091.

Spring is finally in full swing here, and I’ve been putting miles on Nakai to avoid the Empty House. Ben surprised me with a GoPro Hero 5 Black, so I’ve been playing around with it while riding the home trails.

Setting it up was easy (No tears of frustration!) and transferring files over is also pretty quick. I’m still figuring out the app itself, but otherwise I’m totally pleased. I cannot wait to take it out on a ride with friends!

Here’s a short clip from our loop today:

 

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088.

Two years ago today I attended Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher was the kick off to my endurance season and the main reason for beginning this blog. I’m reminded of the nauseating anxiety, relief flooding my veins as we settled onto trail, and the exhilarating realization that we crossed a LD off the bucket list.

Of course, there was also the rain, wind, ice, and snow. I shiver involuntarily; I think my bones remember the chill.

Between Mechele and I, we changed no less than half a dozen times. We had trouble keeping the horses warm. Nakai turned cranky afterward and took it out on Rose. For all her boss mare tendencies, Rose simply let Nakai throw his tantrum. We separated the horses and proceeded to drown our irritation in cheese and breadsticks at the Olive Garden.

Two years later I find myself back in my western work tack, schooling roll backs and catching up with Maria in the pen. We fuss over our old men, laughing as Nakai excitedly flags his tail (this is the first time in weeks he’s ridden with anyone else) and catching Beamer as he tries a half-hearted run off on Maria down the middle of the pen as she works on square stops.

Endurance riding seems a lifetime ago.

I also feel a bit like an outsider.

 I struggle with finding a balance between his head telling him that he can, that he will – and the body that needs a longer warm up and cool down. A body that needs to be monitored so he doesn’t do something stupid and hurt himself from over enthusiasm. When fit, he can keep up with everyone. But we are not fit, and fitness takes time.

I watch friends load up and trailer out as I school in the ring.  Such is life without a trailer. I’m getting the truck set up to haul, but until then I’m stuck liking facebook posts about their trail rides and toodling around on the farm.

For the most part, I ride alone.

Maria’s in the same position. We want to do something, but we aren’t sure what.

Whatever you decide, it must include more cookies – Nakai & Beamer, probably.

 

086.

Spring’s been a rough adjustment. We’ve had four back-to-back Nor’Easters coupled with some rainy days in between. We’ll have a few days of lovely weather, the ground begins drying out, and temperatures reach into the fifties. Then…

Yep.

Hello, April! I guess you couldn’t let March have all the fun.

Nakai just after starting cubes

Nakai’s had a reduced workload as I wanted to see how supplementing his diet with hay cubes would go. I needlessly worry; he loves them, he’s picking up weight, and the theme for our last ride could be filed under #halfhaltandpray. He felt wonderful and is full of energy.

Nakai 2 weeks later, after a ride

I’m also under an incredible amount of work-related stress right now. I know better than to ride if I’ve have a rough day; Nakai handles my anxiety about as well as I do. He soaks up my emotion and we end up with a frustrating rides. Instead, I groom thoroughly, work on stretching, or do some various other ground work.

Stretching on his blind side 

Currently, it’s raining (again). After 5 inches of snow melted yesterday, today greeted us with rain. All. Day. Long. They’re even talking about another potential snow maker this weekend.

I signed up for a virtual marathon for the duration of April to help jump start my motivation. I guess we’ll be slogging through a foot of mud on the trails.

Happy Spring?

085.

The vet came out for spring shots. In addition to the usual coggins and shots, Nakai also received a body examination, mouth exam, and eye exam. There’s a fecal in there somewhere as well, but I do those every year regardless. I’m just waiting for the next person over my house to ask why I have noted to “gather poop balls for Jess” written on the calendar.

I felt the need for a baseline mostly because I don’t know what to expect in old horse aging. Nakai compounds this mystery as up until now he hasn’t had any of the issues that normally plague older horses. He’s very healthy for his age (27), and the vet still can’t believe he’s cushings free.

Shrinky eye is shrinky.

He hasn’t had an ERU flare up for over 2 1/2 years now, and while his eyeball is continually shrinking (and looking more pointy) it’s not causing any issues. He has two ancient splints on the inside of his fronts, but otherwise his legs are clean.

Amazingly, he still has all of his teeth, although some of them are nearly worn down completely. He’s beginning to have a minor issue chewing all of his hay (my BO noticed him dropping some), so I’m now supplementing with soaked alfalfa/timothy cubes.

Body condition as of 3/18/18

The most interesting discovery was that Nakai has a heart murmur! Over the course of our endurance training I thought I heard something odd when listening to his heart, but nobody had confirmed one way or another what it was. It’s never bothered him, and the vet confirmed that it’s not hindering him in any way. Sometimes murmurs show up in older horses and I have no way of knowing if this is something he’s had his entire life or is a later onset.

In summary: Nakai’s old but not broken, and despite wanting to see a little more weight gain the vet told me he looks good for his age.

While I know he’s old, I don’t think of him as “old”, and it’s a bit of a system shock each time someone says it. I automatically get defensive, the Mama-Bear in me wanting to hulk smash the person next person who flippantly comments on his roaning facial hair.

In the same breath, my gallows humor and morbid “what happens after my horse dies” questions are somehow inappropriate. I deal with sucky subjects by way of humor, but I also have to be realistic. Hopefully I won’t have to cross this bridge for years, but knowledge helps me feel more secure. I can plan. Kinda. We all know the Universe is rather whimsical.

And I’d rather a minute too early than a second too late.

084.

Compared to 2016’s equestrian endeavors this past year has been extremely quiet. After completing 50 miles with all A’s at Mustang Memorial, I retired Nakai from endurance riding. He absolutely loves it, but at 26 years old I think it’s too much to ask him to keep doing fifties. Aside from Nakai’s ERU, I’ve been incredibly fortunate not to have any lameness or “old horse” issues. I want to keep him going as long as possible, and I decided that meant no longer competing.

I miss endurance riding.

I still bounce down the trails with friends and Nakai still needs at least 15 miles to really settle. What I really want, though, is to load up my horse and travel the east coast attending rides. Nakai will always have a home with me, and I love him more than life. Life, however, has its limitations and this particular dream isn’t going to manifest itself for a number of years.

The last bit of 2017 came with all kinds of annoyances that, while minor in the long run, left Ben and I stressed and cranky. My family was kind enough to gift us with the plague at Christmas. Three weeks have gone by and we’re finally feeling better. I’ll remember this the next time I come down with a stomach bug.

Then, I messed up my back and somehow managed to lock up the muscles in my lower left side. From doing what, you ask? CLEANING. Well, I told Ben, that’s the last time I’m doing that.

From all of this, Nakai’s basically had the first part of January off. I was able to squeeze in a ride here and there, but this past weekend was the first time I felt decent enough and the footing was safe enough to get some miles in on the trails.  I’m on a completely different schedule than everyone at the barn it seems, so I took the opportunity to tinker with my new vivitar camera. Unfortunately, the battery life is nauseatingly short (30 mins) and I have to practically point it at the ground to see Nakai. I’m hoping to replace it with one of the newer GoPro Hero’s in the near future.

Winter is usually when I pull out my work saddle and go back to basics. We work on softness, flexibility, and patience. I’d like to think one of the reasons I don’t have any body issues or lameness with him is because of the time I spend bending and suppling his body. It improves his responses, flexibility, and balance. This little horse can do lead changes on circles smaller than 20 meters, but that doesn’t mean anything if I don’t keep up with it.

Our ride last night can be summarized by “I should have lunged my horse”. Nakai was great but absolutely on fire. He wanted to do everything at Mach 5. I said “come on, easy, easy, YES soft, that’s right” so many times it might as well be our mantra. It was more frequently followed by “nope, you know that, nope” as I half halted every other stride and asked him to please remember he is an appaloosa and most certainly not a dynamite stick. He tries so hard though, and I feel blessed to have a coming 27 with the motor of a 4 year old.

I can’t wait to see him tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

080. No-Stirrup November: Bareback Edition

As Halloween decorations are replaced with Thanksgiving decor and the last leaf falls silently from the old oak, there’s a voice of dread whispering on the tail of the cool autumn wind: No-Stirrup November.

It creeps slowly, tentatively feeling its way through. You remember last year’s debacle through a nostalgic filter. It’s not that bad, you reason. Remember all the late nights with friends, playing tag and giggling at each other while trying to master an extended trot bareback? Wasn’t that fun? Wasn’t it??

Nakai says “Well, shit.”

Admittedly, I’m late to the party. The rainy weather combined with adulting made the first week of November barely ride-able, and when Wednesday rolled around I gritted my teeth and ditched the saddle. Nakai felt great and I impressed myself with my stickiness and hip work. We tackled 2 1/2 miles in a half hour with a good portion of that working on trotting. Cantering bareback with Nakai is a dream, but his pony jackhammer trot leaves much to be desired. M grabbed Rose toward the end and we went for a little walk through the fields. I could not resist one last canter up the hill.

Encouraged and energized with how well Wednesday’s bareback ride went, I went for round 2 last night. It started off a bit rocky – Nakai was adamant that he eats before riding, not after, and I witnessed a dazzling display of irritation on the crossties. The poor lad still doesn’t seem to realize that the only thing more stubborn than himself is me. Off we went, working through some initial balkiness. He slipped behind my leg, trying his best to plead his case that it’s dinnertime (not at 3:30pm…). Fortunately said temper tantrum lasted a whopping five minutes and then we were off to the races.

Once we warmed up, Nakai felt wonderfully forward and engaging. My thighs, however, screamed and it was more difficult this ride to half-halt and ask for roundness and softness. I rode another 2 1/2 miles, and now this morning I’m walking like Yosemite Sam. I’m making it a goal to ride bareback at least once a week anyway, but I’m hoping I can do this 2 or 3 times a week over the winter months. Now, if I can convince some of the other barn ladies to do the same…

 

Finally, dinner. “I’m dying from starvation” – Nakai, dramatically.

 

075. A Test in Patience

After a week of 80+ degree heat, Saturday’s cool sixties brought a sigh of relief as Maria and I trailered to Green Lane. I could not wait to bounce down the blue trail for the first time in months! With overcast skies and a constant wind, I thought we would have the trails to ourselves.

I started out the ride in a hoodie but quickly skittered back to the truck to dump it. Kai felt like a dynamite stick, ready to work and practically humming underneath me. The red trail was mostly empty, and we warmed up the horses with a working trot. Despite his excitement, Nakai rated well beside Beamer and we weaved our way through cyclists and the odd hiker. A few boats dotted the water as we crossed the bridge, the fishermen bundled up. The grim faces and layered bodies were a stark contrast to my T-shirt and rosy complexion. I love cold weather!


The blue trail barely began before we ran into a bunch of trail riders moseying. Then it was more cyclists. Families hiking. Dogs. So many dogs. We played a perpetual game of leap frog, hardly getting up to speed before having to shut down and share the trail. At one point we actually got stuck behind a gentleman hand walking his horse down the rockiest (and most narrow) section. If nothing else, this ride really tested Nakai’s patience. Beamer carefully picked his way through the trail, oblivious to his friend’s irritation. Though unhappy with the numerous stops, Kai waited calmly while a group of bible toting ladies crossed one of the many technical gullies, kept a fair distance from the hand walking horse, and relaxed after a brief hesitation when I asked him to please take a minute.


What should have been a 2-2 1/2 hour ride turned into 3, and our average speed was only 3.9mph. I cringed when I saw these stats and reminded myself that this was still a training ride (just not the kind I imagined). The plus side of multi-use trails is that our horses are regularly exposed to all sorts of life – sketchy people, bikes, unruly dogs, joggers, and everything else in between – and it shapes them into confident, secure horses who trust their riders to make safe decisions.

You can’t put a price on that.