Thursday, March 9, 2017

In which I remember some good old times at an unexpected place

I've written before about the HUGE used tack sale in Monroe.

Some people compare it to Filene's basement sales.  To me it seems more like a feeding frenzy.

The sale is a huge wintertime social occasion for horse people in our area.  It doesn't matter if I stand in line with a large group, or wander in late with just one friend, I'm guaranteed to meet up with people I know.

Plus, of course, there's All. That. Tack!

Duana had to choose.  It was not easy.

There are always the weird/laughable items.

I hardly know what to say about these, other than, "they aren't MY size."

Sometimes you could find the same item, brand new, for a better price, online.  But sometimes it's possible to find something amazing.

Like this:

It's a map pocket with velcro straps on the back to attach to a saddle

The little purple map pocket (above) might not seem amazing to most people, even at the super-cheap price of $1.

For me, however, a dollar purchased more than just a ditty bag.  You can't really read the logo on the front anymore, but it says "Bully Wully I & II"...

...and it was the finisher's prize at the very first endurance event I ever attended.  My ride partner and I did the 14-mile novice distance and figured that we had Gone Far.

I wrote a story about that day HERE.

Dory was the ride manager, and she made the bags.  I used mine for years to carry my hand-clippers (for stray blackberry vines on the trail) and it eventually ripped through and fell apart.

Apparently, my ride partner that day wasn't nearly so hard on hers.  She recently sold her farm, and I saw a lot of her gear at the sale.  Including the little bag.  A dollar is cheap for that memory!

And then, while standing in line for the cashier, I saw this:

I recognized this saddle in the same way a sea lion recognizes her own pup among a thousand others

This isn't just a souvenir like the souvenir I owned for many years.  

This saddle isn't just the same make and model as my very first very own real saddle.

This is Story's saddle.

lytha recently posted this picture of me with Story (photo left) and Cabbie (right) at a ride in Florence Oregon
Story is wearing the saddle in the picture.

I was a newly-minted librarian in 2001, still paying off some bills from grad school and got a big (for me) tax refund check.  I immediately wrote to Marilyn Horstmyer at DeSoto Saddles and said "build me a saddle before I do something sensible with this money!"

And she did.

It was a beautiful saddle, with butter-soft black leather and a knife-thin twist just the way I like it.  It was custom made for Story and for me.  It fit better than my favorite sneakers.  We put thousands of miles on it together, mostly in training.  When Story retired, I sent it back to Marilyn and got it rebuilt to fit the Toad, and together he and I put a bunch more miles on it.

Then I got Fiddle.

And my beautiful saddle would not, no way, no how, fit Fiddle.

So I sold it to the woman who owned Toad.  After all, it FIT him!  I bought my Specialized, and I've put thousands of miles on that, even though it was never as beautiful or perfect as the DeSoto.

It fits, so we use it.

But when I saw Story's saddle on the rack, I cried a little.  It was the first really nice thing I'd ever bought for myself.

There were several other DeSoto saddles at the sale,
but Story's saddle still has the little indentations from my seat bones.

That saddle was a long time ago.

Since then, I've bought other nice things--including Haiku Farm!

I've learned a lot, and I don't miss the "olden days" much.

But it was nice to sit in Story's saddle, just one more time.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

In which Du and Freya have an adventure and it's not terrible

Time to check in with Duana and Freya!

Ready for the weather...mostly...

What have you been working on lately? 
For the past several months, my focus has been dressage work.  In part because the weather has been so wintery, but mostly because I really needed more skills and confidence before getting out on the trails. 

What seems easy with this horse?
What seems to be harder than it should be with this horse?
 Neither of those questions particularly resonate for me as I didn’t have any really good expectations, having never worked with or owned a young horse.  My community has grown immensely and I’ve found lots of great friends through the process who struggle with similar learning curves and confident related challenges.  

I think for me the hardest part really is my personal confidence and lack of experience.  I’m learning to forgive myself and also to ask for help even if it seems like I’m doing so over and over.   Since I have the gift of a fantastic trainer/mentor/confidant (now two with John) and a strong community of mentors, the work is really more psychological on my side.  Similar to raising a dog, it is often more important to teach the owner/rider than teaching the animal – Freya is a very fast learner, brave, kind, and very willing to work.  I struggle with her youth and sensitivity but realize that her personality is an excellent fit for me in the long run. 

Talk about the trail ride on Sunday.
Loading, tacking up and heading out all were very positive and without incident.  The primary working point was mounting without her walking/moving away, and instead standing calmly.  This is an ongoing training aspect for both of us.  

Weather was extremely variable –sun, wind, rain, hail, snow ranging from light to extremely heavy hail/snowfall.  Conditions were tricky as there was a lot of hail and snow on the trail. She was very positive, forward and interested and generally unconcerned about the weather.  Her hooves would accumulate snow and that would kick off – she was pretty unfazed by all of that, which was wonderful.  Her primary focus of attention is either side of the trail and watching what is going on in the woods beyond the trail.  She’s still pretty sure she needs to constantly be watchful for surprises in the woods.  

"We sailed away on a bright and sunny day..."

We lead for a while with much energy and bravery.  Then when my brain was full and confidence lagged, we pulled to the back of the pack and then middle of the pack.  When trotting she occasionally would get fussy and want to express opinions about either wanting to go a different pace or just showing that her brain was full.  She would vigorously shake her head or break into a very slow canter.  Each time she settled back into a trot without anything more after I sorted out what the right cues would be to get her focused again.  

This was the second intentional conditioning ride and a little longer than the first (first was 6 ½ miles; this was 7 ½-8 roughly). 

She spooked less than the last trail ride, but both rides her spooks were very manageable and related to new experiences/encounters. 

We worked a lot again on walking and trotting through puddles with increasing success through the ride (she started with trying to jump over them to finally contentedly trotting through with clear recognition that that was good behavior) 

We worked a lot on letting the other horses walk and trot away from us.  I would stop her and try a ‘salute to the judges’ (Monica’s suggestion) so that I had a task.  Since she has a big walk, she could catch up to Ariana, who was hanging in the middle of the pack to be available if I needed help or advice (I’ve gotten incredibly spongelike again in gathering advice from my peeps)

Du listens to Monica, Freya copies Ariana

In all, it was a highly successful second conditioning ride with throwing some increasing challenges at myself and really starting to understand what ‘ride every step’ means and how to incorporate what I’m learning in the arena into the trail work.  I was able to think about some of the finer points that I’ve been learning from John as well and play with how those make a difference on the trail – for example the difference the intensity of my grip on the reins makes on Freya’s responses.  

Now set us up for "The Incident."  You were walking beside your horse.  Then what happened?
Once I was really tired (and had to pee like, well, a racehorse) I got off to walk the rest of the way back to the trailer.  She was pretty animated but no more than she is sometimes when being lead in new situations.  

I was working hard to get her attention, so we hung back from the group and  a couple times turned around and walked the other direction for a while to get her focus back on me.  Walking/leading her is something I want to do a lot as it is as challenging skill-wise as riding and something that we need lots of practice at.   

So far, so good

 We were walking alone and got to a fallen tree that looked like it totally covered the road – was several feet in the air and branches hanging to the ground.  Aarene and Dragon were waiting on the other side (as she said later, seemed like a rather major obstacle for Freya and I to tackle alone without support if we needed it).  

I took a moment to look at where best to get around or through, and saw hoofprints up and over that looked pretty calm and well placed.  So I decided to follow those.  I worked pretty slowly/calmly, having her stand still while I found a good place uphill to stand/walk to lead her through.  I put her where the hoofprints were.  I was unable to totally follow her side-by-side so planned to use a leading technique I’d learned from Dory in having her cross past me and which I’ve practiced a lot.  

That seemed to work well until something caught her in her stirrup/rear right leg/tail area (I couldn’t see) and appeared to pull at her.  That scared her and she pulled back hard on the reins.  I had those looped in my hand (as I was taught when learning sailing –never loop a rope around your hand – always long or folded in as it can pull away any time on a sailboat just as a horse).  Her reins and the snap were jerked out of my hand in an instant (I have a bruise on the inside of my hand today) and the rein snap immediately hit the ground and swung up over her head.  At that point she just spun and ran as fast as she could away from the tree. 

She passed Dragon and Aarene at a full blind bolt.  She disappeared from view and Aarene yelled ‘loose horse’.  Aarene had to manage her horse for a moment and then quickly headed at a calm trot down the trail with me running behind.  Because of the snow we could follow Frey’s footprints down a trail and  down a field.  I was panicking as I was having visions of Freya spooking Flower and Ariana, who were well ahead of us, or breaking a leg/pulling a tendon in the very loose duff/mud.  

Aarene and Dragon, and me behind, went as fast as we could safely down the very long field following her hooprints. Finally at the bottom (after maybe 10 minutes of running? Hard for me to say) we saw her at the bottom of the field.  Monica and  Ariana saw her as well, and were trying to carefully call her around a portion of old barbwire fence.  She was calm enough at that point to make her way around the fence and walk shakily to Monica, who caught her.  as soon as I saw her, I slowed to as calm a walk as I could manage, called her name like she was just in a field and dug out cookies like I was just going to catch her for any old thing (that took all my bullshit lawyer skills to muster).

By the time I walked up Monica/Ariana and Aarene/Dragon had her and she was tucked in between the two horses clearly happy to be between the two horses.  She let me take her rein and untangle it from her hair – she took the cookies with a medium tight lip, but not the tightest she’s ever had.  She  let me give her a big hug and pat without any objection.  

Freya lost a front shoe in the slorky mud she ran through, but was otherwise un-marred

I was able to quickly assess that she didn’t have any major wounds and sound enough to walk back to the trailer.  (everyone did that together immediately of course)  I lead her to the next gate but was extremely shaken and asked Patty to lead her around that gate as it was a tricky/muddy mess and I needed to suck some confidence from Patty.  Patty led her like a green horse, one step at a time and it was no big deal for Freya.  I then took her from there and  walked along with Monica/Ariana to the trailer.  Aarene/Patty went ahead again and eventually disappeared from view.   

I was incredibly shaken up as this was the first time I’ve had a horse spook and bolt (not surprising, I’ve not done this for very many years and this is my first young horse).  Monica worked with me very carefully to help me establish my ground work again.  We had one more gate to get around, which she rushed a bit, so I lead her back and through once more to be more attentive and calm.  Got back to trailer and she was still a little nervy but very well behaved.  Hopped in the trailer like her normal self.  We stopped for our usual lunch break, by which time she was calm and her usual self.  By the time we unloaded, she was her normal self and she then had a good roll in the arena.  

We located her after about 15 minutes (sn*w on the ground is useful for something!) and "recaptured" her without incident.  How did she look?  How did you feel?

She was sweaty, had nervous shivering and very pleased to see her herd.  She was very accepting of being caught and ready to connect back up with me on the ground.  She was pretty ‘amped’ but very willing to walk with me.  While being very concerned about whether something was following her for quite a while longer, she also responded well to ground manner instructions.  By about 10-15 minutes later she had returned to her usual self, which does include paying a lot of attention to the forest and keeping a watchful eye out.  

Right front shoe missing, otherwise unharmed

You were beating yourself up pretty thoroughly yesterday.  Wanna talk about that a little?
Not really.  My first fear was that my horse would cause another rider to have an accident or that my horse would be badly injured.  That automatically felt like my fault.  I also had never had a horse spook and bolt, let alone to take off for a good ¼-1/2 mile, so for me it was incredibly scary to worry about where she was and if she was injured.  Her responses, as Aarene said, were pretty darn normal – she didn’t invent anything new.  

My responses as well were not new – I immediately blamed myself for pretty much every possible horrible scenario and decided I am never going to be a true horse woman.  Letting my friends take over and gently but firmly work with me has been key to gaining perspective.  Hearing everyone else’s stories about going through similar things really helped normalize things for me and take me out of my emotional habits and look more closely at what a ‘guardian angel moment’ it really was and how much I could learn if I could set my emotional habits to the side. 

You are feeling more robust and "lessons learned" today.  Share some thoughts?
After a shower, good dinner and a lot of wine (following Patty making me hydrate and eat in the afternoon, thank you forever for always taking care of me – we are all crew for each other even when we aren’t at ride camp!) I slept for a long time. Today, I worked my thoughts into four lessons learned:
  1. Shit happens, I’m not immune and I can’t avoid it in life
  2. I can keep learning about ways to limit shit happening and add skills to deal with shit happening, because shit is going to happen and sometimes it is going to be very scary.  We will have scary moments together and we’ll have to deal with them.  Sometimes we will have to learn together and deal with the fact that we both are learning at the same time. 
  3. Freya did not grow big fangs or turn into a terrified unreliable horse after her scare – it didn’t take all that long to get back to normal and would have been quite a bit faster if I wasn’t so freaked out.
  4. There will always be lots of learning and ways to grow her and my experience. Training both rider and horse is a life’s work. 
It's going to be important to not only "get back on the horse" but also get back on the trails to rebuild confidence

What are your plans for the near future? 
Work with Dory and my mentors on ways to simulate the circumstances and make them much less scary. Also what skills I can learn as a result of these events.

Reach out to my trusted friends and mentors for ideas on ways to widen my skill set and work with Freya in a broad range of new environments and experiences over time.  I need to balance comfort and confidence in knowing what I do with pushing my limits and learning new things.  That’s why I work with Dory as I can trust her to be honest about when I’m having a crisis of confidence but have the skills to handle something versus when I need to learn a new skill. 

I want to work more with obstacles and strange encounters in the arena or outside at the barn as well – pool noodles and such. 

Then also to ride in different arenas, hopefully a schooling show at some point soon, new trails constantly and such. 

What else?
Patty/Monica/Aarene and I talked at length about what I did and whether I could have done things differently to change the outcome.  

While that talk helped me realize that I actually did pretty well considering the circumstances, I am deeply reminded that I need to push my and Freya’s comfort level often to find new experiences and learn together as a team and so that she learns to listen to me when she encounters something new.

Okay, Readers, NOW IT'S YOUR TURN.
At the post-ride lunchtime de-briefing, we all regaled Du with our stories of the time(s) our horses blew a gasket and ran away/rolled down a mountain/got lost etc.  

I'm pretty sure the readers of this blog have some good war stories to share, and we all wanna read 'em.  The comments box is wide open!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

In which the weather is inhospitable and we ride anyhow

Two short videos today, to show the nature of weather in March 
here in the Swamplands. 

The morning looked like this:

View from the house at 8am.

Leaving the trailhead around 11am

But just when you think the day will be bright and shiny, things change.

By 1pm, the slosh had quit falling from the sky (temporarily) and we trotted through it.

A day of bad weather on the trail is better than any day indoors

...but it was good to load up at the end of 7 miles and turn on the seat heaters in the truck!