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. 

Choctaw the Unbroken

My little foster horse is doing really well. He’s 7, hasn’t been handled a ton, and isn’t broke to ride. He has a fantastic personality though; he’s very willing to learn and doesn’t have much of an attitude. Plus, he’s straight cool as hell and looks like a cowboy’s horse. 

He needs to gain weight, so I’ve only been doing a little groundwork with him so as not to burn a ton of calories. He leads well, but can be a little pushy when asked to stand still. He likes to try and use me as a human scratching post, which obviously isn’t allowed. He crowds me sometimes, but he’s learning that I don’t want him in my bubble and he needs to stay in his own. 

Beginning groundwork is a lot like dancing when one person isn’t a good dancer at all. In this case, Choctaw has no idea how to dance and I’m an adequate but not gifted instructor. Our first efforts look a little rough, but we’re learning how to dance with each other and the steps are getting smoother each time. 

I’ve never started a horse under saddle before, which is why I initially declined to foster Choctaw. I didn’t think I was the best person for the job. Surely someone more qualified would step up, right? Nope. I was the only one interested in taking him on, so I thought I would give it a try. Everyone tells me that if you do your groundwork well, the riding part isn’t usually a big deal. I hope that’s the case, and that’s why I’m committed to spending as long as it takes to get our groundwork on point before I even think about getting on him. 

1st Solo Ride! 

Today I took Heidi on her first off property solo ride, just me and the Heidi Monster. Not a big deal for most horses, but a huge deal for mine. Riding alone isn’t on her list of approved activities and there was a time when I couldn’t have done this with her. She would have bucked me off. #byefelicia

All by our lone, as my son would say, at the trailhead.

I left the barn at 7:15 a.m. and trailered 45 minutes north to my favorite trail. When I got there, there was one car but no other horse trailers. Heidi was a little freaked at first, looking around and being hyper alert. She isn’t spooky in the least, so freaked for her means dancing around and being a pill about getting tacked up. I rode her in the bitless bridle because if we’re going to do this thing, let’s really do it. You know, alone in the woods with Mrs. Spaz and no bit. 

Very alert on the trail

I had prepared myself for the possibility that I might be walking the whole time because, when Heidi is freaking, she freaks hard. She goes from zero to rearing faster than I care to deal with. The only thing that sets her off is when she wants to head for home and I try to stop her. She’s gotten much better, but still not perfect by any means. 

Crossing logs like a boss.

I started off riding her and she headed down the trail with no problem. I didn’t even know if she’d do that. We went a quarter of a mile and she couldn’t deal, tried to turn and head back. I got off and decided to walk her way out into the woods and try riding her back. My plan worked!

Walking on the trail. You can tell by her facial expression that there are places she’d rather be.

I walked with her for 2.5 miles. By the time I got back on her, she was completely relaxed. We rode the 2.5 miles back and it was one of the best times I’ve ever had with her. It’s hard to capture in words, but I felt like we were a team, that she was enjoying herself just as much as I was, and that she wanted to be there with me. I’ve had a long, hard road with her and it finally felt like we were partners. Me and Heidi against the world. 

She’s great about drinking on the trail. 

I tried to make it enjoyable for her. I packed my fanny pack full of carrots and, every once in a while, I’d reach down and give her one. That really perked her up. I wanted her to have fun while she was working, and build a positive association with our time on the trail. “See, it’s fun out here! The human packs snacks!”

Ears up. Happy, relaxed horsey and so fun to ride. 

Trust has been the struggle for us. Heidi is hesitant to trust anyone else to lead her. She’s boss mare and humans have to earn her respect. It’s not automatic with her; I’ve fought for every ounce of respect and affection. But I’ve also struggled with trusting her. When a horse bucks you off and rears with you, you gain a certain amount of caution and hesitancy. 

This is my favorite local trail. It’s beautiful!

When I got Heidi she was totally unfit. She didn’t feel balanced on trails and many times I felt like she could take a tumble at any moment on less than perfect footing. I found myself having anxiety that I had NEVER had before with any other horse. 

On this ride, it was like she was telling me to trust her. “Relax Human, I got this.” And she did. She picked good footing and carried us both safely up hills and over rocks and through some tricky terrain. A lot of the trail was on the edge of some steep slopes, and normally I would be trying to steer her away from the edge, but she felt sure footed, so I let her do her thing. I relaxed, gave her head, didn’t try to micromanage her, and she took care of me. She felt like she had some purpose on the trails, like she was going to get us both home. Before it felt like she was a reluctant participant that was only looking out for number one. I was elated. That trust has been a long time coming. 

Back at the trailhead. Other ponies! 

When we made it back to the parking lot, she got a small mash as her reward. We loaded up and went home without incident. It was just a trail ride, but it was huge for us. 

Slurping up her mash. Compare this to the first picture. When she sweats, you can really tell she’s a paint. 

Recently one of my horse friends was looking to rehome one of her horses. On paper he’s totally my type. Big, grey, warmblood cross. Another friend was asking me if I was interested. When I said no, she was shocked because he seems like he would be right up my alley. But I’m completely happy with Heidi. I bought her with the intention of selling her, but I have totally fallen for her. When she’s cooperating, she is so much fun to ride and a blast to be around. After a year of work, we’re really clicking and becoming partners and it feels great! She’s the horse for me. 

Trailer renovation is complete!

I bought Little Red for $450 off Facebook. She had a good floor and good tires. I had a rusty spot welded and reinforced and had her re-wired. My friend’s husband installed new brakes. Then I sanded and painted. The whole thing took a few months and cost about $1200, including what I paid for the trailer. I’m really happy with how she turned out, and excited for all the adventures I will have with her!

I fostered the horse…

I just couldn’t resist. I fostered the horse.  His name is Choctaw and he’s a 7 year old appaloosa gelding that has been in a pasture his whole life and knows almost nothing as far as manners, personal space, etc… He’s never been ridden. But he’s sweet. Very sweet. And he needs a home. I can help him find one. 

At the rescue. He’s so skinny. 

He is a varnish roan appaloosa and he’s little, 14.2 I believe, which makes him technically a pony. I happen to love ponies. Maybe he’s a future endurance pony. We’ll see!

Poor little dude needs some groceries. 

I brought him home yesterday and let him get settled in. Today I did a tiny bit of groundwork with him just to see what he knows. Nothing. He knows almost nothing. Like every horse, he can read my body language and figure out that I’m asking him to move over or back up, but I can tell it’s all foreign to him. He’s happy to comply but it’s all new. He leads well and he’s easy to catch and halter, which makes my life so much easier. My first foster horse was almost impossible to catch! 

Cantering around when I first brought him home. 

He is very vocal and whinnies to greet me and he enjoys being groomed and petted. He let me fly spray him and touch him all over. When I realized how mellow he is, I decided to put a saddle pad on him just to see his reaction. When he didn’t protest, I went ahead and put the saddle on and he was fine with it. Couldn’t care less. 

He looks pretty good in English tack!

I wouldn’t even think of trying to ride him until he gains a significant amount of weight, but at least he was chill about the saddle. You never know with rescues what their issues are until you trigger something and get a reaction. 

I’m going to keep conditioning Heidi and trying to get her fit for a 25 mile ride. I’m just a sucker for a rescue and I thought I could help little Choctaw find a job and a home!