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We Are Flying Solo

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September 2, 2015

Obvious Riding, Obviously


A normal workday-& perfect metaphor for my life
It's been hard to write.  It's been hard to ride.  I'd guess all my fellow horse-bloggers understand the relationship between the two.

Added to the mayhem which is field season at work are repeated spins on the health care roulette wheel.  Only I can't seem to get the ball to land in a winning slot.  :/

We're still gathering data, but there is a glimpse of a silver lining, aka treatable things.  Which would be fantastic, as I'd love to, you know, get back to living my life?

Hence my offering of a consolation prize in the form of the ridiculously dorky photo feed now featured on our homepage.

There Was An Actual Dressage Thing, Though!

I have eked out some rides here & there.  Last weekend, Encore challenged my commitment to "I Will" during a brief dressage school.

As we began a few figures in the 20 x 40, my horse was tuning me out & going llama.  I got emotional:  I got frustrated.  Red flag that things were spiraling downhill.

Letting go:  possible!
But then I let go.

I paused to breathe & regroup my scattered bits of focus.  The trainer in my head firmly repeated, "Ride off your leg, let go of the death grip on your horse's face, BE PATIENT."

We rode centerline & diagonals & I focused on staying soft.  I focused on supporting with my seat & core.  And I waited.

Patience Is The Hardest Part

I just kept riding as correctly as possible & around the third or fourth repetition...I felt Encore start to trust.  He was trusting forward & trusting that I would not suffocate the energy flow with my hand.

As we turned across each successive diagonal, I felt his trot lift & push from behind.  And lo & behold, correct worked.

Maybe I should try that more often.
Never too much Grumpy Cat

August 9, 2015

We Jumped A Thing!

Seriously – a thing!!!  Ok, the word “jump” may be a tad strong:
If it looks like a jump & jumps like a jump...
But creativity is a Team Flying Solo credo, so two barrels my neighbour wasn’t using & old seine poles from work we’d replaced = all manner of jump-like constructs.

It simultaneously seems like years ago & last week that we were arcing around 3’3” courses under David O.’s sharp eyes, but yesterday…yesterday, a whoop of triumph escaped my fool’s grin as Encore neatly popped over a single crossrail that I’d optimistically call 2’6”.

Because it WAS a triumph!  Doubly so, because this post is a post!  I know many of you have been thinking, “Hey, didn’t there used to be, like, stories on this blog?
 
Yep.  I’m trying to figure out where they went, too.

Every Day For The Win!

From its birth, We Are Flying Solo has been about embracing & celebrating what defines horsemanship, no matter what the discipline/breed/age:  Baby Steps.  And they absolutely still count even if you are walking in impressions you’ve made before!

Best webcomic ever, by Natalie Dee
I’ve worked very hard to accomplish the proud label of “Slowest Rehab Ever,” between Encore’s healing stifles (yeah, pretty sure those were wayyyyy faster than me) & my own bewildered feeling of being shaken up inside a dark paper bag for the past year.  I was beginning to wonder if it was Over.

What?  I never claimed to have conquered Anxiety Girl, who gains astonishing power when combined with the habitual paranoia of horse ownership

Despite a rocky moment, where Encore refused the fence twice (90% rider mental hesitation & cursed spot of doubt), the third time was the charm (out, out damned spot! *literature nerd moment of awesome*).  And so were the two after that.

So when I dropped my stirrups & leaned down to wrap my arms around that generous horse’s neck, my murmur of, “Thank you, buddy!” consisted of everything in my heart.  Gifts so often arise as moments.  Moments shaped like hope.

July 31, 2015

The #1 Reason To Wear A Helmet That You Didn’t Think Of

Heck yeah, helmet went to Ecuador in my carry-on!
I'm going to let you in on a secret:  there is something worse than losing your health, or worse, your life, to a TBI, especially a preventable one.

Even more devastating is losing a person you love to a TBI.

It’s often left out of the equation because it falls into the category of "things that happen to other people," like malaria & plane crashes & armed robbery: awful, yet somewhat abstract.  Until we become one of those people.

How do I know?  Because I became one of those people.  My love, my future, my everything…vanished.

But this post isn’t about me or the story I still can’t write.  This post is about opportunity & hope for countless futures, countless moments that can continue to shine thanks to you.

Sexy 2010 Solo (Pics of You)
It’s A Holiday Sale-day!

August 1st, 2015 marks the 5th Riders4Helmets International Helmet Awareness Day.  It has grown & inspired remarkable progress, literally around the world; equine retailers & helmet manufacturers have joined the team to offer huge inventory sales. 
You can find the Master List here.

All of this makes an easy-to-use, well-designed, thoroughly-tested (raises hand) safety essential even more accessible no matter what your discipline or income bracket (waves again from the bottom of that barrel).

  • Want a fresh new look?  The options have become almost limitless. Customize, airbrush, & bedazzle to your heart’s content!  Sport an understated accent piping for the hunter ring or don Western leather to match your trail saddle.
  • Go straight from schooling to show ring on a budget.  Gone are the days of the white mushroom (although I flew one all the way to Australia & back for noggin protection during residence Down Under)!  All your favourite brands have lighter, cooler, more diverse redesigns – in technicolor!  I tried out Troxel’s new Intrepid last year & I can’t believe how comfortable it is…for less than $60!!
  • Never owned a helmet?  It’s not like insurance: yesterday’s actions don’t matter & no one holds a grudge.  Your local store reps will be thrilled to help you find the style & fit you love; if you don’t have one nearby, I’ve spoken with dozen of friendly voices from online retailers like Dover & SmartPak.  Many will allow you to order multiples & return at no charge, as they should, since YOU are priceless.
It’s My Personal Choice & I Just Don’t Want To

Ah, the final bastion of hold-outs.  Which I refer back to the beginning of this missive.  For your “choice” is not truly yours alone.  Do you have a significant other?  A best friend?  A parent?  A sibling?  Offspring?  Take a moment & consider the responsibility inherent in any caring relationship.


Particularly if you yourself are a parent – even aside the obvious, that EVERYONE should wear a helmet -- children are dependents.  Where will yours be if your horse simply stumbles at the wrong moment & like far too many I’ve known even locally, you suffer a catastrophic open skull fracture?

Yes, that’s a dire image, but it’s a very real one.  Horses bring a myriad of risks & we can’t negate them all, but this is, pardon the cliche, a no-brainer.

Don’t let yourself be caught in the complacency trap of “I don’t gallop over giant logs or anything,” either.

Treasured always
  • Ask my wonderful dressage trainer, experienced at PSG, who’s had surgical repairs to shattered ankles TWICE…while walking trained horses on flat trails.  
  • Ask my neighbour, whose leg just spent 8 weeks in a cast with pins…after his trail horse slipped walking down a hill.  
  • Ask me, who landed on my head two years ago…because Encore, STANDING STILL, suddenly felt like something stung him in a meadow.
Geez.  Trail riding is dangerous.  0.o

The Point Is…

Even if you don't want to do it for you, do it for the sake of those who love you.  For them, for me, the greatest gift you can give is sticking around.

July 24, 2015

Halt That Headshaking!

Nature no touchy!
Summer brings not just sweat, but the War of the Flies (sorry, William Golding).

You're attempting to make centerline approximate an actual line or ramble scenic trails or enjoy a sunset handgraze...only the tormented buzzing & biting around your horse's eyes & ears has you worried he might sprain his neck during the incessant attempts to shake the beasts off.

Bid Those Flies - And Sweat - Goodbye

It felt like my lucky day when our friends at Horze.com sent us their -

1.  Extended nose flymask (UV protection for your pale-nosed friends!
2.  Fringed mesh fly veil

Fine, I'll nom-model  (1)
I hatez dinner pauses  (2)
What Makes Them Different?

You know those days when it's so hot & sticky that the mere thought of anything touching you makes you shudder in aversion?  Well, the horses agree.  And fly spray can only do so much (particularly in places where you can actually hear the deer flies snicker every time you squeeze the spray-bottle trigger).

So I really REALLY liked that both of these combined a physical barrier with fabrics which maximized airflow.  A horse's ears appear to be a very small body part, but, being thin-skinned & packed with blood vessels (i.e. gnat nirvana), those twin radar dishes play a huge role in heat exchange, just like your head & feet.


The mask was made of a quality-feeling structured screening, much like the SuperMasks I use to screen eyes in the trailer.  However, where I almost never use the latter in turnout as the heaviness of both the mesh & fleece seem to layer grit & sweat on Solo's face, the unique combination of the technical wicking material & much narrower jaw cut of the Horze mask means he's more comfortable.

What, Does He Nicker Twice For Yes?

Not quite, although I did learn this winter that he has an "I want my blanket" nicker, LOL.  But he freezes & sticks his head out when I approach with it now (Solo must have tasty eyeball juice, the flies seem to prefer it to Encore's?) & when removed at night, there's only a small patch of sweat on his crown.

Yes, he also is a member of the Pig Sweat club.

The veil struck a similar nice balance.  The retro-hippie-rasta vibe was just a bonus!

I use old-school browband veils while riding Solo every summer (alas, Encore gets mad at his own bangs touching him & violently shook OFF a cotton bonnet, although I may have to try this once...), but his ears are unprotected unless I add a conventional fly bonnet.  Bonnet fabric usually ends up soaked in sweat & the tight-fitting ears mean the deer & horse-flies bite through them anyway.

Adding the loose mesh to a veil was a novel idea.  Airspace between ears & mesh creates a little wider "DMZ" protection from bites.  The super-light mesh kept things cool, although I wouldn't try to add it to a turnout halter, I'd be worried it would tear off during vigorous tree scratching.

And we still had the strings functioning as the perfect forelock (vital for Solo The Follicularly Challenged), constantly moving to deter landings while not obstructing vision or trapping heat.  And um, hi, $7 is the kind of budget-friendly I'M talking about, thank you!

Who's got bangs now, dudez??
Be Prepared To Trim Or Size Down

Both items have a bit of an odd measurement.  Lengthwise, they were fine for Solo & would be spot-on for Encore (both are a normal 'horse' size, but Solo is short from ear to mouth; if I had money to burn, I'd buy cob cheekpieces for his bridles).  But the jowl straps were ENORMOUS.

They may be purposefully designed that way, it's simple enough to trim off the velcro ends.  There is certainly plenty if you do happen to have a horse with the cheeks of a Shire!

Or, if you are a just-in-case person, you can invent velcro patterns like I did:


You can check them out along with Horze's other Fly Weapons here.  Thanks once more to the great folks at Horze.com for diversifying our arsenal!!
www.horze.com

July 21, 2015

How Not To Get Hot


Famous last words:  “I was going to wait & ride at 8:00 pm since it’s 907% humidity, but heck with it, it’s already 6:30 pm, that’s close enough!

Nausea, dizziness, stomach cramping, fatigue, shortness of breath, & nausea are all signs of…what was that, kids?  Dumbassery?  Well, yes.  That actually might be a better answer than my old friend, heat perishing (it sounds better than the completely non-dramatic label ‘exhaustion’).

I did ride, though!  It just took me three times longer to hose Encore between gasping on the floor in front of the fan, sipping water, & thinking, “Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up…”

Wow.  That Sounds, Um, Fun?  What The Why?

You’d think I’d be immune to working in the stickiest of the Carolina versions of air.  I mean, at least I was on a horse while the sun set instead of on the bow of an aluminum electrofishing boat wearing black rubber gloves at mid-day!

Alas, just as we must condition our horses to work in heat every year, we must prepare our own physiology for the demands of melting from the inside out.

Yes, totally what I look like sweating
Pre-Ride Tips For You
(aka all the things I didn’t do last night, but learned from a very smart pro athlete)

  • Drink a bottle of water beforehand.  
    • Even before you fetch Dobbin from the pasture or, if trailering, before you exit the truck on arrival.  I sweat a LOT.  Like, a greased pig in a sauna on the surface of the sun a lot.  All my water bottles are 1 L (~32 oz.) or larger.  After I made this a hard rule, it was literally night & day after XC – I could breathe!
  • Dress smart.  
    • Light, wicking materials are your very best friend & I’ll happily share my secrets for budget-friendly options from sports bras to shirts & breeches.  If I see a cotton shirt in July, I’ll run screaming.  And I don’t run (technically am not allowed to run, at least I got something good out of that mess).
  • Fuel your muscles.  
    • You’re saddled up & hydrated, but just before you get on, snarf a small protein bar or one of those electrolyte yogurt pack thingies that sort of tastes like you’re swallowing a salty booger (yeah, you’re running to buy those now, aren’t you?).  I choke down the latter & then chase it with 8-12 oz. of water as I’m readying my bridle. 
  • If possible, take swigs during walk breaks.  
  • Closer to reality...
    • Obviously, not an option at a gallop, although wouldn’t it be nice if jump judges could toss you a sip every 1/3 of the course, like bikers & runners do???  I could go for misting jumps, too.  That water jump’s really too shallow to stay cool; even if you can’t resist the swim, well, then it’s your last jump anyway, oops. 
  • On sports drinks:  never drink them straight (I mean, undiluted, I mean...you know what I mean, LOL).  
    • You’ll note that so far, I’ve only mentioned water alone.  Human metabolism flips a switch when exertion begins.  Before the switch, you can’t process any of the electrolytes anyway, you’ll just have more expensive pee, & even lighter versions, such as G2, have too much sugar (not knocking sugar, it’s one of my diet staples), which will just give you a quicker burnout.  After you start working, though, a bottle cut in half with water knocks the concentration down to a useful level & staves off fatigue. 
I don’t love the flavour, but after I felt the dramatic relief, I found one I could live with.  I just stock up when they are on sale at 10 for $10 at the grocery store!

Or that...
In case you forget, I find bribing a friend or sympathetic-looking passers-by to walk your horse as you drag off as many layers as possible while collapsing prone in the nearest patch of shade, trying to bring your pulse rate back below 100, to be a perfectly acceptable backup strategy.

How About That Ride?

Overwhelming desire to retch aside, Encore felt pretty decent.  It’s been a rough while for me, health & energy-wise, so he has been carefully managed using the “Slowest Rehab Ever” approach since he sprained his stifles during his X-Games.  In other words, I’ve been able to do about one short ride a week.  :/

In the spirit of keeping a positive context, though, I can’t afford to travel anyways & I’m a firm believer that 15 minutes of quality work with hills, energy, & correct transitions, is better than 45-60 minutes of mediocre riding when I tire or we both get cranky & sloppy.

We’d be much further along if, you know, someone else paid the mortgage so I could focus on the planned, excruciatingly consistent daily work that blistering would have required.  Or even just the lower-key muscle-building without the chemical intervention.  Oh yeah, & my own body would return to its super-human state circa 2010 or so.

Pls shade.
But I’m mostly ok with where we are for now.  Encore started out with a strong, balanced trot & was able to maintain his shape much more easily through turns & slopes.  I’ve continued to practice my YES I CAN goal & am getting ever closer to unlocking that stubborn left arm.

Encore tired quickly, so our canter work was quite lean-y as he got sore behind.  But that didn’t worry me too much, given noted humidity levels (I actually hosed him before riding as both horses were caked in dirty sweat, even standing in the shady run-in all day) paired with to-date infrequent rides.

Now What?

I’m currently taking some extended leave from work over the next two weeks.  I suppose the best category is “recovery leave,” so I can hopefully step off the vicious cycle of utter exhaustion combined with high stress before it eats up any more of me.  More realistically, I need a sabbatical, but PhD (Practicality Has Disappeared, hee) was not the route for me!!
 
I can has back?
Just being able to move at my own speed for a little is an enormous relief already, so I’m glad I was finally able to beat my guilt into submission & commit to doing it:  I’ve given plenty of sweat & blood for that time & the last break I can remember that actually involved rest was in 2010.  Both orange boys are actually ready to work at present (which I just jinxed, sigh), maybe we can get our routine back.

Speaking of practice, fill me in!  You shared your CAN DO goals, how did you do?

Even if you didn’t catch that post on the first round, I’d love to hear about a detail you’ve been working on!  Leave a comment, better yet, tell us how you’ve practiced; I’m always excited to see everyone’s ideas & have a chance to try new approaches!! 

July 15, 2015

Craving Progress In Your Riding & Training?

Think about it like your horse does.

We (myself included) spend far too much time stuck on what went wrong yesterday or last week or at the last jump.  Rather, we need to join our equine partner in Now. 

Because that forever-sought Moment is dynamic, floating right next to us.  All we have to do is leave the baggage at the gate & open ourselves to being Present, to believing in Possible, .