Friday, November 21, 2014

In which winter does have a use: it's a good time for riding lessons

The calendar supposedly calls this "autumn," but here in the Swamp
we are in the middle stages of the Winter Rain Festival.

With cold rain pouring down, it's time to move some of our play under a roof.

And still, we smile

We all have different issues to tackle this season, and it's a little easier to tackle them with moral support from the Usual Suspects.

Margie is a greenish rider on Magic, a talented endurance horse.

Tightening up those wonky steering cables

Margie and Magic just finished their first season of distance riding.  Now, it's time to return to the arena and fill in the training holes that got skipped over in the rush down the trail.

Patty and Flower have been out of lessons for more than a year.  Patty's knees have given her pain for a while, so she's been spending a bunch of time with our favorite physical therapists, plus she's still coping with the aftermath of that poorly-executed flying-without-wings incident.

"Shoulder back, butt forward!"

And then there's me.
 My muscles and connective tissue on the "surgery side" are still weak and crunchy from the abuse they sustained during surgery and recovery.

REALLY crooked!
Getting back on the horse and back on the trails so fast after surgery certainly made me happy; it didn't necessarily make me symmetrical.

"Geez, lady, you're so crooked you make ME crooked!"

Muscles and tendons on the "bone side" of my body are uninjured, but the natural joint is weak and uncooperative.

Finally: rider is more straight, allowing the horse
to bend a little better.
 It's gonna be a long winter.

Bend! Bend! BEND!  Sigh.

 Fortunately, I still have that stolen trailer to get me out to my lessons and the trails.

Photoshopped.  But, cool idea, right?

Happy Winter, all y'all.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In which I steal a trailer and show off some Mad Librarian Skillz

The SS Illegible will be in the shop for a while after our mishap last weekend
so I did what any self-respecting Pirate would do:  
I stole a horse trailer.

Fiddle will NOT be moored to the Illegible for a few weeks
The mechanic left a long, whiny voice message for me about how getting a replacement axle for my trailer might take a month--or longer.

Yeah, no. 

Can you see what Fee is looking at?

Our farm is only five acres--not nearly enough room to bury all the bodies that would accumulate if I can't ride out for six weeks.

He's drowsing in the sunshine, and not a bit worried about a Dragon nearby

 Fortunately, the axle problem was not actually a mechanic issue.

It turned out to be a librarian issue, and I totally have the chops for that.

It's been Very Cold this week--temps in the high teens/low twenties.
Direct sunshine feels good (and is about ten degrees warmer!)

I fired up my Librarian Spidey Super Senses, got on the Interwebs, looked up a phone number for Trails West over in Preston Idaho, and called 'em.

5-star customer service, BTW.

Ice puddle
 Within 5 minutes I was on the line with Ryan in the parts department.

Within 7 minutes, we had made arrangements for Ryan to pitch the appropriate axle for my horse trailer into the next set of trailers heading for Western Washington, eliminating the need for me to pay shipping costs.

You can pretend it's still Fall where you live.
Here in the Swamp, it's definitely Winter.

My next phone call was to Bickford Trailers, the place two towns over, where I bought my trailer 10 years ago.

Talked to Maggi at Bickford, and she remembered me ("a nice little Standardbred mare, right?"  Well, yes, but not that nice Standardbred mare, it's another one, but you definitely have the right person), and Maggi says, "Okay, I'll just give you a phone call when it shows up."

Another 5 stars for customer service.

Let us remember that I bought my trailer there 10 years ago, and they haven't seen me since.

Frozen mud and blue skies:  I'll take it!

Total time spent on phone: about 15 minutes.

Total time remaining to abscond with Duana's new trailer and go for a ride:  Plenty.

That's not sn*w.  It's accumulated frost.

 When we finally hit the hardpack road, Fee was still moving forward enthusiastically, but felt stiff and heavy on my left rein.


No really.  It's cold on those trails!

Ahhhhhh.  Missing hoof boot.

I hate boots.  I'm sorry, all you boot-loving friends.  I know you love your boots.

Hmmm.  Where did it go?

But I just truly, sincerely, hate hoof boots.

 I hate putting them on.  I hate backtracking to find wherever they've zinged off onto the trail.  I hate climbing down and putting them on again.  This is not how I prefer to spend my ride time.

Found it!  (finally)
The farrier will be out on Wednesday and Fee will have four shoes again.

It's important to note that a few years ago when Fee would lose a boot, she would stomp on the brakes, shout cuss words, and refuse to move forward on her poor tender toes.

I think losing a boot in those days was just one more speck of pain for her to cope with, and she Just. Refused. To. Cope.

Sunshine feels good

So, for her to continue forward (for several miles) and not get heavy on the port side until we hit gravel indicates to me that her "normal" pain level is...not.

And she's willing to continue forward with a bare foot and a good attitude, but stiff and heavy because, hey, bare foot and gravel road?

Recharging our solar batteries.

That's not just progress.

That's more like "miraculous."

We tried to stay out of the shade as much as possible,
because the sun feels so good!

Boot re-applied, we headed back to the stolen trailer.

We met up with Duana and the Usual Suspects for lunch, and Du let me
steal the keys to the SS Illegal, so I can conveniently use the trailer I stole
until my trailer is fixed.

Still cold. 

Still frozen.


You know.


Monday, November 10, 2014

In which I share a story (or two) about fortune and mixed blessings

Long ago, a man owned a wonderful horse. 

This is how three of the trailer tires looked when we got to the trailhead
the other day

This horse was strong, fast, and brave.  

"How fortunate you are to have such a wonderful horse!" the man's neighbors would say to him.

"Maybe so, maybe no," replied the man.  "Only time can tell."

One dark night a tree fell in the pasture, knocking down the fence.  The horse got out of the pasture and ran far off into the hills.  

This is how the fourth tire looked.  Note the spattered grease
and the plume of smoke.

No matter how long the man and his family searched and called, they could not find the horse.

"How unfortunate!" said his neighbors.  "You've lost your wonderful horse."

We sent Jim the photo and asked for advice.
"Go for your ride," he said, "and I'll come out and take
a look."  We took a photo of the tack room, just
in case the trailer burnt up while we were gone.

 "Maybe so, and maybe no," replied the man.  "Only time can tell."

The next Spring, the horse returned--and he brought with him five fine mares, each with a foal at heel.

"How fortunate that you have such a fine herd of horses!" said the neighbors.

But, "Maybe so, and maybe no," was all the man would say.

We went for our ride/mushroom hunt.
Cold temps are forecast for tonight--probably the end of chanterelle season. 

 Time passed, the herd continued to mature and grow.  The man's only son was training some of the young stock under saddle, and he was thrown from a horse's back.

He survived the injury, but only barely:  he walked with a terrible limp for the rest of his life.

Even in cold weather, riding doesn't make me limp anymore*

"How unfortunate," said the neighbors.  "You must agree that this injury is truly bad luck for your son."

But, "Maybe so, and maybe no," was all the old man would say.

It barely even rained--really excellent weather considering
the 80% precip predictions

 In time, the King's army came to that place, and they conscripted all the young men to be soldiers, to fight in a far-away war.

The war continued for years.  All the young men who had gone away to be soldiers died in the war, and none of them ever returned home.

Many of our usual mushroom spots were depleted by
rain and other harvesters

The only young man who had not been taken as a soldier was the son of the man with the horse.

Artists are easy to entertain: Monica picked a huge bouquet of enormous
maple leaves to bring home

That man walked with such a terrible limp that the army left him behind.

"He will never be a soldier," they said.

Back at the trailer, Jim was there with lunch for us all...

And so, that young man was the only one of his generation to grow up, have children of his own, to grow old.

...but the parts he brought to fix the wheel bearing were not quite the right size

Within a few generations, all the people of that village were descended from the man who had the wonderful horse.

It wasn't possible to take the old bearings in to match sizes--they'd melted
onto the brake magnet.  That would be the source of the smoke...

And in that place, no matter what happened,

Jim made another dash out to the parts store, so we took our "bareback" ponies
out to another mushroom spot

*remounting the tall horse after mushrooming, I slid slow motion off a
wet stump/mounting block and ended up under her belly.  She didn't move a muscle
except to look at me, "WTF?" Today, I'm a little ouchy from the fall.
 even if something seemed be fortunate

or unfortunate,

Back at the trailer, Jim and Tim went through three boxes of cuss words
to get the rig back together so we could haul home.

 the people of that village would say, "Maybe so, and maybe no.

The trailer will be at the shop for a while, but everyone
got home safe and sound.

"Only time can tell."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In which we celebrate the short but good lives of Haiku Farm turkeys

After a week of monsoonic rain, the sun came out.

Fluffing out the feathers after a long rainy spell.
photo by M. Bretherton

Monica was out early, shooting photos of the turkeys as they wandered around the backyard nibbling on dandelion greens, lavender seeds, and overripe apples.  

It was a nicest "last day" for turkeys that I could think of.

They got so large that walking was difficult.   The big male had to sit and rest
several times during his walkabout.  Photo by M. Bretherton

They lived here long enough to learn where the trees would drop the best fruit.

On the way to the orchard.
Photo by M. Bretherton

They lived here long enough to teach the dogs how to behave properly in the presence of dinosaurs.

They taught me where food really comes from...not just in theory.

 They taught us all that even ugliness

contains beauty.

Preening.  Photo by M. Bretherton

And yes, we will eat them.  What a waste their lives would be if we didn't!

In honor of the things we learned, we will put apples in the stuffing, and lavender on the table.

Because, they taught us some stuff.

And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

In which sometimes our mental calendars are a heavenly joke book

With one eye on the horizon, only one remains to watch the road beneath your feet. 
 -- Words of wisdom painted on the bathroom door of my old karate dojo

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.  --Jewish proverb

I got a note from a Green Bean friend recently.

She's got a nice young mare as an endurance prospect, a trainer she likes, and a plan.

However, recently, she's been feeling like she's been moving backwards instead of forwards.  She feels unbalanced and frustrated while doing things she used to be able to do comfortably.

And then, last week, she hit the ground--hard.  Hard enough to require a ride to the ER, where they diagnosed a pretty impressive concussion, and recommended that she stay off the pony until her head stops bobbling (which it hasn't, yet)

"Even monkeys fall from trees." --Japanese proverb
Even non-green bean riders hit the ground sometimes!

"What am I doing wrong?"  she wanted to know.

I read through what she wrote, and I recognized a couple of issues:

  •  She is feeling unbalanced, insecure, and probably a little PTSD from the tumble.
  • The horse is green, and has so much to learn--a nice mare, but she isn't steady and trustworthy yet.  
  • Tack might or might not be an issue.
  • The concussion is not helping.
  • She has GOALS!  BIG GOALS!  And she is feeling like she's getting further away from the goals, rather than closer to them.

I think that the last bullet point is the core issue.  

Having a mental calendar with goals written on it in mental red ink gets in the way of paying attention to what is happening in the real world.

We've all been there and done that.  When I got Fiddle in December 2006, she was five years old and green broke.  She would turn six a few days after Home on the Range, the first ride of our 2007 endurance season.

"Perfect!" I thought, and mentally planned to do an LD ride at HOTR.

cue sound effect: >> divine laughter <<

2008:  still not ready for Prime Time
The problem with horses, even good horses, and even trained horses, is that they have "stuff" that moves them off-calendar sometimes.

Sometimes it's physical stuff--ulcers, or an abscess, tender soles or a saddle that pinches, or even something bigger but more subtle, like the painful ovaries that took us years to diagnose and treat. 

Sometimes it's mental or emotional stuff.

Trying to rush through the stuff generally doesn't work.  

Rushing through stuff doesn't resolve the stuff, it either squashes and masks the stuff so the stuff can grow mold and turn out even worse down the road, or ignites the stuff so that it blows up into a gigantic explosive ball of really troublesome stuff that gets stuck to everything else.

Now, how's THAT for an explanation?  >g<  

At last:  Fiddle's first LD event.
Home on the Range, 2010.

I want to suggest that having a mental calendar may be getting in the way of forward progress.  

Fiddle was physically old enough (by AERC rules) to do LD rides at age 4.  At age 6, she was still growing, still clumsy, and mentally still very green.  

I backed away from my mental calendar, and we spent 2007 walking on trails.  

Not even trotting.  It was, quite honestly, the only training my green mare was mentally mature enough to handle at that point. It was not incident-free, either.  

Until she could walk down a trail without falling over her feet, or fainting from fear, or freezing up when we got to a tricky bit of terrain, there was no point in pushing for faster gaits.

At age 7, she was still growing a little, but it was time to push her a little.  We started with dressage lessons (aka "couples therapy").  At first, Fee was very resistant.  We gradually worked through some of her issues, and began to glimpse her amazing potential.  

gaiting...but at least she could (sorta) keep track of all four feet
We weren't there yet.  

I could probably have successfully campaigned her in LD's in 2009...but that was the year we bought Haiku Farm, and I ran out of money for entry fees (not to mention time for training).  

That mental calendar got crumpled up and thrown out once again.

Instead, we spent that year learning other skills.

A different skill set for endurance horses
So, back to the Green Bean and her question about what she's "doing wrong."

My recommendation is for her to back up into her comfort zone and get rid of that mental calendar for a while. 

If that means riding a lesson horse in a saddle with a seat belt, do that.  

If it means lining the green horse up to a mounting block and flopping onto her back and just sitting there at a dead standstill, do that.  

If it means the green horse gets ridden by the trainer every Tuesday while the green bean rider does groundwork the rest of the week, do that.  

If it means going out to a friend's barn to trail ride on one of her experienced horses to regain balance and confidence, do that.

Bottom line of my advice for the green bean:  
Drop the mental calendar into the mental recycle bin.  Get back into your comfort zone, and rattle around in there until it is truly boring. 

When it's time to get out of the comfort zone, go slowly.  

"Stuff" will arise--it always does.  

Deal with the stuff, but take the pressure off by getting rid of that mental deadline. 

I'm not suggesting that this particular Bean and her horse will be delayed as long as Fiddle and I were.  But even if they do have to stand on the brakes for a while, it's not the worst possible thing.  

2011:  a regular competitor now, but still useful as a trail-building horse

Letting go of the mental calendar allowed me to reach for more immediate, more attainable challenges that turned out to be excellent background training for endurance events.

And the result: after eight (EIGHT!!! egad! it's been that long!) years, 

Skilled horse, happy rider.
Renegade Rendezvous 50-miler, 2014
I have an endurance horse who makes me very proud.   

READERS, please chime in:  

What events and situations move you and your horse off-calendar?  
Is it easy to re-form your goals?  
What helps you?

The comment box is open.