Thoughts on “Endurance Prospects”

I can’t tell you how to win, BC, or even rack up a whopping lot of competition miles at this point. I am not the first, last, most or least impressive. I’m just someone who’s spent 6+ years and a lot of time, money, research, and heartache on trying to succeed at endurance and if I can leave you with only one message let it be:

Do this for the bond. Do it with a horse that fills you with joy from first glimpse in the field to last mile on the trail. Realistically, you will struggle, strive, and have to work at improvement and growth with your horse, but if you aren’t starting with a deep Like, let’s hope Love, of your horse, just don’t bother. The papers won’t make it, the competition records won’t make it, the right color, height, build, or saddle won’t make it.

I’ve tried to do it all ways, starting early on with non-Arabian Craigslist specials who didn’t like the training mileage (+the many misrepresented CL specials I saw/rode/never bought–wow). They showed me that not every decently built horse out of the field wants to/can do an LD+. Next I bought a high end, well bred, middle aged Arabian mare that I liked that had an AERC start and the bloodlines: she gave me filly Sheza and she showed me the joy of Going and riding a rocket ship–and was retired with arthritis/hock issues after one season. With Desire retired in my field and Sheza growing up, I next tried a calmer, easier going, more proven ride in a 100 mile Rushcreek gelding. He had the bloodlines, the bone, the level head, the record, the everything–except the desire to do endurance or much interest in me, for that matter. Boy does 50 miles feel long that way.

Recently I listed my other filly, Rushcreek Aurora, for sale. Big, well bred, well built, a steady disposition, a legacy of performance at her back. Heads are turned, then scratched, by my claims of wanting to do endurance but my behavior of selling a great prospect in favor of recently arrived Kenny–a 14 hh, toed out, crooked legged Morgan cross plucked from the slaughter truck  a few years ago. All I can say is, with full acknowledgement of continued risk and effort, I want to endure this life, this world, this sport, with people and critters that bring smiles and evoke a feeling of brotherhood. In my world, Kenny brings me a ridiculous smile and effusive glow when I see, handle, or ride him–and Rory is a Fabulous Endurance Prospect on paper.

As Melinda said: “Step one of endurance. Find a horse that you actually enjoy being with for 50 or hundred miles.”

What a notion.

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Why? Because Horses!

I’ve used that…reason? justification? expletive? a number of times over the years. You know, when these beloved critters of ours do that perplexing thing, at that wrong time, and you question yourself Why, Why…Because Horses. That’s why. Up, and down, year round, because horses.

First, there was a ride!  Kenny and I picked up our stallion buddy Aqua and his human W last week, and Kenny had a successful first tour of Sycamore Hill and the old train tunnel.

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tunnel time

We also had some fun discussions about being a non nose-up tail solo unit

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Noooo

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Oh okay!

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Kenny digs the gastric perks of playing endurance pony

On the weekend, I eagerly headed out to take Kenny for a solo jaunt..

 

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Because horses.  A few superficial cuts, but enough to stymie a ride, better safe than sorry after all. Blaze and I went for a frustration zoom, and I felt better.

This week Rory had a nastily yellow ring of snot around her foreleg where she’d clearly removed it from her nose. She seemed a bit quiet, but was EDPP religiously and her temperature remained steady. I spoke to my vet and in passing he mentioned wetting hay, to bring down any possible dust levels. Well that rang a bell, as my new semi load of hay is gorgeous Oregon grassy alfalfa–and very dusty. Because Horses. 

As I obsessed over her health, Rory had a fine gallop the next morning..

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Trrrrot!

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Just looking epic, nbd

Meanwhile the wettest and windiest storm of the year was inbound, so I suffered every horse but woolly mammoth descendent Blaze to wear a rain jacket. Because you know, I care. The fillies proceeded to try to strip themselves and each other. Because you know…horses.

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pictures of false innocence

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Rory dons her first blanket at 2.5 years old–a 72″!

It was a properly wet and windy night and they were all still clothed this morning, ungrateful wretches. Our land is now already greener and soggier than it ever made it to last year, with mushrooms sprouting in the horse poo and standing land puddles. At last. The massive tarp I hung off the roof to cover the protruding end of one of the hay stacks came off overnight, and some of my precious hay got err….pre-soaked, for Rory!  Ahh, horses.

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rain gives way to fog, greeeeeeen ❤

Another One??

This weekend I brought home a horse.

It’s okay, don’t worry–you, me, my mom, and the guy down the street all just thought the same thing:

Another One?

For me, that question immediately flips open the personal Rolodex of Failures.  Or, erm, let’s say The Book of Learning. It’s a bit of novelette at this point.

Briefly?

Introduced to endurance as a barely-teen. College. Life. Non Arabs who simply didn’t want to go the distance. Human injury and recovery. An Arab who’s  happy with LDs. An Arab who wanted to go the distance but their body wasn’t sure it did. An Arab who didn’t want to go the distance and his body was undecided too.

And here we are. My last great notion, a proven 100 miler Rushcreek, leaves today to be a beloved light use trail horse, and I am happy for him.  I am happy and grateful to have the opportunity to have a little pool of Hopefuls. And I will be very happy if this all pans out, someday.

Morgan/Welsh Kenny tries some Rennys before coming home on Lease 

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What’s Next? You Choose

Whether it’s a life design, job desire, schooling notion, thirst for partnership, or just what you want to do next weekend, there’s a pretty good chance it won’t happen quite according to plan. Or maybe at all.  When your master plan becomes an Also Ran, what are you left with?

I had an interesting exchange the other day with another rider who’d purchased what they hoped was “the horse” for endurance–and soon enough had found themselves at an unexpected crossroads. Upon request I shared what my experience with similar issues had been and was met with basically “Well, I don’t have time to mess about like that for [X time]. I’ve wasted too much time already.”

Sure, I suppose when looking back at various paths that it does kind of look like a bunch of messing around when why couldn’t I just see the right step/answer/logical outcome already? Of course, I’ve heard tell of hindsight being 20/20 and I certainly learned many a valuable lesson from past floundering. Anyway, aside from being slightly rebuffed, the commentary highlighted for me the huge absence of her very expressed feeling for me. Born impatient, easily irritated, independent, result oriented, and stubborn, I used to be very much in a headspace about getting things done properly, right now, this minute, no messing around. The thing is, the more that I’ve wrestled with being a good partner to my horses and my husband in life, the looser my grip on control and Plans has become, and the easier it has all become. Horses and life companions are pretty well The Chosen, no obligations born, but brought willingly into the fold. It seems almost counterintuitive to wrestle with the joy you chose but I and surely others have, and I do think it’s the need to Control and the struggle to Communicate that makes it so, human or horse. Mostly these struggles no longer seem to me like wasted time, I’ve come around to thinking that is a true disservice to the times that ultimately make you what you are.

It seems to me that when things haven’t shaken out as planned despite best effort, choosing, and planning, we’re merely left with how we choose to handle it and what we ultimately get out of it. To bring it around to horse specific again, for me, endurance has always been about a sanctioned reason to hang out with my horse all day and all night and then do it again. Would I like to be out racking up completions and filling my photo wall with gorgeous photos? Sure. Will I be doing that again in the future? Sure hope so. Meantime, lately, when I’m asked When, How Long, my answer is When it’s time, if it works out, and when I’m done messing around.

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ApacheWorld: Dirt and Lessons

Apache has been with us for 4 months now. This tiny adorable horse encompasses so many quality life and training lessons for me that I have to seriously marshall my thoughts both to work with him and to write about it. He’s a wonderfully complex character, let me see if I can explain why:

What Was, What Is: I certainly didn’t rescue Apache, he came from a lovely endurance couple in Oregon who entrusted him to me, after not having great success with him but diligently trying to find him suitable placement for months. As a well bred, well built, handsome little fellow, he has in 10 years had no less than 4 homes (and probably more than that). He was bred multiple times early in life, before testing positive as a SCID carrier and being gelded. He came to me as Having been Ridden, but with very mixed results (a hoped good trainer gone bad, and both of the couple getting bucked off thereafter). He is a horse that internalizes, not reacts. The best way I can describe it is that he stands and takes thing when he’s not okay, where my Haat Shaat horses absolutely won’t stand and try and take things *until* they’re okay. And by okay I mean in a suitable frame of mind to encompass human shenanigans and learn things, a mental space generally accomplished by them voluntarily moving their feet and blowing off some steam.   Apache is on self imposed lockdown, in a way. It’s fascinating and different and sad and I love him.

And that’s why I ate dirt 🙂

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Thing is, what happened in the past doesn’t ultimately matter. What you think might happen next year *definitely* doesn’t matter. What we grasping humans have to wrap our heads around is the *moment,* the right now, the animal before you and what it’s presenting. In my past experience a horse standing, trying, meant acceptance and move forward. In this instance my gut said Mmm, Really?  (don’t ignore that gut, right!) but my human brain, flashing back on what he should know and what this might mean pushed me onward. It was the third time I’d been on his back, but the other times were bareback, in a halter. That day was his first day in a saddle and breastcollar.

The thing about Apache is that he ticks the boxes on what you ask quite quickly, okay, different speeds in each direction, facing up, etc. Then he shuts down and forces himself to be okay through the next step, and the silly human pushes her luck and gets lucky–just a scraped knee and a bit of a bruise on the back after the impressive HOLY CRAP ACK! buck he threw about 15 seconds after I’d quietly mounted. I moved his feet after that, probably all told another hour at least, more groundwork but definitely not getting on again.

I was interested in my reaction to getting bucked off, since I’ve been life flighted from being dumped after mounting before. I’ve worked off the residual fear over the last few years, and this time I felt only ashamed of myself, and spurred on to unlock this horsey mystery and get it right. Telling my dubious but supportive husband I got dumped was another test–and he took it quite well! There’s something in the stars for this horse, I tell you.

but it isn’t a Cashel fly mask..so much for Arab size! 

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My long lines arrive just in time for our next session. I consulted heavily with my favorite horse experts regarding my mistake and how to proceed, and we generally agreed lots more ground work and exploration of precisely *what* set him off was needed. I can see a general lack of connection from his head, mouth, neck, to body, if that makes sense. As if his body is one entity, and his stiff neck and head another, and they aren’t quite all communicating together. And my trainer’s voice tolls in my head when I type things like that: “Work them til they look like something you want to get on” No, the ticking time bomb of apache wasn’t something I wanted to get on, but I felt that I should, and he should, and well why aren’t we darn it, impatient foot stomp. Well you know how that went.

new splint boots, new driving lines…yawn…boy is the potential there..

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Now *this* was a good session! We started at liberty, went to the line, then spent a while flapping the long lines all over him, ran them up through the surcingle and let him drag them, and finally went to baby attempt ground driving.

fresh, little tense, boy though that stride

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He had started wanting to stop and face up when I was jumping up and down and climbing and doing general tomfoolery, but my trainer said he needed to be okay moving his feet through that, so we worked on that as well. Basically no freezing and shutting down is the goal with this one!

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starting to relax 

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just in time for more human shenanigans

11695939_870103443836_6948831827166642539_nThe lines on his flanks made Apache shudder, the notion of me being behind him made his eyeballs bulge, and the encouragement on the lines to bend a little, Left, right, turn, stop, made him freeze and glare at me. At first. Slowly, calmly, quietly, using all the building blocks of queues I eventually will when it’s an appropriate time to be in the saddle, we made it a step and squiggle at a time until we had driven a nice circle, stop, direction change, and circle in each direction. Deep, deep breaths all around. No, he still didn’t look like a horse that I wanted to get on. But one that I wanted to spend a lot of time on, and be better for, and take a journey with.

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Aside from probably 6 hours of groundwork put into Apache this week here and there, life has been gloriously busy with trims, boot clients, selling Spark for his owner, managing the rest of the herds and acreage–and celebrating my husband’s birthday this weekend!  We did some multi  tasking yesterday, hauling Farley to the lake to help out Mel then popping over for some dog adventures and fishing.

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New Shepherd pup Jazzy continues to grow and thrive with the pack, and little miss Rory’s 2nd birthday is *finally* next week! What a big goober she is, can’t believe she’s still so young.

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Coming Soon:

Sheza’s first ride camp experience

ApacheWorld continues

Scrappy..

Look for the Lesson

One of the best things about horses in my opinion is that the lessons they teach us transcend the animal or hobby. I suppose it must be possible to be around horses with no further emotional investment than “this is fun” or “a job done,” but personally I’m not capable. My own ongoing journey to being a calmer, better, and brighter human has been so irrevocably linked to my failures and successes with horses that the one is inextricable from the other.

11304040_10152785288102031_117548517_nThis isn’t the post to tell all the tales, but for example this: I didn’t used to like Arabians. My first experiences on horses were English riding lessons in Maine on a variety of breeds; my first favorite horse? An ornery chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Ruby. Another favorite was a Morgan gelding who’s ground manners were of the shove tiny me into a wall on his way for vittles type. My first personal horses, years later as a Californian, were a greyhound bodied and minded Appendix mare and a Welsh Pony/QH mare.

You can safely read into that that I didn’t shy away from sassy and smart horses by any means, I just didn’t see the appeal of Arabians at first. As a teenage trail guide at a riding barn on the north coast that also did endurance, I was around numbers of Arabians for the first time– and really? They seemed completely over the top. As a transplated strong willed redheaded youngster with East Coast roots, a somewhat self imposed desire to naturally understand and be good at things right away, a family instilled need to be efficient, and a natural born cowl of impatience, Arabians and I were just made to butt heads at that place in my life. In my world we didn’t *express* and we got shit done, period. Stopping, staring, snorting, spooking–emoting! Well what good is that. That’s not accomplishing anything.  Get on with it. IMPATIENCE! 

Between those years of guiding and buying my first Arabian, there was much Young Person Angst. You’ve been through it or you’re going through it, I don’t think I need to labor the details. The point comes around to being, I bought and bonded with my first Arabian, Blaze, in early 2009 at a raw and new place in life. I’d moved to a new county with a man I barely knew, my Welsh cross mare was freshly and harshly retired by a truck accident, I had no local friends, connections to family were more tenuous than they’d ever been, I could go on. My 2008 model first-ever personal chi-mutt Georgia was my friend, that I knew, and this short, trumpety, spooky, horse aggressive bay, Blaze, was going to be my friend too, by god.

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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^I’m overpointing at this meme because it’s true, it’s so damn true. And horses will teach you this, over and over. They will give you the highest highs, the lowest lows, and if you’re lucky you’ll wake up every morning and get to decide how you are going to handle it all–not deal with, not cope with it, but *handle* it all. The years between Blaze coming home a snotty jerk and becoming the amazing little man he is today are all chronicled on this blog, feel free to browse back.

From Lds with Blaze to 2012s first 50s with Desire to her early retirement– to the *2 year* saga that has been endurance with Scrappy, I have absolutely been discouraged, kicked in the gut, and completely done. Then I got up the next morning, fed those ungrateful gorgeous four legged wretches, and carried on. The horses don’t know how much they cost, in dollars or dreams. Regardless of what emotions or expectations we project for them or inflict on them, the horse *is*. Initially, the sensitivity the Arabians showed to the world and to my own roiling emotions was what repelled me, but as I struggled and grew, it was their honesty that made and kept me honest, with them and myself. The more willing I was to look at my own behavior, in life and with my horses, the better all results became. The calmer, truer, and more open hearted I am, the better they respond, and the better we are together.

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So here we are. Scrappy is out to pasture for a year. I’m riding a nice, but borrowed horse. Things are not as I had imagined or planned, and that’s okay. The struggle isn’t over, all the obstacles are not yet seen or even imagined. I have no idea, in this moment, how I’ll handle them when I encounter them. But I know that I will, and I’ll learn something from it, and be better. I urge others not to grasp too tightly to labels and expectations or grand plans made. Yes, dream. Yes, make goals. But recognize and embrace a positive flexibility– often found rooted in an elusive acceptance of yourself–look for the lesson, and thrive.