Monday, May 22, 2017

The Spice of Life

Tackling our own mini "Cougar Rock".
It's steeper than it looks!
While I consider myself pretty new to the distance riding sport, I think have read and seen enough to conclude that the endurance riding terrain in the NE is rather diverse...sugar sand, open fields, rock ledges, large gravel, sustained hill climbs, hard pavement. You name it, our rides probably have it in some form or fashion. 

As some might have noticed, I have been making a point to check out new places to ride from the barn each time I hit the trails with Quest. Asides from exploring our new-to-us home, the end goal from the beginning was to build up a "library" of trail terrain types for conditioning dependent on the ride we want to attend in the future. And while I now do have the option to haul out for conditioning (and plan on that when the ride date gets closer), if I can do most of my riding right from home that is always infinitely all the better for my time and wallet. 

As with any any sport, you should train in what you will compete in.  Thanks to trail adventures during 4-5 months of leasing Rori, I already knew OF had direct access to trails but I didn't know if it was enough and what they had for terrain type. Fortunately the first part has been resoundingly answered- we've got miles upon miles and still more to explore. The second though has been more difficult to resolve. 

From our explorations so far, I can safely assume we have a LOT of the rock variety. With the amount we have at home I think we might have OD in the pocket. 

This is one of the slightly nicer sections.  It gets really gnarly

Hill climbs and rocks? We got it at home

As a result of tackling tough terrain like this almost every time we go out, Quest has actually gotten quite good at carefully picking out her path while moving swiftly down the trail. However the obvious huge downside is we need the complete opposite- flat level footing that allows us to really move out. And sure, it is entirely possible to condition by doing endless laps in an arena or pasture but that can only get you so far before both horse and rider brain are totally fried...as evidenced here by yours truly. 

As a temporary solution, I have been using gravel road hills (and booting appropriately) to clock in some cardio at speed but what I desperately missed were the flat, level rail and canal trails. This was the only kind of footing we had at WSS for training and it was great for slogging out quick fast miles in a short amount of time. 

While surveying maps last week, I decided to take a closer look at a trail that had I always paid little attention to until now. I had passed the entrance numerous times and when I asked JA about it, she had dismissed it as not really worth riding. Being ever curious and determined, I still wondered about it though so we finally gave it a shot this weekend. 

My curiosity was duly rewarded. 

The start was a little questionable.
A bit too overgrown to ride at speed

But it eventually gave way to this!

The trail is broken up with gravel patches so we had slow to a walk and it's a little less than 2 miles, so about 4 miles for a there-and-back. I'm not complaining though since I can easily boot Quest all around and we do multiple loops here for sustained trots and round out our rocky trail outings with some some flat speed. Now all we need are some wide open fields!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dollar Store Desensitizing

What was supposed to be my first off-property trailer adventure with Quest got completely drowned out by unending torrential rains this weekend. It was disappointing but we made the most of a dreary, cold, and wet situation by doing some desensitizing work in the indoor arena instead.

Mareface got to play with some new toys

Before going to the barn, A and I stopped by the local dollar store to see what they had in stock and found LOTS of stuff to work with. There is much to be found and utilized if you look carefully and think creatively enough!

Unsurprisingly the barn was totally deserted when we pulled in. I admit it was pretty miserable walking through the pasture in the rain and I questioned my sanity for a moment. But the weather did effectively deter the usual weekend boarders from coming out so A and I had the entire indoor to ourselves the entire time we were there. Poor Quest was shivering from the cold rain and wind though so I immediately got the cooler on her once we were in the arena and set aside her rain sheet for later. While mareface dried off and warmed up, we started working our way through the new toys. 

Mary Poppins ain't got nothing on me

The umbrella was the first item up and it caused quite a bit of concern at first. Even just opening and closing it caused Quest to scoot away with snorting and nostrils flaring. She still wasn't 100% happy with it at the end but she was much more brave and stood quietly while I opened and closed it, twirled it around, and waved it above her head. 

As I moved on to the other objects, it was really neat to observe how it took progressively less and less time for Quest to get over her initial concern. Her reactions at the very worse were to move her feet and evade the offending object but she eventually figured the game out.



I tried to up the scare-factor as much as possible by doing things like draping and running the flag over her ears and eyes, bumping her between the legs with the pool noodles, etc. While my antics worked handily at first, Quest caught on and  soon quietly stood, resigned to her tortured fate.

Towards the end I could tell the marebrain and her attention were starting to fry- the bouncing inflatable beach ball and popping balloons finally did her in, so we called it a day. A and I let the horses go blow off some steam and get a cardio workout. For obvious reasons, it was the first time in awhile that I free lunged Quest. She was definitely feeling good though and looked happy for the chance to finally move out. 

Zoom zoom

All in all, it was a nice break from riding to do something a little different, plus it's always beneficial to spend some time on the ground for things like this. And thank goodness for dollar store items that can be repurposed for horse-use too; no harm, no foul if something gets destroyed/trampled/stepped on. 

Anyways fingers crossed we have better luck weather-wise in the upcoming weekends though and I actually manage to rent the truck (a different story for another time) so we can get out for some trails. If not, I think I found a few more locations to explore which could be used for actual distance training (e.g.; +15 miles). I am really hoping that is the case- it'd be great to be able to condition right from the barn and put the money saved towards attending more rides. One could dare to hope!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Celebrating the Little Stuff

From Day 1, Quest had never given me any issue with trailer loading. I still mostly have no idea what her 3-4 previous owners did with her but in the handful of times we have had to hit the road, I had deemed it safe to say trailers were NBD for her. Quest was always a model citizen and unquestioningly followed me into every trailer put in front of her, regardless of configuration. Step up, ramp load, 2 horse, 3 horse, straight load, slant load, first one on, last one on...She did it all without hesitation.

So when I bought my little stock trailer, I didn't think what I got specifically would matter all that much as long it was safe, solid, and tall enough. After all, a trailer is a trailer.

Well, the first time I tried loading Quest up on the trailer, she balked. She got two front feet on and and would not budge another step. I eventually got her completely loaded up in the end but we needed an extra hand to get it done. Her reaction totally surprised me though. This was first, and not a good one.

I immediately wondered if it was something having to do with the trailer itself but a quick mental run-down came up with nil. It wasn't too small (TB height), too dark (hello stock trailer), or unstable (floors and frame all good). Whatever it was though, this snafu did make me realize that I had to have the mareface pretty much as close to self-loading as possible since I'll more than likely be hauling out solo to train and attend rides. And to be honest, I didn't really want to haul off property if I couldn't get my horse consistently loaded every single time. IMO a trailhead or an endurance ride isn't exactly the best time or place for this kind of training.

So for the past couple weeks, we have been working on loading practice before our arena and trail rides. The first sessions were rough and progress was very slow since I had to first figure out what did NOT work for us. It really didn't help that Quest was surrounded by what essentially was an all-you-can-eat salad buffet; I spent most of the first sessions working on getting and keeping her attention on me.

Practing patience, tied to trailer while waiting her turn for loading.
Good to know she doesn't throw a fit if she gets into minor trouble lol

I was going to let her figure this one out on her own
but she looked really forlorn so I "saved" her 

I also quickly found out she has never been taught how to self-load. As this was something completely new to both of us, it gave me a chance to observe how Quest processes and figured something out from start to finish. While she starts off doubting and trying to escape pressure very dramatically (in typical mareface fashion...le sigh), she has a ton of try and quickly gets the hang of something if I figure out MY job first. The latter was hardest for me since I had to try a ton of different methods before finally finding something that worked for both of us.

She questioned me hard at first but suddenly everything clicked into place. We solo loaded up about 5-6 times in a short 15 minutes earlier this week. And yesterday we finally did a real 100% self-load with no tricks or treats.



We did it twice again to make sure it wasn't a fluke, and it wasn't. It might seem silly to get this excited over something so small but I'm relieved we got this figured out. I admit I worried at first because not being able to solo load would have put a big wrench in our endurance plans and being independent. The fact that Quest can self-load is the cherry on top and putting in the time now to do it right will make it much easier and safer for all involved in the future. It was learning experience for both of us, especially for me. Next stop, off-property trail ride adventures!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Long Awaited Good News

Whew. I've been out of town for work and just got back from a vacation....So much to catch everyone up on but most importantly I got great news from the vet about Quest's suspensory!

So majestic

The vet was scheduled to come out mid afternoon for spring shots so A and I made plans around the appointment. The skies were gray and with scattered rain showers so we moved the horses into the lower barn with cross ties for a thorough grooming session. I also took advantage of the wetter weather conditions to also touch-up trim Quest's feet.

There was still quite a bit of time left over after grooming so we got the horses tacked up and headed out for a ride. I had recently discovered a new area to explore for conditioning and wanted to check it out. Since we had A and Mel along with us, I didn't boot Quest for speed work over gravel and we took it easy with 75% walk and 25% easy trot bursts on pavement.

There were SO many things to spook at on the new trails through neighborhoods, the worst one was a life-size horse lawn ornament. It didn't help that the statue was posed in a super intimidating manner looking like it was ready to charge towards the road. Both Quest and Mel did not enjoy that at all and it took some effort to tiptoe them around the scary horse. Fortunately a couple miles later, we finally arrived at our goal for the day.


The trails on the left looked super inviting but we were on a tight schedule to meet the vet and had to turn around for home. I admit I was immensely disappointed lol but we'll definitely be back again to explore. Quest also took opportunity of the quick rest stop to relieve herself. Good mare! She's always been good about that on the trail which is one less worry for me. 

We made great time going home and arrived 30 minutes before the vet was scheduled to arrive, plenty of time to untack and cold hose Quest's legs. The vet ended up running late so mareface got her dinner too. A group of us at the barn signed up together to share the call fee so there was a good ol' fashioned grazing party afterwards until the vet finally showed up.

Vet D was new to us but she seemed kind and soft spoken. After the shots and blood draw, I mentioned the suspensory rehab and asked if she could take a quick look. I watched with bated breath and after what felt like an eternity, Vet D declared Quest totally fine and 100% sound!! There was scar tissue (I asked her to point it out to me so I could feel it too) were the injury was but it's an non-issue.


I had known in my gut that Quest was fine but hearing a vet officially say that my horse made a full recovery has done much good to my heart and confidence. While I am still sad that we lost an entire season of competition last year, this ordeal has taught me much and I've hopefully become a better equestrian and horse owner in the process. It was a unpleasant and difficult situation that forced me to become hyper-aware of my horse's well being and take it upon myself to learn everything I can to keep her sound, happy, and healthy for as long as possible.

I'm sure there will be plenty more difficulties along the way, but hopefully things are on the upswing for now. We'll take each day as it comes and steadily make our way towards the bigger goal.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Spirit of Adventure

Quest and I had a very productive weekend. We got in a fantastic conditioning ride, played with the trailer, and I hauled my trailer for the very first time!


I had Good Friday off from work and after spending the morning on a family outing, I scooted over to the barn in the afternoon for a much needed (in more than one way) trail ride. Quest and I went to Hawk Watch for the first time in a long time. I recently bought 3 more Easyboot Gloves at an great price used and I booted the mareface all around. We got some sustained speed on the trails over rockier sections and short bursts of trot over pavement. The weather was perfect and we accomplished exactly what we set out to do. We were still a little slower than race pace but it was no matter- the purpose of the trail ride was to test out the hoof boots at speed over terrain and set a fitness baseline.


Both goals were done and done. The Gloves worked super well w/t/c with only one mishap. Despite being ridiculously anal about checking them throughout the ride, I noticed we lost one boot probably 2 minutes after the fact. We had to double back quite a ways before I found it sitting all by its lonesome on the side of the road. I was able to hop off, put it back on with ease, and continued on our way. In hindsight, the boot mishap was totally preventable. I somehow had figured that the "spare tire" aka the boot in the worst shape of the 3 I had bought would work fine instead of using the better/newer one. Quest is the same size all around so I just grabbed any boot and went with it. Well, lesson learned!

As for fitness, I was quite pleased with how much energy Quest had throughout the ride- especially at the end. The trail is and out and back so we have to tackle some pretty gnarly hills going both ways. On the way home, mareface decided to take them at a gallop and I let her open up until we reached the top. It made me grin to see how pleased she was with herself. It was a very warm day so after stripping off tack, I checked sweat patterns (no dry spots and spine was clear!) and let Quest drink her fill of water. I cold hosed her legs well before putting her back in pasture and calling it day.

The next day was trailer practice! Since I still don't have a truck and probably won't for awhile, I did some research and found suitable pick up rentals through Uhaul. The truck had the proper electric connections and tow capacity so all I had to do was  provide my own ball and hitch receiver to get on the road. I've driven trucks before (ex boyfriend had F150) and Suburbans at work so driving a larger vehicle wasn't too difficult. However I never have had to backup, hook up a trailer, or haul before so I intentionally set an entire day aside to take my time figuring everything out at my own speed.

I'm going to brag a little here but I am ridiculously proud that it only took me one attempt to line up the truck with the trailer and then I had A standing outside as a spotter to line up the final inches.

Not too shabby for a newbie!

It could have been beginner's luck or whatever, but I'll take it haha I got the trailer fully hooked up and A helped me check that the lights/electric were working. We left the wheel chocks in place because the second task of the day was to grab our horses for some trailer loading practice. I have no idea if Quest has ever been on a stock trailer before so I opted to treat it as a new-to-her experience. She put both front feet inside at first before balking and asking to step out. Okay, not too bad of a starting point to work from. It took a few attempts and mental breaks but eventually she followed me right in. Treat incentives were useful.


The horses were both rewarded with a nice grooming session and grazing afterwards. After putting them back into pasture to enjoy the rest of their weekend, it was time to practice hauling. No time better than the present to create good habits so I checked everything again before pulling out and going down the road a little ways. Before leaving the barn, I stopped to do another walkaround check and then hit the streets for real!

It was very interesting to see how hauling a trailer made the truck feel different on inclines but it was more or less the same on normal flat surfaces. I'm sure it'll be whole other experience with horses for sure but for now, I practiced keeping my wheel base within the lines on my side of the road, making gentle stops and wide turns. My destination was an elementary school parking lot that I had already scoped out earlier in the month. It was usually always empty on weekends and I figured it would be perfect for my practice needs.




I first practiced the simple things like backing up straight and testing my turn radius before tackling the real stuff : backing up on a turn. I used two milk crates to visually mark out an imaginary parking spot and went at it. Both A and I agree that this was definitely the hardest part of hauling a trailer but it is totally doable. While I was very slow, I eventually found the balance between how much to turn the wheel and let up the brakes. If I have any tips to offer fellow newbies, my biggest takeaways were:

- Don't over compensate with the wheel; Small corrections are more than enough.
- The hand at the bottom of the wheel tip is very good to keep in mind.
- Mirrors are your best friend. Use them. A lot.

I hope I don't have to do this part in public any time soon just yet because I'm horrendously slow at it and will require multiple attempts haha but if needed, it's good to know I CAN do it. And to be honest I HAD to learn to do this because its the only way I get my trailer back into it's parking spot at the barn.

I'm glad to say the practice was not in vain. It did take a few attempts but hey, I got it done and nothing got destroyed lol I'll count that was a win for my first ever truck and trailer adventure.