Thank God for safe horses!

My daughter isn’t all that into horses, despite my best efforts to turn her into a horse girl. Part of the problem is none of my horses are beginner safe types, and she’s not had much opportunity to ride easy, safe horses.

My new friend at my new barn has several horses that are easy and safe. Today we went on a ride and Elle rode with us, all by herself, for the first time! She rode independently on the trails and my friend ponied her once we got on the road.

The horse’s name is Bella and she’s a stunner!

I don’t know if my daughter will ever love riding like I do, but this was definitely a step in the right direction!

This was my first ride at my new barn. Heidi and Choctaw are still at the old barn until Choctaw’s Coggins comes in. It’s been rough doing double duty, having to feed two sets of horses in two places. Today was my first chance to ride and it was great. We did a nice little 3 mile loop, mostly on the road but some in the woods too. My barn is surrounded by country roads and there are plenty of places to ride, which I appreciate now that I’m trying to up my mileage.

I can’t wait to have all 3 horses in one place. Heidi has gained weight this summer and I need to get her moving again. Happy trails!

New barn!

I had to move to a new barn because they’re bulldozing my old one and making an old folks’ home. (Boooooo!) I moved one horse yesterday and the other two will get moved as soon as the foster horse’s Coggins comes back.

Baron got settled in yesterday. The barn isn’t fancy. It’s just an old run down structure, but I have two stalls I can use as a feed room and tack room, and that’s all I need. I fixed it up cute and it will do just fine for me. It’s cheap enough that I can afford to have my two horses and a foster horse here.

Baron’s pasture buddies are an ancient gelding and a cute paint mare. The ancient gelding is very underweight. It’s a long story that I don’t want to get into on a public blog, but the people involved are doing their best to care for him and I’ve offered to help.

In addition to my three, I’ll now be caring for the skinny horse and the paint as well. No one is paying me or anything like that. It’s just the right thing to do.

I said to my friend, “This is why I’ve never been competitive in any equine sport. There’s always some skinny or neglected horse that I end up spending my time and money on.

Here I am again in that same situation. Caring for 5 horses every day is a lot of work, especially an ancient, skinny one. I know it will get in the way of training Heidi and conditioning her, but what else can I do? The poor old gelding needs some TLC.

Dream big and start small…

I don’t know about you, but I love to dream and I love adventures. When I was a kid, my favorite game was ‘stranded on a desert island,’ which was kind of ironic because I grew up on a remote island off the coast of North Carolina. We would pretend to be shipwrecked or plane crashed, and we would gather “food,” make pretend fires, and build forts out of drift wood and marsh grass. As an adult I like to read stories of adventure and survival, either people who chose adventure, like hiking the Appalachian Trail, or people who find themselves in survival situations. I like stories about pushing limits.

Someday I’m going on an adventure and it’s going to be with my horse. I don’t know what it’s going to be just yet, or when it’s going to be, but it’s going to happen. I can feel it.

Right now I’m working and raising kids and my horse is a bit of a basket case, so it all sounds a little far fetched. Like, “Really? You’re going to take THAT horse on an adventure? She won’t even walk away from the barn without a fight.” But I feel deep down in my bones that adventure awaits.

Sometimes I read about other people’s adventures and long for it to be me, which is again ironic, because I haven’t even made it to an intro endurance ride yet. It seems a bit overwhelming to imagine embarking on some sort of grand tour in the wilderness when I seriously cannot even get to Alabama, one state over, for a damn trail ride. But on those days, when the dream seems too far fetched, I ask myself, “What small thing can I do today to prepare for an adventure?” There’s always something I can do. Today I took Heidi on a walk to condition her hooves and get her some exercise. Without a sound, fit horse, I can’t go anywhere. Today I worked on getting a sound, fit horse.

I like the analogy of building a brick wall. You build a brick wall one brick at a time. Every day I can lay one brick. It doesn’t seem like much, but before long I’ll have a row of bricks, and then two, and then four, and then a section of wall, and eventually a wall.

This blog is about laying those bricks.

One foot, two foot, gray foot, new foot.

Since beginning this endurance journey, I’ve learned things I didn’t know I needed to know, and things nobody in my old world of hunters was talking about. The most recent example is hoof care. I’ve never been much of an anatomy buff, so hoof care was one of those things about which I basically said, “I pay my farrier to know those things for me.” My horses are barefoot and sound and have been for years, but we were only riding in sand and grass. As soon as we got out on the rocky trail, I realized my horses’ feet aren’t as great as I thought. My horses can’t go barefoot on gravel or rocks. At all. Did you know that lots of horses can and do? Down the rabbit hole I went.

I started researching barefoot trims and what a good hoof is supposed to look like. Mine didn’t look like that. My horses’ feet were oval shaped, not round, and their frogs weren’t big and cushy. They were narrow and contracted. My farrier is great and I have nothing negative to say about him, but he does what’s called the farrier trim, not a true barefoot trim. It held up fine when I was just riding for an hour at the most, and mostly on grass. When I started doing longer distances on rougher terrain, my horses got ouchy.

What a healthy hoof is supposed to look like. Short toe, big frog, round shape.

I tried Easy Boot Trails, and they’re okay, but they’re clunky. I don’t want to mess with that every time I ride. I want a hoof that can handle the terrain or a boot that isn’t a clunker. So began my journey to transform my horses’ feet into tougher specimens. I decided to try and trim my horses’ feet myself.

I won’t get heavily into the specifics, but I started researching and found Maureen Tierney and Pete Ramey. They made it sound like this is something I’m capable of. Both of their methods are fairly simple and use the horse’s hoof as a guide for how much and where to trim. So far I’ve done one trim on each of my horses. Neither one is lame, thank God! I just trimmed a little toe and haven’t messed with heels yet.

Heidi’s hoof on 6-21-17. Long toe, skinny frog, oval shape.

I thought I would have to take some time off riding to let their hooves get used to the changes, like I did when I went from metal shoes to barefoot. Quite the opposite! I’m being told to keep riding the trails and to use boots during the transition. Turns out, the more a hoof is worked, the faster it grows. Walking on hard ground stimulates the hoof to grow, to keep up with the wear and tear. Walking increases the circulation as well.

This is one thing I’ve learned through endurance. Horses are made to move! Going for distance isn’t a hardship for the horse. They need to walk to stay healthy. They need to move around, to graze, to be active. In the wild, mustangs go 25 miles every single day, day after day. Many of the problems domestic horses experience come from being locked up in a stall and not given ample time and space to do what nature intended, to move. I’ve made it a priority to get Heidi out walking on the road every day, not trotting, just walking. The concrete will wear her hooves and stimulate growth much more than her grass pasture. It will help keep her weight down (she’s a bit fat at the moment) and kick start her new feet.

It takes time for a hoof to transform. My horses don’t look terrible to start, but I know they can be better. I’ll keep everyone posted on how this experiment goes, and whether I give up and call my farrier.

We are slugs.

I desperately want to do my first endurance ride in 2017. I had two intro rides planned, but one got cancelled and I couldn’t make the other because of trailer issues. I’ve set my sights on Rocking DK Roll on September 3rd. There’s no intro ride though, and I don’t think Heidi can finish a 25 in the allowed time, so I came up with a plan. I’m only doing the first loop of the 25.

I emailed the ride manager and confirmed that vet check is back at camp. That means I can take my time riding the first loop, not push Heidi, get the experience of going through vet check, and then rider option out. If I don’t make it to this ride, I can’t make it to another one until November, so I’m gunning for this one.

I feel confident that Heidi can finish a 15 mile ride in great condition. I just don’t think she can do it fast. I’ve done the math and to finish a 25 in 6 hours would require massively upping our speed in the next month. Heidi is slooooow. I do plan to go faster on our 5 and 6 mile conditioning rides, but I can’t ask her to do her longest distance and fastest time on the same day. It would be too much. So I’ll treat this 25 as a learning experience and aim for another intro ride in November. Then if I train all winter, I should be able to do a 25 in the spring. It will give me a winter training goal and something to look forward to!

Relaxing at the lake…

One of my favorite things to do is to walk Heidi down to the lake and ride her back. It’s maybe a mile round trip, so on a day when I don’t have time for a real ride, it’s a fun way to sit on my horse for a few.

Heidi is still not crazy about leaving the barn with no other horses joining us, so walking her down allows her to relax before I get on. By the time I hop on at the lake, she’s fine, and I ride her home bareback in a halter and reins with no problem.

When I first started doing this, she had a lot of anxiety about being ridden. If I used my leg to try and move her over, she would try to trot. She didn’t want me to steer either. She was single-mindedly focused on going home as quickly and directly as possible and her brain wasn’t engaged. She was willing to transport me but not to take any direction from me. Not the safest scenario!

Now I can move her back and forth across the road to avoid cars, and I can ask her to stop without her completely blowing through the aids. Yesterday we trotted a little, at my suggestion, and slowed down when I asked.

I don’t ride bareback for long because it’s hard on the horse’s back, but even a half mile is good for my seat and legs. And let’s face it, it’s fun to sit bareback on a horse and relax like when we were kids!

My other horse…

Baron was my first horse. I’ve had him for 9 years and, in that time, he’s had multiple major injuries that required lots of time off. He’s been ridden regularly for the past 6 months by my friend, and he’s in decent shape now. Heidi seemed a little footsore after our rocky ride last weekend, so I took Baron this weekend instead. Other than boot issues, we had a great ride. 

I have a friend who lives very close to a wilderness management area so I rode up to her house, parked at her place and joined 3 other gals for a trail ride. 

It was very rocky, mostly gravel roads, and Baron was wearing his Easy Boot Trails. I have very recently started trimming my horses’ hooves, but already the toe is shorter and the boots don’t fit like they used to. I put hiking socks under the boots to prevent rubs. That didn’t work all that well. They were shredded by the end of the ride. 

The right boot was slipping and got twisted, which required me to get off and fix it. Problem is, Baron is 16.1 and it’s really hard to get on him from the ground! I ended up walking until I found a ledge to climb up on. 

Because of the boot issue, I turned around early and only got in 3 miles. Boo. I was hoping for 6. But if I had taken the boots off, Baron would have been miserable on the rocks. 

Next order of business is to fix my boot issue. I want Scoot Boots real bad, reeeeeaaaaaal bad, but I’m on a budget and I can’t buy them at the moment. I also want to get both horses’ feet in better shape before I buy anything. Expect to see some Scoots  in the future though!

Baron was a champ for the most part. I know he’s feeling good because he wanted to lead and he wanted to trot, and it was HOT, hovering around 90. He’s really fun to ride and has a great work ethic. Now that he’s sound and fit, I’m really enjoying him.