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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A saddle fitting

Do I finally get to blog about my horse?????

It looks like I do!

Which is a good thing, because I didn’t end up being able to RIDE today - among getting a 3 day evict notice (a *mistake* was made….and not by me), having my dremmel tool die in the middle of a trimming (OSH exchanged it without a receipt – I LOVE OSH), staying up until midnight last night to finish a work project (hello caffeine!), and running out of toilet paper (never a good thing) - I’m not getting to ride much and my lack of saddle time is making me grumpy.

(Pictured: Susan breaking up a hard ball)

When was the last time you had the flocking in your saddle adjusted? Replaced? Had your saddle fit by a professional? Before Tuesday, my answer would have been never.

I have a pretty good eye. I can roughly gauge angles fit a saddle “adequately”. My Solstice fit well a year ago, but by this spring I was getting uneasy. After 10 months of dressage her "shape" has signficantly changed. White hairs started to appear in the middle of her back, near her spine. Wither clearance seemed to be less, and the saddle seemed to have more rock in it. Additionally I felt like the flocking was getting compressed. I didn’t notice any increase in back sensitivity, but I just had a feeling that a fit issue was brewing. The fit wasn’t bad enough that I felt like I had to run out and buy another saddle, but something needed to be done. Not to mention, the saddle is 10 years old….it was time to give it some attention.

I was sure about one thing – time to bring in a professional! The more I do with my horse, the less I feel qualified to judge ANYTHING about my horse whether that’s my riding, hoof trimming, saddle fit, etc. I WANT advice and CRAVE opinions….

(Pictured: The orginal flocking from my saddle, probably a mix of synthetic and wool fibers)

When Ines (a commenter here on the blog) mentioned getting her saddle fit, my ears perked up and I got a personal recommendation for the fitters at “Saddles that Fit”.

I don’t even know where to begin. The fitter (Susan) arrived on time, spent 3 hours educating and explaining and demonstrating and watching me ride and adjusting my saddle…..her and her husband were a JOY to talk to for 3 hours and it was absolutely wonderful. When I got the bill at the end of the session I almost fainted on the spot from sheer amazement at….how affordable it was. It was less than any vet bill I’ve EVER had, including routine care, and the difference in my horse was absolutely amazing (more on this later). I can’t recommend Saddles that Fit highly enough.

Let’s get to some specifics shall we?

1. Farley decided to not be as obedient as usual. Susan suggested that I just plan on my horse being an ass when showing her off and then be pleasantly surprised when she’s awesome. She’s probably right….anyways, it was actually a good thing because it made it that more obvious after the saddle fitting how much more comfortable she was. Farley was fairly sway backed when I first got her and it’s only been since we’ve been doing dressage (10 months) that her back as gotten more level…..and now my saddle has too much rock in it. Susan corrected some of the rock, broke up a hard spot, put more flocking in areas that was compressed AND flocked the front more so the angle was narrower and to give me more wither clearance.

The result? A super soft horse that no longer fussed when I asked her to go long and low and gave me some of the best canter and transition work I have gotten to date. I asked and she gave. It was that simple. I was balanced throughout the transition and didn’t struggle to keep my position. No longer did I lose a seat bone and it became equally easy to do tight turns in both directions. All this with just some poking and prodding and adding of flocking. I went from a horse that was doing training level work, but with resistance (scoring 6’s with some 5’s and 7’s at a show), to a solid training level horse that could probably score 7’s and 8’s at a recognized show.

It’s really an effort for me to stop talking about this and move on because I’m in shock at how GOOD and how DIFFERENT she is….but I’m going to physically tear myself away so we can get on with the topic….

2. I was shocked at how affordable the service was. Even with paying travel. I learned how to check and monitor my horse’s back. She answered EVERY question with patience, even when – in my excitement – I interrupted (I’m working on that – I swear!). She gave me recommendations and then let me make a desicion about what was reasonable based on my finances and competion schedule. Yes, my saddle needs a full reflock and panel adjustment, but considering Tevis is in 4 weeks.....not the best option for now. She didn't try to scare me into anything and was very positive of what COULD be done. I did get her assurance that if I needed a new saddle for fit reasons, she would have told me, so since she said she could make my saddle work, I believed her.

She watched me ride and then adjusted the saddle and rechecked several times, both with the saddle on the horse and with me riding. She put stirrup spacers on my stirrup bars to improve the angle of the stirrup hang. As a result, I was able to drop my stirrups one hole and voila! A draping, effective leg that isn’t tense and can clearly communicate without gripping! My leg stays in place without any effort on my part. All this for less than the price of any vet bill I’ve ever had. At the end of the season when she can have the saddle for a couple of weeks, I’ll give it to her and she’ll do a full reflock and fitting, with perhaps a panel adjustment to help with the rock.

3. The saddle fit might not be perfect, but flocking adjustments can work miracles. Although the saddle tree isn’t what my saddler would have recommended as her first choice for Farley, a lot can be done with flocking and at this point, there’s no reason to buy another saddle. And really, who knows what Farley’s back will look like in another year or two? There’s no guarantee that the saddle tree that fits today will fit next month or next year. Get close and then readjust the flocking until the back changes enough that flocking adjustments are no longer sufficient, THEN buy another saddle. Seeing the difference that a little readjustment made, made me wonder how much of the great “saddle search” epics could be shortened by working with a knowledgeable saddle fitter who can recommend what’s close enough and “fixable”. Sure it would be nice to have the “perfect” shape to the saddle at all times, but really, (assuming English style saddle) the flocking is going to change over time anyways, so that perfect fit won’t be for long!

4. Saddle care questions. I asked them specifically about saddle care and was pleased to hear I’m doing it right – saddle soap when needed, once a week oiling with neatsfoot oil (pure).
Saddle pad questions…..I see English riders (dressage world) ride with just that thin cotton pad all the time….is that really ok? I was told that it is….but that your flocking will stay in better condition and not need to be readjusted as often if a pad is used between the saddle and thin pad. They recommend the thinline half pads for this situation. I ordered one from dover today, since I can’t always use my haf pad for my ring work. For other work (ie – not traditional English ring work) Susan really likes wool felt. I’m going to experiment with my worn out haf pad of putting wool felt inserts in place of the foam ones and see how I like it. I like the underside of the haf pad, but I’m not crazy about the soft foam and think the wool felt would perform better….or maybe I’ll end up switching to a pad like the equipedic that uses a wool felt underneath. BTW – anyone want to trade a 5 star wool felt pad that I can cut up for inserts for a skito? I’ve decided I’m really not a fan of the skito and I’m putting it up for sale.
Farley’s biggest saddle fit issue is her ginormous withers. *sigh * Let’s look at the positives – I can ride with a loose girth and my saddle NEVER slips. And I don’t need a crupper. And I don’t have problems riding bareback surprisingly. I never buy new pads, but if I do, I’m going to make a point of getting ones with wither contours to help keep the pressure off the withers.

Last Thoughts
I was SHOCKED at the difference some saddle adjustments made for a horse that while it wasn’t a perfect fit, wasn’t terrible either. No permanent white hairs, good back scores at rides, and no extreme sensitivity in the back area, and doing “OK” arena work. And yet…..with a few tweaks to adjust fit I immediately go from “OK” arena work to “fabulous-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening” arena work!

Just imagine the difference for a horse that’s showing more obvious signs of discomfort……..

I’m not going to tell my trainer what I did and see if she can guess what the difference is…..this will be fun – we’ll see if she can guess all the changes:

  • Flocking adjustment
  • Stirrup bar adjustment
  • Lengthen stirrup one hole (because of the stirrup bar adjustment)
  • Thinline pad (If I have it by then)

Seriously – I can tell this is one of those topics I could go on and on and on about – similar to the dressage-will-make-your-endurance-horse-better topic. I need to stop now because I highly doubt anyone is still reading.

Must. Stop. Typing.

Which would be easy if I allow myself to daydream about how wonderfully soft and responsive Farley was during our ride last night……..mmmmmm…….

Monday, June 28, 2010

To Shave a Cat....or Not?

Before we get to the de-hair-ing of my cat, first a shameless self-promotion! My vet school application is 95% done! Whoohoo!!!!!! It was a monster....and except for my reviewers actually turning in their reviews, recieving my UCD transcripts, and paying the gazillion $$$ application fee, I'm done! I will probably hit the magical "submit" button sometime in August after proof reading it a gazillion times and begging my mom to proof my 5,000 character (including spaces!) personal statement. Is it a good or bad thing that my entire life can be summed up in approximately 30 pages of neatly typed responses?

I have my 3 required reviews requested, all of them business, work, or vet related. I can have up to 6 reviews and so, there are 3 very close friends whom I'm going to ask to submit personal recommendations who have been extremely influencial in my life, and whom it would be an HONOR to take them to lunch, catch up, and see if they would be willing to write me up....(in a good way). I feel like it's chicken to just call them up and ask for the reccomendation - there really should be some effort on my part - like going to lunch and having a REAL visit......and so, after Tevis, this will be my focus.

Reasons to Shave Jonah:
  • He gets really hot in the summer time (I don't own fans and I refuse to run the air conditioning, so my apartment gets HOT. I think of it as heat training for Tevis). Poor thing spends his time sprawled on the linoleum panting.
  • Jonah is a pocket kitty. Like the top breast pocket, pocket kitting. Really close to your face. He insists on sleeping with me. He cries when I leave and when I come home and has to be touching me at. all. times. Which is sad cute and adorable as he is, I HATE holding him because he has the "floating" kind of cat hair that is very fine and kinky and sticks to EVERYTHING, including nasal passages.
  • He HATES being brushed.
  • He's constantly doing things like falling in my bubble bath (remember the need to be with me at all times?) and then manages to sling sudsy water ALL OVER as he chases his soapy tail.
  • I have hair balls all over my apartment, couresty of Jonah.
  • He likes to "play" very roughly with my sweet Mickie cat, who can't give him the comeuppance he deserves because she can't get through is GINORMOUS furry coat.
  • I have cat hair on ALL my clothes.
  • I get to play with my clippers!

Reasons NOT to shave Jonah

  • He's cute. And furry. And looks like a pumpkin.
  • He has the SOFTEST fur and I LOVE sinking my fingers into it and kneading it.
  • He's so cute, NO one can resist picking him up upon first sight.
  • did I mention he's cute? And round? and fuzzy? and adorable.

I think I can simpify this whole situation in 2 very simple (not very) mathmatical equations:

  • Not shaving Jonah = vanity
  • Shaving Jonah = comfort of cat AND owner.

So Jonah got a hair cut - and I got a very big suprise - Jonah LIKES being shaved. He didn't run away, hide, try to kill me, or try to bite me.

I didn't shave him to the skin since I do walk him outside and let him travel with me. I don't want to worry about sunburn. So, I clipped him with the direction of the hair. That left about a quarter inch of hair on him that was pure undercoat. His fur doesn't really have a "direction" to it - it's so soft and fine it's more of a fuzzy "poof".

I started out just shaving his midsection and belly (see pics in previous post). It was GREAT. He felt like the velveteen bunny!

When trying to take a nap yesterday afternoon (an activity that Jonah INSISTED on participating in) I decided he was STILL too fuzzy so.....I extended his hair cut to the base of his neck, down each of the four legs to the knee, and shaved off more of his belly hair. (sorry - no pics)

Much Better! He still has a fuzzy head, fuzzy chest, fuzzy paws, and a fuzzy tail. That's quite enough fuzzy for me!

Now at night, I feel like I'm snuggled up to a plush toy, rather than something I emptied out of the vacuum canister.

Even with the 100+ degree temps this weekend, he didn't pant and seemed quite comfy. AND with all that hair off, I can really see his body condition. He's actually at quite a nice weight - not NEARLY as rolly polly fat as I thought he was!

Best of all? ZERO SHEDDING.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Here's a pic of Farley in her wonderful wool cooler:

Here's a pic of Farley so you'all can see how beautiful and "muscle-y" my Tevis horse is getting! Yes there are ribs *sigh*. but she looks like she's in such beautiful condition I'm not going to worry about it. She's getting plenty of feed and I noticed yesterday when I was riding bareback, there is definatley a bit of a fat roll around the girth and at the shoulder, so I'm calling her "good". :) Not to heavy, not to skinny - just right!

Here's a sneak peak into tomorrow's post......

Show Champion!

Wonderful thing #1
As some of you long time readers may know, I haven't had good luck with dressage shows.

First there was the November schooling show, complete with a very tough judge and a scoring mistake.

Then there was the May triple rated show, where at the last minute we switched me from training to intro level based on Farley being a bit....difficult in the canter transition AND a judge switch that now had me riding under the same judge as November. As much as it was gratifying to know that under *most* judges my second test would have been a 60 or above from my trainer.....I still wanted an OFFICIAL 60 or above on a test DARN IT!

Which brings us to yesterday's Maxfield schooling show.

Being a schooling show, I got to do training tests 1 and 2, with the added motivation of if I did well, I may be able to show those at the next July recognized show.

For some magical, unknown reason, the week before the show Farley has decided that I now deserved a canter transition. I was on pins and needles - finally I was getting the transition, but would I have it at the show?

I warmed up and exclaimed to my trainer as she rushed past, "I LIKE the horse I have today!"

My first test (training 1) went well....but I knew I could do better. I figured it was in the high 50's. The transitions happened, but they were rough, she was a bit behind my leg, AND I lost my stirrup during the canter transition that occured in FRONT of the judges stand and her throughness and roundness suffered as I tried to get it back. It was accurate and it was clean so it would be close to a 60, depending on how nice the judge was.

I didn't have time to look at my scores for the first test before heading into the court for training 2. I warmed Farley up briefly with canter transitions both ways, and then headed to the court. I came down center line like a princess, all smiles. In the halt, Farley didn't drift and I didn't micro manage. Down to the judges stand we went. We were doing a decent job, but I was dissapointed with the quality of forwardness of the trot during the change of rein. That is usually our best move and she was behind my leg most of the movement.

Finally our last canter transition.

I sat up tall, prepared her, and then asked.....and of our best transitions EVER into canter. All was left was a 20 meter circle and then a turn down center line.

I halted (without drifting!), smiled, and saluted. Then managed to suppress my scream of "DID YOU SEE THAT LAST TRANSITION!!!!" until I exited the court (mostly).

I was cooling out Farley when my beloved reader called out to me "Melinda, you are going to want to see this".

I walked over and immediately starting saying things like:
"I hope it's a 60"
"I really want a 60"
"If it isn't a 60, I'm going to bite Farley's ears off"
"I don't care if it isn't a 60, she was a good girl and came through for me"

Now, I don't have my exact scores for you, because I wrote them on my hand to post to the blog, and I washed my hands, and scores. Training 1 was a 67 point something and Training 2 was a 74 point something. I broke a 70!

I was estastic. FINALLY confirmation I'm doing something right. My first test (Training 1) went about like most of my tests in a show - accurate and clean - but nothing spactacular, so a score in the 60's is about right. My second test definately went better than ANYTHING I have schooled so while I might never see another score in the 70's EVER, I'm happy right now.

I picked up my first place prizes - a gorgeous whip with a white leather handle, and a pair of boot socks - and continued to enjoy show.

And then they called out the high score f the show....and it was ME! I couldn't believe it. I'm now the very proud owner of a REAL wool cooler that is embordered! It's a size 80 so it's a bit big, and my trainer/show organizer offered to let me trade it for one of the saddle pad prizes...ARE YOU KIDDING!!!! I'll make it work even if I have to have it altered!!!!! Farley can now advertize her greatness.

Wonderful thing #2
I did a cross country clinic the afternoon after the show! Farley jumped everything she was pointed at! We did a ditch, a coffin, some up and down banks, and some combinations. It was incredibly fun. Farley is such a good girl. Some of the logs were jumping were quite big! I definately make mistakes, but she's turning out to be an honest jumper. She hasn't stopped at a jump yet. I think she does much better at cross country than jumping poles. I think because she looks at logs etc and because of her endurance back ground is like "of COURSE I'm suppose to go over that!" With the poles she's much more hesitant. Is there anything this horse can't do????? I definatly like doing jump/cross country lessons as a group. It's fun to watch the others, and I do much better seeing it done before I have to try it.

Wonderful thing #3
I got to read tests! One first level test 4, and then 2 second level test 1' was a lot of fun, although I'm definately not ready to read a test much past the second level one I gets complicated and the timing has to be right on.....Still, I was flattered to be asked. The person (Ashely) who reads my tests is very very good at it, and I think I've learned a lot about reading a test, by just having her read my tests.

Overall a fabulous day. Of course there was a wonderful BBQ afterwards and games on into the evening.

I DO have pics....but can't upload them on the local coffee shop internet for some reason. They will post tomorrow!

Friday, June 25, 2010

A variety show

Waiting for life to calm down enough to post witty and interesting things, that are comprehensive and well written is just not. going. to. happen.

So instead I give you....Random thoughts and updates! If you have any thoughts, hints, advice I surely welcome them....I may not be commenting lately due to my schedule, but seeing your comments are the highlights of my day!

Random Thought #1 - Podcast
The horse radio network has a new show out - a western one. The co-hosts are hilarious. I've been listening to the horse radio network since they first started, and they have gotten SO GOOD. I roll my eyes less and chuckle more. I listen to their flagship show - The Stable Scoop - regularly, and I think I'm going to add their 2 new shows - the western one, and a gear based one called "Tack and Habit".

Random Thought #2 - CRV or "I used to be an awesome person"
Creating a CRV, dating 10 years back SUCKS. I feel a bit creepy googling myself trying to find old newspaper articles and annoucements about myself from the late 90's. After two days of frusteration I came across a gold mine - my mom had faithfully collected every. single. award. and event program from elementary school through the end of high school. My CRV was complete except for my high school years (which the application specifically said to include) and because of that collection, I have a chance of having a complete and accurate CRV. I must admit as I was going through all the awards and scholarships I had I found myself wondering "who was this person???????" because I honestly don't remember getting half that crap. To this day I'm not sure how I escaped college with such minimal debt and now, looking at the scholarships and grants I have a big "OH!" moment, as I realize it was much more substantial than I knew at the time. (no reference point as a college freshman....).

I must admit I feel a TREMENDOUS amount of pressure now to actually DO SOMETHING. Oviously all these people saw a potential and felt that is was worth giving me money for education. How did they know???????? I HAVE to go to grad school now. Because if I don't, and I get married and have kids and don't DO something than what was the POINT?????? Some of those people gave me thousands and thousands of dollars - they DESERVE something for their investment.

My advice to all you kidlets reading this blog - start your CRV now if you even THINK there is the SLIGHTEST possibility of going to grad school in the future. You will fall on your knees and thank me in 15 years.

Random Thought #3 - Tevis Gremlins
The Tevis gremlins have apparently given up on my horse (because she's so fabulous) and turned their attention to me. Scrambling my brain seems to be the best option. I left my apartment this morning and realized I didn't have my phone. I had texted my manager in the morning so it was definately either in the apartment, in the truck, or in the briefcase.

I've officially renamed my bluetooth as "phone locator". Put on the bluetooth while in the truck, with the briefcase. Turn it on. Nope, phone is not in range. Go up to apartment. Sucess! Phone is somewhere in apartment! Look for 30 minutes EVERYWHERE. Stand on stool in middle of apartment to get a different view. Still don't see it. Think back to the first thought when looking for the phone: "wouldn't it be funny if I threw it away?" (hahahahaha.......). Looked in the trash and there it was. Apparently I threw it away with the egg shells.


Random Thought #4 - To shave a cat
I want to shave Jonah (my huge, fat, fuzzy, orange cat). I'm going to shave Jonah. I'm thinking either poodle or lion haircut.....

Random Thought #5 - Schooling show TOMORROW
Tomorrow I have a schooling show at my barn (dressage). I'm riding Training Level tests 1 and 2. This will be my FIRST dressage show with a different judge, as I had a misfortune of having the SAME judge for the schooling show in November, and for my rated show last month. Everyone has agreed that this particular judge....well.....I'll just stopped there. Needless to say I'm excited about getting a second judges opinion on riding a test. I'm hoping to break a 60 on both tests and Farley is more than capable of doing it.

Random Thought #6 - "Cantering and Battle won?" or least "smoked the peace pipe"? or prehaps "attended couples therapy and have an understanding and template for success"?
I rode bareback on Tuesday and asked for a canter, and got such a beautiful, up hill, expressive, collected, self-carriage, BEATIFUL canter that people at the stable actually stopped and stared and watched Farley go around the arena. It was incredible.

Of course, Farley knew it was wonderful, and after I down transitioned, decided that was good enough for the day (we were only 10 minutes into the ride...) and the rest of the canters that day were rushy and gallop-y, but HEY! we are getting it by George!

Last Friday Farley and I went out on a canal ride and cantered for 5 miles. Loose rein, in a hackamore at a steady speed. No pulling, so rushing, no galloping. It was incredible. It doesn't matter me how much money or time was spent getting to this point - it was totally worth it - every cent, every second, every tear.

Random Thought #7 - Another Jump lesson
Farley and I get to jump on Sunday! A schooling show on Saturday and then a fun, casual, group jump clinic on Sunday. This will be Farley's second. She LOVED her first jump lesson, so it will be a nice little break for us both to do something completely different.

OK - I think I'm done. I feel much better now. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What I learned in the CBA booth

Disclaimer - I'm speaking for myself in this post and not representing CBA in any official way. Please don't take what I say about Lost and Found as total unalterable fact, as things might be done differently depending on the event and the people staffing the booth. This describes my personal experience only.

I spend various weekends during the summer volunteering for the CBA (California Bluegrass Association) in their membership booth during bluegrass festivals, old time campouts, and various other events.

There are many perks including:
  • Spending time with my mom (she works the booth with me)
  • Seeing FABULOUS musicians on stage, when I normally would be back at camp napping (the booth is always in the stage area).
  • Being able to meet and greet and help cute kids get started on the fiddle

But, by far the best perk of all is being able to manage the lost and found.....The look of joy and when someone comes to claim their diamond ring, or favorite sweatshirt, or brand new glasses and the eternal gratitude makes my day warm and fuzzy....I've been kissed, hugged, and thanked. I feel like the benevolent Santa Clause.

It's AMAZING what ends up in lost and found, and as you can imagine, I've learned a LOT on the do's and don't's of what to do so you can get your stuff back. This relevant far beyond the music festival scene and is very applicable to your horsey stuff.....

1. Electronics

Your phone/GPS/Nifty gadget-y thing has a place to put your name and contact info. DO IT! Probably only 20% of the cool electronics we get turned in has the contact information for the owner of the electronic filled out. If your phone/whatever doesn't have a place to enter your info, be creative - put an entry into your contact list that appears near the top and either says "owner" or "call if found". We lost and found people aren't going to go snooping into your personal data, but I will turn on every phone and look in 2 places - contact list and phone settings - to see if I can find your name, the phone's number, or any recently missed calls that show up as "Dad" or "Mom" etc. I might call your home number hoping to get an answering machine that states your last name so I can announce it on stage. If you call your number, trying to find your phone, I might answer it (if I can figure out your fancy phone). If it's another nifty gadget, like an instrument tuner or GPS, write your name in permanent marker on the device. Yes it looks dorky, but don't you want it back if you drop it?

2. Keys

First of all, why do you need to carry your ring of bazillion keys while you are at the music festival or other event? What essential keys do you ACTUALLY need at an event? Assume that any key you carry will fall out of your pocket and get lost. Plan for it. If it's a day trip and you brought your vehicle, then the only key you need to carry is a car key. Leave your gazillion work keys and your house key in your vehicle. BTW - if your vehicle key has a remote, lost and found has been known to go around, randomly clicking it to see if we can find your vehicle, so we can return your keys, if it's near the end of the event and you haven't checked with us to pick them up......If you are camping at the event, leave your car key somewhere safe in your camp and again - why are you carrying your huge ring of work and home keys??????? Another tactic is to put your name and phone number on your key ring - this is normally NOT a safe practice, but if you are at an event where you trust most of the people AND you insist on carrying around a bunch of non-replaceable keys, it might be worth the risk.

3. Money

Don't carry around any more money than you can afford to lose. And certainly don't carry it around in one big chunk. Yes, you brought $500 of spending money for the weekend - do you really need to carry the whole roll with you from camp to the vendor area to buy a hot dog? How about just carrying a few 20's? Or split the roll up in various locations - different pockets, different bags. Every year some one finds a big roll of $$ and turns it in, and even more people come to tell us they lost a big roll of $$. BTW - it's not easy to convince us lost and found people that the twenty that got turned in is YOUR 20. Be prepared to tell us when and where you lost it, and the exact dollar amount so we can compare that what was turned in. Consider putting a slip of paper in with your money that has your name or something so if you DO lose and it, and by some miracle it gets turned it, you have a way of proving the $$ is yours.

4. We don't release items to just anyone....

If you lose a check book and your brother-in-law comes to claim it for you......we are NOT going to hand it over. Sorry. But we will make a personal delivery if your brother-in-law tells us where you are and you can't come over for some reason. We take your possessions very seriously and want to make sure they get back to YOU. Lesser valued items like sweat shirts and water bottles might be given out to a representative, but plan on collecting more valuable or personal items (wallets, checkbooks, jewelry, expensive electronics) yourself.

5. ID everything you have.

You would not believe how many expensive instruments in cases get turned in every year. Without even a SHRED of identification on them. Throw a business card into the case. Fill out a index card with the information of "if lost and found then contact...." . Apply this reasoning to ALL your big ticket items, even if you think there is NO WAY you will ever forget them somewhere. I bet that person with the expensive guitar thought that too.....put ID tags on your saddle, your case, your instrument, your favorite chair, or your icechest. Throw a business card (these are great because then you don't have to worry about people getting access to your personal address or phone number) into every bag and case.

6. Attachment

If you do have something you HAVE to carry around and cannot under any circumstance lose, then attach it to your body and then do NOT unclip it EVER. Examples are keys and wallets and glasses. If it's jewelry, don't take it off. Do not take off your ring to wash your hands in the bathroom sink. This is not your home and if you accidentally leave it on the counter for a few minutes as you wander off, the results will probably not be as pretty. If you can't wash your hands with it on, then carry a little bottle of sanitizer. Trust me.

7. Give thanks

Us lost and found people live for your thanks. It MAKES our day to be able to return items to you. We sit around and have conversations like "I hope that person with the mini-disc player comes to pick it up - they are going to be so HAPPY", or "this looks like a well-loved toy - I hope the parent checks in with us so that child can have their special bear back!". At the CBA, we usually record the name of the person that turned in the item (and where they found it). Feel free to ask - we'll give you that info if possible. Most people who turn stuff in are doing it because they feel it's the right thing to do and aren't expecting to every hear from you, but they might appreciate a phone call or a thanks if you feel up to it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm back! kinda...

So blogging is going to be a bit spotty for the next couple of weeks. This would be the result of the following priorities:

1. communicating to my Tevis crew "The Plan"
2. completing my vet school application
3. completing my M.P.H. program application
4. keeping Farley and I fit and happy in preperation for Tevis.
5. blogging

No, blogging isn't the lowest priority - there's tons of other stuff I should be doing too: practicing the fiddle, making time for friends and family, keeping the boyfriend happy, cleaning my house, laundry, and figuring out why I keep getting headaches every day.

Anyways. I have some great topics on the list to get out here on the blog so stay posted, but don't be suprised if there aren't a gazillion new posts every week. (I hear......big sighs of relief....hey stop that!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mel is on vacation!

No, I haven't abondaned ship! I'm preparing for (and attending) a bluegrass festival in northern California. Since my time for blogging will be severely limited this week, I've decided to take a week long blogging vacation. Everyone needs a vacation, even from things they love like horses and endurance and blogging.

I will leave you with this good piece of news: I had Farley's RF checked out to make sure everything still looked good (Suspensories etc.), and got told by my vet that everything looks wonderful and to go and have fun at the Tevis! Whoo hoo!

See you all on 6/21/10.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I'm not sure where this came from, but in view of my rant/vent (I feel much better now, thank you) this made me smile:

I've HAD IT!

I've had it with food and late-night hungry, and either eating when I'm not hungry or not eating when I am hungy. With the contridictory information and the lack of hard science. By the changing trends and the changing diets and feeling helpless because no matter what nothing I do seems intuitive for MY body. We won't even mention that this is the first summer that I haven't automatically been able to take off the 5-8 pounds I gain over every winter off by just doing my normal summer routine (more activity due to longer days at the stable etc.).

The human body adapts remarkably well. I guess I should take it as a compliment that my body does as well on a vegietarian diet as it does a low-carb. That as long as I'm not eating fast food, my body is relatively happy. That apart from a dairy intolerance during the last stages of training during my second marathon, I'm not allergic to any food and tolerate everything pretty well. Except copious amounts of sugar. I can DEFINATLY feel the effects that particular binge.

But I'm tired of constantly changing my eating philosophy. I'm not a fad dieter and never have been - I'm committed to a lifestyle change, but the question is which one?

I moved from low cal to vegitarian. Then to "South Beach" (low carb). Then to eating "clean" with leftover philosophies from South Beach. Then to "don't eat out for a month - only black coffee can I purchase outside the grocery store". Then to intermittent fasting (14 hours at a time).

So what's the problem? I don't like any of them in whole and there were things I disagreed with in each. So I attempt stitch together a philosophy that I feel makes sense and I can live with for the rest of my life.

Here are the constants:
  • Eat clean. No long labels, nothing proccesed (if I have a choice).
  • Dairy is fine. I love milk and plain yogart. I like cheese, but I can also leave it as a special treat if needed. I know a lot of people out there disagree with me, but I have specific reasons for eating dairy both personal and global and as long as it continues to agree with me (and having gone through a period of disagreeance....I feel like I'm "in tune") I will continue to consume it.
  • Limit Caffiene. Don't have any at all if I have a choice.
  • I'm not willing to count calories or carbs for longer than 2 weeks.
My frusteration stems for the mulitude of contridictions in the "other stuff":
  • go low fat, incorporating whole grains in a mostly veggie and lean meat diet?
  • cut out carbs except for a very few on a limited basis? Don't worry as much about fat?
  • Cut out carbs AND other things like legumes in addition....
  • Calories in versus calories out being the only basis for weight loss and health?
  • Excessive exercise makes you hungrier and therefore could cause an increase in consumption of food (and crave exactly the wrong sort).
  • Eat 3 meals a day or 5 smaller ones (BTW - it's extremely hard for me to do this because of my small size it's hard for me to get 4 or 5 small meals in a day and not eat too much food).
  • Eat breakfast, or don't eat until you are hungry in the morning?

I know what feels best and I know what's sustainable (and those are two different things). Somewhere I need to find a middle ground, because getting frusterated and throwing in the towel and becoming unmovitated and depressed about this is ridiculous.

And I haven't even gotten to the exercise portion of the equation. I fortunate that I LIKE exercising. I'm not so hung up about getting all my work outs in now as I used to be as I've accepted nutrition is a bigger part of the equation, but the fact still remains that there is a LOT to do a too little time to do it. And the big question: how do I balance cardio with strength training?

  • endurance cardio
  • Sprint cardio
  • Strength training
  • Flexibility
  • Gymnastic strength
  • off days
  • light days
  • etc etc etc etc

Not to mention complicating this whole ordeal is me dealing with chronic injuries that affect how I can work out. Yes, they are better BUT, especially with the achilles, I have to be careful. Even now, I pissed it off royally by wearing 4 inch heels at a work party 3 weeks ago and I'm still paying for it with soreness and pain all day long. And no, it wasn't worth it.

And somewhere in all this there is a horse, and a job, and family, and a boyfriend.

So what AM I going to do?

For starters I'm not doing ANY drastic changes before Tevis. That would be stupid. Overall I'm doing just fine. Yes, I would like to make changes, but for now all I can do is minor tweaks and resolve (once again) to stick to my principles. *sigh*


  • Eat Clean.
  • Don't eat out except for black coffee. No excuses. During unavoidable work functions, order a salad.
  • Focus on whole grains and fruit when eating carbs. Try to focus on veggies and protein but don't get hung up on it.
  • No eating after 7pm. Try to make it 6pm, but 7pm is the absolute limit in case I go for a run or eat late after going to the stable.
  • No liquid calories except for milk
  • At least for now, keep the slim fast shakes in the truck as "emergency" food. These work great if I accidentally screw up and end up VERY hungry and I feel like I MUST go through a drive-in for fast food. They aren't ideal, but they are better than the alternative and will help me to stop the habit of using fast food as a remedy for my lack of planning!


  • Continue to run at the limited amount allowed by the doc (I'm up to a whole 12 minutes...)
  • Walk every day
  • 4-5 times a week break out the jump rope, exercise ball, and my functional strength stuff. Alternate upperbody/core and lower body. Don't get hung up on any specific routine - just get into the habit of DOING it.
  • 1-2 times a week do mat work, focusing on flexibility and core (pilates).
  • Bike to the stable "a couple" times a week (target - 3x)
  • This is much more likely to happen if I move all my equipment to my stable like last summer.....


After Tevis, reevaluate and determine if what I need to change. Do one change at a time and go slowly. The goal is to have something that works (both nutritionally and exercise) that WORKS over the winter, historically my toughest time of the year. I've tried the cold-turkey thing when it comes to lifestyle change. Maybe it's time to try the baby steps approach.

Thank you for letting me vent.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Since I've come to the conclusion that a certain governmental organization exists solely for the purpose of making my job a cesspool of frusteration and stupidity, I'm feeling uniquely capable of writing a post on anger right now. Much to Funder's delight I'm sure.

I'm almost relieved someone else stepped forward and admitted to being angry with their horse sometimes. Everyone talks about the importance of *not* getting angry with horses and the message is just. don't. do. it.

And I agree. It's NEVER acceptable to "lose" it with your horse, where you become incapable of controlling yourself and what results is "abuse".

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about feeling angry and hitting and screaming at your horse. I'm talking about experiencing anger towards your horse and having it result in behavior that while it's not abuse, isn't exactly helpful in maintaining a relationship. It's your actions that either cause the relationship to take a step back, OR (best case senerio) leave the relationship in exactly the same place.

I have an unpublished post from ~2 months ago that describes exactly this senerio. I would publish now.....except the story is in California and I'm in Alabama. In the interest of getting this post published - here is the short version:

Horsey and me went on the canel to school the canter on the straightaways because the arena was mucky. I REALLY shouldn't have been on the horse because I was tired and frusterated, but I felt at the time that a good ride was just what I needed to shrug it all off. At this point in our training, she was giving me half way decent canters on the correct lead....most of the time. I knew she was capable. When she bloody refused to pick up the left lead, AND refused to pick up the canter at ALL going in the direction away from the stable....I was a bit...frusterated. I corrected her leads (not very nicely), and made her practically gallop away from the stable direction, and made her life a miserable hell going towards the stable by asking for a super collected canter. Then I kept this up until she stopped fighting me and gave me an iota of submission and a halfway decent canter. As you can guess, we were both soaked in sweat, and while I technically got what I wanted, neither of us like eachother very much. Of course, being the human in this relationship, I get to take the blame, and the next day I apologized by doing a bareback session. She knows there are no expectations on our bareback days (other than she doesn't buck!) and as a result we both had a good ride, forgave eachother and moved on.

While my actions weren't technically abuse, and what I made her do (work harder going towards home, asking until I got the desired response etc.) was technically the correct thing to do.....I would still argue that it was a situation I NEVER wanted to repeat, in part because my actions were inspired by anger and frusteration. The situation I described above was probably my worst transgression regarding anger, bad enough I felt like I needed to write a post about it, promising NEVER to do something like that again (and then felt too embarrased to publish it). However, there have been smaller incidents where I have gotten angry enough to jerk on her mouth, or use my crop excessively, or sharply demand or correct with my aids. It's not something I get enjoyment out of, or expect to happen, and over time I've learned to identify those things that cause me to be angry with my horse, and with that knowledge I try to "head off" the incident.

We are human and we have emotions. To pretend we NEVER get angry or never will get angry is a fallacy. How much better to admit that such a thing does happen (even to a small degree) and decide in advance how you are going to deal with it? Anger is human and dealing with it is a skill. Like everything else in this life - knowledge is power and preperation is powerful - and at some point I will bet that you will have to deal with the emotion of anger AND ride at the same time - it's not always an option to just get off and save the ride for another day.

So in reponse to Funder's question (aren't you sorry you asked??? LOL), here's some of the things that Farley does that causes me to be angry, and ways I have found to deal with that anger.

#1 Know Thy Self
I become angry when:
  • I'm scared
  • I'm frusterated

Since I'm rarely scared with Farley (make that never....), let's focus on the second, shall we?

I'm more likely to be frusterated when:

  • I'm tired
  • I'm emotionally drained (such as after travelling)
  • I'm stressed

The Solution

When in doubt, if ANY of the above factors in a significant factor in my life - then I do something with my horse where I have no expectations, I'm not trying to teach her something, and there's nothing to accomplish. If I can't think of something that fits the criteria, I do nothing at all except feed her bucket and give her a pat.

#2 The Horse Factor

The second type of situation that causes my frusteration is external - the horse. Usually, this type of situation (horse causing the stress) happens it's because of an internal frusteration (ie stress, lack of sleep etc.) that I don't acknowledge because I don't know how close to the edge I'm really operating.

Farley's number one way to push my buttons - refuse (passively) to do something I KNOW she understands. She understands the concept, she understands the aids, but she has decided for WHATEVER reason she is NOT doing it today. Grrrrr.....the joys of working with a mare.

Part of this problem is because she's so sensitive. Unless everything is in alignment and feels *just right*, she's not necessarily going to do it well. I understand, and even praise her for letting me know *exactly* how she feels. On the other hand, sometimes in life, you get to work through really minor issues and even if things aren't *perfect* you WILL survive.

Sometimes I can find a reason for her being a pill, sometimes I can't and it's just "because".

Most of the time, this particular type of behavior manifests in the arena and usually centers around:

  • Not being forward/requiring constant nagging
  • Ignoring my leg
  • Fussing with her head
  • Not wanting to flex or position
  • Refusing to stretch

The Solution

  • Take a deep breathe
  • Do the activity "good enough" once or twice and then quickly move on to something totally different.
  • Contain the correction and then move on - for example, if I'm having to constantly nag her, correct her once with the crop (one, Two, THREE) and then move on, instead of half way correcting and letting her continue with the behavior and continuing to ineffectively correct her.
  • Relax MY jaw
  • Start verbally praising her for every little thing she DOES do good. It's amazing how much better you feel towards your horse when you are giving her verbal compliments!
  • If I continue to not enjoy the ride, GET OFF. Save it for another day. Better to get off when the problem is tiny and leave it until you are better able to deal with it, then to let the situation escalate to the point where I "won" but it was ugly.

#3 It's a training issue.....and it's the trainers fault! (and solutions...)

There are 2 issues that rear their ugly heads at rides, that over the course of 50 miles cause me to want to chomp off Farley's ears and pretend they are chocolate:

  • Not standing for boot or tack issues
  • Pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling and pulling.......and pulling and pulling and pulling....

Guess what? Both these issues are training issues that have very little to do with the horse and have everything to do with the trainer. During rides, before I figured out what I needed to do at home to solve them, these issues had me eventually jerking on her mouth in frusteration to get the desired response because I had HAD it with the pulling or the running-over-me-while-I-attempt-to-do-a-simple-tack-adjustment!

The hard thing about ride issues is it's difficult to work on them unless you are at rides! But NO EXCUSES. So, you have to do some thinking and get creative.....

The not-standing thing - When not at a ride Farley stands just grand! The only time she DIDN'T stand at home was while mounting, mostly because I didn't care and didn't ask her to. So, on the advice of a blog reader I started having her stand while mounting, and any other time I could conjure up to establish the habit of OBEDIENCE when I said "stand", NO MATTER WHAT.

Guess what? It worked! She still isn't perfect at rides, but after working on the command "stand" for 4 weeks, we got through a pulse down vet check outside of camp at Wild west with the minimum of spinning and excitement. Each morning, I made her stand while I mounted, and this reminder of obedience at the beginning of the ride let us start the day mentally on the same page.

No more jerking, no more frusteration, no more anger.

The pulling thing

Farley is such a slug-bug when not at a ride. Even a halter is overkill on our training rides. So how do I deal with a pulling speed demon when I don't have one at home?

Dressage is double edged sword - yes, she's comfortable with contact so doesn't automatically buck when she doens't like the bit pressure, AND she responds better to my SLOW THE EFF DOWN aids.....however she can ALSO canter in place, pick up a canter from a walk, and actually REARED with me (just to let me know how good her hocks were feeling......) at one recent ride. Dressage has also given Farley another gear and no longer is a big hill any guarentee we are slowing down......

My best tool for rides is a variety of bit options. I have 3 bits I use at rides depending on her mood, my mood, and the terrain.

  • Myler Kimberwick - great bit if I can't handle her pulling on my for a physical or mental reason. Downside - isn't comfortable with contact and as a result can result in her tossing her head (bad, when I'm trying to bring her attention to the rather large pile of boulders in our path), and is fairly useless for "picking her up" in bad footing, during a slip etc. She seems to have trouble getting food past this bit.
  • French-link baucher - Farley's favorite bit. I use this bit a LOT and it's my default choice. Farley eats and drinks very well with this bit. Comfortable with contact, but also responds well when asking for less speed. Doesn't tend to brace against it, BUT I can end up pulling and keeping more contact than I would like.
  • Sliester Hackamore - I've done lots of conditioning rides in it, but haven't gotten up the nerve to use it during a ride. This is a no-contact option so I only use it if I don't think I'll need to give her a lot of direction and if she's being fairly tractable. She likes it and obviously likes to eat in it. Some of the same downsides as the myler.

My Secret Weapon: My secret weapon in dealing with all of these issues is a sense of humor - laugh at your silly horse, make fun of her, lecture her in your best school marm voice - make it self righteous and comical. Then hum nonseical melodies and smile. Make a song out of "no, no, n-n-n-n-no" and "you are pulling and I don't are pulling and I don't care....." Often, this is all it takes for me to turn a ride from frusterating to enjoyable.

If you have a different take on this subject, or want to share an experience, please comment!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A new blog to add to your Reader

My cousin Eleanor, accompanied me to Wild West and decided to document it with stories and pictures.

Remember when I told you'all that the reason I never wrote before this blog was because I come from a family of very talented writers? So I never saw the reason to weigh down the world with my inadequate words? Well.....I think you'll see my point when you read the Wild West ride stories, written by my 13 year old cousin in her blog here. (this is the link to the story and pics from day 2, scroll down for day 1).

There's 3 days to the story, so be sure to check back later for the 3rd part.

Funder asked a tough question in the comments of my last post, so I'm going to attempt to rise to the occasion sometime this week. *sigh*. I HATE writing posts about the things I struggle with, because invariably God decides that it's time for me to practice what I preach and often gives me "learning opportunities" whenever I get too high and mighty on a subject. On the other hand....because I've already been working on this (anger, impatience, frusteration), maybe writing a post on the subject is a way of being extra honest with myself and therefore the pennance/realization God wanted, and maybe he will see fit NOT to give me more practice in patience? We will have to see....

Sunday, June 6, 2010


The dressage lesson after a ride is always disappointing. She's usually stiff and disobedient. It seems like all the pulling and disobedience I let her get away with at a ride always puts us back at least 1-2 weeks in our dressage training.

I try to delay our dressage lesson at least a week after a ride, and my trainer knows that at that first lesson to go easy, focus on walk/trot and generally find out what horse I have.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when I had the best lesson EVER on Friday. She was relaxed (even had the "hip wiggle"!), obedient and met me more than half way on everything I asked for and was very generous.

The difference from previous rides was that I focused on making the three days all about training. No longer did I allow her to do whatever she wanted as long as it generally conformed to the plan. I was riding for a bigger goal than that day's ride. I try to do this always, as my goal is the longevity of my horse (and us both having fun), but for some reason I could see more clearly at this year's Wild West how I must ride to achieve my long term goals - Tevis, other 100's and horse longevity.

I made no excuses for her behavior at Wild West. I focused on LEADERSHIP and took any misbehavior on her part as a failure in my leadership. This is a concept I brought away from the Amazing Grey's book by Baber. One of the reasons I show and I do endurance rides is to deepen our relationship, which in part is due to the strength of my leadership. Farley was more relaxed and better behaved at the ride because I insisted and because she was focused on that goal and therefore less worried about the fact I needed her to stand and pulse down outside of camp, or being competitive, or that we were riding in a group, or any of the other multitude of issues that we have both struggled with over the years, all due in part to the lack of my leadership at rides.

Endurance was supposed to be fun for both of us and a time to deepen our relationship and bond. Instead it was destroying part of the relationship, if you judged by how long it took our dressage to come back (dressage being a measure of trust and obedience). Oh sure, we both had FUN at rides, but it was coming at a price.

By improving my leadership, I'm not saying I was a tyrant, I just held her to a higher standard that I knew she could achieve, and then when she was there, I gave a little and let her stand beside me (metaphorically). She was still competitive, still opinionated, still everything I love about this horse, but I provided more of the direction.

Maybe in the future, I can go back to my last leadership style at rides, but for now, I think we both benefit from me having more "say".

tangent: Kathy mentioned during the ride (in general) that it was not productive to get angry at a horse. I admitted that I had a temper and struggled with keeping cool while very frustrated. And that I'm very very grateful that Farley has a "reset" button and still lets me say "let's start over" as many times as needed. Through her, I'm becoming a better person. While I've never done anything that would be considered "abuse" to Farley, the point is that I do lose my temper and that is unacceptable. Especially with Farley, who seems like she can read every thought, I hold myself to a higher standard - it's not enough that I don't act on my temper (mostly), I need to not lose my temper mentally either (not sure if I'm making sense....) In fact I have a whole unpublished post on one such incident, that I STILL haven't published from months ago on the subject. How can I be a good leader if I can't be consistent? Oh sure, we will both make mistakes and most of the time, she covers me and I'll cover her, but it's not fair to her to always wonder whether THIS will be time the time where she pushes me over the edge of frustration and the lines of communication close.

When I started this blog I had 205 miles, all in one day 50's. Now I have 780 miles, which includes a 100 and multi days. I would like to think I am more open to suggestion now, and more likely to stop and consider whether I need to change. I would also like to think that I'm more honest and open about my struggles. I really really really don't want to turn into one of those people that always knows best and can't take a suggestion and goes through like blundering into other people, always complaining and wondering WHY everyone around them doesn't "get" it. (and we all know those kind of people!).

Maybe it's time to publish that post.

Farley update: Everything looks well. Farley was relaxed and very very sound at the dressage lesson - in the nice soft footing. We took it easy and with this successful (and easy) day, I feel good about leaving for Alabama and leaving behind a sound and happy horse. Because of my trip she'll get another week off (2 weeks total) and then we will start heat training! No need to do any more conditioning, but with the cool weather during WW, I need some good hot trail rides in the next 4-5 weeks.

I REALLY need to stop obsessing over every little ouchiness and worrying that I've done something major to soft tissues. It IS just possible for a little uneveness to be just that - a little minor soreness that is perfectly innocent, is a learning opportunity, but in the end, no damage done.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Functional Strength Training

Farley update (because all of you care as much as I do right?): Farley looks fine and is moving long as it's on soft footing. I took her out for an easy hack yesterday and she's very tenderfooted on gravel/rocks. This of course makes me unhappy, as she was gravel-crunching with ease before I glued boots on her. I officially do not like the glueons as well as the strap ons, especially during very wet conditions. I'll still use them when I feel like I have to (Tevis 2010 is one such time), but it's disconcerting to now be REQUIRED to wear boots for conditioning rides. Poor girl. No wonder she was uneven on the right front after the ride! Her little feeties were soft after 6 days in boots and rain and mud and snow and while at the time she felt OK doing that 20 miles bare on that RF, obviously I have learned something....carry more than 1 size of boot if wearing multiple sizes, and 6 days in muddy conditions in a boot does NOT equal being barefoot and using strapons in the same time period! Gluing boots might be different during dry conditions (not cause the hoof sensitivity). As bad as I feel now, at least I'm not looking at a soft tissue injury (what a relief!).

Today was my last day at physical therapy and included a follow up from my (wonderful) sports medicine doc.

The knee is about 92% (by my reckoning) and I have a LOT of tools in my "toolbox" for keeping my various moving parts happy and painfree for many years to come. Yes, there were some supportive therapies during PT to help heal my various injuries, but the biggest part of the treatment was teaching me how to develop and strengthen my body to keep me injury free and able to do the activities I love for as long as possible.

I learned a lot. I learned that my left side is much weaker than my right side because it's been compensating for injuries on my right side for so long (I know that sounds paradoxial, but it has to do with the angle of my hip and HOW I've been compensating, which did not foster strength on my left side). I've learned that I MUST isolate each side of my body when doing strength exercises, otherwise I will compensate to a degree that I'm not getting a benefit. That although I'm really good at pushing myself cardiovascularly, I'm a wimp when it comes to pushing myself during strength exercises.

And then I learned even more about principles that I ALREADY SHOULD KNOW, since I've been applying them to my horse, but (apparently) I'm so blind I can't apply them to myself. The importance of icing and anti-inflammitories. The importance of NOT ignoring a minor injury and working through the discomfortant. The importance of getting a doctor to look at my injury after giving it sufficient time that it should have healed.

The biggest thing I learned (that I already knew from horses....): Functional Strength

I love running. Love it love it love it. It keeps my brain healthy, although I'm not sure about the body. I never lost weight running, or became especially muscular. But I didn't care. I loved the way it felt - swinging my legs and effortlessly covering 20 miles without being out of breath. I may not have looked like an athlete, but I was so high on endorphins, I didn't care.

As for as that pesky "cross training" I sometimes consistently do pilates and exercise ball stuff a couple of times a week (you can interpret that as: most of the time do once a week, sometimes never do it, rarely do it 3x a week).

I'm an active person so between my off again/on again cross training, running, walking, biking and my normal activites, I've stayed fairly fit.

Let's take a short break here and talk about horses. Farley in particular. Farley's lifestyle was much like mine until 9 months ago. She was fairly fit. We did trail work and intervals a couple of times a week. She could muddle her way through a 50 in decent condition, although she always ran out of gas up hill and was never quite as strong throughout the ride as I would have liked. But I couldn't complain. She did her job, she liked it, and was perfectly capable of a back of the pack finish.

Then I discovered dressage. Let's call this "horsey functional strength training" shall we?

9 months later I have a horse that looks incredible, never even falters at the steepest or longest hill on the course except to ask whether she can canter or gallop. I have a horse that is more than capable of a top 10 finish and can look good while doing it. She no longer looks gaunt after a ride. She no longer runs out of gas 3/4 through a ride. I have vets commenting at the end of the ride that it doens't even look like she was ridden! (which is the best compliment ever BTW).

And the amazing thing is? We are doing less trail work than ever! We focus on dressage and only do a serious trail ride or endurance ride every 6 weeks or so.

After establishing a cardio base and LSD for a 12-18 months, the answer was functional strength training, NOT a gazillion more hills.

Let's return to me.....

I like the exercise ball and pilates because I feel like the strength I gain is "real". Unlike lifting weights (which I did for many years in high school and college), even while exercising the primary muscle group, using bands and balls requires the auxillary muscles to engage, which translates to real life activities. For this reason I'm also found of the exercises that engage the whole body very useful - like the the one where you go from the standing position, jump down to a push up position, and back up.

However.....when I ever I get time crunched or unmotivated, the cross training was the first to go and I just run. I've NEVER consistently cross-training for more than a month or two at a time. And I think as a result, I'm ALWAYS frusterated with my level of fittness. For how much I run, I just feel like I should be getting more of a benefit.

So of course, I had a revelation (that was obvious if I had learned from my horse's example...) in the doc's office. We were talking about the tools I learned in PT to keep me healthy and injury free and he kept mentioning all these different exercises he liked to do and kept referring to "functional strength training". I figured out that he was refering to my favorite form of strength training (things like bands and balls) I asked him if there was a resourse that I could use to develop a better training program.

Apparently, according to the doc, traditional gyms/free weights are an antiquated way of strength training. By developing my functional strength (with the tools I describe below), I will run better without having to run faster or longer, and thus increasing my chance of injury. I will also be able to develop my riding position and be able to ride better through proper strength training.

The tools
If you can only have one piece of equipment in your home for exercising, he recommends a TRX band. You can exercise any part of your body and get very creative. It's also very portable, space efficient and you can use anywhere. Additionally there are lots and lots of free resourses of how to use this tool.

If you have TWO pieces of equipment, the second piece of equipment is a jump rope. This is especially good for riders, as jumping rope will load and achilles in a similar manner to riding and will strengthen it.

The third essential piece of equipment, if you are going to by THREE toys, is an exercise ball.

The bottom line
I have the jump rope and the ball, so I'm going to be on the look out for a TRX band. Last year I focused on running and cardio. I'll still run, but this year I'll be focusing on functional strength training. Who knows, maybe in 9 months I'll be able to match Farley stride for stride? If dressage will keep Farley sound and happy for many many years, I'm hoping by improving my overall strength, it will do the same for my riding and running. Perhaps this thought, and armed with the knowledge that I what I'm doing IS effective if done over the long term will help me be more consistent?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A new Poll!

Based on ~C's comment on a previous post, I have a new poll posted in the sidebar. If you are normally a Google Reader reader, I would appreciate you stopping by and putting in your opinion.

If you dropped something on the trail during an endurance ride (conditioning rides don't count....) what would you do?

I want to know what you ACTUALLY do - not what you think you ought to do. Obviously we should pick up after ourselves no matter what, as long as it's safe. But PRACTICALLY during a ride, what do you actually do?

I was faced with that decision at Wild West and in both cases decided to wait to pick up the items when I came back on the same trail coming back to camp, if they were still there. In one case I knew exactly where I had lost the item (a very nice pink water bottle), and in the other, I knew generally where I had lost the item, within a one mile stretch (a glue on boot). I didn't see the items coming back so didn't have to make the decision of whether to get off or not and pick them up (thank goodness - I still don't know what I would have done). In both cases, someone else got off their horse and picked up the items, which I'm enternally grateful.

Tevis is on

Here's the update:
  • Filling is gone (Filling is normal in her fronts, but will dissapear within 24 hours. If it stays longer, it is abnormal)
  • Farley moves out at a canter/gallop/trot on her own at liberty without prompting during turnout.
  • I can't see any lameness or uneveness in her gait. (this has been true since Monday morning, the morning after the last ride)
  • Although initially I thought that it was the same as American River, I'm now more inclined to say that the uneveness I saw during day 3 after the first loop was due to going barefoot after a week in a glueon.....

Farley is a very honest horse. Some might even say "a wimp". I don't mind. Based on history and what she was exhibiting, I think that the issue was probably related more to going without a boot for a rocky 20 miles, and then going in a strap on on that foot for the next 30 miles, then any soft tissue damage.

Normally, with any sort of lameness issues at Wild West, I would not do Tevis, however I don't think her uneveness was a true lameness that should cause trouble at Tevis, so I'm inclined to do Tevis.

After finishing the first loop and putting a strapon on her RF, I did 14 miles of trotting down hill on a hardpacked road, with no change in her way of going. I think if I did have a brewing problem something would have shown up by the end of that ride. And since she shows EVERY THING no matter how small the discomfort, I can trust her.

So, I think with careful observation and a vet evaluation between now and then, I'm comfortable asking her to do Tevis, especially because I think Tevis is easy than the crap (mud, snow, rocks, knee deep slick puddles) I had to go through at Wild West.

The plan is to hack her lightly today if she feels like it (at a walk, and if she picks up a trot on her own, note it and then bring her back to a walk), some light walk/trot stretchy dressage tomorrow, then another week off (I'll be in Alabama). Then a vet check of her RF (follow up from ultrasounds I had taken after American river to confirm that everything still looks OK). She'll have about 2 weeks total of easy work/off.

Of course, if the vet or I sees ANYTHING that makes us suspect this is a "true" lameness then I'll be asking for my Tevis refund and it will be Tevis in 2011.

And now the waiting begins.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wild West Lessons learned

At Wild West, I focused on tackling issues that Farley and I had struggled with and therefore avoided over the past couple of years. Now that we are no longer fledgling endurance partners struggling to finish the distance, it's time tackle those issues head on. And yes, they are as much my issues as they are Farley's issues.

This is a bit random, rather than a comprehensive story. But my brain is still pretending it's in a coma so it's all I can manage right now....

Sometimes starting with the front runners is a good decision

I've done this a couple of times and it's never worked out well. In fact, the last time I employed this particular strategy, I ended up pulling Minx. Farley had been very very very very well behaved on the first 2 days, starting either at the end of the middle. She had shown no signs of bucking, rearing, or generally being a bratty-arguing-teenager. My team of riders and I knew the trail on the third day - specifically that getting behind balky or slow horses would be a disaster on the very technical single track that was in the first couple of miles, and then going up a steep single track up hallelujah hill. I consoled myself that this would be good Tevis training and would let me know whether I could start her in a pen or if I had to start her at the back like last year. We were fifth heading out of camp.

I was a bit surprised that no body passed us, especially because we were just trotting. After finishing the first loop we were 7th, 8th, 9th. My family was shocked - I had never ridden for top 10. Then they told me what had happened at the start after we left - just as we feared there were balky, naughty horses that held up the start and things were generally crazy. I'm glad I got through there before that!

My group and I continued to have a relaxed, wonderful ride. Kathy and I held onto our positions, even though we were walking/trotting and holding our horses back, to finish 8th and 9th the third day. It was wonderful to feel like I had a horse that could race in for a top 5 finish and could do it looking good. I decided I would hold onto that feeling and enjoy that feeling without actually risking my horse to do that....just knowing I could was enough.

Braid her mane in wet conditions

Since it was cold, and snowing, and I was lazy and did NOT feel like leaving my tent the night before, I decided to leave her mane unbraided. Bad Bad BAD decision.....By the end of the first loop on day 1 her long mane had wrapped itself around her reins in a vice-like-hold. Pulling back on that rein, also pulled back on the mane and her neck. It was a scary situation. The mane was just wet enough to make it "sticky" and I wasn't able to resolve the issue until I got into the hold - there was a string of riders on a very slick, muddy, narrow single track and it just wasn't safe to stop. Lesson learned - BRAID.

Sizing matters with the renegades
ZERO problems with the renegades. Because 2 of the 4 glueons were size 1's I decided to carry a size 1 on the trail. Unfortunately, I lost the size 2 and had to wait until I was at camp to replace it. At tevis or 100 I'll carry a 1 and a 2. Mindful of what happened at American River, I told my crew that I was giving my spare strapon exactly ONE CHANCE to work. I would only make them stop once for me to pick it up and carry it on my saddle if it came off. Would you believe that that little sucker stayed on through the worst footing I've ever ridden in? I was amazed. Obviously sizing matters.....and fitting the boot matters.....

Potato chips and electrolytes
I had completely forgotten to electrolyte Farley. After completing day 2, I was walking Farley around camp and the little bugger started stealing my potato chips! So like any responsible owner I fed them to her. Then it dawned on me that she was probably wanting the salt. I gave her a dose of electrolytes via a syringe and prepared a bucket of salted water with a handful beet pulp in it which she consumed during the night. The next morning....she was uninterested in chips. Bottom line - Farley takes care of herself and will let me know what she needs.

Riding with a group is not that bad
I have a mental thing about riding in a group. I stress about it - getting too close to people in front, people riding up my tail - and that stress transfers to the horse to the point where we have agitated ourselves so much I become traumatized and spend the entire ride trying to find a bubble. I made a promise that at this ride I WOULD learn how to ride in a group and I would ride with someone EVERY SINGLE STEP OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. It went well. Mostly because I rode with awesome people - Kathy S., Jill C., Andy, Dan etc. As responsible endurance riders we did not annoy each other, talk each other's ear off, engage in bad behavior, or take advantage of the group to stop a million times. In fact, I found that I enjoyed riding with my friends more than I did alone. That is a HUGE step for me. Farley did a bit of everything - we led, we followed, we brought up the rear, and we squished ourselves in the middle. I didn't allow myself to become stressed and it was really fun.

Tenting in the snow

Ever tent camped in the snow? Let me help you out - it was cold, it was wet, it generally sucked. It was also beautiful and magical. It helps if you leave your tent at some point and drink copious amounts of wine sangria with friends under the awning of their trailer, watching the snow fall. Although getting drunk the day before your first day of a pioneer isn't ALWAYS the best way to go, it will help you forget that you only brought one canister of propane for your Mr. Buddy Heater.

Farley probably has another perspective: "At least you had a TENT little girl!". Not owning any heavy weight blankets I rotated through a mid weight blanket, a sheet, a 3 different coolers of different weights trying to keep her warm but not sweating.

Allergies, eating, and feeling sick

I need to control my allergies at rides. I totally forgot to take any sort of allergy meds leading up the ride and then couldn't understand why I woke up each morning so sick to my stomach I was upchucking coffee in the bushes and the thought of eating ANYTHING prior to 11am made my head spin. On the third day I finally started taking claritin and felt SO MUCH better. I was actually able to eat an Aussie bite for breakfast and when I came into the lunch stop at 10am I was HUNGRY. Because of the allergies, eating the entire weekend was a huge battle. I struggled between needing to eat and feeling like I was going to puke after eating anything before noon. Part of my compromise was to absolutely stuff myself before going to bed at night so it didn't matter whether I ate something first thing in the morning. I think I have my ride food nailed down quite nicely because when I wasn't nauseous, I ALWAYS had something that appealed to me.

50's versus 100's and riding with good company
I have a confession to make. I don't like 50's. I've NEVER really enjoyed 50's. In fact, I think I like LD's better than 50's. But LD's don't get me to 100's so I do 50's. In contrast, I LOVE the 100 mile distance. I adore it. It's magical to me. I don't know how to describe the difference. Usually, 40 miles into a 50 I'm done and ready to be drinking a sangria next to the camp fire. At the 99 mile point of a 100 I may be tired and sore, but I'm a little sad it's going to be ending. This weekend I found out that riding in good company makes all the difference. By riding with Kathy all 3 days (people probably thought I was her junior) and various other friends, both old and new I had a BLAST. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the ride together and it was so much fun. It actually has me contemplating riding a 5 day pioneer.....which I've never considered before. So now I know - to enjoy a 50 I need good company.

Cleaning up your mess
I was shocked at the amount of people that didn't clean up their hay and manure after the ride. Ridecamp is a popular campground that is used by horse people and non-horse people. It would take much to have enough complaints for the ride not to be allowed back.....Usually people are pretty good. I understand that with rain and snow it was a bit harder this year. But it dried out nicely for days 2 and 3 and there was really no excuse to leave your hay and manure laying around. Really unacceptable. My aunt, cousin, and I worked for an hour to leave our camp spotless of trash, manure, and hay. We were so proud we even took a picture in front of it! I feel bad for the volunteers who worked hard before and during the ride that now had to clean up the camps of 100 riders. Next year I think I will make a point of staying and helping clean up the camp. Ride management would appreciate it and it would be better for my blood pressure than to sit here and think about it.

Snow balls and pads
Before using boots, I used pads only once (at Tevis). It was a flexible pad and I wasn't super impressed with them. Now that I've used boots for 9 months, it occurred to me at WW that it would be really really really hard to go back to using shoes without a substantial pad in them! I've gotten used to not having to worry about rocks and other pointy objects on the trail! I've become a boot poor little horsey NEEDS her pads and protection now that she has had a taste of luxury, how could I take that back from her????????? I was REALLY glad I was in boots as I was passing a walking rider who's shod horse was having trouble with snowballs building up in the horse's shoes. I'll never be happy with shoes again! If I do ever go back to nail on shoes, it will be to a sneaker or some other sort of "alternative" shoe. I think I especially like that in a boot I have superior protection from trail "stuff", but if I lose a boot, it's not the end of the world because my barefoot-conditioned horse can *probably* handle the footing until I can get a boot back on again. (Although, as I found out, this is probably not as true if you have glued on a boot in rainy weather and the foot has been in a boot for week in the mud/snow/rain...)

DIMR effect
I have a new term to add to your repertoire! DIMR (Distance Induced Mental Retardation) pronounced "dimmer". This condition shows up after being driven slowly insane by trotting for 14 miles down hill on a wide jeep track road that shows no signs of ending. At the point where you and your companions are laughing hysterically to the point of tears and side aches about beating each other with can blame that on the DIMR effect. The joys of riding in a group!

Endurance riders really are the best people (glueons, pink water bottle)
The longer I do this sport, the more I like the people. On day 2, heading down a long down hill packed road (not quite as long as the one that induced the DIMR effect on day 3, but substantial nevertheless!) my water bottle holder broke and my pink water bottle fell on the trail. It was of course my favorite water bottle, preferred over my boring grey one. I did NOT stop to get it as I prefer forward motion. I knew I would be repeating that trail on day 3 so I thought just possibly I would stop then if I saw it.......

On day 3 I was torn between wanting to stop if I saw it, and not wanting to see it so I wouldn't be tempted to stop. I must have bored my companions for an HOUR having this pointless conversation. I didn't see it and I was a bit relieved, but also sad because it WAS my favorite water bottle......

Guess what I saw on the picnic table at Dinner?????? My water bottle!!!!!! Nick W., a back of the pack rider for the weekend had seen it and picked it up! He is AWESOME. I have my water bottle back. HUGE SMILE. I felt like hugging him but didn't since it had been 5 days since my last shower.

Jennifer, who camped across from me also saw my glue on renegade that fell off on the trail and thought "I know who that belongs to!" and picked it up for me! At the time it fell off I had decided it wasn't worth it to stop, but of course I was very happy to have it back!

And that, my dear readers, is the end of my random ramblings from Wild West. Toodles!

WW is a sucess

Wild West was a sucess, even if "WW" should stand for "Winter Wonderland".

I'm incapable of stringing words together in comprehensive and (more importantly) entertaining sentences so here's the bare bones, with a more comprehensive "lessons learned" coming soon.

We finished all 3 days. Farley was SO STRONG the entire time. I kept her at a trot (I did let her charge up a hill once....) and we still flew. ~18 or 17th the first and second day, and a 8th place finish the 3rd day. Good enough for 2nd place overall for all 3 days. I had a LOT of horse.

She was very well behaved all 3 days. I made a point to ride with people every single day so we could both relax about it (riding in a group was probably more my mental problem than hers). We started in the middle/back the first two days, and went out with the front runners on the third day. She listened to me the entire time and was an angel.

We lost a glueon at the beginning of the third and last day. Not entirely suprising as they had been on for a week in mud, rain, and snow (ah yes, it snowed 8 inches the first night...). She did the first 20 mile loop barefoot and then I put on a strap on. The strap on worked perfectly for the last 30 miles - through mud, puddles that were more like river crossings, snow, single track, etc. Sizing really does make a difference....

I got 2 really great compliments - someone referred to her as a "war mare" and the vet on the first day asked me if I had even rode my horse!

So why am I not jumping for joy and boring you'all with my Tevis plans? By the end of the third day she was moving just a bit uneven on her RF. It was intermittent, but occasionally I could feel/see a difference. She vetted out fine but Melissa Ribley said she did see it. It feels and looks exactly like what she had after American River, which means her suspensory is slightly inflammed. At the time, the vet said that it was minor and looked like what is seen in jumpers after a hard round, and to keep her in regular work. I did, and all filling, soreness, and any indication of a problem was gone within a week. However, because this is the second time I've seen it, I think it's time for a second opinion with the (more expensive) vet who specializes in performance horse lameness. Truthfully, it looks better than American River and by the next day I couldn't even see anything, but I will not take a compromised horse to Tevis, so I will be awaiting the vet's opinion.

I don't think Tevis will be as hard as the 3 days I just completed. The mud and snow and slush on the first day was AWFUL and HORRIFIC. More on this later. For now, just take my word that it was tough. The second day was better footing with 85% of the trail being single track and technical. The third day was the same track as last year. Fourteen miles of down hill on a wide jeep road. Uggg.

That's it for now.