I've got a lot of Potentially Huge things brewing, so until I get those under wraps to a point where I can write about them, I'm going to [continue to] take advantage of some fun prefab blog content. Thanks, Amanda.
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This post brought to you by several month-old photos of one incredibly muddy Griffin
1. Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling? The last sane sport I did was swimming. I'd still swim if it hadn't completely botched the soft tissue in my ankles. I miss it all the time. Horses, skiing, and swimming were my first loves. Two have carried forward into my adult life and along the way I decided to adopt some other not-sane sports like rock climbing and mountain biking. Nothing sane interests me much! And the lessons I've learned from horses are superior to any I've learned from any other activity in my life. Horses scratch an itch nothing else can quite reach.
2. What was your riding “career” like as a kid? I rode ponies and horses that a few of my parents' friends had for awhile. It was sporadic but quieted some of my persistence about wanting to ride. Eventually I would take once weekly lessons for many years before my friends all got their own horses and I could go ride with them.
Ancient photo of Stan and I at one of the very few horse shows I did as a teen.
3. If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?I have him. Stanley. And I didn't even have to buy him, his old owner gave him to me.
4. What disciplines have you participated in?Barrels, cutting, western pleasure, English pleasure, endurance, eventing, dressage.
5. What disciplines do you want to participate in some day?Polo and vaulting! But from a more realistic standpoint: I'd like to get Griffin on cattle for either cutting or penning and I foresee much more endurance, eventing, and dressage in my future.
6. Have you ever bought a horse at auction or from a rescue?I bought Q the weekend before she was heading to auction, but that's the closest I've come.
Demo! And 4th grade Liz.
7. What was your FIRST favorite horse breed – the one you loved most as a kid?Arabians. Demo was an Arabian cross and I was obsessed with him.
8. If you could live and ride in any country in the world, where would it be?Honestly, I'm pretty damn happy right where I am. But if I were to take a sabbatical somewhere, maybe Chile or New Zealand. I want to see the country from horseback.
9. Do you have any horse-related regrets?I wish I had developed patience and an understanding of how to communicate with horses sooner. I wish I'd had access to dressage-based training sooner, and I also wish I had understood how powerfully my emotions played into my interactions so that I could check them at the door earlier in life.
10. If you could ride with any trainer in the world, ASIDE from your current trainer, who would it be?I'd really love to spend a concentrated amount of time with Mary Wanless and hammer out my rider biomechanics. I find it fascinating. Additionally, a focus on that type of work has really changed my riding the past few years and to be able to be drilled on it by one of the best would help me become the best I could be and enable me to troubleshoot future issues with more ease.
11. What is one item on your horse-related bucket list?Ride at the Biltmore and/or Vermont 100. The Biltmore Estate is GORGEOUS and I'd love to spend hours riding on it, and I absolutely love the northern Appalachian range and would simply enjoy riding in that region.
He thoroughly rolled on both sides...
12. If you were never able to ride again, would you still have horses?If I were in a situation where the horse would have to be boarded, probably not? There are so many other things in my life that I could put the money toward and time that I could spend doing other things. I would still love horses and seek interaction with them, but I think I could achieve that pretty easily without owning my own.
13. What is your “biggest fantasy” riding goal?Riding my horse across the country from coast to coast. Linny Kenney really inspired me years ago when she rode Sojourner across the country. It's pretty crazy and I'll likely never do it, but that's why it's a fantasy.
A not-quite-as-muddy Q, forever the horse who humbles and teaches me...
14. What horse do you feel like has taught you the most?Hands down, Q. She's a challenge for me. A big challenge. But through the challenges she's presented, I've learned more about myself and my actions and reactions than ever before. The lessons I've taken away from my time with her so far have benefited every aspect of my life, especially my interactions with others.
15. If you could change one thing about your current horse/riding situation, what would it be?I really wish more options for local competition venues and trainers existed. It takes me a good bit of foresight and planning to be able to make it to the events I go to currently. I would also love to audit more clinics and volunteer for more shows, but it's hard to do these things when the travel sometimes is more than the time I'd actually spend at the event.
16. If you could compete at any horse show/venue in your home country, where would it be?I'mma stick with endurance on this one because it's more within my realm at the moment. I would really love to ride the Big Horn one day or any of the Pioneer rides.
17. If you could attend any competition in the world as a spectator, what would be your top choice?I'd honestly love to see the Olympics.
18. Have you ever thought about quitting horses?Ugh, several times. But it's usually just in dark times as an exasperated outburst/thought. There's never any real power behind the thought.
19. If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the horse industry, what would it be?I wish horse welfare was more of a priority at high-level events. In both eventing and endurance, there have been a slew of issues in recent years and I really wish the governing body would implement measures to avoid and minimize the likelihood of these things happening again.
"Woman, how dare you ever refer to me as a 'dumb decision'!"
20. What’s the dumbest horse-related thing you’ve done that actually turned out pretty well?Oh, goodness... I guess taking a chance on a VERY UGLY baby Griffin. NO ONE thought he'd amount to much and everyone is astounded at how very nice he's turned out. And, as I told the daughter of one of his soft landings before coming to me, "He didn't get this way overnight and he may not have become this with someone else. I put a ridiculous amount of time into this horse and that alone has resulted in what you see today." 21. As you get older, what are you becoming more and more afraid of?Becoming seriously injured. My sense of mortality grows greater every year.
22. What horse-related book impacted you the most?So many! But I'm going to go with the one that made the biggest difference early on - Monty Roberts' The Man Who Listens to Horses completely boggled my mind and changed the way I viewed and interacted with horses. Thanks to that book, I started to realize that a lot of the training methods I'd witnessed to date were quite abusive and unnecessary. There was a gentler way to do things that worked with the horse's natural instincts instead of forcing them to comply with our every whim and desire and causing them a lot of pain when they didn't. His way of explaining how horses observed and reacted to the most minute body language from a human helped me realize that I could stand to do a lot more listening instead of just expecting a horse to do as it was told. I was fortunate that I had only ridden "made" horses up until the point I read this book (early teen years), but it still made me feel bad about the ignorance I'd been living in up to that moment.
Why does he only pose majestically when he's disgusting?
23. What personality trait do you value most in a horse and which do you dislike the most?I really value a horse who is eager to show up for work and the day's adventures. Griffin has taught me how incredible it is to have this trait in a horse and I have so much fun with him as a result.
Upon pondering traits I dislike the most, I realize that they all revolve around having a distrust of people which leads to a lack of respect/confidence in people. And that isn't the horse's fault, that's the fault of the shit human who taught them that, directly or indirectly. So excluding those types of learned traits, I'd have to say a horse who is lazy by design. I hate a horse who is a push ride!
24. What do you love most about your discipline?Endurance: it allows me time alone with my horse while enjoying some of the most gorgeous scenery. I love seeing SO MUCH of the land without having to watch my feet every step.
Eventing: I freaking love XC lol. Shocking, I know. Though equally, I really enjoy the minutia that is dressage because it is teaching me to be a better rider and it's so very fun to mold the horse into its best self.
25. What are you focused on improving the most, at the moment?My rider biomechanics, my understanding of how they affect the horse, and my understanding of how to troubleshoot the communication between myself and the horse under saddle.
Sweet, sweet Canaan Valley summertime. Not much is better than this!
Canaan is considered "high elevation" for the east coast and Appalachians. The valley floor rests at ~3,200 feet while the mountain top plateaus surrounding the valley are anywhere from 3,700 to 4,200 feet.
Our high elevation valley surrounded by higher peaks and plateaus
As such, winters are more "wintery" and summers are mild. Our average summer days have highs in the 70s°F and lows in the 50s°F and the humidity is quite bearable in comparison with lower elevations. Overall, it's quite blissful!
With my travel and show budget completely blown (twice over, now) by unexpected vehicle-related purchases, I've been relegated to whatever horse-related fun I can find locally. Which really doesn't suck! Sure, I'm not honing in, tweaking, or vastly improving certain aspects of dressage or jumping like I'd hoped to do. Nor am I testing our eventing prowess against peers. But we sure as shit aren't just sitting around doing nothing!
In fact, with the aid of friends new and old, all three horses are getting out on trail, building fitness a few times a week. It's been pretty fantastic.
Our ride track in blue, public lands trails in red and green
The most epic ride so far was this past Sunday. Though it didn't quite go as planned! The beginning was fraught with miscommunication and the end was a mess with some uncertainty finding the correct trail home. Fortunately, everyone and animal made it back in one piece and the whole experience made my heart SO happy.
Two huge and exciting things happened as a part of this ride: (1) I finally got to meet the new endurance family that moved to Canaan after years in Brazil, and (2) Q was a fucking rockstar.
Originally, I was to meet the new family and Dan at 5pm to strike out on our ride. Instead, I left my house at 1pm to get Q ready and then met Chuck around 1:30pm and we rode 4 miles across the valley to the family's new farm.
Upon arrival, I was so delighted to finally meet Chris, Aimee, and Annamaria. They're very into endurance and will quickly become well-known within the region, I expect! For me, it means more opportunities to share travel to rides and company for conditioning rides. Between Dan, this family, and myself, we've got quite the endurance contingent in Canaan again for the first time since the 70s and 80s.
While waiting for our meet with Dan later, Chuck talked us all into seeing a few "shortcuts" within the Timberline development. So Annamaria, Chris, Chuck, and I all headed out for a pretty easy 6 mile meander.
Chuck's horse was increasingly difficult to deal with as the ride went on. Over the course of the day he broke the reins twice and Chuck fell off at least once. As a result, Chuck opted to head home while Chris and Annamaria and I headed back to their barn to await Dan's arrival.
Waiting for Dan coincided perfectly with the only rainfall of the day. While I don't mind rain, I'll admit it was really nice to get to chill under a roof for those 30 minutes!
Dan showed up as the rain slacked off. He'd brought an extra horse along for Annamaria to ride so her mom could have her horse back.
Dan, riding Butch, led us to the trailhead and down the first mile or so of trail. Throughout this time, he remarked to me how good Q was being. "Thanks," I replied, "I've really been working with her to build her confidence!"
"Want to get her out front for awhile?" he asked.
"Sure, why not!" I answered.
And like that, Q pushed into the front for several miles of trail. She was alert, but the feeling of sitting on a powder keg ready to blow and spook hard at any moment was absent. She didn't move out quite as fast as Butch does (Dan has an uncanny ability that enables him to put a 12-14 mph trot on every horse he works with), but it was a very respectable pace nonetheless!
Eventually, we reached a junction in the trail. Chris wanted to head to the right which would take us up into Dolly Sods where we could then loop back to Timberline. I've looked at this route on maps but hadn't yet traveled it, so I quickly agreed with his plan.
Q and I took the lead again and headed down a completely new-to-us trail!
As with many trails throughout Canaan and the Sods, we quickly came to a short boardwalk bridge gapping first a wetland and then a small stream. Fortunately, Q has never questioned bridges like this. We tackled the first one with no issue, but the second one was a bit more precarious, so I opted to dismount and lead her over it.
Crossing the first bridges
The others dismounted for both and all but Chris on his new horse Beijo crossed with minimal issue. Beijo was NOT okay with the bridges or the water though! Trolls clearly live under them, if you asked him. Chris and I worked in tandem from the ground to get Beijo across. It took several minutes, but he did finally cross.
As we struck out again, Dan and Butch took the lead for a time. But then we came to another bridge where Butch expressed strongly that he agreed with Beijo's view about the potential for trolls. So I leapfrogged Q around him and we struck off in the lead again.
That bridge would be the first of nearly a dozen! Every horse was quite confirmed with crossing by the end, most following Q's lead and trotting across with no hesitation.
Finally, we reached the end of the bridge-riddled trail and climbed up Cabin Mountain into Dolly Sods.
We knew roughly where we were, but weren't 100% certain about the best way to link back to trails we knew. My inner compass screamed to go one way, and Chris agreed, but Dan insisted another. As Dan knows the Sods best, we went with his idea first.
After reaching a certain viewpoint along the trail, Dan changed his mind and we all turned around to head back the way Chris and I thought was right.
Well, it turns out Dan's hunch was correct. If we'd only continued another ½-mile, we'd have confirmed that! As it was, we ended up conquering a new section of trail that horses most likely had never been on before - at least not on purpose!
A normal type of rugged trail
If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you've seen the kind of terrain I often ride. It's riddled with rocks and often resembles a creekbed more than a trail. As a result, I don't often complain about rugged trails or balk at much of anything. It is what it is, and it's what I'm used to and my horses are adept at dealing with it.
Also a normal rugged trail
So it may come as a bit of a surprise when I tell you that the pieces of trail we crossed in error to get home amidst a quickly darkening sky on this ride were FUCKING RUGGED AS HELL. Like, I would NOT have done them without Dan present, and if I find myself in that situation again I will quickly turn tail and retrace my path no matter how long it may take.
ALSO our rugged norm
You see, we found ourselves amidst one of the several boulder fields that make up this area of the Sods. These areas aren't hard for hikers who can adeptly hop the gaps between the boulder tops, which are anywhere from 5 to 30+ feet high. But with a horse? Yeahhhhhhhhh... Not so much!
My husband for scale...definitely not horse-friendly terrain! On the day of our ride, we unfortunately found ourselves on a trail that led to the tops of boulders that had drop offs like these
Dan in the lead on Butch quickly dismounted upon reaching the first tricky section. He handed me Butch's reins and scouted ahead, calling back to us, "This is a no go. I'm going to try to find a work around." *cue rustling of shrubs, trees, and other vegetation as Dan scuffled through the very dense understory*
Once again, the type of rugged trail we're used to
With a few broken branches to provide passage, Dan found us a workaround for the boulder field. He had each rider lead their horse to him to lead down in turn. With Chris et al. in the clear, Q and I queued up.
I stepped off the trail toward the workaround and squatted down to pick some blueberries while I waited for Dan to walk back up. Q, interested in following the other horses even though Butch was still behind with us, followed me and sidestepped me as I was picking blueberries. I cautioned her with my voice and she stopped, but not before her right hind broke through the thin humus layer atop the rocks that make up the Sods, sinking down to her hock into a very rocky void.
For context: Dolly Sods and the surrounding areas (and most of West Virginia) were heavily timbered in the early 1900s. In order to get the timber to surrounding cities, it was floated downstream on the Blackwater River where it was loaded into waiting trains in Davis. The steam engines that powered the trains often flung still-burning coals from their chimneys as they traveled through the mountains; these coals often started forest fires that would smolder in the rich, organic humus layer for months and years on end. The only thing that would truly put them out was a long, hard winter of heavy snow. The present day result of those long-smoldering fires is a lot of exposed rock and a thin layer of humus and soil with hardy trees that cling to rocks under the shallow layer of humus/soil.
Questioning my life choices. Stirrups tossed up on the saddle to avoid getting caught in spruce branches You get an idea from this photo how narrow the areas we passed were - and this is a GOOD section!
My eyes bugged out of my head as I watched Q's hind leg sink down to the hock in that void. In a matter of milliseconds, my brain conjured up images of Q breaking the leg and the resulting tussle as she thrashed in pain as I inevitably screamed for Dan to come help calm her and then put her down (how?!) right then and there in the backcountry.
As my shocked brain took all of 1 second to process and another second to fire the synapses required to reach out to Q and open my mouth to talk to her, my Very Smart Mare carefully extracted her hind leg from the void and set it down in a safe place.
I quickly led her away from the area back onto the trail where she then took weight off of the right hind as I watched blood bubble to the surface along numerous scrapes. In no time at all, I was sitting underneath her in the tight quarters assessing every inch of her leg from the hock down. The skin was broken, certainly, but only the upper layer(s) of epidermis. Nothing had punctured below that, there was no swelling, and the bleeding was minimal and roughly the equivalent of turf burn.
Grateful to be in a much more open and clear area!
Confident that Q was okay, Dan led her down through the workaround and we all continued handwalking the horses down the trail.
We had two more boulderfield workarounds - neither as tricky as the first! - before finding a trail Dan and I knew. We all remounted on this trail and were once again able to intermittently trot as we picked our way through the typical rugged mess we knew.
Finally, we came to the section of trail we travel every time we visit the Sods on horseback and were able to really pick up the pace.
The sun was setting in earnest by this point!
It sucked to have dealt with the tricky section of trail, but damn if the sunset didn't make it all okay in the end.
This photo gives you a sense of the scooped out valley, thanks glaciers!
July 22 ride vista - YouTube
After riding along the ridgeline edge, we opted to dip down into the Timberline development roads to head back to Chris' place instead of doing another 2 miles of Sods trails to the ski slope. As it was, we still didn't reach Chris' place until ~9:15pm!
I was SO proud of Q in those final dark miles on the gravel road after we parted ways with Dan. Despite fleeing deer and one field of very excited strange horses, she led the way alert, but confident and trusting in my guidance, floating along in her biggest of trots.
Back at Chris', I praised Q immensely and hand fed her some hay while I waited for Chris to take care of his horses before trailering us back across the valley. I could have ridden Q, but knowing we had at least 1½ miles of paved road travel in the dark AND the fact that she'd already tackled nearly 30 miles that day, I had nothing to prove and was so grateful for the ride.
All in all, while not to plan the whole time, it was a really fantastic day. Q not only proved she's got the ability post-injury to go the distance, but that she's also come SO FAR with her confidence under saddle on trails. I honestly cannot put into words how absolutely over-the-moon I am with her! I had so much fun. I can't wait to get back on trail with this little mare and my new friends.
Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this review nor have I received any form of incentive or compensation for doing so. All opinions are my own and given voluntarily.
Product reviews are few and far between for me. Mostly because I'm not someone who spends money often and most of what I purchase is straight-forward, utilitarian, and often well-known and already well-reviewed. But I feel obligated to write this review after another blogger's write-up (hi, Sara!) influenced me to purchase the product!
Since moving my horses onto smaller acreage near home in June, I've had things like fly masks/boots on my radar for the first time ever. The horses are in a herd of 3 instead of 10, don't have as many places to move around and escape pesky flies, the deer flies blow in Canaan, and I knew that on smaller acreage I wouldn't mind finding a mask or fly boot that had been casually discarded by one of them over the course of time between my visits (because to hell with searching for a lost boot or fly mask on the 28 acres they were previously living on).
Considering the OptionsIt's worth noting, as I'm certain I'll get questions otherwise, why I didn't consider a fly sheet or put them all in masks instead of/in addition to the leggings:
With regard to sheets, I had concerns that they'd sweat in them. I know how even my light sun protective layers cause me to sweat and I just didn't want that for the horses. Additionally, they all enjoy rolling quite often, clothed or not, and I just imagined the fine mesh of a fly sheet getting nabbed by an errant piece of vegetation and becoming torn in no time at all.
And with regard to masks, I'd honestly planned to put them in those in addition to the leggings. But when I spent time really observing them in the field while I was there over the course of several weeks, I noted that the flies in Canaan are not the type to really flock to their faces. On the contrary, these flies go for the legs (especially the lower leg where they're more out of reach from the horses' defenses) and belly more than anything. My observations suggested that the Shoofly Leggins should resolve much of my horses' fly-related stress.
Product Selection: Shoofly Leggins
While many other fly boot products exist on the market, I've always been skeptical of them. My horses live in a 24/7 turnout situation on pastures that are not perfectly manicured. A classic boot with multiple velcro strips and fleece-covered hemlines didn't seem like a great option for our mornings ripe with heavy dew on the grass. I didn't relish the idea of that wet being contained so close to their horses legs for hours until they dried.
Additionally, I didn't love the idea of boots that dropped below the coronet band because I just foresaw those getting shredded from inevitable overreach. Could I put bell boots on to help prevent that? Sure, but that's just adding more crap to their legs which didn't thrill me for a variety of reasons.
Finally, I questioned the durability of some of the mesh used in some boot designs. It looked like something my horses could tear up in no time at all, and I had no desire to spend money on something so easily destroyed.
Shoofly Leggins loose, simple design that provides for a lot of airflow was very appealing to me. Overall, the description of their construction sounded promising for my needs. Per their website, "Breathable plastic mesh with sewn-in stays to eliminate sagging. Heavy-duty Velcro ensures durability and wear-ability. Lower edge finished in felt to eliminate embedded wild oats, burrs, and foxtails."
And so, as summer hit it's stride at the end of June in the Valley, I bit the bullet and nabbed 3 sets of Shoofly Leggins from Stateline Tack when they had one of their many sales. Sum total for 3 sets + shipping? $145. Not a bad investment if the horses would keep them on and if they'd last me at least one summer if not two!
Initial ImpressionsThe evening the leggings arrived, I hurried over to feed the horses and put them on.
They went on simply and easily and I saw an IMMEDIATE change in each of my horses as they were applied. Prior to wearing them, as the horses ate their meals, each was stomp-stomp-stomping constantly with one foot or the other. As each horse donned the leggings, the stomping ceased. Immediately. It was a very cool cascading diminuendo sound effect to go from a trio of stomping horses to a duo to a single individual to NOTHING in a matter of a few minutes.
None of the horses protested to wearing the leggings more than a few elevated leg raises and startled stutter-steps in place where they were tied. Each was alarmed for a second or two before accepting the leggings as their new normal, and then proceeded to happily swish their tails and occasionally nip at their bellies if a particularly evil fly found its way there.
With such promising initial results, I crossed my fingers and toes that the product would withstand the horses daily movements, stay on, and not rub or cause distress to the pastern area.
The next day I was THRILLED to arrive and see 12 leggings precisely where I'd left them. Barring the one day someone other than me replaced them when only one came off of Q's right hind, they haven't budged once since I've been using them - which has been daily for 10+ days now. Every day I arrive the horses have them on; such a satisfying thing!
Big selling points for me with this product:
Loose design to allow plenty of air flow so they dry quickly from morning dew and do not hold moisture against the horses' skin
Simple design that stays on for horses who are on 24/7 turnout
Majority of reviewers didn't not have issues with rubs - and I haven't either
Color options (I chose what would be easiest to find when discarded)
Affordable - a set of 4 for $46 (on sale); looking at the construction of these things $11.50 per legging is very fair!
So far, I'm very, very pleased with this product. The horses seem SO much more content - the biggest win. But beyond that, I'm very pleased that the leggings stay put where they are supposed to, aren't rubbing any raw spots, and seem quite durable to the rigors of daily life for my little herd.
This photo is the most recent of all of the above. The only visible wear is the now off-white felt at the base and a slight sag to the previously very upright leggings.
Though the true test of time will come this autumn when I put these things away until next summer. I'm optimistic that they will still be in great shape, but I'll certainly have to check back in at a later date and let you know.