028.

Nakai’s bridle and breast collar are complete, and I took him out for a quick ride to demo them both.

I’m a big fan of thick leather tack. Up until switching to endurance that’s all I would use, and even then I had a few disgruntled months before switching over to synthetic. I just love the way western work tack looks and feels. When I climb into my western, it’s like coming home. Nakai is the perfect work pony, and on my bucket list is still to bring him to a extreme trail clinic and some more cow work events.

With that in mind, I asked Mechele if it was possible to make a one-ear headstall for Nakai. She fiddled around with it, and the end result is damn near perfect. It fits him great, and I love that biothane won’t rub, never fades, and is easy to clean with soap and water. It comes in every color imaginable, and mechele even has a couple sets that glow in the dark. Either Nakai’s size is very similar to Rose or Mechele just knows, because I didn’t have a adjust a thing – I threw it on and we were good to go!



With my tack situation squared away, it’s time to pack the trailer (and pack.. and pack) and try not to let stress take away from my excitement. 9 days to go!

 

Advertisements

027. This is Not a Gentle Hobby

Fair warning: If you reach the end and feel guilty… well, if the shoe fits, right?

First things first.

If you’re not going to properly care for you horse, you shouldn’t have one at all.

I’ve been there, fourteen and ignorant with an ill-fitting saddle and no concept of soft, giving hands. The horses I rode were saintly creatures or who put up with all kinds of shenanigans.

But I learned. And changed. And made a conscious effort to make the life of my horse easier. Safer. More comfortable.

When you know better, you do better.

Recently, I’ve been appalled at the lack of care, insight, and responsibility from some friends and acquaintances. These are people who attend clinics, lessons, and workshops. These are people who play the ethical, proud horse parent on social media but in real life neglect to do their duty as a responsible horse owner. When your horse’s feet are bruised and need recovery time, you do not go out and ride her into the ground. When your horse is has ulcers and needs time for medicine to work and a break from the stress, you do not load him up and drive 11 hours to an endurance ride. When your OTTB needs time to “be a horse”, you do not slap a german martingale and a gag bit on him, force into a false frame and then wonder why his brain is fried and he won’t give to you.

Most horses are kind, forgiving creatures… but they don’t forget.

So when your horse balks because she knows the driveway stones will hurt, or when he braces, leans on you, and runs through your little fists of steel – it’s because you taught them this. Every time you handle your horse, you are teaching them. Don’t get frustrated or mad your horse doesn’t understand your cues or isn’t strong enough to perform what you’re asking when you haven’t taken the time to teach and prepare them.

Don’t you dare badmouth the trainer you sent your horse to when your horse reverts to defense mechanisms to escape from your bad habits. When a trainer spends months bringing your horse back to the basics to teach it to carry itself, to give to pressure and patience, it does not mean you can then throw him into a situation he is not prepared for, ruin the work the trainer did, and then blame the trainer for lack of progress. Riding a horse is not driving a vehicle on cruise control. You need to work just as hard and just as diligently to achieve the results you want. You need strength, balance, humility, and patience (not to mention a sense of humor). It is disgusting the way riders no longer take responsibility for their part.

Which leads me to my next portion:

SENIOR HORSES ARE NOT GARBAGE.

Why are you dumping your horse as soon as they hit their early twenties? Did they not spend years carrying your ass around, doubling as a secret-keeper and friend? Did they not give you their best years? Now, because they’re slower, creaky, and elderly they have no value?

I’m seeing more and more sale ads from individuals who are selling their elderly horses due to downsizing or trying to free up space. These horses are going for $500 or less, taking the first cash offer that comes in. They “hate” to sell them… but are doing it anyway.

Your senior horse deserve to live it out its days with  YOU. Being cared for by YOU. Do you know what happens when you dump your senior horse? They end up dead. The lucky few end up as companion animals or therapeutic horses. The rest? Auctions. Kill buyers. Ran into the ground by that person off craigslist. Once you sell your senior horse, you have no control over the level of care they receive or how they’re treated.

Maybe I’m struck with Black Beauty syndrome. Maybe no one has close bonds with their horses anymore. Maybe it’s no big deal, they’re just tools to use to reach a goal (spoiler alert: if you believe that notion, there’s something wrong with you).

Their temperament may have mellowed. They may have arthritis, cushings, or in my case ERU. They can’t give you the same level of performance as they could in their early teens. They’re fussier, crankier, and take a bigger hit to your wallet…but they have mastered the art of friendship. They have years of experience to offer your six year old cousin or the neighbor girl who watches with envy. Senior horses have a dry sense of humor, a willingness that seems almost patronizing at times, and they are still the best confidants you could ever friend. They won’t spill your years of secrets, and they know you almost better than you know yourself. They’re your second soul.

(This is Nakai ponying a friend’s daughter at the annual Xmas parade. They were elves!)

They were once your wings.

As they age, it’s your turn to be their rock.

(Faces of Nakai through the years)

This touches a nerve for me because Nakai is 25. I’ve only owned him for 8 years, but within that time span he has given me a lifetime of experiences and memories. He is my other half. The emotional connection I have with him is incredible. He can literally read my mind and our energies sync up as one. He is the mirror to my soul.


He will never leave me. I would eat Ramen for the rest of my life to ensure his every need is met. I’m retiring him from endurance after this year because he deserves to enjoy his golden years. He is on the best feed and supplements I can afford to keep his body as healthy as possible. After everything he has given me, this is the very least I can do. He will still be here when he has no teeth left, when I can no longer ride him and he will still be my most treasured item. He will never feel hunger, never lack care, and never feel insecure.

I owe him this. He deserves this.

Don’t they all?

026. Canal Training Ride

I am happily nestled on the couch, fed, and caffeinated (homemade sweet tea is my crutch). Mechele and I drove to the Delaware Canal this morning to get one last training ride in before Mustang Memorial. It was a rough morning; Mechele was still not feeling quite right from her wicked migraine yesterday, and we debated scratching the entire plan. I needed an opportunity to get more miles in – but it is not worth risking one’s health. Eventually we pulled our acts together, loaded up the horses, and set out.

Both Nakai and Rose are terribly bored with our home trails – so much so that both of them were glad to be out on the Canal. The Canal is also repetitive and boring, but lacks the multiple road crossings and pavement the Perkiomen trail offers. There’s also the many low bridges to ride underneath.


Note to my readers: If you have a horse over 15.3 hands, I would advise against riding the canal unless you are prepared to dismount for almost every bridge. They’re just not tall enough to accommodate a large horse and rider.

Both horses warmed up and were ready to rock. Nakai was moving out and happily rated with Rose. The miles flew by in a whirlwind of greenery, and before we knew it we came up on mile 8 and an opportunity to let the horses (read: Nakai) drink. Rose rarely has a desire to drink before mile 18, so I led him down to the water pool. This was a usual drink spot for us and we never had an issue before today. Nakai loves water and determinedly marched into the pool. I barely had a minute to register the situation before it happened.

Almost immediately, he sank up to his barrel. He lurched forward, trying to unstick himself. Again he sank. Again he lurched. Every time he moved, the ground shifted, providing more instability.

I’m trying my best to stay out of his way, give rein, and with another surge forward I pop out of my saddle, land behind it, and the power from Nakai’s hindquarters threw me off to the side. I let myself go with the motion, falling off him. I landed on a portion of dry creek bed and rolled, trying to avoid hooves on my hip. I was in his path and at the time almost underneath him.

Nakai missed my body completely, carefully avoiding me and stepping over and around my body parts. I don’t know how he knew where I was – I was on his blind side! He has done this before when I’ve done something stupid. I don’t know if he can feel my presence or my energy, but he seems to instinctively know where I am when it matters most. [Side note: years ago I was playing with him and he followed me over a 2ft jump. As I jumped it, I clipped one of my feet over the pole and fell face first into the dirt. Nakai twisted himself in the air to avoid me, landing to my right and away from my body.]

By the time I rolled upright, he had made it onto the bank and stepped on his reins. He goes completely still, waiting for someone to help.  I am a firm believer that all horses should be hobble broke and taught to give to pressure. As soon as he felt trapped he stopped, patiently waiting. He never panicked or fought pressure. Mechele got to him first, carefully unclipping my reins and reassuring him.

I was covered in mud and gravel, and set to work cleaning Kai off with my sponge. I cleaned him and myself up as mcuh as possible. He was sound, uncut and otherwise OK. As it turns out, the accident gave Mechele time to rest and evaluate how she was feeling. We decided at this point to turn around and head for home. Nakai was ready to move out before I was, and happily extended his trot and canter without an issue. Apparently outside of a bit of a scare, the sinking episode didn’t hurt him at all. Rose was making up games and doing her best to egg Nakai’s competitive nature on. He amusingly enough refused to take her bait, traveling soft and quietly behind and beside her. He rated without an issue, and on the way home we had a chance to work on some more wind. We did 5 minute miles!

The ride back to the trailer was uneventful except for looking down and realizing my breeches were soaking wet! I pulled my water bottles out to discover pin leaks in the last three bottles. I swear this happens every training ride! I’m not sure what I do to create the pin leaks, but I distinctly remember my breeches at Foxcatcher soaking wet due to the same issue. Ugh.


Overall, Nakai feels amazing and despite our debacle it was a great last ride. We are ready for 50 miles! He has a massage scheduled and gets the next two weeks off to rest before Mustang Memorial.

025.

The Mustang entry is in the mail!

 

Five different lists have been made and my new tights came in yesterday.

I resisted purchasing any kind of breeches/tights for years. Knee patches give me rubs and the thought of paying over $80 for tights was absurd.

But.

My $12 Walmart tights started giving me knee rubs after 20 miles. And they have a seam going down the inside… and I know 50 miles in them is just looking for trouble.  Riding Warehouse was having a sale, and after mooching off friends to try on their various models I decided to try the Kerrits IceFil. Of course, they wanted $82 for a black pair but the obnoxious ‘Huckleberry’ was available for $62 with free shipping. Sold.

I tried them on and bam – magical. I’ve never had a pair of breeches or tights fit as well as they do. I did a 5 mile ride in them last night, and it’s like sweet baby Jesus himself blessed these pants. Beyonce took one look and whispered “fierce“.

And the pockets I was previously ambivalent about? They’re amazing too.

We’re doing a training ride at the Canal this weekend, so I’ll get to put 20-25 miles on them and see how they hold up. My other endurance friends say they won’t ride in anything else, so here’s hoping I have just as wonderful results as they do.

 

024.

Gorgeous weather this weekend meant an abundance of training rides at home. We were a bit slack in trimming trees and creating trails around the corn fields this year, so this nixed a couple fields from our normal loops. This has created expectations for Nakai, who thinks he has figured out the new loop pattern.  After his last ditch attempt to dive into the woods trail (I wanted field, he tried for woods), it turned into a game. I’ll let him power trot through the shortcut home only to turn the opposite direction and head back out. Our loop has turned into zigs and zags of surprises to try and keep his brain thinking.


At one point, we stopped at the continually shrinking pond to drink and sponge off. As I flung my sponge leash out into the water, I watched as my sponge leaves the leash, soaring through the air and landing in the pond. There wasn’t any way to get it while on Kai, so I dismounted, clinging to his side like a rock climber while trying to ease my way into the water. I knew it was shallow, but wasn’t sure how shallow… and the mud is a red clay mixture that turns into cement.

Pretending to ignore me trudging out of the mud, calling for him. This was after I saved my sponge – I was trying to clean my boots (to no avail)

The aftermath… what I couldn’t get off!

I try to drop gently, but instead splash down, both feet stuck in the mud and my entire bottom half sopping wet. It was deeper than anticipated. I’m doing a jig to keep my own feet from sticking as I retrieve the sponge and notice Nakai has left me! He’s standing on the dry bank, leg cocked, watching with what I swear is an amused expression. My Ariats and half chaps are slick with mud, my breeches are drenched, and I’m stinky. I did one more pathetic mile before deciding that riding in wet breeches is not for me and began for home.

We came across Mechele and Rose on our travels home, and this woke Nakai up. He motored through the last two miles of our ride as if he was suddenly all business. He cracks me up; add a friend and he suddenly doesn’t have time for shenanigans. At home we marched over to the newest herd member, and Nakai thoroughly molested the front half before deciding grass was more interesting. Rose was not sure about it, and we had a giggle watching the dragon mare snort and eye the skeleton suspiciously.

023. Planning for Mustang

The last couple weeks have been spent mainly organizing my thoughts and planning for Mustang. Kevin’s being painted this weekend, and Nakai and I are back in our riding groove. I complain about any kind of weather above 70 degrees, but he’s been working beautifully in this most recent stretch of heat and humidity. We’re averaging at least 5 miles per ride in an hour (and often less). I want to get out on at least one (hopefully two) training ride before Mustang.


Endurance rides are a completely different ballgame than regular horse shows. Unless you have a LQ trailer, you are basically rough camping with your horse. Although I planned well for Foxcatcher, I still came away with a list on ways to improve on my set-up and camping. Despite the learning curve, I gleaned some valuable tricks from Mechele and have a much better idea of what a weekend away entails. For those who don’t know, “Camp” is usually just a huge field. Ride management normally provides dinner the night before, but outside of a few breakfast goodies the morning of the ride there isn’t anything else provided. You are responsible for anything you may need… and when in doubt, pack three of everything! I’m hoping weather for Mustang will be nice. I changed no less than 4 times at Foxcatcher due to rain, snow, and ice. I love to play in water, but I loathe being wet.

In between rides, I am creating lists and hoarding totes. Lists for me, for Kai, and another list for Ben and Honey! Grocery list. List of essentials. Of non-essentials. We picked up an awesome tent at Cabelas. I am looking forward to a cozy camp site and listening to Kai destroy his hay all night long.

A quick test set-up!

I have my tack situation figured out, and I hopefully won’t have to pack six different blankets for Nakai. His hydration is great, he’s now over a year ERU flare-up free, and he looks fantastic. We feel on track, and I am really looking forward to having a fun ride. Right now it’s just myself and Mechele riding, but we’re crossing fingers Shelly will also be able to attend. Ben’s coming along as crew and cheerleader, and Jill has also decided to come play Crew Mommy and Professional Chef! Mostly, though, I am very curious to see how Nakai works with Rose over the course of 50 miles, especially on new trails. I’ve been warned the endless repeat sand and pine trees gets old (and boring) fast, but I’m so excited for this adventure that I don’t think I’ll mind.

 

022. A wrench in the works

Remember my plan for Hector?

Yep.

Sigh.

Another  project I’ve been working on is Kevin. Kev’s my 2001 F-150. He’s my reliable farm truck, puppy-mobile, and gas guzzler. If stacked right, I can get 42 bales of hay in one load, and perhaps most importantly – he is the only thing left I have from my mom. She died in 2009 and despite (to put it mildly) our tumultuous relationship, Kevin’s both nostalgic and sentimental. And he needs to last at least another 5 years. I do not want a new truck payment yet (I am saving up for a “Gary”).


Ben has helped me replace many items on the truck, most recently being rear shocks, rocker panels, and cab corners. I’m still chasing a noise we think is coming from my CV joint, but otherwise all that’s left is a face lift… and he was scheduled to be painted over Labor Day weekend. Of course, I can only comfortably afford one or the other, so the ride has to wait. I am incredibly bummed, but getting Kev painted will finally cross him off the to-do list and be a big stress reliever.

While the financial aspect was the major deciding factor, there are some other significant considerations. Nakai is in great shape, but I’m trying to add a few more pounds on him since fall (and winter) will be here shortly. Last year he dropped a bit of a weight quite suddenly after Christmas, and (while he picked it back up right away) I want to prevent that from happening again.  I had also learned some disconcerting and alarming information about a friend’s behavior toward her horse. Originally, there was the possibility I may be riding with them at Hector. I am unwilling to put my horse in that kind of stressful situation, nor do I want to gamble possibly wasting my entry money and not be able to finish the ride on time due to the consequences of the poor decisions someone else made.

For now?

School, go on training rides… and enjoy the old man. I’m feeling a bit defeated, but that will pass. The next ride is Oct. 1, Mustang Memorial. I told Ben I was going Jersey no matter what.