Monday, October 28, 2013

Riding with Mom

I am the only horse person in my immediate family, with a sister who's allergic, brothers who claim to be scared, and busy parents who's interests do not include equines. Fortunately it is an indulgent family, at times, and I got the chance to take my mom riding this weekend when she visited!! She hasn't ridden in years, in fact not since I took her and my step-dad out at the trail riding ranch I worked at as a teenager. I hadn't been scheming it for this visit but she showed up with heeled work boots, so we HAD to go :-)

Mom and I with Blaze and Scrappy
 Blaze and Scrappy are both lovely guys but the bar is seriously raised when you put your non-rider mother up on a horse, so I was 95% confident in them and 5% holding my breath.  We cruised a couple miles around the neighborhood with the geldings and the boys were very well behaved for horses fit enough to jam 30 and 50 miles, out doing a quiet walkabout!

Ma and Blaze, a beautiful autumn morning scene
Scrappy was walking out really briskly and Blaze felt the need to do some short trots to catch up, but my mom handled it well and I just love this photo, seems to me she has a great natural seat and good handle on Blaze!
There were some horses in a new spot when we got back to the short section of paved road to home so we dismounted and hand walked the boys, and good thing, because more horses came charging through the noisy brush to the fence and Blaze got a little, ahem, frisky. I saw him start trotting in hand with my mom and quickly handed Scrappy over to her. Scrappy was a total gentleman for her while  I had a discussion with Blaze, who piaffed and launched around me in circles until we were out of sight of the fence, where upon he promptly quieted to his normal Blaze self. Silly boy.

Mom leading Scrappy in a flurry of falling leaves
I found this great rope Indian bridle/sidepull headstall used, and it was great for Scrappy yesterday. It fit him well and he was responsive and happy in it, unlike a few other bitless set ups I've tried. He definitely tells me whether he likes the headgear or not, and he seemed quite content in this low profile set up:
 What a special experience to be out riding in the gorgeous autumn with my mom and beloved geldings. The boys made me proud and my mom wasn't even sore after a few miles ride!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Rushcreek Future..Introducing..

Rushcreek Freon x Zee Business
DOB: July 29th, 2013
Coming home to  us in CA from Messick Performance and Endurance Horses of Ceresco, Nebraska in May, 2014!

RC Aurora, 1 day old, and dam RC Freon

Zee Business, 2008 Regional Reserve and Class A Working Cowhorse Champion

RC Aurora, 3 months

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I'm baackk...*smashing computer gadgets left and right*

For the first time ever, and despite active and much used Anti-virus software, my (2 year old) PC hard drive took a shit. One day running slow, the next this:
Fortunately, I have my blog through Google+ and my smart phone and tablets are all synced to the same, so I didn't lose any photos or crucial information. My husband fared pretty well too, a few fishing videos that can be recovered later if he really wants them, but it was surprisingly less than devastating to lose the functioning desktop. Inconvenient for blogging? Yes! Things have been busy and it took me until today to locate and plug in the laptop to get back to mostly normal computer life.

To catch up, this past Monday Scrappy and I met N and Willow for 15 miles at Lake Oroville. It was Scrappy's first ride back after a major chiropractic adjustment the previous week, and he felt *amazing* He was forward and eager and WANTED to canter, choosing both leads equally easily and transitioning from trot to canter smoothly where the footing called for it. It was fun and exciting and positively thrilling to ride! There were minimal snarky faces and lots of forward ears and carrot bites taken easily flexing back both right and left.

A rare moment of Willow confidence ;-)  Scrappy likes to snooze in the back sometimes
 The ride was phenomenal and gave me hope for many smooth, happy, forward miles in our future. Not that I doubted him but he is such a laid back and quiet character that it was nice to feel the enthusiasm and undeniable *rightness* happening in his body as we moved down the trail, uphill or down. Funnily enough the left hind toe drag was totally gone and his right hind seemed a tad lazy. It wasn't consistent though and N and I agreed he may still be getting used to his new body. Because what else can you do at that point! I can drive myself crazy with nuances and What Ifs, personally. But bottom line that was a truly wonderful ride and Scrappy got a thorough warm bath and a big sloppy pan of Elk Grove with a jar of Strategy on top so you know he was extra good ;-)
Thursday I parked at a different spot than usual with Scrappy, with the goal of getting in 10 miles in 2 hours at the slowest, so our version of speed work. I was hoping for more like 10 miles in 1 1/2 hrs but there were a lot of steep ups an downs involved in the route we took and we got back to the trailer at 10 miles exactly, in 2 hrs and 1 minute.
 Interestingly, Scrappy wasn't moving near as forward or enthusiastically as he had on Monday, but then again he was alone for this ride and is already getting wise to the trails, so I can blame some of that on those conditions.
I heard him drag BOTH hind toes intermittently, so go figure. Still he was willing to give more up the hills when I asked for it and gamely took on an extremely steep 1/2 mile climb I hadn't pointed him up before. He is great to ride alone, careful of footing as ever but not bothered about passing other horses going in various directions or being passed by bike riders, dogs, hikers, etc.   The season has certainly changed for the chillier and the winter coats are heavy on the horses already, but without rain yet the extreme dust layer makes for a real mess when you add miles. I got away with a thorough warm scrubbing of Scrappy when we got home since he has perfect afternoon sunlight on his paddock and with his mash parked in the warm rays, he would be dry and comfortable in no time.

This morning I got Blaze out with the intention of trying the 2 lovely Smith-Wortington English saddles I borrowed from N. She isn't using them and I miss a good English seat sometimes, so I figured I'd see if they fit Scrappy or Blaze. I haven't tried Scrappy yet but neither fit Blaze as I wanted. That was the first plan change; after a quick spin around the yard I decided I wasn't even going to go out the gate in the saddle so I quickly swapped all the gear and stirrups back to his Eurolight.

good thing he is one patient, chill dude ;-)
 The next plan was about a 12 mile cruise through the neighorhood, 6 miles out and 6 back, but Blaze was incredibly, almost unbelievably spooky and snorty, to the point that I dismounted three or four times to hand walk him past cows, that damn scary donkey, and other random things. He was blowing like they do when they smell a predator and was generally just a total spacey, spooky, jackass. This calls for miles and an attitude adjustment you say, and I would agree, only right about then my right stirrup fell off. The nut came off the bolt holding the stirrup bar on and tah dah, bye bye stirrup. I recovered all the pieces but the nut, so the stirrup ended up strapped on the pommel of the saddle in shame, and I once again changed my plans. Blaze was far too snorty and spazzy to do the full ride without stirrups, but I damn sure wasn't letting him choose when we turned around, so we finished the 2 mile dirt road stretch, then turned around and worked on strong leg and rein contact to keep him walking in a nice frame alllllll the way home.
 It was tiring for both of us to pursue and maintain that (mostly) correct frame, but it felt sooo much better with his hind end engaged and his back up under me than his spooky, nose to the sky, back absurdly hollowed stance that the rest of the ride had been full of. He was still a spooky shit but keeping him connected and moving back and forth across the dirt road was pretty effective in distracting the worst of it. Blaze's alfalfa ration is being cut back for one thing, and he is certainly ready to get out more, for another! At 17 years old he shows no signs of his age, that's for sure. What a relief  :-)   <3

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Horse Chiropractic: Scrappy 2.0 and my Dear Mare

The next step in the Scrappy 2.0 process was a full chiropractic check and adjustments as necessary. He had a pretty major dental done in the beginning of September, the first of his life and a very needed one with hooks and points throughout his mouth. His previous owners did tell me he most likely needed a dental but since he rides bit-less and clearly has no issues with eating or weight, there was no indication his teeth were as uncomfortable as they undoubtedly were! These were not the first glimmerings of the stoic nature of my Rushcreek buddy, and I was really paying attention now. After confirming with his previous owners that he had never had an chiropractic adjustment, my mind ran wild with the possibilities of what state his body could be in. He is sound and moves wonderfully, but if he was performing so well with bad teeth, there was no telling where his body was at after 8 years, with 140 LD miles and 200 AERC miles, including the challenging Virginia City 100 miler, done in the last 16 months.

Desire always needs chiro work so the greys had a spa evening

After trying a few different people, I am really happy with D, the equine chiropractor I've been using of late. She's great with the horses, fun to chat to, and gaspingly affordable. What more can you ask for in a horse professional! D had a full day Thursday and still came way out in the hills to us around 5:30 pm. The horses knew it was about feeding time and were restless in their various ways. 

Bored..snacks..I want snacks..why am I standing here..mmmm cross tie snack..
 I is Giraffe! Hurry up people, dinner is soon
 Desire got worked on first and was, as ever, completely out of whack. D felt her from head to tail and sighed, "she's a hot mess, isn't she." "Yes, a blazun haat mess for sure." Hey, even in rueful moments I can't resist a good dumb pedigree joke! Aside from her neck and TMJ, Desire's right hip was out. Again. And without any riding for the last 4 months. D was alarmed at how easily Desire's hip went back into place and told me to check it in 3 days as she was afraid the cartilage was deteriorated and the hip would be back out already. From speaking with her and a few other knowledgeable friends, aside from various veterinarian visits and countless hours spent reading and obsessing in my head, it seems best now to retire Desire to pasture pet with possible occasional light rides. She is pasture sound but on the circle you can see her hind end lameness from both bad hind hocks, and with a hip that continually pops out of place..well. It is what it is. She's 17 years old, gorgeous, healthy, and looks good out in the big pasture. I knew this was coming but the hip thing just adds another problem to the mounting issues and I don't have the heart (or the money) to keep banging away at trying to make her sound for something she clearly isn't for anymore. She is in great health and hopefully has many years ahead of her; it seems like such a waste to retired her as she really loved and was good at endurance, always competitive and forward and happiest spooking gloriously down the trail with her tail flagged high. I'm really glad I at least have a large pasture for her to live out her days in, regardless of future soundness. Hmpph. If I think about it, it bums me out. So I look at Scrappy and dream of XPs. And look at Sheza and thank Desire for the gorgeous filly gift she gave us.

and she looks good in Bling. I think I 'll keep her  ;-) 
 As for Scrappy, once again I had a horse professional marveling, "How in the world did he do so well with this going on?" As with the wild dental needs, Scrappy's neck was out on both sides, his TMJ was a little off, and *both* hips were out of place. Interestingly he was out of whack, but evenly so on both sides. My husband's non-horse friend watched D work and was amazed, as I was, at the visible physical difference in Scrappy's croup after she adjusted his hips (so I know that I wasn't hallucinating it, since I didn't get good before-after photos). D worked on both hips gradually, between working on other spots, and by the end of it his pointy croup was half as pointy and his butt muscles were jiggly and loose. She also got his short, straight little neck to go from solid to soft and jiggly. How's that for a scientific replay, but you horse people know what I mean. It's amazing because the manipulations are often subtle but the results are undeniable. Both horses were licking and chewing and pretty happy campers by the time D was done, and I put everyone away and fed in the lovely sunset.
In the first light of Friday morning I drank tea on my porch and watched Scrappy, tail flagged, race Sheza-filly up their mutual hill to the troughs. She smokes him every time, but it was so nice to see a freshly adjusted horse feeling undeniably good the next morning. As for me, I was up early and still managed to be a little late to meet friend and trimming mentor DC, for a morning lake ride. I took Blaze, since as usual he had needed no major chiro work, and Scrappy deserved a day or two to get used to his new body.
 It was a gorgeous fall morning for a ride on our hilariously mismatched steeds, 14 hand Blaze and 16 hand Launi (he isn't 15.3 DC, I don't care what you say!! LOL), both Arabians or mostly so in Blaze's case. Both geldings of great character and dearly beloved by their human partners, they carried us quite safely and non dramatically up the big hill and back around on a few hour tour where we got to just catch up with each other and enjoy the day.
 Boy, life is good in the autumn, on a good horse.

Monday, October 7, 2013

All the Cute Horses--and some miles!

I must say I have collected some rather adorable, even good looking, horses in my little herd of 4 1/4. Desire is quite beautiful when she chooses to be, Sheza is pretty well stunning all the time, and Scrappy and Blaze are just adorable. Mini Horse Napoleon is a little oreo cookie, we shall not forget that 1/4! 

10 miles in on Blazer last weekend, and it called for bedazzling! 
 war pony patrols the neighborhood
 don't let him fool you, he's just glaring at the water for getting his toes wet
With a 20 mile training ride goal with Scrappy in mind, I loaded everything last night, fed in the dark, and was out the gate for the lake early this morning. We ended up parked in the trail head parking lot that was 1/2 full of paving material, with a loader filling coming and going dump trucks, while the park service did a controlled burn on the trails nearby but Scrap wasn't bothered by it at the beginning or end of the ride. Not with hay in his bag to be addressed! 

I rode with my crop again today but barely needed it. Some bikes took the horse trail ahead of us as we left the parking lot and he was as close as he's ever been to jigging to get out on the trail after them.  After about 3 miles warm up/slow hill climb we hit our first steep downhills and I noticed some initial left hind toe dragging that seemed to decrease within 1/2-3/4 of a mile. I didn't feel toe dragging on the downhills later in the ride. The chiropractor is due out Thursday afternoon so will be interesting to see if we can learn/fix anything then. 

Overall he was forward for about 3/4 of the ride, confused by seeing places he knew but turning onto trails he hadn't been on yet, and totally flummoxed by me marching us into a pitch black tunnel about halfway through! Still he bumped his nose against my back gently as I lead him through the tunnel and was my good solid boy.

away jogging on a forward steed
lots of trail critters out early

Ah, the light at the end of the tunnel! 
 Almost out..I call him Rushcreek Dubious here! 
 The ride took us about 4 hours with some solid climbs, temperatures in the mid 80s which he noticed with his winter fuzz. He drank from every trough  and stream and sucked water out of a mud puddle, for that matter. I liked the mixture of the familiar and unknown as it kept his brain continually guessing and paying attention. A great ride for both our minds and bodies alike!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Perfect Ride and Flying Lead Changes?!

If I were in 5th grade right now, I'd be doodling Scrappy all over my trapper keeper, along with hearts and rainbows and silly home made comic strips about his fabulous horsey life. I was already heavily In Like with this Rushcreek horse of mine, but after today I will say I am In Love. We just had one of those rides. You know, those rides that has you grinning the whole time, still grinning in the truck on the drive home, and really eager to bore your husband to tears with details of your horse's stellar performance once back home.
I started the day planning on my new resolution of at least 20 mile rides once, but preferably twice, a week with Scrappy. Thing was, I hadn't ridden him in hind boots in almost two months and the hind boots *had* taken some adjusting to for him previously. So my enthusiasm for 20+ miles was (as usual) tempered with, "but What ifs.." My early start got waylaid by various things, then I needed to stop for fuel, and finally the parking lot I was planning on going to was half full of paving material with the other half full of horse trailers, so I scrapped my plan of doing the easy flat 6 mile horse camp loop first and parked up top at N and I's usual spot. It meant I was starting my ride downhill either direction I went, so I decided to just boot all 4 hooves and go for the west side ride down the dam with the big hill about halfway through. It wouldn't get me 20 miles but it would be a good test of how he went downhill, and going in all 4 boots. As long as he was moving well my goal was to up our usual pace too, since the mileage wasn't anything impressive.

Oh Scrappy..plump kids and chocolate cake come to mind...
Today I did two things differently and both of them worked. Firstly, I decided to try driving Scrappy down the trail while on foot to help alleviate the "dragging a dead thing" effect when I lead from the front. Blaze trained me well with this one and as luck would have it Scrappy took to the same method I've used on Blaze well. Basically I just position myself at or just behind his flank, the reins unclipped and run up and behind the water bottle in the pommel bag (not attached in any way, just tucked behind it to keep the rein in place where I want it), and in my hand. Mostly the horses are motivated to walk out nicely just from my presence back there and clicking to them but I'm also handy for a rein or crop pop if I really need to refocus or drive them. The areas of trail I did this were narrow enough that Scrappy couldn't easily veer off wherever he felt like and he walked out really nicely this way.

He peed in the trailer  again (ewwie) and had a big drink before we rode out 
 The second key to today was that I carried a crop for the first time. I've noticed that Scrappy does NOT like heel pressure on his sides, he will in fact turn and glare at me sometimes if I use my heels, but a vocal cue and tap from the crop on his rump when necessary today kept him focused and forward without ever getting resentful. I don't know if he is just that sensitive on his sides (he gets half a tub of Vaseline in his pits on every ride or else) or if he was ridden with spurs in the past and is sensitive to heel pressure now. Mostly he chooses the correct speed and footing for things but he also does like to see if I am paying attention and sometimes I want different things than he wants to give, so I was excited to see how a refocusing tap with the crop could get the desired effect harmoniously. Again it's that fishing a different river analogy, because my mare Desire would get *pissed* and detour at Bronc Street if I used a crop at all. For her, when she was being out of line spooky-ridiculous, a sharp word and a slap on the neck (and like 40 more miles) was the thing.
Lots of happy forward ears today
Green grass, at last, it's been 5 miles! 

Listening and taking care of us

Aside from great trail time that we flew through at a powerful trot or free, happily given canter, we also passed one set of riders twice today and another set of riders elsewhere, plus a bicycle, barking charging dogs, crossed streets 4 times, and DID A FLYING LEAD CHANGE! What?! I know. I didn't know Scrappy even knew what leads were. Okay, not really, but basically he is a well broke trail horse who carries himself beautifully but has no formal dressage or arena training. So far in our journey he has cantered, but generally either wasn't wild about it or put his head low and did a running crow hop. Today, in all 4 Rennys, he cantered happily on both leads, and around a slight left hand turned he just did this fabulous flying lead change! It was glorious. 

Turning off to take the big hill
He wasn't wild about much speed up the hill itself but the footing has also gotten  really rocky and shitty most of the way up so I was happy with a dog trot up where safe and a brisk walk otherwise. We were to the top in no time where I stopped briefly to sign the trail log and Scrappy kept an eye and ear on some riders coming up the trail:
I walked him down the backside of the big hill, for my own leg stretching more than anything, and then we jammed on back to the trailer feeling sound and enthusiastic. We ended up riding the loop a full hour faster than we have in the past so my upped speed goal was met too. I can't stress enough how much I needed this happy, sound, willing performance from Scrappy today. I'm a constant worrier and angsty theory enthusiast and after my recent RO at Chamberlain Creek I just needed a carefree, no pressure, sound ride with my dude. It wasn't my early morning Plan A ride but it was exactly what we both needed on this day, and it was everything I'd hoped it could be.

We did good today, buddy. A warm bath and lots of snacks in your future

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fishing A Different River: Evolving Strategies and Mindsets in Riding

That title may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but allow me to explain. Despite (or perhaps because of?) growing up in a family of fisherman, hunters, and general outdoors men, fishing has never particularly captured my attention. My terrible eyesight makes the focus on the bobber or lure, or god forbid that near-invisible line, difficult, and my general impatience makes the rest of the fishing endeavor somewhat less than enticing. Now change the sport to Catching, and I'm there.
As luck would have it, I married the fishiest fisherman to walk the known earth since my own Grandpa, and as such my immersion in the fishing lingo and lifestyle has continued into my adult life. I have a general curiosity and interest in doing things well, and over the last 5 years I have spent many afternoons reading by the river while my husband went fishing; fewer afternoons but still many, I have done the fishing myself. I've learned to fly fish fairly respectably and give a hell of a cast with a spinning rod, my only real weaknesses being terrible sea sickness that take me out of the Ocean fishing game, and my pale skin that keeps me out of the standing/sitting in the sun for hours with sun reflecting off the water game. Oh, and remember, I don't really like fishing.

And yet, there is a simple beauty in fishing that calls up parallels to endurance riding in my mind. Anyone with a rod--or a horse--can attempt the sports, and it can be the Walmart rod or the Craigslist special steed and there is still a good shot at success if you've paid attention and done your homework. Sure, the guys with the fancy gear and snazzy lures and big boats  do better at some things, just like those people with the time and money and superbred high dollar horses often do well in certain areas of endurance. The thing is though that with fishing, like endurance, "success" depends entirely on your goals. If you're going out to Catch dinner, you'll be pleased with a fish to throw in the skillet. If you're going out to drink beer with friends and have lines in the water, catching nothing might be okay and catching a minnow could be thrilling. If you are hunting fish with the interest, intensity, and accuracy of a top of the chain 2 legged fish predator, nothing less than a fat limit will suffice. With each level of goal, more or less is required of fisherman and gear in various areas, and to truly excel, strategy and mental evolution become involved.

Sometimes you just want to have fun! My husband assists my 9 yr old niece last summer

The same can be said of endurance, where dozens of people often start the same ride with completely different goals, ideas, and gear/steeds at their disposal. I am personally a mid to back of the rider whether I am doing LDs or 50s. I've top 10'd a bunch of LDs but not intentionally and my one top 10 in a 50 was an utter surprise and delight after one of those rare perfect rides, not to be repeated by me or my horse. I usually leave the Start a few minutes late, relax but leave no more than a few minutes late from vet checks-- because my turtle pace can't afford it!--and am very happy to finish the ride in Whatever-Place. T shirts and photos are just icing on the already delicious cake! To me finishing a mid pack 50 means complete success on my part. Just as fishing is to my husband, the ride itself, the time spent outdoors with a good horse or dog by your side, is The Thing. Catching beautiful fish nearly every time and finishing with a happy sound horse nearly every time (I wish it was every time, but let's be real) are our highs.

My husband & monster rainbow trout, summer 2013
Aside from the mid pack and turtlers, there are many very competitive folks in endurance that go out with a mission to complete in a certain time or place and are satisfied with no less. They want their limits early and they want to be in their chairs with a cold drink when the other's stroll in. I completely admire and try to pay attention to those folks riding at a faster pace and a higher level than me. While I have no interest in riding that fast or finishing in a certain place, I respect the achievements of these horses and riders and learn what I can from them.

I've noticed too that my husband studies those fisherman working at his level and above, in different waters than he is, and he develops strategies and adapts his fishing to the fish and environment as such. He is always learning and "figuring out the water" and is successful at fishing more often than not with his flexible strategies and depth of knowledge. I see my own journey in endurance mirrored in his fishing, only he is farther ahead in his quest than me. Hey, he's got a decade on me too! ;-)   Really though, I am learning from him that I need to flex my own training and riding strategies as I look at an endurance career with a completely different horse partner. I can't expect to use the exact same training distances and ideas with Scrappy that I did with Desire, just as my husband can't cast the exact same lure at a species of fish in a completely different river. The current, or the nature of the beast, is what decides how we deal with it, and ignoring Scrappy's nature would be to both of our detriment.

Chamberlain Creek 2013, where I came up with most of this nonsense, and Rider Optioned after 20 miles
This has gone from a thread of an idea to a bit of a ramble-fest, but Lo, here's the heart of it: training strategies at Redheaded Endurance are a-changing. Scrappy is wise to my 8-14 mile rides and knows things now like I can hold my pee long enough to wait to get back to my pasture. What a Good idea!! No Scrappy, not a good idea. He also is a lazy boy by nature and he clearly isn't inspired nor I think getting fitter from these repetitive shorter distances.

My idea is to try to get in 2 (but at least 1) 20+ mile training rides and one short speed/hill work ride  from home each weak. I think he needs to get these longer distances in to take him to the next level physically and keep his great endurance horse attributes going as well. Basically I want this sucker thinking he may never get home so he better survive ;-) Really though, my ultimate goal with him is multi days and XPs, and he needs to embrace the Let's Go Forever instead of the We're Almost Done Fuck This Shit side of his nature. He isn't as naturally forward as Desire so I need to pay attention and adapt my thinking accordingly as he may lose inspiration or interest in things. He is very smart and if he's given an inch he'll take a mile, but I am figuring out his game I think. I'll probably laugh at that statement years down the line when I really know him, but still. I am paying attention now and I hope to see some positive results from upping our training program.

Mendo Magic Day 2
I am also trying to figure out why he periodically drags his left hind toe downhill. Chiropractor is due out next week and a knowledgeable friend suggested equine sciatica which I hadn't ever thought of, anyone know anything more about that? I can't take his toes back anymore and I think it's more of a leg/body thing than a hoof issue. He stopped dragging the toe with really consistent riding and hill work, so I am wondering if he doesn't need consistent work to get and keep that stifle/hock strong? And he could quite easily need a chiropractic adjustment as well, never having had one. We shall see. As with each new river, this new horse is teaching me things and opening my eyes to parts of myself and the world I hadn't known about. I hope he and I can continue to bond and never find our Limit.

Mendo Magic Day 1