Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer is here!

OK, so summer has officially arrived in Virginia.  For several weeks, temperatures have fluctuated between pleasant and almost unbearable, and they have now settled into the sauna range.  Based on the previous 12 years of living here, I think it's safe to assume that the upper 80 and 90 degree temperatures with humidity levels in the 75-100 percent range are here to stay until the beginning of September.

Riding is now more of a chore than fun, but I keep reminding myself that I have to keep conditioning or I'll never make it to my goal ride of 15 miles in October.  So, I've taken Nimo to Whitney State Forest a couple of times over the past week to get some good conditioning in.  It's not my favorite place to ride, but it's close and the terrain is varied.  Plus, I can do loops that take me past the trailer to get Nimo used to riding past it periodically.

The first ride I did at Whitney last Monday was one of the first really steamy days after a few nicer days, so it was rough.  We seriously only did 2.5 miles because by then Nimo was lathered up on his chest.  Oh, and my 70 year old father, who graciously agreed to accompany on my first "solo" ride by walking on foot, had had about enough of Virginia summer weather.  And for anyone who is sort of horrified that I dragged my aging father with me, I should note that he is very active for his age and was bragging about going on a six-hour hike in the Badlands the weekend before and being able to keep up with younger folks.  However, it turns out that six hours in more reasonable temperatures and humidity levels is much easier than an hour in in a steam bath.  Still, it was great to have the company, and Nimo did really well, so I think we're good to start riding on our own.

Then, on Saturday, I rode with several other ladies and we did about 4 miles in an hour and 20 minutes.  Still not making great time in terms of endurance riding, but I was pleased that Nimo did not get lathered at all and seemed to be handling the heat and humidity much better than on Monday's ride.  Also, I learned that I really do need to drink, even on shorter rides, because I don't handle the heat and humidity as well as my horse does.

So, I'm hoping to get back to Whitney sometime during the week to see if I can add a little more distance to our ride.  I'm supposed to be doing an 8-10 mile competitive trail ride in a couple of weeks and I probably should work up to that distance, rather than springing it on my poor horse the day of the competition.

And, I may begin reporting temperature and humidity numbers in a sort of obsessive/compulsive way.  After reading Mel's post on heat and conditioning, it has become clear to me that I really need to monitor temperature and humidity to see how they affect my horse's performance.  Mel has got some great ideas for conditioning for heat, but if you look at our comments back-and-forth, you'll see that she generally conditions in higher heat and lower humidity than I will be, so that may mean that I should make accommodations.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


I read this post from Boots and Saddles with interest.  Mel talks about her experience with crewing and gives her recommendations for both riders and crew members.  One of the things she mentions is her tendency to get overhydrated, which may have more to do with electrolyte imbalance than simply drinking too much.  While she is talking about drinking too much water as a person, I also got to thinking about whether horses can get overhydrated.

Every book I've read on endurance riding emphasizes the need for your horse to learn to drink as much as possible.  Yet, drinking too much water can be a really bad thing - almost as bad as not drinking enough.  Interestingly, a book called Fiber Menace spends an entire chapter talking about the repercussions of drinking too much.  The author, Konstantin Monastyrsky, lists the following as some of the lesser problems associated with drinking too much water: edema, fatigue, migraines, and nausea.  Long term overhydration can cause constipation, kidney disease, urinary disorders, digestive disorders, dengenerative bone disease, premature aging, muscular disorders, unstable blood pressure, and heart disease (see Ch. 2).  And he confirms what Mel says about thirst being a good indicator of needing to drink.  But that (much like Mel's experience) you need to be careful because the more you drink, the thirstier you get, so over time, thirst may not be a great indicator.

So how much water does a person need?  Mr. Monastyrsky says generally that people need 1.4-1.6 liters (or 5-7 glasses), but that amount includes water, anything else we drink, and food.  So you might only need to actually drink 2-3 glasses of water a day if you're eating a lot of moist food or drinking things besides water.  He does point out that things like physical activity and the environment can increase our water requirements, though.

What does this mean for my horse?  I did a couple of internet searches on overhydration and water intoxication in horses and couldn't find much aside from some articles on how some wild horses had died after a roundup from water intoxication.  I've read that horses drink anywhere from 5-15 gallons a day, depending on how much they are working and the ambient temperature.  My horse actually drinks from automatic waterers at the barn he is at now, but when he was at a self-care stable and I filled his water buckets, I remember him drinking probably 7-12 gallons a day, depending on work and the weather.

One of my concerns as I've started conditioning him is that he rarely drinks water outside of his stall or paddock.  I have been on rides in the past where he has drunk quite a bit out of a tank or stream, but he was working extremely hard and it was really hot.  I've been trying to figure out how much I should be working with him on drinking, and after reading Mel's post and rereading Fiber Menace, I'm beginning to think that I should stop worrying about it and just let my horse drink when he is thirsty.

I do always give him a mash after a ride that includes my own electrolyte mix of sea salt and trace minerals, so I'm hoping that the mash will help both with hydration and the replenishment of electrolytes.  My reading indicates that a big part of the problem with drinking too much water is that it flushes important minerals out of your system without replacing them, so theoretically, making sure that water is accompanied by salt and other minerals should help the body stay hydrated in the right way.

I should insert a huge disclaimer here.  I am not a vet.  I am not a doctor.  I'm not even a competing endurance rider yet, so my thoughts here are just that - thoughts.  Please do your own research and if you find something that provides some guidance on this topic, feel free to comment on this post, so others can see what you've found out.  One thing I've learned over the years is that nutritional advice is constantly changing and some topics are quite controversial, so it's important to keep researching and learning.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Liebster Blog Award

One of the blogs I follow, It seemed like a good idea at the time..., just posted this message about the Liebster Blog Award.  Having only been blogging a short time, especially compared to Funder's 7,000 internet years, I'm new to the concept, but I'm game to give it a try.  I also love that Funder changed the rules a bit.

So, here are the 11 random facts about me.

1.  I studied to be a secondary level social studies teacher, but didn't quite finish the program because I became horrified at how public schools are run in Virginia and couldn't stomach the thought of being part of what seems like a prison system for kids.
2.  My favorite color changes all the time, but it is currently red.
3.  When I was little, I desperately wanted to be a jockey and I obsessively watched horse races and tracked the results in a three-ring binder.  It should be noted that while I no longer track horse races, I do have an impressive number of three-ring binders for a lot of other crap.
4.  I am a horrible singer, but I love to sing along to music in the car, and I always sound fantastic when I'm by myself.
5.  I love planning a garden, but I have trouble with implementation.
6.  Most of the rooms in my house are only partially painted - see number 5.
7.  I write differently depending on my mood.  If I'm tired, stressed, or in a hurry, my cursive and printing look completely different than when I am not one of those things.
8.  I wish I could have one chicken from every type of heritage breed because I think they are so beautiful.
9.  In third grade, one of the girls in my class was using my spelling tests to cheat off of, so I would deliberately misspell words, wait until she copied them, then go back and correct them before handing my test in.
10.  I hate small talk.  I would much rather talk about interesting stuff like religion and politics, even if the person I'm talking to completely disagrees with me.
11.  I want to have a Chihuahua with some Mexican-sounding name that I carry around in my purse.

Here are the answers to Funder's questions:

1.  Where are you from?
I'm from Dickinson, North Dakota.  For those of you who have never been to ND, there are approximately 3 nice days every year.  The other days are too hot, too windy, and/or too cold (mostly they are too windy AND too cold).  And by too cold, I mean below zero degrees...Fahrenheit...which is why I don't live there anymore.

2.  Where have you been?
I've been to a lot of places, but among my favorites are New Orleans (before Hurricane Katrina), Washington, D.C. (so full of history!), Florida (lovely beaches and cool palm trees), Wyoming (ahhhh, the Grand Tetons), British Columbia, Canada (so beautiful!), Scotland (for my honeymoon, and I would love to go back), and Australia (I spent a semester there when I was in college and the host family I stayed with was so generous and amazing).

3.  What scares you the most (and I don't mean "spiders")?
I'm terrified that something will happen to my daughter.  I am constantly besieged by images of her death and dismemberment in every way imaginable.  I'm told this is normal, though, especially when your kids are young, which is what I'm hoping, because otherwise I might be insane.  Of course, I might be insane anyway, just not for this reason.

4.  What's your favorite food?
OMG, I love all food, especially food that other people have cooked.  If I had to choose today, though, it would be (in no particular order):  cheesecake, chocolate (the good kind, not Hershey's bars, although I'm really not picky when I'm having a chocolate emergency), pasta (especially if it is drenched in some kind of creamy sauce), bread that is homemade and fresh out of the oven with melted butter, and a juicy medium rare steak.  And yes, I realize if I ate all those foods all the time, I would probably have a life expectancy of about 5 years, so I mix it up with stuff like cucumbers, yogurt, blueberries, and chicken.

5.  What's your biggest regret, or do you not believe in regrets?
My biggest regret is that I allowed myself to lose confidence in my riding abilities.  When I got into dressage, I let my trainer convince me that I didn't know how to ride and that it wasn't good for my horse to be ridden outside the arena.  Now I know that both of those things are BS.  Not that I can't improve my riding and not that arena work is all bad, but both my horse and I are so much happier now that I ride outside the arena and am taking a break from having someone tell me how to ride every week.  I just wish I had figured it out sooner.

6.  Favorite band (with links!)
Hands down, it's got to be Nine Inch Nails.  I started listening to NIN when I was in high school and have been to several concerts.  One of the concerts I even went to twice - once so I could get the mosh pit experience (I was in college and arguably not very bright) and then again so I could actually see the concert instead of being stepped on, shoved, spit on, and slammed around.  I love the music because it is so passionate and no album is ever the same (although I can always tell it is NIN).

7.  What's the first name you ever gave?
I got a weanling Quarter Horse when I was probably about 13.  His registered name was Diamond Is Hot, but I called him Bandit.  I can't remember why, but it may have been something to do with his attitude:) 

8.  Is there a name you're saving?  For a girl child, or a homebred horse, or a funny cat name?
I used the name I'd been saving when I recently had my daughter, Gemma.  Now my naming desires have been fulfilled:)

9.  Biggest personal accomplishment, present or future?
When I was pregnant, my health started to decline a little toward the end.  I was forced to accept care from an obstetrician and perinatologist instead of a midwife, and the doctors tried to force me to take medication that was not approved for pregnant women and to have my baby weeks early.  Every instinct I had (plus a ton of books I read) screamed that taking unapproved medications and having the baby early were wrong, wrong, wrong.  All tests showed the baby was doing fine and I knew the longer she stayed inside me, the stronger she would be when she was born.  So I endured being insulted and threatened by my doctors and stuck to what I thought was right for my baby, even though it meant that I went the last 10 days of my pregnancy without a doctor at all (apparently, if you disagree with your OB, he/she can just terminate your care and our maternity system is so messed up, you can't get another one).  In the end, I had a strong, healthy baby and I was OK too, despite receiving an overdose of drugs at the hospital that caused a violent reaction in me and a serious drop in the baby's heart rate.  I know that keeping my baby until I was almost at my due date was the best thing for her, and I'm glad that I didn't cave in to the pressure I was getting.

10.  What's your favorite book?
My favorite book is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I love all the HP books, but the final book of the series is so powerful.  JK Rowling is a gifted author and I am always amazed at the depth of research, the realness (is that even a word?) of her characters, the brilliant plot lines, and the sense of humor that comes through even at some of the darkest moments.

11.  What do you want for your epitaph?
This is a tough one.  Part of me wishes that I could accomplish something earth-shattering that changes the world, but the other part of me recognizes that life is difficult enough without adding that kind of pressure.  And now that I have a child, it really is clear to me that motherhood is the most important thing that a woman can do, if that is the path she chooses.  I want to be a good role model for my daughter, which means living my life the way I hope she can live hers.  It means making sacrifices to help others, but also being selfish sometimes so that I don't lose myself.  It means that I would die to save my daughter and kill to protect her.  So, I think, "She was a good mother" sums up my hopes for my life accomplishments.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

For parents who complain about the cost of horses

Me and my first horse, Destry Mike, a Quarter Horse
A friend of mine posted this on Facebook the other day.  I can't find the author of the message, but it resonates with me because I have a daughter who I hope will be able to grow up knowing and loving horses.  It also speaks to me because my parents did let me have a horse.  At first, when I said I wanted one, they said no.  In fact, they said no for many years, thinking it was just a phase.  And finally, when I was 11, they got me my first horse.  As it turns out, it wasn't a phase, and I'm so thankful that my parents agreed to get me a horse.  I don't know who I would be if I hadn't gotten a horse, but I know that I am a better person because I did.

My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future.

As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem. The parents of these same girls have asked me why I “waste” the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I’m told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation’s “slacker” label on my child. I don’t think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no “days off” just because you don’t feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don’t matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn’t care if you’re wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to “read” her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regard-less of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day.

When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven’t “wasted” a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.

Arena Work: June 19, 2013

I was going to spend some time conditioning out in the fields, but apparently the neighborhood children had decided to start practicing for the 4th of July, so there were some small firecrackers going off.  Nimo actually did OK, but I could tell that he was getting more and more elevated with each crack, and after about 10 minutes, I could feel that we were one spook away from a spin and bolt.  I decided that it would be more prudent to work in the arena, where any craziness would be more controlled.

Luckily, I had already planned to do some work in the arena anyway, so I had a small jump set up and I had left the gate unlatched, so we could practice opening and closing it.

However, the big things that I wanted to work on were turns on the forehand and haunches, leg-yielding, and side passing.  Our struggles at the recent JPR led me to believe that Nimo's shoulders are really locked, and I need to work on loosening them up a bit.  So before we ever got to the jump, I did a lot of big circles and changes of direction, then worked on the lateral stuff.  And as I was trying to get Nimo to side pass on the rail, I realized that his lateral stiffness was a little more serious than I thought.  He was really struggling with side passing, especially to the left.  So, I will definitely be incorporating lateral work every time we ride, until I can feel that stiffness loosen.

Interestingly, despite the night being pretty cool for this time of year (low 70s) and us spending a lot of time at the walk, when we were done with the ride, there was a lot of sweat where Nimo's neck ties into his shoulders.  If you've read Jec Ballou's book, Equine Fitness, you know that she believes sweat patterns will change as a horse becomes more fit and that they will reflect the areas of the body that were worked the hardest.  I know there is some controversy about whether that belief is correct, but I have to say that I have seen it with Nimo.  If the temperature is hot, he just sweats everywhere, but in cooler temperatures or at lower intensities, I have noticed that working on particular exercises will produce sweat primarily in one or two areas of the body that correspond pretty closely to the area being worked.  It was too dark when we were done riding last night to get a decent picture, but I'll try to get one at some point to show what I'm talking about.

Anyway, after all the lateral work, came the fun stuff.  For many years (in fact, until maybe a year or so ago), Nimo has been terrified of jump standards and any jump set up in the arena.  I, of course, allowed this unreasonable fear to continue because I thought we couldn't jump anything.  After riding Nimo over quite a few 18-24 inch high jumps out on the trail, though, I realized we could certainly do that in the arena too, and it would be a great way to add variety to our arena work.  So, I've been gradually working in some cavaletti and small jumps.  To be honest, I really don't know anything about jumping and Nimo struggles to pick his feet up over the jumps, but I figure if we keep working on it, we'll figure it out.  I'm also hoping that one of the trainers in my area will once again host classes on gymnastic cavaletti and jumping for dressage horses next spring.  I wasn't able to make the classes this year, but I think they would be very worthwhile for us.

So, I put this small jump (about 16") in the center of the arena so we could do 20 meter circles incorporating it.  Normally, I put jumps or cavaletti on a straight line, because I think it's easier.  But what ends up happening is Nimo has a lot of time to see the jump and get squirrelly about it.  I figured that putting it on a circle would mean he would have less time to see it and get apprehensive about it.  And, amazingly, I was right!

Putting the jump on the circle worked a lot better.  He still was a little lazy about picking up his feet, but I think if I work on my position and make sure I keep the impulsion up, he should improve.  But, the great thing was that he stayed in the center of the jump and didn't try to duck out at the last second.  WhooHoo!

So all in all, it ended up being a productive ride, even though I didn't get to do the conditioning work that I'd originally planned.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bonding with Your Horse

Mugwump Chronicles is a blog about a trainer's experiences and this post got my attention.  It is a conversation the trainer had with a client after a bad fall.  The client (Tim) was upset because he felt the fall happened because he hadn't bonded with his horse.  "She doesn't even try to bolt with you," Tim said. "It's like she's tricking me, she likes you better. Tally wants to be your horse."

The trainer tries to explain that it isn't an issue of like, it's an issue of trust.  And that what she's done in her work with the horse (Tally) has been about developing that trust.  She also addresses the issue of bonding with Tim, when she says,
Where we get in trouble with our horses is when we assume they react and think like we do. We're being unfair to them when we mix up our translation of love with theirs. The concept of bonding is a prime example. It's pretty clear to me Tally thinks you're one of the best people she ever met. She also knows that's exactly what you are, people, and that she is a horse. She will never, ever be confused on this issue.
Another insight that she has about bonding is,

The phrase "developing a bond" had long been a pain in my butt. I kept running into this line from more and more of my customers. For the most part, I heard it from new horse owners who thought it would be a good idea to buy a two-year-old for their pre-teen daughter, so they could grow up together, or from total green-horns, who were convinced, after watching a few GaWaNi Pony Boy videos, they could start a colt by themselves, as long as they properly bonded with their horse's spirit. Then they would adopt a mustang. Then, there were my favorites, the "I'm too afraid to ride, so I'll bond instead," folks.
Her words really got me thinking about how I feel about my horse now and about what I wanted from my past relationships with horse.  I have definitely gone through a time when any time my horse reacted badly, I was hurt because I thought that meant this horse didn't like me, that all the work we'd done together was meaningless.  And I think I have been one of those people who thought that "bonding" with the horse was something that I was supposed to do and that if the horse misbehaved, there was something wrong with me.

And, to be honest, there was something wrong with me.  The something wrong was that I mistakenly believed that horses are capable of the same type of bond that a human mother would have with her child or a sister would have for a brother or a friend would have for a friend.  That isn't to say that I think horses don't form bonds with each other or other species.  They do.  But their bonds are different.  Horses are prey animals and humans are predators.  The differences in our fundamental nature must translate into differences in how we see the world around us, including different species.  And, I was placing too much importance on those stories that are out there.  You know the ones where a horse supposedly did something on purpose to save its rider or its owner.  I'm not trying to say they didn't happen, but I'm not convinced that they happened for the reasons most people think they do.  I'm not sure that we can ever really understand the innermost workings of the mind of another species, no matter how much we study them.

And it occurs to me after reading this trainer's thoughts that I have changed the way I think about my relationship with my horse.  I no longer expect him to like me.  Of course that may be because I own a horse who is the equine equivalent of a black lab.  He seems to adore all people and attention and I have no need to convince him that spending time with me is fun.  It's a given.  But now, I spend a lot more time working on myself than I do my horse.  When I'm in the arena, I think about the aids I'm giving and my horse's response.  If it isn't what I wanted, I rethink the aid.  Was it clear enough?  Was it consistent with the last time I gave the aid?  Do I even know what I'm looking for in the response?  I rarely think anymore that my horse isn't listening or that I need to spend more time in the round pen doing join up or hooking on or whatever it's called these days.  Not that joining up is necessarily bad - I haven't formed a complete opinion on that yet.  It's just that I don't think in terms of bonding and the horse liking me or even me liking the horse.  It's more a matter of, "How are we working together?"  If there is stiffness or a lack of response from the horse, it just means that I need to help my horse understand what I want in a better or different way.

But before I go patting myself on the back for my new enlightened attitude, I do want to say that I have so much farther to go before I reach the point where my horse truly trusts me.  Every time my horse refuses to cross a creek or go over a log or interact with a scary obstacle, it sends a message to me that my relationship with my horse still needs to grow.  That there is still work I need to do on myself so that I can convey the confidence and the skills I need to convince my horse that he can trust me because I'm not going to ask him to do something that is going to hurt him.

And you know what?  That's OK with me.  Because much like any relationship with a spouse or a friend, we should be working at it every day.  I think Donna Snyder-Smith said it best when she said, "Endurance riders travel from dawn to dusk in the company of a creature who offers strength without brutality, companionship with criticism, and beauty without vanity."  An animal like that deserves more than just someone who is fun to be around.  He deserves someone who is worthy of his trust.  And someday, I hope to be that person.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Trail Ride: Whitney State Forest

Today I got together with a couple of ladies and we explored Whitney State Forest.  The park isn't that big - only 148 acres with a total of 6 miles of trails, but we managed to ride for about an hour.  The trails were a little less maintained than we were used to, but we were able to get through just about everything except for one section of the blue trail that had fallen trees that were leaning on other trees and we just couldn't get around them, over them, or under them.  But we did get to practice some more difficult terrain and a lot of small creek crossings.  My horse, who normally does creek crossings well, was concerned about several of them.  I'm not really sure why, but luckily another horse on the ride went through the crossings quite happily, so Nimo could follow.  The only thing I was a little disappointed about was the distance.  I had hoped to cover at least 5 miles and we only did 2.75 miles.  The terrain was more rugged, so I think Nimo still got a good workout, but I'm going to need to do a longer ride this week, if I can.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

JPR: Bull Run Regional Park and Some New Gear!

Nimo and I did our first Judged Pleasure Ride (JPR) today.  It was hosted by Clifton Horse Society at Bull Run Regional Park.  It was part of a series of JPRs held by area riding clubs.  I missed the first couple of rides earlier this year, but finally got it together to register for this one.  As you can tell by the dark, somewhat blurry photo, it was cloudy today, so not great for taking pictures from a moving horse.  On the other hand, the clouds helped mitigate the encroaching heat and humidity which has been plaguing us for most of the last few weeks.

The ride was about 5 miles long and took us about an hour and forty minutes.  It was similar in format to the rides sanctioned by the American Competitive Trail Horse Association.  We had ten obstacles to ride.  They were:  1) open and close a gate, 2) walk to a square made of poles, put the front feet in the square and sidepass around the square 180 degrees, then walk out, 3) complete a pattern of walking to the first cone, trotting to the second cone, and cantering to the third cone before stopping at the judge, 4) pulling a stuffed pony on a sled by first backing, then turning and pulling it forward, 5) walking across a "bridge," 6) walking up to a garbage can covered with saddle blankets, picking up saddlebags, trotting a figure 8, then putting the saddlebags back, 7) halting and dismounting, then walking to a mounting block and getting back on, 8) going through big foam "fingers" attached to trees, 9) walking over a "wagon wheel" of cavalletti, and 10) walking around a campsite.

We barely made it through the gate.  We started off great, but then Nimo got distracted and tried to wander off.  I just got the gate latched as time was called, so I'm not even sure we'll get points for this one.  The sidepassing around the square was sort of an unmitigated disaster.  After we were done, the judge said, "At least he's pretty!"  Oh, dear.  The cone obstacle went better, except that Nimo would not pick up the canter.  I think he was worried about running over the judge, who was standing very close, so I really can't fault him for that.  I'd rather mess up an obstacle than have him think he can run over a person.  The pony on a sled obstacle was one I thought we didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of making, but we were able to get the rope, pull the sled back and after 57 wobbles, get it around the cone and back to the starting point.  I doubt we scored very high, but at least we did it.

The bridge obstacle was the one that surprised me the most.  Apparently, the section of the park with a real bridge was flooded out, so a fake one was improvised using those little colored flags you see at used car lots for the railings and red-painted plywood rectangles on the ground.  Totally terrifying.  The two ladies I rode with went first with very calm horses, and luckily, my horse followed their lead.  I expected that we would never even approach it, much less make it through, so that was really cool.

The next obstacle was picking up the saddlebags.  Unfortunately, Nimo was so suspicious of the garbage can they were resting on, that it took most of my time just to pick them up.  Once I picked them up, Nimo did a beautiful sitting trot figure 8, but we unfortunately exceeded the time.  We made up for it at the dismount/mount obstacle, though.  He was picture perfect!  He stood absolutely still for the dismount and remount.  WhooHoo!  He sometimes walks off too soon after I get on, so I was really pleased with his performance.

The foam fingers obstacle was one that none of the horses I was with completed and neither did Nimo.  I think the horses just thought the foam was too foreign to risk walking through.  And I can't really blame them - it was not a natural obstacle at all - the foam was pink and blue!  Meanwhile the wagon wheel was also a disaster.  The wheel was so small that I couldn't get a good rhythm going with the right spacing, so Nimo knocked down most of the poles.  Again, I think this probably wasn't a great obstacle.  If real logs had been used in an irregular pattern instead of wobbly cavaletti, I think it would have gone a lot better.  Nimo tends to do well on very natural obstacles, but man-made ones often frighten him or don't have his respect.

The final obstacle when fairly well.  I thought Nimo would be worried about the crazy "campfire," which was some kind of shiny material, but instead he seemed to think the tent was hiding a horse-eating monster.  He remained under control, though, and he did walk all the way around.

So, all in all, it was a nice ride.  I think my biggest takeaway is that we need to spend more time on lateral work, like sidepass, turn on the forehand, etc.  Which is kind of what I had already been thinking anyway, but now I have some more ideas on things to work on.

The other great thing about the ride was that I got to try out my new pommel pack from Snug Pax.  It just came a few days ago, so I totally broke the cardinal rule about not using new gear for a competition.  I figured it was a pretty low-key event, so if I had a problem, it wouldn't be a big deal.  In fact, the pack worked great.  I loaded it with a couple of water bottles, snack bars, and a camera (I know, how about some emergency supplies?).  I still had my waist pack with the map, my cell phone, and a knife, and the whole system worked really well.  While we didn't canter, the pack did seem pretty secure, and Nimo didn't even acknowledge that anything new was on him.  Although, the only 2 d-rings on my saddle had to do double duty for attaching the pommel pack and the breast collar.  I hope I don't need too much more stuff attached to the saddle!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Arena Work: June 4, 2013

Ahhhh, the arena.  The place where my horse and I have spent so much time these past 10 years.  While I definitely want to get out of the arena, we still really do have a need to work there.  I've noticed Nimo has been a little stiff, so I wanted to set aside some time to work on lateral exercises.  Also, there were a few obstacles I wanted to practice in preparation for our Judged Pleasure Ride coming up this Sunday.  So, I set up a square for a 360 degree turn and an L for a backing exercise.  Then, I wanted to go home and rest because lugging all those poles around was exhausting!

After warming up in the field, we opened the gate to the arena as practice in case it comes up on our ride. While not quite the smooth process that I remember from the days when I was a kid and showed in western trail classes with my little Arabian mare, we did get through the gate reasonably well.

Next, we did more warm up in the arena because Nimo hasn't been in the outdoor arena for months and he generally gets disturbed by anything new.  Surprisingly, he was calm about the broken fence board and the neighbor mowing the lawn.  Normally, he considers things like broken fence boards to be serious violations of the natural order and I have to spend significant time convincing him that the broken board isn't actually a black hole or rip in the space/time continuum.  He was very forward, but that was a nice change too.

So, we embarked on backing through the L after walking through it.  That was a bit of a disaster.  Apparently, Nimo did not remember that he knew how to back up and proceeded to go in all other directions before grudgingly and messily backing through the L.  We went through it several more times, and he definitely improved, but we are going to need more practice with this one.  Although, I'm assuming if we actually had to do something like this on the trail and the poles were really, say, the side of a cliff, that he would not back off the cliff...Right?...

Then, we wrapped up our work in the outdoor arena by doing some turns on the forehand and hindquarters, followed by 360 degree turns in the square.  And yes, I meant it to look like this.  I wanted there to be enough room for Nimo to maneuver without banging into the poles.  He's a big guy and takes up a lot of space.  At the ride on Sunday, the square was really too small for him and stressed him out.  We had a much better performance with a little bit larger square.

After all this fun, we went into the indoor arena, which was mostly clear of obstacles so we could work on a particular exercise from 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse and Rider.  It involves starting with a volte, going into shoulder-in, then half-pass, and then haunches-in.  Essentially, the horse keeps the same bend while starting at one corner of the arena and moving to the other corner across the diagonal and through a turn.  I should note that there was a time when I would never even have considered doing this exercise, but after going through Jane Savoie's Happy Horse training package, I've gotten a lot better about not being scared to try something that is a little outside our comfort zone.

Anyway, we went through the exercise a couple of times at the walk in each direction, and I was surprised by how well he did.  It's possible the previous work had suppled him a bit.  He was also really forward, which is a product of all our work out of the arena.  He is always especially forward the first time I ride after a trail ride, so I was able to harness that energy for some good lateral work.  We then wrapped up with some sitting trot and shoulder-in.  I could tell it was hard for him, but we really haven't done any sitting trot work since I started up riding 7 months ago (after the baby was born), so I was pleased with where he was.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Trail Ride - Blandy Experimental Farm

Today Nimo and I rode on the Benefit Ride for the Blue Ridge Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship at the Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia.  It was a short ride (only 3.6 miles and an hour and 15 minutes) over easy terrain, but I can definitely see coming back for some more serious conditioning work in the future.  The trails were a nice mix of gravel roads, mowed grass paths, and dirt paths through woods.

There were a few obstacles set up, too, so we could get some practice for the Judged Pleasure Ride we're entered in next Sunday.  I'm pretty sure that we will not do well on the obstacles because Nimo is highly suspicious of anything out of place.  So poles shaped like an L that require backing through, hanging cloth to simulate vines, and a tarp to simulate water are all very large monsters in his book.  But, at least we'll get to ride for a couple of hours.

Anyway, the weather today was much better than I expected.  Cloudy skies, a cool breeze, temps in the 80s made for a very pleasant ride.  My worries about heat stress were unfounded, and I didn't need all the extra water I brought, but better too much water than not enough!

Plus, Nimo got to practice leading.  We rode with just one other rider and she obligingly let us stay in front.  I was really pleased with Nimo's confidence because he tends to worry when he's in front or by himself, and I can see that he's already made quite a bit of improvement.  I'm hoping to get to a point soon where he is reasonably comfortable being hauled someplace and going for a ride on his own.  There isn't really anyone that we can ride with on a routine basis for our conditioning work and it is important that Nimo learn to be by himself because it's likely that we won't always have company on our endurance rides.

And, it was nice to know that my registration fee was going to a worthy cause.  I can't imagine anything more therapeutic than horseback riding!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Conditioning Ride - June 1, 2013

For the past several days, temperatures have been in the 90s with humidity to match.  Apparently, we're just skipping June and going straight to July on the weather front.  I meant to ride on Wednesday, but that was the first day of the heat and I thought I'd give Nimo a little bit of an opportunity to acclimate.

Because I'm going to a trail ride tomorrow, I normally would not have ridden today.  But because I didn't ride all week, I thought I'd better do a light ride just to make sure everything was in working order.  We just rode around the field and through the neighborhood for 45 minutes.  We walked the whole time except for a 5 minute trot workout over some gentle slopes.  We did get to practice maneuvering around traffic, though, because there were 2 yard sales in the neighborhood, so there were a lot of cars driven by people who had no idea that one should slow down and leave some room when passing a horse.  Luckily, Nimo is actually really good around traffic, so he was a trooper despite the ignorance of many of the drivers.

Usually Nimo handles heat pretty well, but he was dripping with sweat after our gentle ride and still blowing after almost 15 minutes of walking after the trot.  So, I hosed him off with cold water after the ride and used the hose/scrape, hose/scrape method of cooling him until the water was still cool when I scraped it off.  It didn't take too long once I started cold-hosing for him to cool down.  Then he got his typical post-ride snack of 1 cup CoolStance, 1 lb organic whole oats, 1/2 Tbsp Himalayan rock salt, and 1/2 Tbsp Azomite.  I had wet it down before we left and then added extra water to make it pretty soupy.  Nimo isn't good about drinking yet, so I wanted to make sure he got some hydration.

I'm definitely planning on bringing extra water for sponging tomorrow, and I plan to take it easy on the ride because the heat will still be here.