Endurance Riding

Feb 14 2011

Love Story

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I was about to turn 27. I had grown up riding my entire life, but I had never had a horse of my own. I was in college. In fact, I had just been accepted into the competitive nursing program at Chico State University. The news of the acceptance was both exciting and terrifying. It was a time in my life when I was making many adjustments and changes. The previous Christmas had been a difficult one and I was currently suffering from anxiety. I never would have thought I could afford a horse. I wasn’t even looking for a horse. I just wanted to ride.

I had gone an entire month without riding. I stopped taking lessons at a hunter jumper barn when the mare I had been riding was about to foal. A couple leases later that didn’t work out left me without a horse to ride. That’s when I emailed Jen. I had been holding on to her email address for over a month after a friend told me Jen needed help exercising her horses. I received a reply to my email within 20 minutes, something I was not expecting.

When I first met Jen and her horses, I was taken aback. She had two small mares, each one about 15 hands. Their manes were long, their coats had grown out for the winter, and their hooves were barefoot. I was used to 17 hand warmbloods, with sleek coats and managed manes and tails, living in tailored stalls with shoes on their hooves that made that distinct clip-clop sound in the aisle of the barn.

I don’t remember riding one of her mares the first day I went out to Jen’s. I remember driving home feeling apprehensive, wondering if this was going to be another horse situation that just didn’t work out.

However, I began studying Parelli Natural Horsemanship at Jen’s request (luckily, I had some Parelli videos and books my mother had given me as Christmas gifts). I returned to Jen’s to ride and for the first time, I rode out on the trail, bareback and bitless. I could not believe I had been riding for more than twenty years and I had never ridden bareback. I had always had a bit.

At first I preferred to ride Zephyr. She was the horse who had more training, who was more trustworthy, who didn’t have bad habits. But every time I went out to the paddock to catch Zephyr, she put her ears back and walked away from me. Asali, however, would come up to me in the paddock, as if she wanted to go out. As if she wanted to be with me.

It was not long before I fell in love with Asali. Sure, she was difficult to handle sometimes. She would head toss. She ran away with me once. She could be herd bound and barn sour. But somehow, we were just stuck with each other and we worked it out.

I began riding Asali several times a week and after a couple months, I asked Jen if she would ever consider selling Asali. I knew at the time that I was not in a position to afford a horse, but I thought it was safe to ask because I knew Asali wasn’t for sale.

I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but on March 19, 2009, I gave Jen a $40 deposit for Asali. This was towards a purchase price of $500, a fraction of what Jen had paid for Asali as a four-year-old, five years previous. And since I had nowhere to keep a horse, Asali stayed at Jen’s. I paid for all of Asali’s expenses, plus I gave Jen $50 a month for board, a steal of a deal. When Jen signed the agreement of sale, I remember her saying, “Every horse deserves to have someone love her.”

Asali is the first horse I have ever bonded with – maybe because she is the first horse I have ever spent enough time with to get to know. Or maybe it is just simply because I have found a new way to ride. I have recognized that Asali has her own language, and when I listen, it takes me on a path of self discovery.

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Asali and I, Summer 2009

Feb 06 2011

It’s All About the Journey

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I didn’t get much sleep last night, but I woke up this morning wanting to ride down into the canyon. I don’t know why… I just wanted to spend time near the river and take some photos. I also just wanted to be with my horses.

I decided to ride Asali and pony Forest. It would be just the three of us and I decided not to have an agenda today. There would be no keeping track of the mileage (although I know it’s 8 miles to the Feather River and 8 back home) or pushing for the faster pace. I decided I wouldn’t rush in getting myself or the horses ready. If we had to ride home in the dark, then we’d ride home in the dark.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on that discouraging ride with Asali that occurred 9 days ago. I really don’t know what went wrong… it could have been a number of things. I am always so caught up in trying to find a reason for everything that I often miss what it was I was supposed to learn. So, I decided Asali is allowed to have off days. I decided I am allowed to have off days.

There are a lot of things I am scared about… I am worried that we will fail and what people will think of that. I am worried that I will miss something my horse is trying to tell me. I am worried I have no business getting into endurance riding. (Do I really know enough about the sport? Do I know enough about horses – about my horse?)

I decided today that this endurance training would not be about the Tevis Cup but about the journey towards the Tevis Cup. Even if we never finish the 100 miles, I believe it’s really about what brought us there.

And so, the journey continues…

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Feb 02 2011

Meet Forest, The Pack Horse!

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With all this talk of endurance riding and backcountry horse camping, Asali was beginning to wonder who was going to carry all of our gear (she doesn’t realize we’ll actually have a crew on our 100-milers). In fact, she told me the other day that if she was expected to carry me, she sure as heck wasn’t going to carry all our gear too. So, why not teach Forest to pack??? He’s already the perfect pony horse and loves to come along on our long rides!

Since Mom knows how to pack (she packed and walked her horse, Winnie, more than 300 miles) and she was willing to let us borrow her packing gear, she was the best one to teach us. First, Mom fitted the pack saddle and rigging to Forest. Then we ran him around in the round pen to let him get used to how everything felt. Finally, Mom packed him up with two pillows, so he would have the bulk without the weight.

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Forest with the pack saddle on.

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Forest checking out the pillow in the pannier.

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Mom demonstrating the barrel hitch.

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More of Mom’s handy work.

Then… Asali and I took Forest for a ride. Introducing…. drum roll, please… Forest, the pack horse:

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Ready to go!

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Out on the trail.

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From behind.

Feb 01 2011

One of Those Days

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Today was one of those days. I just didn’t want to get out of bed. I had three very busy days at the hospital, one in particular that was also emotionally draining after our ICU lost a patient we were all sad to see go.

I haven’t slept much in the last several days, which is not normal for me. I’ve been feeling completely overwhelmed with the idea of my husband having surgery, coupled with the start of another nursing school semester.

It is never a good day when you have to force yourself to do something you love. But I knew getting back into bed, while immediately satisfying, would make me feel worse in the long run. Being with my horses has always been healing, so I dragged myself to the barn.

After unloading 10 bales of hay from the back of our truck (which, yes, I did by myself and found that pushing around bales of hay that weigh more than I do while swearing like a sailor the entire time did have a slightly therapeutic benefit), I decided to ride Asali. Because she hadn’t been ridden in three days, I decided to warm her up in the round pen. Then we went out on the trail.

I rode Asali bareback. It was a quiet ride. She was a little bit stiff, so I let her walk most of the trail. We did some hill work towards the end of the ride. I am not sure of our exact distance today, but I know it was somewhere between six and seven miles.

Jan 28 2011

Discouraged

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Today was an insanely frustrating day of training. I almost ended up in tears. I don’t know what happened or what went wrong because Asali was fine when we started out – although she was willing to go out, she was quiet and mellow. Seemed like a day I could almost ride her bridle-less.

But after we played in the water at the creek, she became a handful. It was all I could do to hold her back from running away with me. She galloped off once, but I was able to get her back. She threatened to buck a few times, which surprised me because she is not normally a “bucky” horse.

We were riding with one other person and another mare. Asali is often difficult if she starts competing with another mare, but today she was unusually hard to handle. The other mare we were with was bucking and rearing – she’s a young horse still in training. But even so, that shouldn’t be an excuse for Asali to go crazy, right?

I didn’t know what to do. Should I have just let her run? I am afraid to do too much speed work with her because an article I read said, “Frequent speed work can be very destructive. Not only is it risky from the point of view of soundness, it can produce an over-anxious, tense horse that is difficult to control.” Plus, it’s one thing to canter out on the trail. It’s another to let her completely run away with me.

I finally ended up dismounting. Asali became too head strong for me and was not respecting my leadership. I decided it was better to just get off and walk. I also decided to get off because I was getting too upset. Asali and I have an incredible bond and I was hurt that she wasn’t listening to me (or that I wasn’t able to communicate to her). I used to just ride her in a rope halter and I still can, although I usually use a bitless bridle now because it offers better communication. I had all these thoughts… What are we going to do at a competition if she sees another horse acting out of sorts? What if I lose control of her at a ride? What if I can’t deal with her when she’s acting this “hot”? What if we lose communication? What if all this endurance training is making her too high strung?

I am thrilled that she is so competitive and that she always wants to vie for the front, but I still need to maintain my communication with her. I can’t just be a passenger and let her run full out all the time. The idea is to keep a steady, even pace. I’ve noticed, however, that since we’ve started endurance training, I’m having a hard time getting her to walk at all on the trail. Maybe it’s the training, maybe it’s all the extra grain I’ve been feeding her. I don’t know!

I walked all the way home on foot, tailing Asali up on the narrow hills. That was the only good thing about our training session today – Asali tailed up. So, at least we ended on a good note. But I’m still feeling incredibly discouraged.

Jan 27 2011

STOP! Or At Least SLOW DOWN!

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After encountering some crazy drivers while riding on the road, I wrote to my local newspaper… below is a letter to the Editor that was printed in Tuesday’s paper:

Dear Editor,

I am writing because my mom and I were horseback riding on Coutolenc Road in Magalia two days ago and experienced what could have been a very dangerous situation. Many cars sped by us going well above the speed limit without so much as slowing down. Because some parts of Coutolenc do not have much of a shoulder, we were forced to travel on the pavement for a short period. With the sharp curves on Coutolenc, this does not make for a safe situation.

No equestrian likes traveling in the road. We have many beautiful trails in this area and we use them all the time. If you see an equestrian riding on the road, it is only because we are connecting to another trail that forces us to travel on Coutolenc for a short distance.

Butte County is horse country. With so many equestrians living and riding in this area, I think it is of utmost importance that citizens of this area are aware of the driving laws regarding equestrians. This is what the DMV states, according to the California Driver Handbook:

“Horse-drawn vehicles and riders of horses or other animals are entitled to share the road with you. It is a traffic offense to scare horses or stampede livestock. Slow down or stop, if necessary, or when requested to do so by the riders or herders.”

This is not only courtesy and safety – this is the law!

Could you please remind our citizens of this in your next issue of the Paradise Post?

Thank you,

Jaya Gregory

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In other news: I took Gary to see the orthopedist today. He did indeed rupture his Achilles tendon. Next week he goes in for an MRI. Unfortunately, it’s looking like he may need surgery.

Jan 25 2011

Horses and Children

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I was in charge of getting the boys ready for school this morning and then dropping them off. I also had to pick them up from school, Declan at noon and then Jakob at 2:15. It’s not that I never do these things, because I do drop them off at school on days when I too have class, but I am blessed to have a lot of freedom on most days.

My husband, Gary, works from home. This allows him to be available to pick up the boys from school, help them with their homework, and then take them to evening sports practices or Karate.

Since I’ve started endurance training, Gary has been my biggest supporter. I’ve been able to get up in the morning and focus on getting Asali ready for a ride. When out on the trail, I don’t need to worry about getting home by a certain time to take care of the kids. I can focus on training, while Gary manages the boys’ school schedules.endurance-riding

Today, Gary was laid up in bed with his disabled left foot. All I could think was how grateful I was to have a friend, my partner, who not only allows, but encourages me to pursue my dream. Gary has never held me back from anything I have wanted to do and I love him for allowing me to be me. He is my lover, my soul mate, my teacher, my cheerleader.

After the boys got home from school, I decided to take them both horseback riding. I ponied Declan on Forest and of course, Jakob rode Beauty and I rode Asali. It was the perfect evening for a leisurely ride. Jakob and Declan insisted on singing silly songs in the saddle which reminded me of being at summer camp when I too was a child. When they ran out of songs, Jakob told me all about school and the books he was reading. He’s a bookworm, just like me.

At the end of the Ridge Trail, we had to cross a ditch. Just as I had assumed, Forest took a flying leap over it. Declan held on tight, and although the jump scared him a little, he never lost his seat. Later, Beauty spooked when Jakob was pulling a sweater over his head. She bolted, and Jakob didn’t have his reins. He never panicked though. He picked up the reins, turned her, and calmly said, “Whoa.” Then he finished putting his sweater on as if nothing had happened. What little cowboys I have!

Declan on Forest, me on Asali, Caine, and Jakob on Beauty, riding in the new saddle he got for Christmas.

Jakob is turning nine this year, and he is really fighting for his independence. He wants to do everything on his own. He insists on cleaning Beauty’s hooves by himself and he wants to saddle her and do the cinch. While I always stepped in and took over for him, I am trying really hard to stand back and let him do what he can. This is just part of growing up, right? It’s hard to let go, but I’m realizing he needs to learn his own lessons.

Tonight, after we dismounted and untacked our horses, I had walked into the house for a moment, leaving the horses tied to the trailer. When I went back outside, Jakob was leading Forest and Beauty back to the barn, one horse in each hand. I immediately wanted to run after him and help him because he has never led two horses at once before. But then I stopped myself. He was doing fine and I needed to just let him go.

Both horses ended up safe and sound in their paddocks. Jakob gave them extra grain, said goodnight, and walked back up towards the house.

Before the sun went down, he said, “Mom, I think when Dad popped his tendon, it softened his heart. He’s being really nice and isn’t yelling as much.” I laughed and said, “Jakob, I think it’s just the drugs.”

Horses and children, I often think, have a lot of the good sense there is in the world.

– Josephine Demott Robinson

Ice cream after our ride today.

 

 

Jan 25 2011

Three for the Price of One

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Sunday was a full day with the horses. I rode Forest in the round pen, then later ponied him while I rode Asali. Our trainer, Sheri, came up to work with Beauty. I rode her in the arena for about 40 minutes under Sheri’s guidance, and then I took her out on the trail by herself. Beauty was a really good girl – not spooky at all, although a dirt bike we saw made her a little nervous.

Yesterday, however, was my first day back at nursing school. After an early morning orientation on campus, I drove the 50 minutes back home. I had exactly 2 hours to get all 3 horses worked before I had to return to campus for an evening mental health lecture. So, what did I do? I rode Asali, ponied Forest, and let Beauty run free on the trail. Because we have such remote trails, we are able to let the horses run free without worrying about running into anyone on the trail (I picked a trail where ATVs and dirt bikes are not allowed). We have several trails that run directly into the ranch, so if the loose horse decided to run back to the barn, I don’t have to worry about her crossing any sort of intersection. Beauty, however, stayed right with the herd. Caine, our labrador retriever, and Ellie, our beagle, came along for the ride too. So, it was really 5 for the price of 1!

My first day back at nursing school, unfortunately, ended with a trip to the ER. No, I didn’t fall off my horse. No, it wasn’t me. Gary was playing basketball with Jakob’s team when he heard a loud “pop” and went down on the court. He was unable to move his left foot, so he called me to come get him and the boys. (Surprisingly, I had to convince him to go to the ER –  he finally agreed after I consulted with my friend, Julie, a Physician Assistant and the one who got me into this crazy sport of endurance.) Gary now has an appointment with an orthopedist on Thursday afternoon. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that he won’t need surgery for what might be a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Never a dull moment in the life of the Gregorys. Welcome to our fast paced life.

Jan 21 2011

My Three Horses

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I worked my Appaloosa, Forest, in the round pen. Although I started him under saddle a little over a year ago, I don’t ride him more than twice a week (usually, I pony him), so he needs a lot more training learning to give to the bit. We did a lot of circles in the round pen, incorporating turns and half turns and reverse. We also worked on cantering, backing, and halting.

Afterwards, I took him out on the trail. I rode him bareback. He is my favorite horse to ride bareback. I call him my “Lazy Boy Chair.”

In the afternoon, I worked with Jakob’s horse, Beauty. We did a lot of groundwork, concentrating on Parelli’s Seven Games – namely, the friendly game, the porcupine game, the yo-yo game, and the circling game. We worked on the circling game over a cavelleti. (Practicing the Seven Games with your horse is a way of communicating with him and establishing leadership.)

I decided to give Asali an easy day of training. I worked her in the arena, on the ground. First, I did some “free” work with her (meaning that she did not have any equipment on her – no halter, no lead rope). Then, on the lead rope, we worked on side pass.

I was reflecting on being with all three horses today. I feel incredibly blessed to have more than one equine in my life. They each, just like people, have their very own unique personalities. Each horse teaches you something different; there is always a new lesson.

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Forest is my rock. He is my friend, my confidence builder. He constantly challenges me. He is like a young child who questions your authority, but you can never stay too mad for too long because he wins you back every time. I enjoy being with him – sitting with him in the round pen, going for a slow, Sunday ride, grooming him. He is my big lap dog, honestly. I always seem to love myself a little more when I am with him.

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Beauty is a sweet horse. She is soft and kind and trustworthy. I am still getting to know Beauty. When I first saw her, there was something about her that drew me to her. I can’t tell you what it was. But, she was the horse I chose for my son after looking at 30+ horses. Even after someone at the horse rescue told me she’d be “too much horse” for my son, I couldn’t walk away from her. I returned to the same horse rescue on three occasions, and each time, I knew she was the horse for us.

Asali is a reflection of me. She speaks to me on a spiritual level and I always know when I’ve got it wrong and when I’ve got it right with her. She forces me to give her my all – she will never take anything less from me. I had to earn her trust and now I work to keep it. But, she is the most loyal and willing horse I’ve known. She has taught me patience. She has taught me to slow down and ask nicely. She is also so much fun to ride on days when I want to go crazy. I believe she is going to make the perfect endurance horse because she never gives up.

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Tonight, when I went down to the feed the horses, Jakob joined me. After we threw hay, I thought Jakob had gone back up to the house, but then I heard something going on in Beauty’s stall. I peaked in through the window and Jakob was in the stall with Beauty, brushing her. I couldn’t help but smile.

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Jan 21 2011

OUCH!

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If I ever thought I was sore from riding before, I was wrong. Today I woke up and I was sore like I’ve never been before. I hurt from my trapezius to my deltoid to my infraspinatus to my triceps. My latissimus dorsi aches, as does my gluteus maximus. My adductor longus muscle, gracilis muscle, and my vastus lateralis muscle are all screaming! My gastrocnemius is so sore, it’s hard to walk.

OUCH!

Okay, all you endurance riders out there, what is your #1 cure for aches and pains???

I need to know.

Because although I’m hurting, I’m still going riding today…

P.S. I hope I got the names of my aching muscles right. I enter my last year of nursing school on Monday… ugh. Less training time, more study time.

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