in Canaan, it was going to have to be a small acreage farm in order to be affordable. This came with the acceptance that I'd have to feed hay year-round, designate and construct a durable sacrifice area, implement pasture rotation, and devise a manure management plan.
A small a commute would be critical to successfully implement this plan, which made real estate shopping all the trickier! Gaining permission from my HOA to bring the horses home to the lots next door was the best possible scenario. I was so very relieved when it became an option!
Making the Best Use of the Land
Once I received the go-ahead from the HOA in October, my mind began whirring anew with farm design options. Of course, I'd looked out on that land for years in advance dreaming about how I would design the fencing, fields, and barn, but those dreams were just that - dreams. Now, knowing that they would become a real, tangible thing, my planning took on a new fervor. I plotted and schemed how to design a farm in the best way possible on what would soon become my land.
Draft Plan demonstrating how topography and prevailing winds play into the placement of the barn, dry lot, and pastures.
The topography of the land is the biggest factor that contributed toward my options for farm layout. The pasture is gently sloping from the gravel road down toward the treeline (light yellow lines above roughly demonstrate the slope). Obviously, I want to make the most of this available pasture!
But I also want to do my best to provide adequate shelter from the elements for the horses because environment is much less forgiving up here on this ridge than where they currently live! Case in point: our old, heavy, vapor-soaked hot tub lid coupled with a very hefty chunk of wood was blown off the tub and off our porch last night. Anything I can do to get the horses out of the wicked winds that prevail from the west and northwest (and increasingly from the south as I'm noticing lately...thanks, climate change!) is preferred.
As luck would have it, achieving the goals of maximizing the available pasture & providing the horses with the best shelter is simply met by situating the barn and dry lot within the treeline. This allows the pasture area to remain open for rotational grazing while utilizing the forested area as a windbreak from the worst of the winds.
For scale, Dave skiing on the old road bench just below the treeline. The pasture is above. This is just beyond the limits of the future dry lot. Fortunately, the area in front of Dave where the dry lot and barn will be has a much milder slope that will be more easily manipulated to level ground for the dry lot and barn.
Oddly enough, this option didn't seem as obvious to me at first because the hillside that begins just beyond the treeline boasts a very steep slope (red lines in the image above). Fortunately, there is an old logging road bench at the start of the treeline that provides level ground before the steepest drop off (as Dave demonstrates, above)! What's more fortunate is that the area surrounding that road bench closest to my house is very mildly sloped in comparison to the surrounding land, making it an absolute perfect place for the barn!
Designing the BarnI have dreamed of designing my own barn for literal decades. Strangely, once I knew my dream stood a chance at becoming reality my mind went totally blank for a few days. The options! I just... How could I possibly choose?!
Well, for one, finances helped determine what was possible. As much as I may wish and long for a barn with a covered arena, that simply is not within the realms of my financial abilities. Second to that, the land was going to limit anything too crazy (see: above). And third, I had to think about it from a pragmatic standpoint (not hard for me!): how could I provide shelter, hay/feed storage, and tack storage within one structure utilizing the available space in the best way possible?
After a lot of internet browsing, day dreaming, and endless sketches and doodles on any piece of paper that ended up in front of me no matter where I was, I settled on a rough-idea: A three stall, center aisle barn with a closed tack/feed room, a sizable area for ground-level hay storage, and an overhang where the stalls open up into the dry lot. The barn will have a roof with architectural shingles to match our house and the siding will be wood to meet the HOA guidelines - color TBD.
The current state of the Sketch Up design Dave is working on. I love having a contractor for a husband!
Tiny human (red shirt) in near corner for scale.
The sliding doors won't actually have windows in them, but Google Sketch Up thinks they should. The back wall of my tack/feed room WILL have a sizable window though. And the outside stalls will have small windows. I may also put one at the end of the aisle where we omitted the second sliding door because it will open to a steep hillside.
Reasons I selected this design - The center aisle was just plain functional. It gives me room to groom, room for farrier work, room for vet work, room to unload hay and feed, room to generally maneuver and do horse and barn related everythings. - I've grown up around a lot of barns with ground-level hay storage and they're a lot simpler and allow me to not purchase a hay elevator to store my hay. I will simply line that area with pallets to stack the hay. This achieves a long-time goal of not having to leave the barn to feed in the winter & will help encourage the horses to get out of the elements. - I don't have, nor do I need, a ton of tack. A 10' x 12' combined feed and tack room will be more than sufficient for my needs. It will be closed off from the rest of the barn to protect from dust and will have a wooden floor that will be easy to sweep. - The stalls opening to an overhang in the dry lot will provide the horses with a sheltered loafing area within the dry lot and will help minimize any precipitation blowing into the stall doors if I choose to leave them open. Additionally, it will prevent the need for me to fetch the horses for feeding as I'll be able to simply open the stalls for them to come eat.
Mud ManagementA HUGE component of my farm plan is preventing mud. See, I hate mud. I hate mud so fucking much. Unfortunately, mud is commonplace around these parts for much of the year. Such is life when you live in a temperate rainforest with the affectionate nickname of Can-Rain Valley (instead of Canaan Valley, which is pronounced ke-nayne as opposed to the Bibical kay-nen)! But still. I've thought long and hard for many years about how to avoid mud as much as possible if/when I designed my own property.
Current state of the high-traffic areas where I board the horses. YUCK.
So, how am I planning to achieve this? Well, for starters, the stalls opening into the dry lot is huge. The horses won't have to stand in mud or track it into the barn, and I won't have to walk through mud to feed or fetch them. I cannot tell you how freaking thrilled I am that this winter is my last fucking winter dealing with high-traffic barn areas that resemble the above. I am over mud caking to my boots and coating my horses legs!
The dry lot construction has a lot to do with how mud-free it remains (a post for the future as plans move forward). Beyond proper dry lot construction though, I've got to minimize the amount of sheet flow from the slightly uphill pasture into the dry lot. This will be accomplished with one hell of a French drain. I'm really grateful that the contractor doing my earth work is not only freaking amazing at his job but also has a lot of livestock and understands what I'm looking to achieve. It's a lot of money, but it's something that I'm happy to fork over in favor of mud-free feet!
The current state of my horses on blanket-free days. FML.
Also, the worst photo of Q ever because I couldn't back up
any more to take the photo & her front end is in a low spot. Sorry, mare.
Beyond the dry lot and barn being one contiguous area with a solid uphill French drain, a manure management plan and pasture rotation will be paramount to minimizing the amount of mud. For manure management, I will be mucking the dry lot often and mucking and/or dragging the pastures as often as necessary.
My pasture rotation will be contingent not only on the health of the grass within them but also the weather. If the weather has been exceptionally wet, I won't turn the horses out. I know how quickly horse hooves can destroy a wet pasture around here and would much rather preserve the pasture quality for years to come. I'll exercise the beasties enough by riding that it shouldn't be too big of a deal. Regardless, this will be a big change for us all. But I think it will ultimately benefit all parties while also keeping my land as healthy as possible! Which pleases my little conservation biologist soul to no end, and meets my other goal of doing this whole horse farm thing in a way that is best for the health of the land.
Fences & WaterThe two remaining major aspects to complete the farm layout are fencing and water.
Fencing My horses are pretty smart about fencing and have a lot of respect for every fence I've put them in, something for which I am very grateful! It means the world is my oyster so far as fencing options go. Though I do have to abide by my HOA, which requires building materials to be "natural", thus limiting the options to wood and metal.
As beautiful as a post and board or split rail fence can be, my feelings toward those aren't very warm and fuzzy. A large chunk of my husband's business in the summer revolves around re-staining/painting houses and decks to protect them from the weather. In the 4 years we've been together, he's re-stained several of the same places twice! Our weather in "Can-Rain" Valley is not kind to wooden exteriors. Having a wooden fence in this clime is basically a money pit. I would spend more time than I care to replacing and/or re-staining the damn thing. Just, no.
My friend's beautiful fence and even more beautiful pasture.
So, that leaves high tensile electric - a very popular option around here. And fortunately, I've got more than a few options for help to build the damn thing in short order at a good price. Winning! Two other bonuses to this type of fencing for my HOA are: (1) it will keep the viewshed open - a bargaining point of mine during my presentation, and (2) it will not change the way the snow drifts at all on the road along the top of the pastures - something my neighbor will appreciate in the winter.
Water All of the farms I've grown up around, including the one where my horses currently reside, have perennial streams on the property. The pastures are designed so that the horses always have access to them. It's easy and stress-free.
But my farm is on a ridge top. There are multiple springs on this mountain of ours (our water system is connected to one of the bigger ones), but no springs exist on my property for the horses, which means I have to have a trough. No big deal. That's easy enough to fill and clean - especially with a couple goldfish residents! Add a de-icer in the winter and it's good to go year-round.
However, when the horses spent time at my friend's place for 2 months this past summer, I got to experience the sheer brilliance of their water system for the horses. It was such a simple improvement for a trough scenario.
Rain-fed trough with overflow being piped away from the field.
They designed the gutter on their barn at a very slight angle so that the water would feed into their trough. They also added a small hole for overflow that allowed for a pipe connection to funnel the water away from the horse area. Absolutely brilliant when you consider how much rain we get! It basically guarantees that the only time necessary to fill the trough is when we have a drought period. (Drought? What is this foreign concept you speak of?). It is my plan to have Dave construct a similar gutter situation so I can have a nearly-identical setup. Not as simple as a stream, but pretty damn close!
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So, there you have it! A rough plan of how the farm layout will be constructed on the landscape in the coming months. I'm still the very embodiment of excited and am creating lists upon lists of things to do to prep in the mean time. I'll keep the updates coming as things progress and continue to share more details on each step of the process as it unfolds.
I'd also like to extend a big thank you to everyone for your well-wishes on the first post of this series endeavor. It's fun to celebrate with the greater horse community and I'm looking forward to sharing more!
I have alluded in previous posts about big changes afoot. Huge, life-changing, dream-attaining changes.
Drum roll please....
By next winter, my horses will be home with me for good. My barn commute will be zero. My life-long dreams of having my horses outside my window and 100% in my care will be achieved.
I am the very embodiment of the word "excited".
But let's rewind. Because this whole thing didn't happen quickly or easily, and I want nothing more than to document the story for myself to have in years to come. Over the next month or two, I'll publish a series of posts that include everything that went into the planning and preparation phase for this dream to become reality. Then, once we roll into the warmer months and I begin implementing this dream, I'll document all of the pieces involved in the land prep and construction.
A Seemingly Far-Fetched Idea
I live in a homeowner's association (HOA) in an area that serves as a vacation destination and second-home to many folks from the DC area and beyond. My HOA is comprised of 14 residences and, of those, we are the only 100% full-time residents. One other gentleman is here 80-90% of the time. All others are only here for multiple long weekends and/or extended summer stays.
We're situated on top of a big flat ridge that was formerly a farm. I can run a 1.1 mile loop from my house and only gain something like 75 feet in elevation. It's pleasant to have both remarkable mountain views from a high vantage point and also have flat land. As such, the very large majority of the homes in the HOA are positioned so that they can enjoy 180-270° views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
With a view like this (and this is only one third of the view!), it's understandable why people want to have homes up there!
The lots are large, folks tend to own several, and the homes are really spaced out. There are limitations on buliding size, what materials you can build and side your home with, and other limitations on how the appearance of your yard etc. must be kept. Most folks mow their lots immediately around their homes and a local fellow comes up to hay the unmowed areas for his cattle. In the grand scheme of HOAs, it's pretty nice and relatively relaxed.
Since moving up here full time in 2017, I've dreamed of bringing the horses home to one of the vacant lots. But the cost of land in this area coupled with the HOA rules forbidding horses (and cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. - it's quite a long and inclusive list!) kept my dreaming at bay. Even if the HOA adjusted the rules, I couldn't imagine dropping that kind of money on such a small parcel of land.
After Dave and I married and I began exploring boarding options in earnest, I realized that every option in our local area was going to be expensive because it's a vacation destination. And so I decided that before I pursued other options for land in the surrounding area, I would at least ask a friend (a past HOA president) if the option for horses in the development even seemed feasible. I knew it would very, very likely be a quick "no", but I also knew if I didn't at least ask I would always wonder "what could have been".
Standing at the far edge of the lots looking toward the house. Gonna have my work cut out for me getting rid of golden rod!
And so when I saw my friend out and about one day this past summer while Dave and I were walking, I popped the question.
"Hey. I've got a kind of crazy question for you. I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be, but I've got to ask or I'll always wonder. Do you think the HOA would ever make an exception to allow horses?"
He pondered it for a second before replying, "Well, I love horses. I think having horses up here would be wonderful. I'd be your biggest supporter - my grandkids would love it! I think others would probably be up for it, too. But we'll have to be strategic about how you approach it and ask..."
Cue: a shocked expression on my part!
After I recovered from my initial shock at not receiving what I was certain would be a "no", a smile slowly spread across my face and my mind began whirring with possibilities.
Standing below our house looking toward the end of the lots. Barn will be just left of center nestled in the trees.
Following that initial conversation, I put pen to paper and drew out the first draft of my plans to share with my friend. I met with him and we discussed my idea and how best to move forward. With his expert guidance and understanding of the HOA, its residents, and history, I put together a proposal for the executive committee to review and consider.
In a shorter time than I imagined, I received a reply from the executive committee. They were in favor of my proposal. The next step I needed to take was to prepare a presentation for the annual HOA meeting on October 28.
I had a solid 2-2½ months to prepare my presentation. It was both a gift and a curse to have that much time! I had plenty of time to prepare, certainly, but I also had ample time for my mind to run amok wondering will they/won't they be in favor and will this/won't this dream actually happen?
The Presentation AKA The Day of Reckoning
Finally, the day of my presentation arrived. An agenda had been set out prior to all HOA members, and item 6a read, "Permission to allow horses on 2 or more lots as requested by Liz Stout..."
All through the start of the meeting, I was nervous. I knew the executive committee was in favor and the path forward sounded straight forward enough, but if anyone had a strong objection to my plan, the whole thing could come crashing down.
Finally, it was my turn to present.
Ever-prepared, I had brought a laptop, projector, and had prepared a well-practiced presentation. I don't think any of them expected this! I laughed and made a joke about my nature to be well-prepared and overly-organized, and then went right into my presentation.
I set the stage by sharing my background as an equestrian, a biologist, and a West Virginia native. I briefly shared the type of riding I do and noted my years of experience working at other barns and my copious visits and observations of other barns local and abroad. From there, I noted that my ideas of a good horse farm revolved around not only providing safe fencing, adequate food, water, shelter, and care for the horses, but to do this in a manner that conserved the resource (land), was aesthetically pleasing, and mindful of the viewshed.
To support these claims, I then proceeded through slides that:
provided a first-draft of ideas for fencing and barn placement/design and noted that any barn design would, of course, be subject to review by the architectural committee
shared that fencing options would be visually appealing and that the barn would be situated on the landscape in such a way that other residents wouldn't see it unless they were on the edge of our property
shared my plans for pasture rotation and a dry lot in order to preserve and promote healthy pastures
noted that I would have a manure management plan and would position the composting bins in such a way that prevailing winds would push any smell away from the other homes
A rough sketch of my current plan. I drew the barn per measurements in Google Earth and it looks mighty small if that's supposed to be accurate! In reality, the roof will probably be similar in dimensions to the garage (left of the house).
included a simple viewshed analysis with photos of my hopeful property from various vantage points to prove my claim that the change wouldn't have a large visual impact to the HOA
included a short list of benefits that would result from my proposal, keyly keeping spaces open so houses wouldn't be on top of one another and lessening the burden on our spring-fed water system by preventing future home development (oh, and horses use infinitely less water than a human would - especially with my plans to have a rain-fed trough for the rainy parts of the year)
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly because it was a damn well thought out presentation, the few questions I received were clarifying questions that I more than had the ability to answer. Largely, I received a wealth of compliments - from nearly every single person in the room! - for my well thought out presentation, attention to detail, and conscientious consideration of my plans and land management.
Running through future pasture 1 on Griffin in 2017.
A few other small matters were addressed on the agenda following my presentation before the vote was put forward. While these other items were discussed, a sense of calm settled over me. I'd done all I possibly could. The praise was nice to receive. I was even more cautiously optimistic than I'd been, but my mind still halted any sense of jubilation or excitement. It just seemed crazy to think that this whole thing could actually happen.
Ten to fifteen minutes later, it was time for everyone to vote. I locked eyes with my friend who had helped so much to this point. Ever the master of the pokerface, he cracked the tiniest of smiles at me, a twinkle in his eyes.
The HOA president announced my request to the room for a vote. Every single person raised their hand in the affirmative to accept the exception and allow horses. It was official.
I smiled, shyly, still in disbelief that this thing was going to really happen. My friend caught my eyes again, grinning in earnest now. I returned the smile and then glanced back down at my notes simply shocked at the reality of everything.
The meeting adjourned shortly after the vote. I thanked my friend copiously, answered a few general horse questions for others, and told the lady who currently owns the lots I would be purchasing that I would reach out after the HOA paperwork for the exception was finalized.
Once in my car and back in range of cell service, I stopped and sent out a couple texts to those closest to me, whom I knew were waiting to hear how it went. "UNANIMOUS YES!" I declared. Victorious excitement filled me after that. I turned up the music in my car and grinned all the way home.
So far, so good in this new year. In fact, everything is pretty par for the course for January. Well, minus the whole shutdown debacle. I am fortunately one of the lucky exempt employees who is still working and bringing home a paycheck. Working without colleagues and without a lot of resources I need to do my job severely limits my abilities. I very much miss my coworkers, and I know they miss their jobs. It's interesting to say the least, but it is giving me time to catch up on things I never seem to have time to do in the usual hustle and bustle. Hopefully things will be resolved soon, though I'm not holding my breath.
Reasons I don't take many photos - they'd all look horribly like this because it's dark! However, I took this photo on this night because it followed an amazing ride on this little mare that I wanted to remember.
On a lighter note, the horses are doing well and winter is here in full force! I know many hate winter, but I'm not one of those people. Snow makes me happy. Skiing makes me happy. And what makes me happier yet is when the mud is frozen and the ground is blanketed in pretty white. I hate mud and mud season with every fiber of my being.
I thought I was retired. What is this riding nonsense you're suggesting? - Stan, probably
I've been keeping a decent schedule for riding so far in January. I've logged over 8 hours in the saddle and have ridden at least 3x per week. All three horses have been out multiple times. I'm focusing on Griffin and Q, with whom I have competition hopes for this year, but I am making a concerted effort to try to ride Stan at least once a week to keep him moving. And to enjoy grinning like a fiend because he is such a pleasure to ride.
Snowing sideways in 21°F weather. Lovely!
I've been working on very similar things with Grif and Q: legging them back up, redeveloping their toplines, and focusing on the pieces of homework LC gave me back in December. And I'm seeing marked success in each of these categories! Both horses look better week to week. I squeal almost daily over small successes each one is making. They seem relatively happy in the work, too, both meeting me in the field almost daily, which is wonderful.
I'll admit, my toes were cold. And my riding skirt blew up around my waist twice from the gusts.
Success in itself is exciting. But more than that, I'm truly enjoying each step of the process. Maybe it's all the talk of process goals in bloglandia of late. Regardless, it's been awhile since I've found so much enjoyment from every piece of the journey. I find myself humming, singing, talking to the horses, laughing at the horses, and smiling constantly on every ride.
On the rail trail.
Almost every ride so far has involved a lot of hill work at a marching walk. I march each horse up the big hill in riding field a minimum of 3x per ride, if not more. This week I have marched Griffin and Q up it 18x each, ponying one while riding another. I'm beginning to throw in a random trot or canter climb into the mix, but by and large I've been focusing on and honing each horse's marching walk.
All of the hill work is doing wonders for their fitness in a way that prevents them from becoming too sweaty in the cold weather - perfect for my typical evening rides post-work. I love it. Even more, I love seeing the change in their appearance and abilities with each passing day. Both are really getting the hang of the faster marching walk and pushing through their hind end with a lot more power. The change is especially evident in Griffin whose fitness had been at an all-time low for the first time in years these past few months.
He's a happy little chunk. Lauren rode him beautifully on this day!
Last weekend, we were able to get out on a 12-mile conditioning ride on the rail trail. Lauren rode Grif, I rode Q, and Chelsey joined us on JL. The pace was a very moderate 5 mph average, but it was still a good ride. Q even led for the first half and was really wonderful, choosing a forward 7-8mph trot! I was going to continue letting Q lead for the return, but after a half-dozen "spooks" within the first mile of the return I resolved the situation and had Lauren put Griffin in front.
I just missed capturing us all cantering in a single file line. Too slow getting the phone out with my gloved hands.
I know my horses (and most horses) will strike out for home with more gusto than they traveled away from home. And Q definitely powered in the homeward direction with a lot more power than she did for the first half of the ride. But the problem arose when I began to rein her trot back to the more reasonable pace we'd kept for the first half instead of the 10-12mph trot she was offering.
Two-by with the mare behind.
See, when Q has a difference of opinion from me about work - especially if my request makes the work "harder" - her MO is to first, rush and bull her way forward, and if she is unsuccessful with this she will then "spook". I've countered this behavior by simply slowing her down and/or ignoring her "spook" and continuing whatever we were doing as if it never happened.
WHOA, Q. CALM DOWN.
Fortunately, her spooks are infinitely easier to ride than they once were because she's making some effort to pick me up and take me with her when she does it. Unfortunately, on the day of our conditioning ride she wound herself so tight in the process of spooking and evading the work that I knew I needed to change the situation before things became worse.
Good drinking horses following our 12 mile ride. PC: Chelsey
It was nice to have other people/horses along so I could simply give Q a break from leading to resolve the situation. But I definitely recognize that the problem isn't "fixed" by doing this. I will absolutely be heading back out solo with Q in the future to work through the issue slowly and systematically. Well, as systematic as one can be with a horses/an opinionated mare. It will inevitably involve a lot of walking every time she becomes rushy and rewarding her when she's relaxed and forward.
Ponying Q from Grif two nights ago.
Now that her confidence is up, it's a lot easier to work through these types of issues. I have a much better read on her and can tell when she's being contrary because she wants to be lazy and when she's genuinely scared. And, I can confidently say she's being contrary 95% of the time! Mares...
Happy relaxed expression!
All in all, I'm super pleased with how things are progressing for January. I've got another lesson scheduled for next week, and am excited to have new homework to fuel me forward for another 6ish weeks. This will get me through the brunt of the winter weather and firmly into longer daylight hours!
This year looks to be a continuation of the past year, more or less. Overall, I'd like to see myself and all of the animals continue to be happy and healthy. Beyond that, I've detailed some very attainable goals below for each of us as well as a few (+) stretch goals.
One big difference between past years and this year is that I've largely removed competition goals from my plate. Don't get me wrong, I'd really love to make it out to multiple competitions on both Q and Griffin, but I'm not naive about the financial push that I'm going to have this year to fulfill my dream of bringing the horses home. As a result, I do not want to commit to any kind of competition goals. The only one I'm really going to hunker down and focus hard on will be to get Q to a minimum of one AERC-sanctioned competition. I really miss endurance. I miss the eventing environment that I finally began to dabble in with gusto in 2017, but I recognize that a lot of my training goals with that can be achieved at home for now with the hope of returning to competitions with more gusto in 2020.
In many ways, this year looks to be a transition year for me with the horses. I'm completely okay with this because it means fulfilling my biggest life dream of bringing them home for good.
My first "hey I can see my house from here" winter 2018-19 photo.
Griffin- Hone dressage and school training and first level movements - Take consistent lessons with LC - Establish a very solid "forward" button so I don't have to nag - Cement "long and low" stretching - School over novice height jumps, both stadium and XC (probably at home) + Make it to a schooling show of some kind + Cutting
Throwing it back to summertime when the mud was easier to brush off and wash out! He's just as disgusting now, but with a full winter coat.
Without a great place to school Griffin toward the end of last year, I let a lot of his dressage training wander to the wayside. In other words: we lollygagged hither and yon and didn't do anything with consistency. He's lost a lot of the strength he had and now I've got to put that back. It won't take anything miraculous, just consistency. Which, admittedly, is difficult currently with winter, the commute, and my two jobs.
After a chaotic last quarter of 2018 that left me little time for pleasure reading, I've been gobbling up all of the Practical Horseman issues I lapsed on reading. It's giving me so much motivation for things to work on with Griffin going forward. I have countless notes and exercises jotted down to work on through the winter that pair well with my homework from LC. In no time at all, I hope to have Grif's strength up. Once I get his strength back up, I'm looking forward to making progress and having check-ins during lessons with LC.
Wish he was so easily clean... I'm not sure the mud staining will ever disappear after this winter!
A lot of my goals for Griffin can be achieved without going to competitions. Schooling dressage movements, riding tests under watchful, knowledgeable eyes, schooling jumps and honing agility and fitness for various types of jumps can all be achieved at home. Even more so now that I've got LC nearby! Between her and two of my neighbors who are very into dressage, I'm hoping I can setup a couple "judged" tests where they all watch me ride some of the USDF tests and give me "scores". It's seems like a good way to get feedback and improve without breaking what little bank I'll have while I pursue bringing the horses home.
Q- Continue to build confidence - Hone dressage and school training and first level movements - Take consistent lessons with LC - Complete at least one endurance competition + Ride 400 non-competition miles this year
Goals? What goals?
After a year + of building this little mare's confidence and arriving at a much better place with our relationship as a result, I am SO excited to start laying on the conditioning miles this year with purpose. I know how to get this mare fit for endurance, we've done it with lots of success in the past. But now I'd like to do it even better and with plenty of dressage thrown in. With help from LC, I know this will be achievable.
Look at that floppy lower lip!
My current aim is to compete at No Frills at the end of April. Ride camp is a short drive from where I live and I find the trails to be pretty friendly overall. If I have my druthers, I'd really like to also fit in our new WV ride in August and possibly Fort Valley in October. Whether we make multiple competitions or not, I will be fitting in lots of conditioning miles through the year. I'm excited to pursue training miles now that I have a much more confident partner.
Stan- Rack up some trail miles and have a ton of fun - Don't become a total asshole once moved home + Ride 150 miles this year
A year of ease? Okay!
No major goals for the big guy for now until forever beyond just getting out there and enjoying time on trail together. Whether I ride him or he treats my friends or husband to the joys of life on horseback, it doesn't matter. I'd just like to keep him moving and keep him fit.
It makes me giggle a little bit, but I'm also completely serious about him not becoming an asshole when I move him home. He's got a track record for being a dick about regimented feeding times. His habits reared their ugly head some this past summer and we had a lot of conversations about it. He gets tunnel vision where food is involved in a multiple-horse-regimented-feeding schedule. He'll go after other horses with gnashing teeth and flying hooves and will sometimes offer these behaviors to his human caretakers, as well. I've got a lot of ideas and plans for how to prevent him from being a complete asshole once home, but the proof is in the pudding! Time will tell.
Kenai- Train to the invisible fence - Maintain mobility through lots of steady exercise
Heading into 2019 like...
Kenai is doing so very well lately. Hopefully he will maintain and make some small improvements this year! He may not go on every adventure Taiga goes on in order to preserve those gnarly stifles for years to come, but I still hope to get him out on many hikes and some smaller bike rides.
The biggest change in his life will be that I'm going to commit to training his sassy ass to the invisible fence. I got it for Taiga and intended to train him "later". It's now a year "later". The time is nigh. A young, fit husky ignoring me is one thing. An older husky who is quickly earning the title of Curmudgeon with a capital "C" is not as enjoyable. Time to initiate my plan and confine him to an acre of space only.
Taiga- Get out in crowded places more often to minimize her over-stimulation in these environments + Take local course to fulfill therapy training
#sorrynotsorry for using this photo in two consecutive posts. It's my new favorite.
This little girl is so fun and easy to be around. As with Kenai, I don't have anything huge slated for her this year beyond making more of an effort to get her out and about. That in and of itself will help fulfill a lot of the things she needs to know in order to pass the test to be a therapy dog. Hopefully time will allow for me to take her to a few classes preceding the test late next year.
Myself- Bring the horses home - Maintain fitness level - Be financially cognizant throughout the year - Purge, purge, purge - Continue my yoga practice - Complete GRUSK 53-mile bike race - Climb more - Bike often - Maintain and build my photography side hustle
New year, new headshot
My biggest goals for myself this year is to bring the horses home, watch my finances, and keep up with my fitness. The other goals listed here will help me achieve these things.
Bringing the horses home is the biggest goal I have this year. I'll be sharing more details in coming weeks!
With the above in mind, I know my finances are going to be tight this year. Thus, it is my intention to make the best of what I already have and purge everything I don't really use/need to make space and recoup a bit of extra money. Between that and my photography side hustle, things should work out!
I had a great year for fitness in 2018. Giving myself a solid goal to meet - GRUSK - really jump started my motivation to a much better place. I hope to maintain that this year and add climbing back into the mix, too. The financial stress of bringing the horses home won't enable me to take too many crazy climbing trips, but fortunately I live in an area with a wealth of local options. The trick will just be to get out more often.
Griffin✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound ✔ Build strength, power, and finesse within dressage and jumping ✔ Take > 3 dressage lessons (and become more confirmed/comfortable with shoulder-in and lateral movements) ✘ Take > 1 jumping lesson ✘ Feel confirmed at beginner novice ✘ + Compete in the novice division at one HT ✘ + Compete in either a dressage or jumping show ✔ + Put Grif on cattle to see if he works them as he does the dogs around the barn
Far from clean with the amount of mud and highly organic soil we encountered on the way up, but a favorite photo nonetheless because it was a very successful ride following quite an acrobatic outburst from Grif when he refused to go over an 11" wide, 4" deep ditch. He hadn't given me so much push back on something in ages and to work through it successfully was the biggest reward for our relationship.
It wasn't the year I'd hoped for competitively with eventing, but it wasn't a bad year by any stretch!
3 of 5 goals accomplished and 1 of 3 stretch goals met.
Between Kenai's vet bills (more on this below) and my truck mysteriously leaking oil and needing loads of diagnostics and labor hours to resolve (2-3 days labor to find a significant crack in the oil pan - oof), money that was intended for competitions was spent elsewhere. C'est la vie!
This doesn't mean we sat completely idle though! The biggest win of the year - beyond health and soundness! - was finally taking lessons. I haven't had steady riding lessons since I was a child. By and large, those lessons were more "time and miles" than any remarkable education about riding. Seriously, the vast majority of what I learned in those lessons can be summarized in 6 words, "eyes up, heels down, toes in". Not winning any prizes with that!
A shot from our second lesson in May
In my two lessons with centered riding instructor C in May, Griffin and I built upon our understanding of proper bend, cut our teeth on some introductory lateral work, and began piecing together the stepping stones for flying lead changes. It was my intention to make it back for another lesson or two that summer, but the truck issues heated up and money got tight.
Fortunately though, I was able to just barely meet my goal of a minimum of 3 lessons this calendar year by taking a third on December 5 when the Federal government had a surprise holiday to mourn GHW Bush. After months of conditioning rides with new local trainer LC, I was finally able to setup a lesson with her. Never mind the winter weather advisory in full effect during my lesson!
Griffin's "Woman, are you kidding me?!" face re: our snowy lesson day.
Snow, schmow, it was a great first lesson focused on some of the most basics of basics to retrain my body and mind around riding. Admittedly, the way she taught me to think about my body and aids was a bit of a blow to my ego because I felt like those were things I actually understood but, uh, didn't. I rebounded very quickly from this and had a really great lesson on Griffin focused on very basic building blocks that are critical for us to develop to move forward. Following the lesson, I put all of my new understanding and drills to use with Q and had one of the best rides of that kind on her ever. I'm really psyched to have homework to motivate me through the winter months and plan to have a lesson with LC every 4-6 weeks going forward. She's a really awesome fit for me as a trainer and I'm so very excited to finally have some quality training on a regular basis for the first time in my adult life.
Late April jump school at home.
Jumping and becoming confirmed at BN this year obviously didn't happen. Though just because I didn't compete doesn't mean we didn't jump. We actually schooled jumps at home quite a bit this summer (though I didn't document a single time). Griffin is so very solid compared to where we once were. The main thing I incorporated into our jump schooling this summer that I hadn't done previously was to school several jumps on a slight downhill. Of all the XC jumps Grif and I tackled at our Loch Moy outings, the ones on a slight downhill were the toughest for me. I'd never jumped something on a downhill slope before! Easily remedied with practice though, and now I feel a lot more comfortable about it. Crazy what practice does.
Impressively I got to fulfill the one stretch goal I thought would be the hardest to do this year - put Grif on some cows! Now, admittedly I didn't fulfill this goal in the format I anticipated. But it was so much better. It was real life application with purpose, not some staged setup in a controlled environment. I still hope to give things a go in a controlled environment eventually to really see if he'll cut and work the cows the way he does dogs, but getting to experience working cattle in a practical application for the first time was pretty damn sweet.
Q✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound ✔ Build more trust and confidence in our partnership ✘ Take > 1 dressage or centered riding lesson ✔✔ Build better balance and abolish her sidedness, especially with trot diagonals ~ Hone lateral movements under saddle ✔ Complete a conditioning ride >20 miles over mountainous terrain (rail trail does not count) ✘ + Compete in a dressage show ✘ + Return to endurance competition
She was the most confident little mare on this ride and I was SO Freaking Proud.
What a great year for this little mare! We didn't return to competition as I hoped, but I'm confident when we do make a return it will go well. My relationship with her under saddle is better than it's ever been, her body is just as strong and stronger than it was pre-suspensory injury, and she's really given me some great rides lately when I asked her to think more and use her body in novel ways.
Regaining and improving trust and confidence for Q is the biggest win of the year, hands down. I've written ad nauseam about this though, and won't continue to wax and wane poetically here. It's been really awesome and I'm so excited to see where things go from here now that we have such a solid foundation together.
LC and Q watching deer in the distance
The second biggest win of the year is my success in abolishing Q's sidedness. LC rode Q during a conditioning ride back in November and about a mile into the ride she remarked, "Wow. This is the first horse I've ridden since coming to West Virginia that is even through her body." Cue massive fist pump to the sky on my part. Best. Compliment. Ever. I have worked SO hard over the past year on this with Q. Having someone who is only just meeting me and the horses, and who has such extensive training with high-caliber horses and riders, compliment her in this way meant so much.
Summer Canaan vistas when the shrubby St John's wort was in bloom.
While I didn't get to ride Q for a lesson this year, she's absolutely benefited from what I have learned in my lessons on Griffin. Most recently, I put my new knowledge to the test with her immediately after my lesson with LC; I learned just as much from this ride as I did from my lesson. Having the opportunity to cement my new knowledge and find great success was really great. My goal is to build Q up with my learning through the next couple months and then ride her for my third lesson with LC.
Into 2019 we go!
Finally, while we didn't return to endurance competition, we absolutely put in the miles as if we were. I got oodles of great conditioning miles in on this little mare in 2018. I rode her and numerous friends rode her. She excelled throughout every ride and was a star for our longest one of nearly 30 miles. I have no doubt of her ability to find success on the endurance trail next year.
Stan✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound ✔ Keep up conditioning levels to a degree where striking out on a 20+ mile conditioning ride over mountainous terrain is a walk-in-the-park ✘ + Compete in a 50-mile ride
Pretty boy - wish he'd been standing on 100% level ground for this!
Stan had a pretty good year. Nothing crazy, but still lots of miles tackled. I imagine this is going to be pretty par for the course for him going forward. He's 17 and I don't have huge goals to fulfill with him through the last half of his life. He's done so much for me and is such a steady eddy no matter how much time he has off. He has become the horse I hop on to just meander around without a care in the world and the horse I can trust with any rider.
I decided this year that competing him in a 50 mile competition is not something I care to pursue. He's got nothing to prove to me and I've got nothing to prove to myself. I wasn't super sold on the goal when I wrote it down at the beginning of the year, but I figured I'd jot it down just in case we managed to absolutely slay some conditioning miles this year. Which we did. Just not anything crazy. And that is completely fine and awesome. All I want for Stan is good health and lots of fun, carefree miles in the saddle to keep him limber and relatively fit.
Probably the best photo ever of his cheek freckle.
He is the best horse. I always know that, but it really strikes home when I ride him. He just feels like home. I am looking forward to many more years in the saddle just enjoying the world with him.
Kenai✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound ✔ Get some answers to his hair loss ✔ Maintain a healthy weight and diet with whatever supplements keep him moving well
Ferns make my heart go pitter patter - and so does this dog.
Finally, a solid 100% completion! Haha. My goals are never set thinking I will complete them all, but rather to keep me on track as I travel through the calendar year because I've got squirrel-brain a lot. It's good to keep things reined in to those I'd most like to achieve instead of picking up new hobbies and goals left and right. Having said that, it still feels good to have 100% success in one realm!
He tackled her right after this.
Kenai is at an ideal weight, down 5 pounds from where he was at the beginning of the year. He's moving better than he has in ages and seems to only improve as time goes on. He's on a routine injection schedule to help his arthritis which has made such a huge difference! It's been awesome to watch him feel better and better the past 6 months. Taiga appreciates it, too, because she's got a much more playful friend to roughhouse with.
Surprisingly, - or maybe not surprisingly because why the fuck not we've already had such bad luck after all - Kenai had ANOTHER knee surgery this year. For those keeping count of the times his stifles have been cut open, the count is now at one time for the left stifle (2013) and 5 times for the right stifle (2013, the 2015 saga, and now 2018.)
Fortunately for everyone involved, this 2018 surgery was the quickest, easiest, and shortest rehab yet! His body rejected part of the hardware installed in the third surgery of 2015. We tried to correct this with antibiotics for a time but to no avail. And so now he's an ounce or two lighter in that stifle and much happier overall.
And while I worried we wouldn't find an answer earlier this year, we have actually resolved much of Kenai's hair loss over the past 4 months, too! So much so that my vet is absolutely flabbergasted in the change.
Early August when he was looking pretty damn haggard - his coat was in absolute shambles.
Labor Day weekend showed some improvements from the fungal meds already. The inflammation of his skin had disappeared and new hair was sprouting everywhere (though the tips were black so you can't tell what's hair and bald for sure in these photos.)
Sunset on Christmas Day - lighting isn't the same as the prior photos, but you can see how much of his coat has returned and I think should be able to see how the quality is much improved.
Excusing the sunset lighting again in comparison to the other photos, you can also see how the darker guard hairs haven't come back with as much gusto. We'll see what one more month on the anti-fungal drug does, but regardless, he's a much happier guy with a MUCH healthier coat!
And rightly so! What a change! It was hard won, too, trying basically every avenue possible before arriving at an answer. After consulting multiple vets, running multiple blood panels (which were always normal), bathing with three different medicated shampoos 2x a week for literal months, doing a 6 week treatment with a medication for a systemic bacterial infection, adding vitamin E and omega 3 supplements to his diet, and switching to a homemade diet for 5ish months, I finally demanded of my regular vet to try a systemic fungal treatment. And lo and behold! Immediate cessation of the lesions and hotspots coupled with amazing hair regrowth!
Oh, and we can't forget this get up. I tried this, too, to help his skin issues.
In fact, Kenai has a healthier coat than he has in literal YEARS. It's amazing. He's still absent of hair in some places (notably the sides of his neck, his caudal thighs, and pathetic tail), but there has been so much regrowth and change. His coat is no longer brittle and crisp, but healthy, rich, and soft.
Relaxing in the wilds of West Virginia
We're trying one more month of the fungal medication to see if we can get any more regrowth and will then see where we're at before doing anything else. Honestly, I'm not sure there is much more to do at this point. The change is so freaking huge. I'm happy to accept that he may just have some alopecia. My husband does, why not have a dog with the same affliction? Haha.
Taiga✔ Stay happy, healthy, sound ✔ Hone recall and obedience training ~ + Begin pursuing training necessary to become a therapy dog
Definitely one of my all-time favorite photos of her at sunset one evening.
This little dog had a pretty great first year with us. She's such an attention-seeking, people-pleasing little thing. Throughout the days I've slowly drafted this post, she sits by whatever chair I'm in as close as she can be. The only time she doesn't feel the need to be near me is at night when she chooses to remain downstairs on her dog bed.
But also a favorite sunset photo from Christmas Day...
She's got a fraction of the prey drive Kenai has and has been infinitely easier to train for recall in that regard. It doesn't mean she won't chase something, it just means that she is easily called off of that something or if she does "catch" it she wants to play with it as a friend not a foe/meal. This contrasts Kenai who is very motivated to maim and kill. The only thing Taiga is kind of "vicious" about killing are fish that are handed to her after we catch them. She swiftly dispatches them and consumes them head to tail!
She has yet to "run away" during any of our outings. Kenai had run off at least 3 times in my first 18 months with him! If Taiga doesn't come when I call on a hike, it isn't because she is trying to misbehave, she's just lost track of where exactly I am on the landscape because she's distracted chasing butterflies or leaves. Seriously. It's both adorable and incredibly frustrating.
On November 13, mugwump posted about learned helplessness. I read it and it really blew my mind. I suddenly viewed so many horses and so many of my horse (and general animal) experiences through a lens I'd never known. Two weeks later, T also shared the article in her post of November Resources. I read it again. The second time I read it, now from a place that I could think more critically about it all, I really started to piece my thoughts together. Now, I want to put digital pen to paper about it all.
Griffin and Stan have never experienced learned helplessness. Stan was brought along slowly after he entered his former owners' lives as a 4 year old. I was the one who rode him the most; we figured the world out together. It was easy and full of options to make mistakes and learn from them. Additionally, Griffin has most certainly never experienced learned helplessness. He had a rough start after weaning, but was within care of those who knew how to properly care for him in a short couple of months. He entered my life in January 2012 as a long-yearling. From there he and I learned the ins and outs of groundwork and finding a common ground for communication based on body language and, later, vocal cues. He had, and continues to have, every opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.
I always forget she used to have this horrible habit of spinning and screaming when tied until I look back and find this photo.
Q though? Q has absolutely experienced learned helplessness. The cowboy who "trained" her was the kind that pushed a horse to exhaustion. Pushed them to a point where they gave up. As an Arabian x Morgan, Q had more "fight" to her than the usual quarter horses he was accustomed to, so I anticipate he really ramped up his typical round penning, flag waving, and exhaustive tying techniques (head tied so she couldn't move about and a hind leg trussed up so she had to stand for long periods on three legs). He forced her to comply with his wishes and, largely, she did.
He told me during our clinic that she would be really good. She was. She didn't put a single hoof out of line. When it came time to do some backing exercises, he told me she'd be one of the best there. She was. He told me she didn't come to him that way. He told me she hated backing up and used to fight him over it. You'd have never guessed. She lowered her head and backed up as fast as a reining horse in competition. And when we enjoyed trail time the next day? She didn't spook a single time. She did everything asked of her on cue. She was a dream!
Totally chill and completely relaxed with the task of "learning to jump" a week or two after coming home with me.
The only thing that cowboy did right by her was not stalling her (or any of his horses). She at least had some time to interact with others in a healthy way, which I imagine saved her from the worst of things. However, what this turnout situation did do for her was ingrain herd boundness - and for some very justified reasons! Overall, it wasn't a great situation.
In hindsight, she was rather listless about the world during that clinic. In hindsight, she was, as mugs put it in her post, shut down. She had learned helplessness. It wasn't until I brought her home, into a situation where she had choices and could make mistakes without a huge drag-out, beat-down fight that she slowly "woke up" out of it.
Ugh, I remember having THE WORST TIME with her leading up to this day. On this day, she was AMAZING.
It totally makes sense now why I struggled for so very long to get a good "feel" for her temperament and personality. She had shut herself off to people. It also explains why I began to struggle with her when I did. I complained that she hadn't "been this way" when I brought her home. And she wasn't. She was waking up out of the dark place she had been. But I didn't know that then. All I knew was that I was increasingly encountering a completely different horse than I'd had and it confused me to no end.
Unfortunately for us both, I didn't know about learned helplessness at the time nor did I have the tools in my toolkit at that point to help her through that transition period in a graceful, kind way. We fought a lot. Especially after I ruled out medical reasons for her behavior time and time again. I'm not proud of how I handled things, but I am grateful that I continued to explore many options for working through our issues instead of becoming stagnated in a bad place.
One of many failed (rightly fucking so!) attempts to resolve her issues? Add a kimberwicke and martingale. My crash vest also speaks volumes as to the magnitude of our problems and my distrust in her. Sigh.
Regardless, it's reassuring to me now to know that the start of those behaviors probably wasn't my fault; however, they absolutely escalated due to how I handled them! But I honestly can't [continue to] beat myself up over that any more. At that time, it seemed to me that I had one horse one year and a completely different one by the next. The horse who hardly spooked or noticed things on trail had suddenly escalated to reactions for every tiny little thing, and oftentimes over nothing at all. It turns out, to an extent, that's just her true temperament and she was finally "waking up" into it for the first time since I brought her home.
Slowing down and starting again. The western saddle gave me the security I needed in those beginning days.
When Q sustained her suspensory injury in late-August 2016, all work halted for nearly a year. We were forced to slow the fuck down, and it was the best thing that ever happened to our relationship. Bringing her back slowly following that injury has allowed us both to meet in the middle and come to a better understanding. Slowing down helped me to better understand the horse she was, for better or worse, and find a common understanding within that knowledge. It allowed her to realize that the monkey on her back could really be trusted and allowed her to build confidence.
Slowing down and starting again helped me to finally learn what kind of temperament and personality Q had. She's a sensitive, smart, quick-thinking horse. She is often suspicious of the world around her and has a hard time focusing on work until she feels secure and safe, some of which is absolutely due to humans but not all of it. She reacts quickly and instinctually when she is afraid. When she wants to get out of work she won't rear or buck (she has never executed either of these behaviors in my 6½ years of owning her), but she will initiate her horizontal teleport maneuver to express her opinion. Additionally, she loves her herd mates very much.
Q and I led the first half of the ride this day without a care in the world and no spook at all!
Understanding all of this has helped me build trust with her that I didn't have before. Now we don't fight, we banter. And 95% of the time it's absolutely comical. On the ground, when she's a shit, she knows it and she knows I know it. So when I shout at her and wave a finger or knock her on her shoulder and tell her to cut it out, she doesn't freak out and take offense. She stands there, as only a mare can, and grumps at me with her body language. And I laugh. Under saddle, I'm more forgiving of her "spooking" and use that behavior to recognize when she's struggling with an exercise. I can then break the exercise down more for her to digest or, if I know damn well it's something she knows damn well, I can continue to push her forward and ask again.
Beating Grif and Stan to the gate to greet me. And this was after a gnarly 30-mile ride the day before!
Her herd boundness is a tougher nut to crack, especially under saddle, but I'm seeing some progress. The more I work with her and provide positive experiences and fair leadership, the more interested she is in the work. Toward the end of her time in Canaan this summer, she was often the first horse to approach and greet me - even before Griffin who has made it his trademark to be the first to say "hi". It's a small step, but for her it's a big one. Working her in areas adjacent to the herd at home is still a feat, but maybe it won't be forever.
Beyond the increased quiet moments of understanding we have though, the biggest evidence of the increased trust we've built in one another shows up in those times when her instincts override her mind/body and she reacts with a startle/spook. Now, instead of running from the perceived danger and ditching me to do so, she does so in a way that is infinitely easier to ride - she essentially picks me up and takes me with her. Instead of reacting in a, "YIKES! Fuck this and you, I'm gone!" she reacts in more of a, "NOPE! Let's get out of here! Come ON!"
Another of many rides Q led this past summer. And one of my favorite photos of the place I get to call home.
Q has been the biggest struggle for me these past few years. Even though we have made so much progress this summer, there was something niggling the back of my mind asking questions and wondering why the train went off the tracks to begin with. The realization that she experienced learned helplessness feels like the final puzzle piece to understanding her; everything fits so neatly into place in my mind now.
I hate that Q had to be pushed to a point of learned helplessness before she entered my life. I am sad that I didn't handle things better with her as she "woke up" from it. But I am so very grateful that I now understand more and that we have had success moving past it. While I have every intention of bringing all of my future horses along in the way I did with Griffin, being aware of learned helplessness will help me in my journey with horses into the future whether the horses are mine or not.
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I'm curious - have any of you had experiences with learned helplessness in your horses or horses you've worked closely with?
A few weekends ago, I made my biannual pilgrimage to DC to visit Austen, the floofs, and the horses. It was well-timed, too, because while sun was prescribed for my home forecast, warm temperatures certainly were not! I was eager to trade in my Canaan-Valley-cold-weather card for a weekend in DC's forecast that was a good 20-30°F higher! While we didn't get the sun we thought we'd get, it was infinitely better than windy and 30°F that home had.
In past trips, I have felt ill-prepared for the weekend's adventures. Many folks think I cram a lot into a day/weekend/week so far as activities go, but my abilities pale compared to Austen. Good gracious can she jam-pack a day! My dogs and I always come home tired (and sometimes cursing under our breath.)
Fortunately, this go-around, I asked Austen what she foresaw for the weekend. The answer? Copious horse time with a healthy side of PHOTOS. In fact, she informed me she had a brand new 64GB memory card ready and was clearing off a second as we spoke.
Aside from taking copious photos, the plan was for me to ride not only Pig, whom I've ridden a time or two before, but also Bast!
October 2017, a lesson on Pig I never wrote about or shared. Thanks to some observations Austen shared with me after this ride, I began really focusing on more yoga in my life. What a difference it has made!
I'm an adept rider. I've got pretty fair balance and proper mechanics. I'm still learning, as we all are, but something about riding someone else's horse these days isn't as easy as it once was! I imagine that's just life when you have your own horses. I catch rode exclusively for the first two decades of my life. But that isn't something I do much any more! In fact, after hitting the dirt hard about 4 years ago, I swore off riding other people's horses unless they were ones I knew well or were horses I could learn something from. Read: their training supersedes my own.
Pig's training far supersede's my own and Bast is trending that direction quickly under Austen's expert guidance. And hot damn are they both SO FUN to ride. I dream of the day I am able to have my horses so tuned into riding off my seat alone. Sadly, my resources and education for learning and training that is in its early stages still. But that's why opportunities like those Austen offers me (full of fun and free of charge), are so very valuable.
Firstly, she worked Bast.
He's come so damn far from the last time I saw them ride earlier this year. Such a little adult!
As such, when the moment came and Austen, grinning, told me, "Get your helmet!" I didn't feel any apprehension. And from the moment I climbed aboard, Bast was a complete gentleman.
He's just the cutest
It was so very cool to ride Bast and compare him to past experiences on Pig. My education within dressage has grown leaps and bounds since my last ride on Pig in October 2017. Comparing and contrasting the stage of Bast's training to Pig's 4th level abilities was really cool. I understood the building blocks that made up Bast's foundation and could see how the rest of the training would build neatly upon it.
What a good boy!
Overall, riding Bast was as similar as it gets to riding Grif. They're at a similar-ish place training-wise which lent me a lot of comfort as I rode him around. There weren't a million different buttons or heightened sensitivity to my micro movements in the saddle to worry about at all. Communication was much clearer, which is always a plus! He's just such a cool freaking horse and such a good boy.
After short time, I turned the reins back over to Austen to nab some more fun photos of her and Bast galloping. This one is my favorite.
The epitome of an autumn color palette!
With Bast thoroughly exercised for the day, it was Pig's turn!
Austen gave me an inquiring look that asked if I wanted to just go ahead and jump on to which I rapidly shook my head, "Nope! You!" She laughed and climbed aboard.
Austen knows I know what Pig's shenanigans look like and knows they intimidate me. See, not unreasonably, Pig isn't fond of a handsy rider. And when he throws his little fits, I get handsy in my attempt to simultaneously pull the horse up and curl into the fetal position. Which, of course, causes him to escalate his opinion. And I'll give him that. Totally fair.
No hands necessary!
But my baggage isn't unfounded. I grew up riding a LOT of horses with a bucking problem. The first horse who really bucked - and I mean really bucked to the point where the whole audience of judges, instructors, parents, and riders at our 4-H shows would gasp and gape (ironically, this horse's registered name was Buck Destiny) - could easily be brought out of it if I pulled his head up. Thus, from a young age I've learned to pull heads up as opposed to giving more leg when a horse bucks. But I'm still learning, I'm improving, and I'm moving forward, but shit ain't quick or easy.
So, when it came time for me to ride Pig my mind and body hit a bit of a "block". I know I can ride a horse pretty well, but this horse is just so sensitive and well-trained that I worried I'd screw it all up and hit the dirt. Rational brain decided to take a vacation for a few minutes, what can I say?
Austen is so helpful though. She knows me and the horse so well and put us through our paces appropriately to warm us both up.
Slowly my rational brain returned from it's momentary vacation and my body realized that, oh hey, I do know how to do this horse riding thing. And, in fact, the horse riding thing on this horse wasn't so hard after all. A year's worth of yoga with an emphasis on my hips has done wonders. Sitting with a more open hip angle and making micro-adjustments with my pelvis to cue and communicate with Pig was infinitely easier than it had been the year before. Crazy, I know.
Take this human off of me immediately. - Pig, probably
Regardless, when it came time to canter the red fire engine, my rational brain went on strike again for a few moments. See, my stirrups were quite long and the sensation of having to constantly reach for them at the canter was quite unnerving!
My white knuckled grip is my favorite and tells the story of my insecurity at this moment lol
Austen knew just how to get me to loosen up about it though, joking with me in a way that got me to goof off for the camera before I stopped to adjust them. Once they were adjusted to lend me a much more secure feeling, off we went again to give it a whirl. And I even started to relax a bit!
Except, then Pig decided the day was lost if he didn't express at least one opinion:
I'm all smiles, starting to relax. Pig is about to express himself... And no, I tried to not touch that curb rein at all. Also, my finger to brain connection about having two sets of reins was something along the lines of, "?!!!??!"
The appearance of my double-chin demonstrates my realization of how crap is about to go down.
And now we've entered triple-chin territory where I believe death is imminent. Meanwhile, Pig is like the girls in that Dane Cook skit about dancing, "I JUST WANNA DANCE!"
"Throw my shoes on the floor, stand in a circle and just DANCE!"
And I mean, honestly, it wasn't so bad in hindsight. But it did intimidate me in the moment. But not so much that I couldn't immediately laugh about it. He's a good boy. Absurd, but good.
Much more focused and relaxed.
From this moment, Austen started niggling me more about really galloping the little fire engine. I was still hesitant though. What exactly I was afraid of at this point, I don't know. It wasn't logical, that's for certain! Just one of those times a part of the brain overrides the logical part and says, "No," while the rational side tries to ask, "But why?" and is ignored.
Fortunately for my rational brain, Austen chose this moment to note, "Remember, my biggest fear with a horse is getting run away with. Pig is not going to run away with you. Sit up and he'll stop."
Cue singing unicorns and sparkling rainbows. My mind immediately clicked back into place in this moment and went, "YEAH! Okay. Let's DO THIS."
And so I did. And I think the photos tell the story from here...
My face. I die. But seriously, this is the same look all of us wear when we do something that simultaneously terrifies us and thrills us.
And this is the exact moment joy broke through the fear and decided to rule the day.
Pure, unadulterated joy
It was easy after that.
And it's funny how relaxation creates better riding. I mean, look! I can even manage to hold both sets of reins like something resembling an adult and not an inept child.
I'm a step above stalker, I AM Austen. I've got the dog. The horse. The tack (the double!). A vest. In Maryland. At her barn. Austen 2.0. ENGAGE.
Pig clearly loves this job so, so very much. His ears are simply the happiest in every. single. photo.
We conquer! And I didn't even grab mane with at least one hand...
GO, PIGGY, GO!
Oh, I'll GO. - Pig, probably
And a true sign of my absolute relaxation at this point? One hand off the reins.
It's an understatement to express how much freaking FUN I had. Damn. What a thrill!
And honestly, it isn't surprising. I used to gallop Stan around full bore all the time as a teen. I used to race my friends in their cars for Pete's sake. (As such, I know that a car speedometer clocked Stan and I rocketing along at 35mph for few hundred yards.) And I didn't wear a helmet then. What should I fear now?
And so, I'm really looking forward to springtime when I head back for another visit. Plans are already in the works for a full bore gallop session on both boys in a magically green landscape. I can't wait!
Thank you, Austen, for letting me experience the thrill and joy of galloping a thoroughbred. What a magical experience!