The herd…

I’m really lucky to be able to have more than one horse. I have an amazing boarding situation that is much cheaper than average and that allows me to have 3 equines of my own and one foster pony. Right now my herd is my two horses, my daughter’s mini donkey and one mini that we’re fostering. Before the mini I had a quarter horse mare for about a month until she got adopted. 

Baron, my first horse and the sweetest, best horse in the world. When Heidi is awful, I’m thankful for Baron.
The Heidi Monster
My daughter and Star, the mini donk.
Stanley, the mini I’m fostering
Baron and my friend who is riding him these days.

I absolutely love fostering. I get a new horse or pony every so often and I get to work with them and market them to find them homes. As long as my current boarding situation continues, I’ll continue to foster. 

Spirit, the first horse I ever fostered.

I got a trailer!

I call her Little Red.

I bought this trailer for… wait for it… $450. It’s a project and needs a couple things done but it’s in fantastic shape overall. I had a little welding done and had it rewired and paid someone to do those things. I’m sanding and repainting it myself.

 

The roof when I bought it.

After sanding the roof and adding the first coat of paint to it. I haven’t started on the body of the trailer yet.
My friend’s handy husband working on the brakes. Thank God for handy husbands. 

I prayed that God would send me a cheap trailer and He did. I foster for a local rescue and having a trailer means I can can take my foster horses to events and get miles on them so they have a better chance of being adopted. I can also help pick up and transport horses. I need a trailer for endurance too, but even if the endurance thing doesn’t work out, I still want to be a foster mom.

My current foster, Stanley the mini

Fostering is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in the horse world. I’ve had to really up my training game and think about the best way to approach training a scared or difficult horse. If you have the space and the time, give it a try. There are plenty of good-hearted horses out there that just need somebody to work with them. The best feeling is when your work pays off and they get adopted. Everybody loves a happy ending!

#goals

I’m a goal setter. I like having something I’m working toward. In the past, it was always a show but, now that I’m getting into endurance, the goals have changed. 

I really have only one goal: to finish a ride with a completion and have a sound, happy and well-behaved horse all through the ride.  The well-behaved part might be difficult. 

Our first off property ride. She was a champ.

If you read my previous posts, you know that Heidi has… opinions. Heidi wants to do what Heidi wants to do, and she doesn’t totally trust me yet, although we have made massive progress. If I’m going to meet my goal, I have to put Heidi in a bunch of different situations to find out what I need to work on BEFORE the ride. 
First, let’s list the things Heidi is good at…

1. She trailer loads like a dream. 

2. She’s cool about camping. We camped with a high line once last year and had zero problems. She was only with one other horse though and I know ride camp is a different animal. But at least we’ve got a good start. 

3. She’s mellow on the trail. She’s not a hot, spooky type of horse.

My herd- Donkey, Heidi and Baron

Now for the unknowns….
1. She’s only trail ridden with one other horse since I’ve had her. She did some trail rides with the people I bought her from and did well, but before that she sat in a field for 2 years. I don’t know how she will react to horses everywhere, passing her, zipping past, etc… or how she will be if we get separated from our buddies and have to continue alone. I’m planning some off property rides with friends to see how these scenarios play out. 

2. She is barn sour and sometimes she tries to turn around and go “home,” wherever home is for her. If we’re off property, the trailer becomes home. I could see her having an issue leaving again after a vet check. 

3. She’s also buddy sour. She’s getting better about leaving her friend on the trail and going up ahead or hanging back for a while, but who knows how she will be at a ride with so many other horses? 

I have high hopes for her. We’re just plugging away at this, solving one problem at at time. 

Teeny tiny training ride…

I don’t always have time for a long ride so sometimes we just get in two or three miles real quick. I mentioned that I had one really bad ride on Heidi where she was not listening and being super disrespectful. One of her bad habits is trying to graze constantly. I don’t mean here and there; I mean she will stop dead in her tracks and drop her head to start snacking. I flew right over her head one day when she pulled that crap while trotting down a big hill. Not cool, Heidi! 


I’ve ridden her in a bit the past couple times to try and get a handle on the grazing. She’s got to learn that the trail isn’t one big smorgasbord of snacks. It really only took one ride of getting popped in the mouth for her to realize she is not allowed to graze while she’s working. 


I know that you want an endurance horse to be able to eat on the trail, but not like Heidi does it. I need to be the one who offers her a snack. She can’t be totally out of control about the grass. 

Playing at the lake

My little 3 mile ride on Saturday was a big improvement in the grazing department. She didn’t even try it! She was a pill about other things, but at least I can cross grazing off the list of problems. For now, anyway. Owning Heidi is like playing wack-a-mole. I solve one problem and another pops up. 

Bit or bitless? 

Let me start by saying that I am NOT anti -bit. A bit used correctly is a powerful tool for communication and well trained horses actually find comfort in a bit because they understand what they’re being asked to do and they’re rewarded for doing it. Unfortunately, I bought a horse with a major bit issue. 
When I got her it would take a full 15 minutes just to bridle her. She flung her head around and tried to take off. With patience, I overcame that, but she seemed so much happier bitless that most of the time I rode her in a rope halter and clip on reins or a Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle. I’ve ridden her bitless all over the place on trails. I didn’t have any trouble controlling her. Until I did. 

Playing around with a halter and lead rope. 

I had a ride a couple weeks ago where she was really hard to deal with. She was more “up” than usual and the spring grass was coming in and she would not stop trying to graze. At one point she almost ran me into the road trying to get to a patch of grass. She ran right through the bitless bridle. I had no brakes. 

Rope halter and reins. Totally relaxed. 

That’s when I decided I needed to ride with a bit some more. I need brakes. She needs training too, and obviously the real issue is lack of respect, but that takes time and in the meantime, I need brakes!


I rode with a bit tonight and she was actually way more cool about it than she used to be. She still has a laundry list of other issues but she didn’t throw a fit about the bit. She’s a really difficult horse so I have to be thankful for the little bits of progress, no pun intended. Wink, wink. 

Her royal Heidiness.

The balanced horse…

When I bought Heidi, she had a lot of problems. The one place she seemed to relax was on the trail. She lost her mind in the arena, but  she was cool as a cucumber once she got in the woods. She wasn’t spooky, she crossed water, she stepped over logs; she was basically a jam up trail horse. Except for one thing… she felt unbalanced. 

If you’ve ever ridden an out of shape, unbalanced horse, you know what I mean. They trip. They stumble. They feel like they’re tottering instead of blazing through the trail. In less than ideal footing like mud or rocks, it becomes even more pronounced. You feel like they might actually slip and fall and take you down with them. 

That’s how Heidi was when I got her. She was very fat and had no topline. She had a big, pendulous belly and the beginnings of a sway back. She didn’t look like much, and she felt awful to ride. She would drag herself up hills instead of charging up. If I asked for a trot, she would trot two or three steps and then stop. I think she would have gone into cardiac arrest if I had asked for a canter. She was that out of shape. 

I spent a whole lot of time lunging her for the first 6 or 7 months. I tried to give her a foundation in classical dressage, meaning simply that I taught her how to carry herself correctly. I trail rode once a week for about 45 minutes, but the rest of our workouts were on the lunge or in hand because I didn’t want to add my weight to the equation until she was in better shape. 

Hand walking on the trail because I thought she was tired.

Now we’re 10 months into training and my work and patience are paying off. She is starting to trot up hills with some enthusiasm instead of hauling herself up like an 80 year old woman. I can ask for a trot and it lasts more than three strides. Carrying me doesn’t feel like such a burden anymore. The dressage stuff made her a better athlete and better able to navigate the trail. 

She still needs work with her surefootedness, but we’re getting there. I still feel like she doesn’t always choose the best path or the safest place to put her feet, but she does feel more balanced overall, especially in crappy footing. I don’t feel like she’s going to slip and fall anymore. 

I know people who never trail ride. They prefer the perfect footing and predictability of the arena. They ride expensive, specialized horses and they’re protecting their investment. I get that. Horses are dangerous and accident prone enough as it is without adding the unknowns that come with riding out in the open. 

Snack break during a 5 mile training ride

But I think trail riding is so good for horses both physically and mentally. It gives them a change of scenery and teaches them to be aware of their own feet. My trail horse definitely benefits from dressage, but I think many a dressage horse would benefit from some time in the woods. 

I’m hoping endurance will be a way for me to combine these two things. I would like a horse that works correctly over her back so that she can keep me safe out on the trail. A balanced, athletic, surefooted  horse is safer and more fun to ride. 

I found that perfect itchy spot.

Why endurance? 

I didn’t even know endurance riding was a thing until a couple years ago. I’d heard of it in the Middle East but I thought it was for crazy people riding crazy Arabians through the desert. I didn’t realize there was a whole community of endurance riders out doing their thing all around me. 


A friend I boarded with was interested in it and I started looking into it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the saddle for 50 miles, to be honest. That Cougar Rock thing at Tevis looked a little nuts to me. I’m not sure I’m that extreme. Luckily there are Limited Distance rides of 25 or 30 miles for someone like me. When I decided to let Heidi be a trail horse, I decided to give endurance a second look. The more I learn, the more I like! 

I love the motto of the AERC- to finish is to win. I’ve done a little showing in hunters but I never could afford the trainer or the fancy lesson barn and I was limited in my success because of that. I had a nice horse but couldn’t afford to dedicate myself to lessons and showing the way I would have to do in order to get really good. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I would work really hard on my own, on a horse I trained myself, and then lose to lesson horses. I knew I had accomplished a lot on my own, but I always felt a bit empty after a show I didn’t win. I spent a lot of time and money to come home a loser. With endurance I’m not riding to beat anyone. I’m riding to make it across the finish line with a sound, happy horse. 

I love how endurance riders are so connected to their horses. When you’re spending that many hours in the saddle, you get to know your horse on a whole different level, especially in regards to his health. Already in researching for this sport I’ve learned a ton of stuff I was totally ignorant of before, things like dehydration, plasma levels, electrolytes, gut motility, pulse rates, and the list goes on. I knew some basic stuff about colic and tying up, but I didn’t know the connection between those things and dehydration and how to monitor whether my horse is handling exercise well. It’s fascinating stuff! 

Did you know you can wear whatever you want in endurance? No show jacket or tall boots in 90 degree weather! Woot! Tack is a free for all too. If it works for your horse, great! I can ride Heidi in a bitless bridle. Can’t go bitless in hunters! 

My usual riding attire is pajama pants. 

Endurance riders camp with their horses when they go to rides. Camping is my second favorite thing after horses! I’m stoked to be able to combine these two things! 

Finally, I think Heidi and I can both agree on endurance. She likes the trail better than the arena and I like having a goal that we’re working toward. I’m hopeful that I’ve finally found the horse sport for me!