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We Are Flying Solo

June 30, 2013

Where I Remember Why I Live Where I Do

It's been a long day.

Running late as usual, I scurried up to the farm to pick up Encore so we could head north for our clinic (see previous post).  The air was the classic Carolina "air you can wear" and I was wet as a fish after filling a few ziplocs with feed and opening the trailer doors.  Ah, summer.

Gathering Encore and hugging Solo goodbye, something caught my eye as we began walking down the hill.

"Waaaait a minute," I told my horse.  "Show me both of your front shoes!"

Alas, there was only one.  I did a quick walk of their paddock while calling my friend in Maryland to see if she could line up a farrier before we rode on Monday.  As per usual, the shoe was nowhere to be seen (I swear he picks them up and hurls them out of the field) but the farrier was successfully wrangled into meeting me Monday  morning.  Ah, horses.

Loaded up, we headed north, aimed at Richmond, Fredericksburg, DC, and then Maryland.  Naturally, we made it allllmost to Fredericksburg before traffic slowed to a crawl.  It's been several years since I've had to deal with any real traffic, I forgot that 47 gazillion people live up here.  Ah, cities.

I found an alternate route and picked my way around the morass that is DC and its environs.  It turned a 4.5-hour haul into a 6-hour one, but we arrived safely and Encore, the traveling pro that he is, hopped off the trailer, glanced over the premises for two seconds, and dropped his head to graze with a sigh.  Ah, those crazy Thoroughbreds.

He is tucked in for the night and I have thoroughly enjoyed a shower and REAL FOOD!!!  I'm again lodging with friend Beth, who lives not far from Waredaca, where I volunteer at the fall T3DE/N3DE.  We'll be riding there during the clinic on XC day -- I will finally get to live part of my goal to ride that course!  Beth is off picking Eric Smiley up from the airport, as he will be bunked with us as well.  Meanwhile, I will sit enthralled in front of her enormogigantus saltwater aquarium watching the butterfly fish chase each other.  Ah, pretend life.

June 23, 2013

Time, Energy, Money

All of these things have to line up AND coincide with having a sound horse if we want to ride and advance our training.  I usually hit one out of three...

Encore feels fantastic.  He is sound and solid and bright and shiny, having made real strides forward in the connection department once his rider figured out how to diminish her energy-blocking.  And damn, he looks sexy.  Which you'll just have to take my word for at the moment as I need a new picture.  Oh, and energy to actually ride him.

I iz not gated horze.
My special Solo man, to my surprise and pleasure, also looks like a million bucks.  He is in perfect weight, with a copper shimmer and his trademark Quarter Horse muscle, despite doing pretty much nothing as Amber and I both scramble to keep up with demanding summer schedules.  And just a week ago...why yes, that IS a horse show ribbon he is wearing!  Always one to do things his own way, he placed -- at a Walking Horse show.


You heard me right.  Our farm was hosting a local show with 500 classes (it felt like).  I've enjoyed watching them and have volunteered as well, carrying score sheets, directing riders, announcing, what have you.  That Saturday, I had brought Encore, and then Solo, down to watch the action for a change of pace.  BO exerted his finest peer pressure and threw his Western saddle onto Mr. Shiny's back, so I gave in.  I like to support people who treat and train their horses with respect and kindness anyway!

The English divisions and games had come and gone, so we had to find an appropriate category from what remained of the Western division.  Thoughtfully attired in the pictured bridle with Solo's favourite bit, BO's massive Western saddle (honestly, I don't know how you people carry those things around, LOL!), a very old pair of slightly undersized tan breeches, suede half chaps that are officially old enough to drive, and a slobber-painted tank top (erm, thank goodness the show is casual), we marched in to the Trail Pleasure 2-gaited Go As You Please class with about 9 other horses.  I am sure the judge enjoyed the picture of style and grace I presented.  Where everyone else flat walked and running walked, we simply walked and jogged (oh yes, he can).

I think Solo enjoyed himself; I just wanted him to feel special again and do something for him.  It was hardly taxing shuffling a few laps.  I was not out there to achieve anything and spent most of the class with a relaxed smile, pondering the miracle of walking into a class at a show with no warmup after standing parked in the shade under a tree.  Of course, this was not our discipline, we were just there to have fun and support the "home team."  Our co-inhabitants work very hard at what they do!

This week will find me flailing about in our rivers in search of rare mussels, but after that, the young beast and I head up to Maryland for an eventing clinic, thanks to the generosity of a great friend, with Irish ex-Cavalry officer and Olympian, Eric Smiley.  More on that one to come as soon as the schedule allows!

June 17, 2013

How To Make A Lasting First Impression

Perhaps you have a job interview for that dream position or perhaps you are pitching a hot new idea at a big meeting.  You want to blow their minds, right, and be certain that you are the hot topic for the rest of the day?

Do I have the solution for you!

This brilliant scheme was first practiced on a beautiful Saturday morning as BFF and I prepared to meet the group on our Mount Rogers trip last month.  The horses were tacked up and I had longed Encore briefly, since he had demonstrated an abundance of energy and he was wearing some new saddlebags.  Everything was purring along smoothly and our farrier came splashing across the creek to pick us up and lead us to the group rendezvous.

We mounted and followed him back through the trees to a small meadow where roughly eight other horses and riders awaited.  Encore had been placid as a lamb on the longe and marched calmly along just in front of BFF's Pete.  Entering the clearing, I smiled and waved at the group, as we did not know anyone except for farrier and his family.

"Hey, peoples!" I called gleefully.  The greeting is key to the success of this approach, as it maximizes your chances of being seen.

I didn't mean to...
No sooner had the words left my mouth, then Encore transformed from quiet trail horse to apocalyptic explosion.

As he leaped straight into the air like a gazelle, it felt exactly like sitting on a horse who is being stung by bees (been there, done that).  Yet there had been hardly any flying insects and all the other horses were watching in frozen amazement.

The first leap hurtled me vertically and to one side, but I had a leg on and felt like things could still be saved.  But then I received the memo that there was a second leap.  All hope was lost.

Luckily, at this point in my life, when being catapulted from an equine, I have learned to relax everything and roll with it (the deathly Solo fall was sadly, not a catapult situation).  While I landed hard, the impact was mostly to my head, shoulder and elbow, and I quickly rolled onto my back.  No harm, no foul (although I will be taking advantage of Saturday's helmet sales!), thanks to the ever-present noggin protector.  Without the latter, our weekend would have ended very messily right there.

Encore ran in a circle to his friend, Pete, and stopped, trembling.  I jumped up and walked over to him -- hey, my instinct is to FIND MY HORSE, since a certain orange beast was always one to run off -- to inspect him and try and solve the mystery.  We never were able to confirm much.  He was unhurt, no signs of bites or stings.  He did jump when I touched the saddlebags (I longed him in them and he has worn his own, very similar ones, heaps of times!!!) so I  moved them from the cantle to the pommel of the saddle.  I climbed back on and he was fine.

He was not being spooky or naughty or even excited.  Something convinced him that he was being suddenly stung and it scared the life out of him.  For a horse who spooks by standing still and getting very tall, I would never expect that kind of panic reaction, but he is still a horse and apparently believed that full-body rocket-launch was the only escape!

I am damn sure, however, that no one will EVER forget that entrance!!!

This post brought to you by WEAR YOUR FREAKIN' HELMET!, inc.

June 12, 2013

Never Say Never

Of course, they also say, "Never say die," but that latter is rather unavoidable.

Sorry, that's just how my wacked brain works!

For those of you who intently follow the sputterings of TFS on Teh Facebooks, I left you hanging with a teaser...and no one guessed the surprise.  To be fair, there was really only one guess.

It has been a large secret that I have kept close, both for fear of jinxing it by pronunciation and to avoid publicly riding the roller coaster of hope and disappointment that is inevitably part of the process.  At this point, however, there is ink on paper and machinations kicked into motion and numbers in blanks, so I will rip the sheet off and unveil...


HEY!  YES, IT IS --  the future home of Flying Solo Farm.  That will be the view of the main field from my back door.

*interlude for gasping, choking, staring, inexplicable giggling, and head explosion*

Believe me, I have had every thought you are having right now.  No way.  WTF?  That's is awesome!  That is terrifying!  So many things to plan.  So many bills...

And so on.  Although it's been a road thus far traveled with all the speed of a three-legged tortoise.

North of the main field:  lots of room for dressage and jumping!
The idea popped up two years ago, taunting at the edge of vision.  I do SO MUCH driving.  Not even counting work travel, I drive up to the BO's farm almost every day after work and on weekends.  If I take the horses somewhere, I often end up going north to pick them up, then turning around and driving south, PAST MY HOUSE, to get to our destination.  That alone is almost two hours of wasted time by the end of a trip.  At the farm, I provide all of my own feed, do a fair bit of my own pasture management, trick out my shed, and fix things that I can when they break.  I have mowed, I have dragged, I have repaired arenas and moved jumps.  Really, I am paying them to feed my horses in the mornings and keep an eye on them when I am out of town.

That's a lot of time and a lot of money.  So I began watching the real estate market.  Did I dare dream the impossible dream?  Just idly at first, but as I began to crunch numbers, my intentions became more serious.  Mom and I chatted and schemed and I discovered that, with planning and the right property, I could have a house on ten acres, eliminate a ton of driving, and still pay the same mortgage payment I am paying now, for 0.3 acres.  That tipped the scales all the way to yes.

To the south, pasture goes downhill to creek.  Too wet to bush-hog atm.
It still took a full two years of poking, looking, examining, offering, withdrawing offers, soil testing, and mapping before I stumbled upon a hidden gem about 15 miles from my current house.  One of two plots being sold by a couple who no longer needed the extra pasture, unwanted by their kids, the gorgeous pieces of property, in established grass (over a year of work if I had to clear land, not to mention the cost of $3-4,000 per acre) and fenced (that's worth $7-10,000 right there), hid among giant oaks and sweet gums at the end of a two-track drive, about 0.3 miles off the road.

Perfect bliss.  Even if the beautiful trees and old pond fished by herons and seranaded by chorus frogs weren't enough to convince me, the day of my first visit, as I stood in the main field with the landowner, listening to great stories, both of our eyes turned to a quick motion on the hillside.  A grey fox trotted up to the top and paused, glancing over his shoulder at us.  I'm quite the pragmatist, but I decided to indulge myself and took the glance from one of my favourite native species as a quiet welcome.

I have a house and a shelter to build, a well to drill and a winter's worth of hay to buy still, but my planning gears are whirling away at Mach 27.  I have floor plans and a survey map and a contract, so by the end of the summer, I hope construction will be underway.  I don't even use the barn I pay for now and I don't like to stall the horses, so once there is some shelter, all I have to do is throw out a water tub and the boys can move in!

Now, there's just the tiny matter of 10 acres of grass to mow.  Tractor donations accepted!  :D

I'll look out front door to driveway (left of fenceline) and this paddock.

Pines around the pond, at the west end of the jump field.
The eastern edge of main field.
Looking backwards over jump field, west to the pond, which lies over the hill, behind the trees.
It's a whole lot of empty right now, but we flagged the general house corners yesterday and I hope to bring in some bed material for the driveway in the next couple of weeks.  One of the best (and most important!) parts is the community.  The landowner and his wife are wonderful people and they, along with a trainer (ex-eventer who is a big client of my farrier!) and two other families, are a close-knit group of horse owners and lovers who keep an eye on each other's homes and critters.  That, combined with the road set-back, gives me an immense feeling of privacy and safety, as I will have qualified folks to watch out for my boys when I must be hard at work in the rivers.

All of that certainly makes this land worth every single penny, but there is even more!  It is connected to infinity miles of trails, winding through two counties for hours on end for conditioning and relaxation.  The trainer next door has a large arena and jump field (oh, she will meet me soon, yes she will, LOL) of her own.  And perhaps most valuable to me, the seller is a fencing contractor.  Which means not only does he have farmer saavy, but he has several large tractors which have fenced in thousands of acres of land, and an implement that I may consider for my new best friend (sorry, BFF, I still love you!):  a post pounder which can drive a telephone pole into baked-hard ground, complete with rock spike for splitting those Carolina roadblocks.  No more driving t-posts for me!!!!

Ok, ok, I am stopping -- these is much work to be done.  You would never guess it by looking at my fur-covered, laundry-piled house, but I relish each task.  Despite years of sweat, I still never mind the hard work if it is to the benefit of the horses.  Vacuuming floors?  Meh, no one sees them but me and I can still walk.  Putting up electric tape or enclosing sheds or moving hay or dropping feed?  Let me at it!  It will be a while yet before the red beasts and I co-habitate and it will be rather bittersweet to say goodbye to our barn family, but I still can't wait to no longer pay board...and water and sewer and city taxes on my home/truck and a bazillion gallons of diesel a month.  If the horses are able to ever eat all that grass, I will need to purchase winter hay, but I am lucky to have two or three friends nearby who already have good suppliers, as well as a co-op by the office who gets phenomenal stuff all year-round if I'm in a bind.

This time next year, I hope that I will be able to drink a beer as the sun sets behind me, slipping its last rays across the backs of two very happy horses.  Maybe by then I will be able to afford beer.  Maybe...

Looking from the jump field south across main field to creek hillside pasture.


June 10, 2013

The Overachiever Achieves Not

She also achieves naught.

I've been sucked into this trap.  Where I get on Encore, we warm up, he is going well enough.  Then, because I'm tired, because my brain checks out, because I'm hot, it's late, blah blah, I begin to pick.  No, you've dropped your shoulder.  No, you need to step under.  No, you need to relax your jaw.  No, you need to slow down.

Pick, pick, pick.

And we both end up annoyed after rides that are too long.

Because in this, there is too much no.  When what we really need to get back to is yes.

After I get done being angry at myself for not thinking more clearly when I'm in the saddle, for making the wrong decisions, for focusing on the wrong things, for losing track of our forest path among the trees...

I reset our conversation to the affirmative.  Yes, that is a lovely contact!  Yes, that is how you move away from leg!  Yes, that is the perfect rhythm!  Yes, I would love for you to move forward!

I remember to choose a clear goal:  ride the line is a soft rhythm.  Pick up an uphill, balanced canter.  Bend through your body on the circle.  When we have achieved our ride goal, we are done.  If we make a mistake, we simply ask again, seeking not so much to correct the mistake, but to reward a better attempt after creating an opportunity, a space for that attempt to exist.

Ohhhmmmm, grasshopper, feel the zen of yes.

June 8, 2013

Beauty Discovered: A Ride Through The Rogers Neighbourhood

This OTTB doubles as an ATV
While insanity rages on everywhere else, I am already full of desire to return to my new favourite riding hideaway.  Where the only sound is one of horseshoes on rock, the soft creak of oiled leather, the quiet blow of breath through wide nostrils, the wind rustling secretively in treetops.  Where as you climb up the side of the mountain, your view is framed by attentive brown ears and the sunlight is filtered by beech leaves, which hide spring warblers.  Where, as you zigzag back and forth across the worn Appalachian Trail, you are equally likely to encounter a longhorn steer, a feral pony, a placid mule, or a staggering backpacker (poor silly buggers, WALKING, I can't believe I ever did such things). 

When you reach the wind-stripped grassy balds on the roof of this world, you can't help but catch your breath at the ancient beauty of weathered rock, once an ocean floor, and a patchwork of dark and light, evergreens scattered amid the paler greens of deciduous trees and wiry grass.  It seems like there is never enough time to take it all in before you, like the crystalline streams rushing beneath the rhododendron, must tumble back down the boulder-strewn hillside to camp.

This is Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, a jewel we have chased for years and only now gotten to  experience for ourselves, thanks to a generous invite from our farrier and his family.  Alongside it, the equally majestic Grayson Highlands State Park, both in VA  We stomped over about 18 miles of trails on Saturday and perhaps 8 or 9 on Sunday.  When can we go back?

It's not easy being the parking lot
A handsome pondering of the climb.
Pete sees an opening to fuel up...
What happens when you point in front of a 5-year-old
Hey, take my picture!
Erm...that doesn't look like Encore...
Ummm...over here...
Are you drunk? Or hanging off the side of your horse?
See, like this!  Pete strikes a handsome pose at the top.
The Scales.  A historic livestock weigh station.
All trails go up.
Feral ponehs!
The ponies check us out in Grayson Highlands State Park.
Farrier and his boys get a closer look.
It's a wee bit rocky...
You got anything good for lunch???
Beautiful balds.
The group reaches the summit in Grayson Highlands.

But I wasn't the only one enjoying the view...THANK YOU, JOHNATHAN AND DONNA!

June 1, 2013

A "Top Of The Line" Look You Can Sport Too!

While I organize my pictures from our amazing trip, I thought I'd give you something else pretty to look at!

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away (hee), our good friend Meghann over at From Wingman To Witching Hour started making us a beautiful browband for Encore to wear while making dazzling leaps.  I will admit, I was skeptical at first -- the whole sparkly browband thing is not me and I prefer to let the horse shine for itself.

But then we started talking about design and colour (no glitter!) and I got excited.  Turns out, rightly so:

I really can't convey how nice it is in person -- the leather is lovely (nicer than my free bridle, ROFL) and the beadwork is painstakingly sublime.  It's a very complicated weave that takes something like 60 feet of wire (I don't know, I just remember it was a huge number!) and many many hours.  After much rummaging about, we managed to find just the right shades of blue, just the right amount of subtle accent, and it makes my darling boy look even cuter!

Iz not impressed with ur cameraz.
Since I know you now want to GET YOUR OWN from the amazing and wonderful Meghann, you can find her at Topline Leather on Facebook.  Her presentation is beautiful -- it arrived in the mail in a gorgeous ribbon bag with a handwritten note and a SURPRISE matching bracelet.  We rocked them both around Longleaf HT 2013 and the always incredible Brant Gamma got the perfect shot for Meghann (complete with awesome dork-face)!

Used with permission because Brant and her partner, Pete, rule!!
Thank you so much, Topline Leather, we are thrilled with our swanky accessories and will happily parade them about!  Everyone else...get yours today!