SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 




We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label trail ride. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trail ride. Show all posts

August 27, 2019

Echo's First Outing - Plus Bonus Solo

Last weekend, we had some really lovely weather with temps in the mid-70s, so I pounced on the opportunity to take Echo on his first real adventure.  Temperature was an important factor, because a critical component for success was Echo's Emotional Support Animal, heat-intolerant Solo.

Destination:  the multi-use trails of Umstead State Park in Raleigh

Benefits: 
  • wide trails that are almost entirely wooded (so plenty of room to pony Baby Monster alongside)
  • rolling hills for excellent soft tissue strengthening
  • no additional fees for trail use
  • doesn't get muddy
  • great exposure to Weird Human Activities, as the trails are shared with lots of bikers, hikers, strollers, & all kinds of fascinating & oddly-shaped wardrobe items
Challenges:
  • Trails are shared (& heavily used) with lots of bikers, hikers, strollers, & all kinds of fascinating & oddly-shaped wardrobe items
  • Trails are now almost all gravel (were just screenings a decade ago when I started going there), like #57 road gravel, so can be challenging for barefoot horses (I put front hoof boots on both)
Prep Work

Echo didn't have a long racing career, having failed miserably in four puny races, but that DID mean he made it through training, probably without killing anyone, & broke from the gate & ran the races in the proper direction.  That means I feel comfortable assuming he has seen a number of Weird Human Activities & things which make odd noises.  Nonetheless, bicycles are the most frequent encounter on the Umstead trails & can be sensory twins to a horse-eating cheetah:  swift, nearly silent, & approaching with no warning from behind.  I wanted to be reasonably certain Echo wouldn't respond by trying to kick any heads off these spandex-clad cheetahs.
It's on the internet, therefore, it could happen...
I took my old bike out to the horses' paddock on Saturday & stuffed my pockets with treats.  I started out simply walking the bike next to me in the paddock while the horses were watching me.  Solo immediately pranced up with flaring nostrils & arched neck to inspect (like he hasn't seen it a million times), a cautious, but overwhelmingly curious Echo in tow.  I dispensed treats to both while they sniffed.

I soon graduated to riding the bike away from them (I felt this was least threatening).  They stood & watched with interest, but since they didn't startle, I turned around & rode towards them.  Echo jumped a bit then, not sure what to make of the fact that my motion had suddenly changed dramatically.  I stopped & held out treats in each hand, encouraging him to approach.  An inveterate food whore, he quickly did so.

It took him about four minutes to figure out that bike-mom was definitely not scary, rather she was AWESOME:  this mutant produced delicious noms (I almost never give him treats due to Young Horse World-Goes-In-Mouth Disease) & should be followed closely to ensure none were missed.  Success!

Ride Time   

Sunday morning, I loaded up the boys.  This also meant Echo got to practice wearing ALL FOUR shipping boots.  I know I owe you the story of Sacred Leg still, but short version is he HATES things touching Sacred Leg (right hind) & this has been an ongoing project.  He wanted to make sure I understood that this was definitely cruel & unusual punishment.
Protest noted.
The ride itself...was excellent.  The most exciting part of it -- well, aside from the fact that I can't remember the last time I got to take one of my horses somewhere for fun, that was pretty damn exciting -- but the OTHER most exciting part was that it was completely & totally uneventful.

Echo watched the humans & dogs & miniature humans & bikes & tiny human carriers with bright interest, but remained calm & self-assured.  He never flinched at any bikes whipping past, or coming towards him, he didn't even consider them particularly note-worthy.  It's not like I expected high drama from him, he's fairly sensible, but I hadn't dared to hope for complete acceptance of everything!  He didn't even have to wear his Horse-ibal Lecter muzzle (I brought it just in case, but there were enough interesting things to look at & Solo was walking fast enough to dissipate energy).
I still kept an eagle eye on that nose tho & it transgressed a couple times
I was so proud of him & I definitely think our regular ponying outings on our home trails paid off in spades.  Of course, it was a huge help having his (mostly) wise mentor demonstrate that everything was fine.  "Mostly" because Solo did decide at the very end that some decorative boulders were probably trolls lying in wait to eat him, in need of some very snorty eyeballing from a standstill.  Echo hilariously looked at boulders, looked at Solo, shrugged & just waited for said mentor to get over it.

Even better -- I know, I didn't think it could get better, I still feel a bit nervous over this many good things at once -- Solo was thrilled.  Like overjoyed, excited, soooo happy to be back out adventuring in the world with me.  My warm fuzzy cup runneth over.  It's been a long time since I felt that much bounce in his step.

It was certainly hard at times for him, especially on the steeper downhills, where I felt his shoulders mincing some (his right shoulder gets sore easily due to his old DDFT injury).  Fortunately, the hills aren't long.  I kept trying to get him to take little rest breaks, but he wasn't having it, he was enjoying it far to much to just stand around (his words, ha).
Even did "scary" bridge with wood decking
We ended up walking a little over 6 miles, more than I intended for Solo, but a loop I'd wanted to use was closed so we had to backtrack.  To my surprise, as I was sure he'd be beat, he still trotted out to his field after dinner when we got home & looked perky & fresh on Monday morning!

Walking 6 miles in two hours is not anything big in the grand scheme of things.  But this was the first trip I've gotten to do in several years.  Echo showed me he can take new things in stride & behave like a good citizen.  And I don't know how many rides Solo has left in him (we never really know with any of them), but after all we've been through, well, the value of each one is approximately invaluable.

All of which means that for me, those two hours were pretty darn huge. 

Thanks, guys.  

April 29, 2019

A Muzzle Saved My Relationship

Hmmm, that title could be true for so many scenarios, however, in this case, I am referring to a certain Baby Monster.  Who is basically a mouth with legs.

Echo has learned that human parts do not go in his mouth.  He even abides by the rule, with occasional exceptions when life is just too exciting to process without MOUTH ON ALL THE THINGS.  However, one loooong exception has become nearly insufferable:  trail rides.

I am currently ponying Echo out on trails while riding Solo.  Echo, at just-turned-5, still funnels all his curiosity & energy through his mouth.  Which translates to nipping Solo's neck, nipping Solo's rein, nipping Solo's bridle, nipping Solo's shoulder...every 2 minutes.  It's maddening for all of us. 

I have tried all manner of scolding, cursing, rope-halter-snapping, with the end result of discovering that Echo can react faster than I can possibly hope to move while attempting to smack his naughty nose.  I can see that he knows he's not supposed to do it, he jerks back so quickly he's scolding himself, but 90 seconds later, he does it again.
But mom, he's RIGHT BY MY NOSE!
It's an energy outlet for him.  He is walking next to a horse who is slower than him & while he politely matches the pace, he has all this life & inquisitiveness fair to bursting out & it finds a channel at the end of his adorable but infuriating face.  He alternates with sucking on & playing with his tongue, but apparently that is not sufficient.

A couple weeks ago, I got fed up with spending the ride scolding my horse & tired of rope-bruised hands beneath my gloves.  And I bought a muzzle:  Tough 1 Easy Breathe attachment.

I wasn't sure how it would go over.  I recently tried a fly mask with an extended nose on Echo - he decided it was trying to suffocate him & frantically rubbed his face on the ground until I removed it.  But I picked one with special big nostril holes & strapped it on just before we headed out.

Meet Horse-ibal Lecter: he's not enthused.
There was an initial period where he attempted to rub his face on things to get it off, but without the panicked edge of the fly mask.  And then...

We had a lovely, calm ride.  He walked & trotted nice as you please beside Solo with his face completely relaxed.  He could still take a big drink at his favourite water crossing.  He kept snorting occasionally, as if to reassure himself I wasn't trying to smother him again, but his conclusion seemed favourable.

His whole body was more relaxed & I think removing that nip-avoid-punishment cycle allowed him to find that place on his own in a way that we couldn't before.  Instead of having to resist the temptation to bait Solo into Nip-Tag, the option was never even on the table in the first place.  It's much easier for me to direct his choice towards "chillax" when there's fewer choices to begin with.
But...this face must be EVERYwhere...
The muzzle itself feels nice & sturdy & has a pretty big hole in the bottom, I quite like the design.  I added the extra velcro straps thanks to reviewer tips & they helped keep it in place.  I really really like the big nostril holes!

I'm dealing with some big problems right now (not horse-related), but this was one I was able to solve.  Not only was I happier, Echo was happier, & Solo was definitely happier.  Win win win.  I know Echo will grow out of the mouthy phase someday (omg, please let it be so), but until then, the muzzle is painless, easy to use, & at $20, doesn't break the bank.

How about you? How have you dealt with your mouthy babies mouthing the world?

April 14, 2019

Baby's First Lesson & Other Stories

Echo the Baby Monster has been busy -- sometimes even with things I actually want him to do.  More often, eating, more eating, finding ways to annoy both Solo & I, then eating some more. 

In mid-March, though, he survived his very first lesson!  It was a casual affair -- since I was pole-limited, I asked Trainer Neighbour to set up a variety of gymnastic exercises for us so I could continue building that hind end strength.  She created series of grids for him, including a couple of crossrails.  I'd been introducing him to some baby obstacles, so this was a nice next step for him to see some more colorful things.

Not sure we got enough engagement behind...
 He was surprisingly...slow.  I'm not sure if it was just the new scenarios or he was just very chill that day, but I've never before had to ride him with Solo-levels of leg.  He was very willing & attentive, though, & stayed soft the entire time.

I'm still counting this as uphill movement, LOL
My favourite part was watching him think & try all these new-but-not-quite-new questions.  This horse is so...earnest about this process, it makes me smile.  I apparently did TOO good a job teaching him that trot poles are for trotting, because his solution to the crossrail was this:

I couldn't stop giggling.  Neither could Trainer Neighbour.  Echo's little ears were flicking around going, What? I trotted your trotty poles, that's what they are for, right??!  If you want to see the whole "course," as demonstrated by sloowww baby horse, while humans cruelly laugh at him:

I really was very proud of him.  He was definitely exhausted by the time we got home, after that 30 minutes of intense training, hee hee.  But he continues to get stronger.

And we have sproing now!  After this lesson, I broke down & expanded my pole collection.  I hadn't found anything good in a ditch in a while, so I went to the hardware store & picked up 8 landscape timbers for just under $40.  A little white paint to maybe slow down the termites for four seconds & voila:
8' long, I like shorter poles to keep my steering honest
I'm calling it Echo's birthday present, he turned five on March 29th.  I continue to be glad I have taken it so slow with him, it really seems to be working for him.  Now that he actually has some muscle in the caboose, I can do things like trot down a slope without fearing for my life or teach him to do downward transitions without dumping on his nose.

We're still keeping sessions fairly short, too, as is key for baby brains.  I think we've had 2-3 rides in the past month which got to 40 minutes & I could tell we were at the absolute limit.  Which for Echo means the mental focus really deteriorates, he gets sloppy with his feet, & he just gets a little cranky.  Nothing dramatic, I get some angry ear twitches, head tosses, bit chomping, & dirty side-eye (rear-eye?).
Guilty party avoids eye contact
I appreciate his communication & I try very hard to respect those limits, balancing that with the incremental requests for progress I discussed in the last posts.  There is plenty of room to ask for more while staying within 30-40 minutes:  we're increasing the amount of trot work, asking for better quality transitions, engaging the topline, introducing lateral aids.

And of course, because variety is essential to prevent the souring of bright young things, I'm trying to take him out at least once a week on our trails, along with a couple days off weekly to rest muscles & prevent overwork of joints which are still developing.  Solo is loving the opportunity to get out on trails again, I feel him brighten as soon we step out.  I do too.

Ridiculous child loves the splashy
Solo sees your taunting...& he forgets nothing...

February 2, 2016

Of Tales And Trails


Do you think our stories break when we do?  Or do they just get so tangled up that we can't find a view of the road?

I'm still struggling to figure it out - or at least looking for some high ground that might offer a bit of perspective.  Who knew the search would be measured in years??  But the tangle, the fog, whatever it is that swallowed the map is the same thing that has dragged at my efforts to write to you.

This blog is a journey, just as much as the tales it chronicles.  I guess it shouldn't be shocking that a journey involving horses has sinkholes, detours, & inexplicable roadblocks!  Nonetheless, I apologize for my stutters, fits, & gaps of silence (although more than one person that knows me might say that last is a blessing, ha).

I'm working hard on the search for impulsion, though.  Half-steps are hard for horses & people (dressage joke FTW)!  I do feel like there's been some improvement in muscling!

Encore approves
Stepping Out

Encore & I did get to indulge in some desperately-needed trail therapy on Sunday.  Sun & warmth & wait, was that a bud on that tree?

Riding has been a wee bit challenging for everyone this winter, so our rehab pretty much matches my posting attempts:  sporadically possible, with moderate chance of fail.  But there be muscles on the horse too!

We've combined hill-walking, W/T transitions with roundness, some collected walk with lots of topline stretching, & occasional bursts of weather-permitted trot sessions.  While we're hardly ring-ready, Encore's been pushing evenly behind (one of my big indicators) & happily loped over some 18" obstacles.

Getting back in the woods was a wonderful treat - many thanks to lovely neighbour Vanessa for  pony daycare, as poor Solo can't keep up with giant TB strides for two hours anymore.

And my gratitude to you for all the forms of support & patience, no matter how small:  they always means so very much!

Deep breath then, & we shall attempt another step.

I'll never tire of my sky!
I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near
another one
do what you can. 

-Czeslaw Milosz

November 30, 2014

Haircuts & Happiness

Tractor w Drag
It IS satisfying, though...
Yep, that’s what passes for excitement around here – unless you really want to hear how gratifying it is to drag a 3-acre pasture.  The satisfaction of decimating every little poop pile…

*ahem*

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yes, a brief update, aka “weird things that horse people find thrilling.”

Haircuts!

Saturday found me bound & determined, with a set of T-84 blades in hand, on my most beloved AGC2's (dang, they used to be a lot cheaper AND I got a #10 blade included) & a can of Cool Care at the ready.  I truly hate that sweated, matty winter girth-hair.

It's a start -- my clip jobs are generally piecemeal works over the course of weeks, heh.

*not sure why these photos are showing up blurry, but if you click to embiggen, they will sharpify, sigh*

Solo Nov 2014 Clip 002 (Small)
Oh no, she haz teh clipperz...
Encore Nov 2014 Clip
Relax, bro, I feel pretty...

Happiness

Even simpler.  Work & the other 500 aforementioned sources of stress have left me with little energy to climb on horses.  We won’t discuss why this picture does not include liver chestnut ears.  But bliss is the perfect word for Solo & I with a small piece of the world all to ourselves:

30 Nov 14
In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.
-Helen Thompson, author, b. 1943

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 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 green...in 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.
Squeeeeee!
It's a wee bit rocky...
You got anything good for lunch???
Beautiful balds.
The group reaches the summit in Grayson Highlands.

Too...much...pretteh...must...stop...camera...

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