We did/ are doing a thing! After some adjustments to my saddle we went to work inside the barn tonight while the rain sprinkled down on the tin roof.
Note how far forward Jean-Luc is bringing his back foot. He also isn't moving the legs the same side of body together, but instead in a four-beat pattern. The gait starts in the back left leg. Watch as his back feel hit (ever so slightly) before his front. The head bob is also a dead giveaway that a horse is gaiting, because he is hollowing out the base of his front shoulders. He has to in order to properly perform a gait. Building those muscles in particular are difficult, but the foundation for which everything else grows.
According to the trainer I've been working with, these are the first signs to properly training the gait and getting rid of that pace. GOOD BOY Jean-Luc! He doesn't have much speed or control yet, and he still isn't all that smooth, but the progress we have made in the past two weeks can't be ignored.
Our number one one goal for the next few months is absolutely going to be locking that gait in and working on muscle tone. As I keep tweaking our work, and equipment, I find myself continually amazed at the education we are both receiving.
The other night I was able to ride a true gaited horse, Lil Bit, for a brief period of time. Experiencing his gait was pretty disheartening initially. He was so smooth, and honestly his movement was so foreign to me. I clearly did not buy a gaited horse, and I clearly have much to learn.
That said, I laughed all the way across the field - this is my first gaited adventure after all. After feeling how Lil Bit moved, I can absolutely see why people love it. Riding the "wiggle" must produce some wild brain chemistry, because I really could not stop laughing as we zoomed through the field. It didn't take long for me to become encouraged and happy that I have something to work on with Jean-Luc, too. I have faith that we will get there. We just need time. He's 13 years old and was never taught how to properly use his body. The amount of retraining we must do is extensive.
Besides, as my horseback riding rock, Liz, always points out, "I bought a horse with a good head." Jean-Luc is very smart, spooks little, and minus a few things as close to perfect as I could afford. As I have posted before, we are finally starting to have fun together. He is my 12-year-old self's dream come true.
Below is the longer form video of some of our lesson tonight. Watching it back makes me laugh. I felt like our gait was SO FAST, but it really isn't, it's just that it is a gait.
Do you have something that took forever to train your horse? What did it feel like once the finally started to learn? What was your breakthrough moment?
Days Since Jean-Luc Came Into My Life
Jean-Luc forever changed my life May 7, 2017. Today makes 99 days that we have been in each other's lives. Since getting together, I have made sure to go out to the barn and spend time with him at least 3 days per week, and usually closer to 5. Yesterday I also turned 28, so it seems like a fantastic time for goals and reflections.
So, what exactly have Jean-Luc and I achieved in less than 100 days? Actually, it's quite a bit.
4. Make New Horseback Riding Friends - This goes without saying that since I joined the Randolph County Riding Club I have made several dozen new friends, many of whom are down to ride just about any time. I even have made two friends, Allen and Dolly that I can call up just about any time and they're up for an adventure. I am so thankful to know these people and have them help me along the way.
5. Learn to "Gait" - This clearly is going to be an ongoing process, but thanks to some help from friends, dozens of youtube videos, and determination, I'm really proud to say that I took my pacey TWH and taught him how to properly move his body. The next steps are to work on holding the gait, and speeds, but looking at where we started and how far we've come, I'm impressed with our progress.
6. Take The Best Care Possible of My Horse - This is on going for all horse owners for sure. I believe we are constantly learning new things and better ways to take care of our animals. Since owning Jean-Luc I have learned so much and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.
7. Volunteer for the Endurance Ride - This is one event I have wanted to help with for years. The level of learning that takes place anytime I volunteer for events like this is outstanding. Just hanging around and listening to the way people work with their horses and their perspectives is worth the time. So glad I helped this year and can't wait to do it again in 2018.
8. Secret Goal - No details her, but someday I'll share.
9. Find Myself & Regain Some Confidence - Since Jean-Luc has come into my life I have been forced to become a more confident person and find myself again. I'm happier than ever, and I attribute that to my "therapy sessions" with Jean-Luc. Prior to Jean-Luc, some things in life had really done a number on me and my ability to be a leader. With Jean-Luc in my life, I have regained some of that back only to discover a new ability to focus more on smaller goals that lead to larger pictures. My confidence returns a little more every time I ride or just spend time at the barn, though if this were a scale of 1-10, I'd say I'm hovering between a 4 and 5 right about now.
As for what we'll accomplish in the 100 days, well those goals still need to be written. They absolutely involve working on our herd bound issues and working with feeling secure while it's just the two of us. That issue alone is my biggest annoyance at this point. In the coming days I also hope to do more trail rides away from the barn (maybe three more before winter), and if at all possible I hope to be able to audit either a gaited horse class or one on competition trail riding.
In the words of our beloved Capt. Picard, "Things are only impossible until they're not!"
Fridays are great days for reflections. This week Jean-Luc and I accomplished a few really great things:
Three simple goals that really had a lot going on behind them, most notably - confidence. That simple little word has been the spur in my heel for our success to date. I know this. I ride often ride alone, and I never wish to do anything that would put me in a bad situation. My personality tends to keep me overly cautious, and that is a good thing.
However, the other day I was listening to an interview with Monty Roberts on the Horses In the Morning Radio Show. Monty shared a story about a woman who knew her horse hated dogs. He could not stand dogs. He was terrified of dogs.
This woman came to his clinic and Monty had one of his trainers inspect the horse, then hop on the horse in a round pen. Because he's Monty, he just so happened to have friends with herding dogs available to run around the horse controlled via whistles. The horse did nothing.
Monty then asked the woman to get on her horse. As you might guess, the horse started fidgeting, moving around, and fussing. Monty asked the woman to get off and then asked her about her own fear of dogs. SHE was terrified of them, and thus so was her horse.
I have heard it over and over that horse are psychic, they can read your thoughts, they can feel your emotions. So, as a solution for the issues I was having with Jean-Luc I did something I hadn't actually tried yet, I tried riding Jean-Luc as if I were the trainer, showing my inner-self how silly I was being. If you think this sounds like a head trip, you would be correct.
When I got out of my car all I did was pretend that Jean-Luc was not my horse. Instead, I imagined I was a trainer that came to the barn to help "some poor lady" who had clearly bit off more than she could chew. This "Lady" was fearful. I knew better. I would anticipate antics and pay them no mind. I would push this horse to do as it was told because, as a trainer, I wanted to prove to "this lady" that her horse could do exactly what she asked.
Like I said - total head trip, but it worked. That weird little thought in the back of my mind, switching from "poor little lady" to "bad ass trainer" has really helped. Also, there's something in the fact that I don't look at Jean-Luc as "mine." I think, in some ways, the delicate nature lifestyle by which is the previous owner allotted him made me timid when working with him. Until last week, I saw him a little bit of a wimp (sorry bud) but isn't at all. In fact, he has a lot to give. Until this week, however, I hadn't really asked for it.
So, yay for strange trippy head tricks. Now, to put some actual training and structure behind it. I learned this lesson from Mary Kitzmiller. She takes the idea of "move your horse's feet" to another level and really breaks it down. According to Kitzmiller, if you work out these 5 parts of your horse, every time you are with them, then issues like fussing while tied up, herd bound issues, and more all seem to dissipate.
Kitzmiller's 5 Sections You Should Train Every Day / Breakdown of Control Your Horses Feet Are:
So she asks herself each day, "What have I done today to work the horses ____." Of course, each exercise depends on where the horse is in their training. This to me makes total sense, because the exercises can all be different. It's a simple checklist and guideline to follow as you work with your horse. It isn't complex, and you shouldn't ever need to write it down unless you build out specifics. I am excited to see what comes from it with Jean-Luc.
This whole post is a very long way to acknowledge something that has been on my mind. The I still don't think we're "there" yet. Truth is, I haven't had a moment yet when I think he's enjoying our time together as much as time with the herd. But . . . now that I actually calculate things, I may be getting ahead of myself. Jean-Luc and I have officially been in each other's lives for 96 days. (Wednesday, August 15 will make 100!) I do, however, think we are close, and that fills me with hope.
The video at the beginning of this post is a terrible filming of the first day I thought Jean-Luc might actually be having fun gaiting around the round pen. It was the first glimpse I saw of his personality, outside of "please put me back on the field with my friends so I can eat things." Seeing that has made me hungry for more.
Rather than disparage that we aren't "there yet," I'll simply choose to be thankful that we have come this far in less than 100 days. It also means I will definitely do a write up next week about how both my life and Jean-Luc's has really changed in the past 100 days. Wow.
(Bonus Goal: I have begun negotiations with my horse husband, and opened up discussion about planning for a new truck!)
August 5, 2017 - My first official Ride Between Rivers (RBTR), and first endurance ride ever! This is an event that has seemingly been going on since before I was born. Each year during the first full weekend in August, the Randolph County Regional Riding Club hosts riders from all over the East Coast to compete in either a 50 or 30-mile endurance ride.
Begining as early as Wednesday, riders and crew stake out their spots in a small valley nestled between Randolph and Upshur County West Virginia, known as Ellamore. Ellamore is an unincorporated community located on County Route 151 along the Middle Fork River 8 miles southeast of Buckhannon.
For weeks prior to the event, the club works hard to clear trails and make the most welcoming atmosphere possible. According to event organizer Jennifer Poling, the event hosts between 80 and 100 riders on average. In 2017, there were just around 90 individuals from as far north as Vermont, and South as South Carolina.
Considering this was my first go at anything Endurance related, I had no idea what to expect. My dear friend Hannah had signed up to work the timing station with me meanwhile supporting our number one endurance gal, Liz.
(If you have the chance, please check out Liz's blog post on her rider experience competing on the same horse she did ten years ago to the day! It is an absolute treat.)
Our club leader told us we should arrive around dawn. Hannah and I were not pleased, but that is the nature of these things when working with horses. I've read plenty of blogs that have riders waking up at 4:30 AM or before, so I considered myself lucky. This was also my first foray into that experience as well. Though I was tired, it was mostly because I had volunteered to work a Jazz Walk event late into the night prior. Somehow I double booked myself? I won't make that mistake again.
I have to say, I love horse people. When we arrived, knowing nothing about what we would be doing, we were greeted with open arms. It was about 5:45 AM and riders were already asking us questions.
"When do we start?"
"Are you the timers?"
"Where's the bathroom?"
You know the important questions, questions Hannah and I could mostly handle.
Before long we met with Jennifer and our amazingly organized helper T! She was incredible. That's all I can say about it. The spreadsheet OCD game is strong with that one.
Jennifer explained how the morning would work, starts, finishes, and even shared a little about the different riders and "celebrity" horses we had at the race. Some were trying to make the U.S. National team and used our race as a conditioner - awesome! It was an honor to have so many people from so many different places, that is for sure.
Eventually, our fearless leader and club president arrived. He is the definition of Yosemite Sam, and thus that is what I'll call him. Sam, was bright eyed and bushy tailed, and since I'm somewhat . . . extremely dyslexic he called me over to help him with shouting out the timing numbers to those who would be writing the In Times (Hannah and T).
6:30 AM was the start time for the 50-mile racers. About fifteen minutes prior to the start of the race, riders began showing up, circling their horses like sharks waiting for chum. They each tried to get focused in their own way. My view for all of this was great, and simultaneously a lot to take in. Some riders tend to hang near the front ready to take off at a moments notice, while others hang in the back with a very chill demeanor.
Finally, it was time to begin! Many individuals took off at a full canter. Sadly, I wasn't prepared to film the start of the race, so I missed all the running. I can't really imagine taking off like that, and trying to then set your pace for the day? Honestly, the winners this year ran a race that many might consider reckless. Though I agree, again, this was my first time attending one of these so, it's hard for me to say.
Hannah and I spent the rest of the morning getting to know those around us. We chatted with T and learned more about the riders and endurance racing in general from Sam and Jennifer. We even met the woman who coordinates the Vermont 100! She was an absolutely outstanding silver fox of a woman. Everything she did, she did with such ease. She had no crew, just a small Jack Russell Terrier that would sit on her lap while she chilled and read during their 45-minute break. Her level of experience and ability to just "be" compelled me to tell her that she could clinic this day. She ended up coming in 7th place in the 50-mile ride.
The morning wore on and about brunch time Jason, from my favorite little Bistro arrived. I had no idea volunteering to help this ride would mean we got fed, but we sure did! Jason makes a mean BBQ, but I had no idea what he would have up his sleeve for breakfast. He did not disappoint. Jason whipped up a bacon, fried egg, and cheese croissant for each of the timers. Honestly, I'd already had a quick fast food breakfast around 5 AM, but Jason's was so much better!
Hannah and I were in good spirits when it was time for the 30-mile racers to start. Our friend Liz was in this group, and smartly, waited for the chaos to leave before hitting the trail with her lesson student.
The day was long, but around 1 PM the first riders from the 50-mile ride were about to finish. The two in the lead had been going back and forth all morning. Everyone knew it was going to be a photo finish. Both riders in the lead had pushed to the brink of insanity. Never the less, here you have it, the winners of the 2017 RBTR photo finish.
The last rider did not cross until 4:50 PM, overall a really good time for everyone considering they had until 6:30 PM before being disqualified. While there was plenty of drama to go around, the worst thing that happened all day occurred when the radio buzzed, "Rider 104 is down. Does anyone have eyes on horse 104?"
This horse was known for dumping its rider. In fact, several people even went by the horse in the morning to tell him to be nice to his owner today. Sadly, a rouge sponge got wrapped around his leg in the river and terrified him. Luckily, after about 45 harrowing minutes, the trail crew got things under control and saved the day. Horse and rider 104 even completed the race!
By the end of the day, everyone was ready for food, friends, and fun. The Club sponsored dinner for the riders, and we gorged on spaghetti and meatballs. Eventually, the keg was tapped and many danced the night away under a full-moon and bonfire to the Soda-Pop Gypsies.
From what I understand, other rides can be a bit more "stuffy." Many people told me how much they loved riding here, in West Virginia because of how hospitable we are. I do believe we are unique in this way. Regardless, I look forward to the RBTR 2018.
I have no idea if Jean-Luc or I will ever attempt such a ride, but I loved helping with it. If we did it would absolutely be with our new fancy gait we've been working on. I have no idea how people post 50 miles, but I respect so much.
Do you ever have one of those days when nobody else is around but you and your horse absolutely nailed everything? Well today was that day. Jean-Luc and I killed it! He remember his gait lesson. Out of a 45 min chill session, we paced one time! That is all.
We all say it. "Man, work was rough today. I just want to go home and curl up in bed." That was absolutely me yesterday. Work has me more than a little twisted. While the exact details can remain a mystery, it suffices to say that my work is about as stable as our current political climate.
Also, I had a little something happen on Wednesday this week that made me have to start taking a medication that really does not agree with my life style. I can't have caffeine or alcohol for the next two weeks. As a person that drinks no less than 24 oz. of black, Mississippi mud-like coffee every morning ... this struggle is REAL!
I can't remember the last time I just didn't have caffeine; it's been at least three years. Let me tell you what I will never forget, though - the lack of caffeine migraine that replaced my simple morning ritual. I had many thoughts yesterday as I tried to focus at work, (specifically to never become a drug addict), but also, I did not want to go on this ride I had promised I would take earlier in the week.
You see, Liz introduced me to a very nice man in her office that, like me, needs a break every once in a while from the insanity that is work. I think most might agree that horses are (usually) a great place to seek refuge. Her coworker is a talented gaited horse trainer, but his horses aren't with him right now. In fact, they're many states away. I can't imagine what that must be like? He worked with his horses every day. They were his, and eventually his wife's life. Now, life has provided them both with other things to occupy their time, however, horses still hold a deep place in his heart.
I can relate. I remember what it was like, not so long ago when I'd do anything to just sit in my favorite four-legged chair for a few hours. Not having the opportunity to do so was tough. That is why, despite my utter discomfort and lack of motivation, I kept my word last night. I met Allen [names changed for privacy]out at the barn for a ride. After making my peace with my frustrations, I parked my car at the edge of the barn and went inside to grab two halters.
Lil' Bit is another gaited horse that we've been given permission for Allen to use. Lil'Bit also isn't the biggest fan of Jean-Luc. Yesterday was a good day for me to test my own resolve though because I simply wasn't in the mood to be afraid of their antics. Especially when it comes to a horse named Cody, and Jean Luc's best friend. That horse literally herded my horse away from me! Yes. I watched the snot look me dead in the eye and run away with his best friend (my horse) behind him.
Cody was just acting up more than actually threatening anything, though. He didn't even run far. When I went into the field to meet them, he just herded Jean-Luc back to the rest of the horses. After catching Jean-Luc, I tossed the second halter over Lil'Bit's head with relative ease. There were a few moments that made me nervous only because I was taking number two horse and bottom of the herd number nine horse, out together. Naturally, the rest of the herd surrounded us. They were confused by the dynamic I was creating and followed the three of us all the way to the gate. All in all, there was little excitement though.
Allen arrived at the barn shortly after 6 PM. I was swinging a saddle over Lil'Bit, as he parked his navy blue sedan. Allen and I made idle chit chat, bridled the horses, and lunged them in a few small circles before mounting up.
Truth be told, I was nervous. The day before, the horses had really acted up, but I just kept telling myself this was a different day. I was determined to be brave and stay calm. I knew Jean-Luc didn't like leaving the herd, but I thought maybe with Lil'Bit he would be okay. I was right.
As we crossed the little creek and made our way into the big field I noticed I was able to ride a pretty loose rein with Jean-Luc.
"This is nice," I thought in my head. Usually, when riding through that field we're a little bit of a mess. Feet go one direction my hips say to go another. Before I know it, often Jean-Luc is tossing his head and in total wild mustang mode. But not today!
Jean-Luc and Lil'Bit jockeyed some for who would lead, but eventually, Lil'Bit won out (he's faster). We made our way to an old gravel road and on the way there Allen explained to me where the gait originates on a gaited horse (back left leg in case you don't know). He went on to help me understand how to "feel" the gait. He honestly made me feel better about my confusion, explaining how in the beginning, it's very hard to tell the difference between a horse's walk and gait. If you push too hard, they will go straight into the pace - which is exactly what I was doing with Jean-Luc.
Once we hit the road Lil'Bit and Jean-Luc were able to walk side by side. This was great for me since all I had to do was mimic Allen's actions. Suddenly, like magic, the movement I'd been struggling to get for months now happened! Jean-Luc gaited! At first, it was so tiny and for such a short amount of time, I would never have known we were gaiting without Allen telling me we were.
"Pet 'em!" he reminded me.
I gave Jean-Luc tons of love on his shoulders and a big scratch between his ears where I know he likes it.
"That's the gait?" I said confused.
"That's it. You have to stay slow until he gets it. If he paces, let him commit to his mistake, then drop him down into the gait. The second he slows and does what you're asking to release the contact. That's his reward," Allen said.
Allen clearly has done this a time or two. In fact, at one point he even apologized for knowing so much and just not knowing where to start when it came to sharing his knowledge. That whole notion made me laugh inside. I literally had a professional, killer lesson, all for the outstanding price of ... ride this other horse.
Working on the gravel road was incredible. I can see why gaited trainers like having them. This road was basically flat and a few miles long. It was perfect for training. Before I knew it Jean-Luc stayed in a solid gait for nearly a mile.
Once I knew what I was looking for, I really started to chase the feeling of the gait. Getting Jean-Luc to perform it required constant focus, timing and various pressures from my thighs, calves, ankles, and hands. There was a sweet spot, and I was finding it.
"Look at your horse!" Allen kept yelling with excitement.
I can still remember how he said it. It was the kind of phrase that made you feel like you were accomplishing something special. Despite a freak storm, we walked the length of the road twice. Allen was thrilled to be there, and I told him how coming out and riding was exactly what I needed.
On the way back he started to tell me all the other things he could teach Jean-Luc and me (side passes, neck reining, spins, etc.). By the time we got back to the barn, we agreed this needed to become a regular thing. So, for now, we have a standing appointment Tuesdays at 6 PM. I am so lucky to have even received the smallest amount of gaited help around here. I can't wait to see what happens in the next few months!
I've said it before, Jean-Luc isn't a unicorn. Or, if he is, then he is only a unicorn to me. Yesterday, Jean-Luc apparently wanted to prove me wrong. He wanted the world to see him and his beautiful, self-made horn. So ladies and gentleman, here he is! I give you, Jean-Luc the unicorn!
Yup, after searching the field for nearly thirty minuets, I found my handsome devil with trotting around his head in the air. Something looked a bit, off.
"Your forelock looks lovely, who came out to braid...Oh my!" I thought to myself.
There he was. My man, plus 17 burrs allow smashed in his forelock. Honestly, who could anything but laugh? I brought him back to the barn, and didn't have too much trouble cleaning them out - but not before a few priceless photos!
Eventually, I was able to saddle up for a brief ride and work on Jean-Luc's gait. He still doesn't quite have one yet. He's very pacey - meaning he likes for his front and back legs, on the same side, to move at the same time. When I brought him home, I quickly realized Jean-Luc's never gaited a day in his life, and teaching it was going to take time. Furthermore, I've never owned a gaited horse, nor do I really know the intricacies that come along with it.
It's been a journey already, but after some help from a few amazing trainers (Ivy is my hero!) and locals, we're starting to actually muscle up the correct parts of our bodies and somewhat perform that smooth glide.
Here are a few very short sessions Liz helped me film last night. Watch for the 4-beat pattern. His back leg should hit before his front. Jean-Luc hits it only once or twice, then his legs start moving together.
Later this week I have a ride scheduled with a local gaited horse guru. He's fantastic and really knows his stuff. He's already worked with Jean-Luc and me once, so I'm excited to see if notices any improvements or what he thinks? Truth is, I won't be surprised if doesn't notice much. We've slacked a little on actually gaiting in the past few weeks.
So what about you? Do you have anything you're working on that some might call "too big for your britches?" How are you tackling them?
I notice bloggers in the equestrian blog-o-sphere post goals left and right. I love it. I'm a huge goal setter and believe wholeheartedly in the power of goal setting. Even Albert Einstein said, "If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not people or things."
Truth is, I am sort of a nerd about goal setting. I enjoy doing it both with my career and in my personal life. If done right, it means you're constantly pushing yourself to become a better person, and usually celebrating wins. Over the years I've come to value the skill of goal-setting, and realize it is a skill that many individuals struggle with because let's be real - it isn't easy.
The method that helps me find success in goal setting is one I learned while working at Snowshoe Mountain, known as the SMART Method. This method is decades old, but hey, "If it's not broke, don't fix it," right?
SMART is an acronym that stands for:
If the goal you set has these 5 characteristics, then it's likely a well-set goal that will yield positive results, no matter what. In other words, if your goal is specific enough to be able to measure an action that is relevant to getting you where you want to go, within a given amount of time, you'll gain valuable insight even if you fall short of the actual goal set. I enjoy setting goals in this way because it is designed to boost your confidence through a process that ensures you take the time to really experience how far you've come. You are able to celebrate what I call the "small wins," as you work your way to bigger ones.
Just like training a horse to go in a trailer, you can't do things all at once. The SMART version to teach a horse to load would be something like:
Over the course of one month I will:
A.) ... spend five days allowing my horse to stand near the trailer with the doors open for loading for at least twenty minutes.
B.) I commit to observing my horse's reactions, attitude, and other outside factors that attributed to my horse's fear of the trailer by writing them in a journal for each session. I will take special note of:
C.) I will then stand inside the trailer with a lead-rope attached to my horse for an additional five days, allowing my horse to consider walking into the trailer. (repeat part "B").
D.) I will ask my horse to step his front two feet into the trailer and back off the trailer for successfully 15 times for 3 days. (repeat part "B")
E.) I will then ask my horse to step all four feet into the trailer and back off the trailer 20 times for five days. (repeat part "B".)
F.) I will then stand with my horse tied in the trailer for 10-minute intervals 5 times, for three days. (repeat part "B")
G.) I will then stand with my horse tied in the trailer with the door shut for 10-minute intervals, 5 times, for 3 days (repeat part "B".)
Now, I am in no way a certified horse trainer. I am just slightly more insightful than some when working through processes. While not perfect, I believe this is a pretty solid set of goals that will generate a positive outcome if followed. The key is in celebrating the measurable success when it comes to the amount of time it takes for the horse to stand within 5 feet of the trailer or closer. As you may imagine, journaling in this way becomes real-time data shows you how long it's taking every day to get your horse closer to the trailer. If the time it takes is getting longer, then you know you need to adjust something.
Goals provide specific actions to strive for that are relevant to the purpose in a time-bound manner. The great thing about SMART goals is that they are flexible enough to allow for room to fail, meanwhile keeping the bigger picture in perspective.
As I said, I see tons of horse-related-goals set all across the blog-o-sphere, hopefully, this post can become a new skill in some of your tack boxes, and help you all get to where you want to go. My birthday is just around the corner and it seems like a great time to set a few SMART goals of my own! Because I'm curious, how do you decide what goals to set for your equestrian futures? Do you have a method to your madness, or is it all simply madness?
Yes. You read that correctly. I think I may have just found an affordable, International, Horse related vacation! The vacation every horse enthusiast never knew they needed happens to be in Iceland of all places.
I love to travel. In a previous life, I spent my summer months in 11 different countries around the world recruiting international students to come to a ski resort and participate in hospitality work-study programs. The work fed my travel bug and provided for some great life lessons. Lately, the darn thing has started to bite hard, and since I haven't used my passport in nearly two years now, I am itching to go somewhere!
I listen to the Horses in the Morning podcast/radio show nearly every morning on my way to and from work. The hosts are usually pretty fun and I almost always learn something. The Horse Radio Network is always "in-the-know" with nearly everything horse related, no matter the discipline, too.
Today, on my lunch break, I tuned into an episode where they interviewed Lisa Garrett Loewenberg, a member of Old Cowgirls Never Die-We Keep On Riding. She had just returned from her seventh trip to Iceland riding Icelandic horses (calling them ponies might get you murdered), across the vast landscapes of Iceland. Essentially, she shared how you could quite literally hop on the horses of Vikings and work with a herd of as many as 70 horses. She rode 13 different horses on her most recent ride!
In her interview, Lisa talks about everything from Icelandic politics and safety of the country to expected living conditions, hosts while you're, and riding near volcanoes...VOLCANOES!
Take a listen to the radio show (you may have scroll about 20 minutes in) if you're curious: Horses in the Morning Radio - Icelandic Horses Episode.
Of if you wish to skip the episode you can check out the tour she recommends here: Diamond Circle Riding Iceland Facebook. There is also a Riding Iceland website with all the details I discuss below and more of their photos.
The tour I am honestly looking at for some time in 2018 is the Diamond Circle Tour $2490 USD. The tour starts in Reykjavik, or Iceland's capital city. FIY a flight one of my nearest airports is Washington DC is $550, which brings the total trip to just over $3k USD, or $250/month. Sure, that's a little challenging, but not impossible. What do you think? Would you do this ride? Have you ever ridden internationally?
Video Credit: Christel Elaine Fowler - via Lisa Garrett Loewenberg - on the Diamond Circle .. Iceland 2017.. Riding-Iceland facebook group
Itinerary according the tour company's website is as follows:
Day 1: Reykjavík – Saltvík – SaltvíkIn the morning you leave your guesthouse to go to Eagle Air airport for a direct flight to Húsavík. Saltvík is only a 5 min. drive from the airport. At Saltvik, we start our ride after a short introduction to the Icelandic horse and it's special gaits. We ride along the seaside of the arctic ocean north of Iceland enjoying a fantastic view out towards the arctic circle. A relaxing bath in a warm outdoor tub before dinner at Saltvik farm is well deserved after this first day of our journey!
Optional in the afternoon (60 euros which includes transport from/to Saltvík): A whale watching tour starting from the harbour in Húsavík can be offered. Húsavík and the bay of Skjálfandi is known to be one of the best places in the world to find and see some of the gentle giants of the ocean. Humpbacks, Minky Whales, Dolphins and even Blue Whales are some of the creatures you can expect to see!
Day 2: Saltvík - Aðalból
We ride across Hvammsheiði heathlands following excellent soft "tolttrails" and riverbanks of Mýrarhvísl river towards the big Laxá river which we cross at a passing were the river spreads out over 100 m wide riverpath! During the ride we enjoy great view over the green valleys of the north, Aðaldalur and Reykjadalur.
Day 3: Aðalból – Mývatn
Today we ride from the farmlands of Aðaldalur towards the deserted vasteland of Hólasandur before arriving to the nature paradise "lake Mývatn " This is a day of many contrast, from green valley´s to black desert on our way to the lavafields and green birchforests of the Mývatn area. A magnificent view over the Lake Mývatn area that is surrounded by mighty volcanoes awaits us when we come closer to the lake. Before dinner we relax and enjoy a nice hot bath in Jarðböð, an outdoor lagoon with geothermal water overlooking the lake.
Distance: 40 km
Day 4: Mývatn – Þeistareykir
We leave the Myvatn area and head up towards the mountains passing Gæsadalur oasis and riding at the footsteps of the mighty old volcano Gæsafjöll. When we get closer to the geothermal area of Þeistareykir we start noticing huge crack´s and fissures which are remarks of the enourmous powers of nature hidden under the roots of Iceland:) We practicly ride across the boundaries which connect the tactonic plates of north America and europe and the power of creation becomes real when we arrive to the destination of Þeistareykir with bubbling crators and mudpools all around the hut were we spend the night !
Day 5: Þeistareykir – Saltvík farm
The last day of our journey we ride home to Saltvík farm crossing the lavafields of Bóndhólshraun. an then following nice riding trails through the valley Geldingadalur and along Skarðaháls With great view over the bay of Skjálfandi north of Iceland. The last track leads across Reykjaheiði and back home to our farm Saltvík where we celebrate our adventures in the evening with a cheerful farewell party!
Day 6: Saltvík – Reykjavík
After a hearty breakfast, it´s time to fly back to Reykjavík and enjoy a day in the capital. An overnight-stay at a guesthouse in Reykjavík can be arranged if help is needed.
Video Credit: Saltvik Riding Tours
It suffices to say that half the reason I have actually not written about this ride is that it was simply uneventful. I mean that in a good way. Between the days of July 13 and July 16, 2017, Jean-Luc Ponycard and I joined as many as 26 other horses and riders for a three-day trek across some of West Virginia's most undisturbed backcountry.
I genuinely have experienced nothing like that ride. At times I would catch myself breathless as I stared off into the sheer beauty and utter expanse of mother nature. Deep hues of green splashed across rolling hills and gently met blue skies. Wildflowers scattered the old railroad trails in every color imaginable. Red bee balm, lavender, mountain thistle, and bright orange tiger-lilies danced up and down the riverbanks.
If you are starting to think this sounds like something out of an early American tall-tale, you would be right. At one point our ride even included a team giant Percherons named Doc and Duke. Together they plotted along mountain trails made for steam engines reminding everyone what "horse power" really could do. Behind them, they hauled a Conestoga wagon with a family of four inside. Impressive doesn't even begin to cover it.
Before meeting Dolly at the barn Thursday morning, I listened to the Myths & Legends Podcast Episode 75 - Pecos Bill: Rider on the Storm. I think it helped bring about my the mood I was in - hungry for adventure. (I highly recommend adding this podcast to your weekly feed, if you aren't listening already).
I arrived at the barn early because both Dolly and I agreed it might better to arrive at the meet up tacked up. This turned out to be smart thinking since the place we unloaded had little to no room for actually getting ready. Honestly, it was a little dangerous considering how close to the high way we were, but everyone managed just fine.
Thursday morning was kind of wild. In total, five women were meeting, loading, and leaving from my BM's place. Needless to say, it was a little chaotic. I understand I need to get used to it, but I hate to be rushed when working with my horse. It usually puts me into a panic attack. However, this entire trip was a fantastic lesson in "buck up buttercup." I quickly understood that when riding with 25+ different people, the first lesson is: You are responsible for you and your horse. You are also responsible for sticking with the group. If you are unable to keep up - too bad. So, keep up.
That may sound harsh, however, I did not see it that way. If anything, it was a great to learn expectations. I haven't ridden much with individuals I don't really know. When riding with one or two other individuals, stopping or slowing down isn't much of an issue. This ride was a well-oiled machine, and I didn't want to be the cog that caused that machine to come crashing down.
Thankfully, I was not. In fact, my BM even told others that Jean-Luc was very well behaved! Though we did not ride together every day, I did take a note from her to not ride too fast. She mentioned how one of the only things a person could do to annoy this riding club is to ride out ahead and force everyone on a QH to trot the entire time. Thus, Jean-Luc and I stayed in the middle or at the end for nearly the entire ride (an impressive feat for a Tennessee Walker).
There's one gentleman I have had the pleasure of riding with twice now, and his horse's name is also "Red". He's the guy in the purple shirt as you go through this album, and though his advice isn't always sound, he is a joy to me. You see, he's 71 years old, and only a few years ago suffered what should have been a fatal car accident. His horse Red acted as both his inspiration physical therapy. Each time I ride with him I can't help but smile. To be completely honest, I also can't understand half of what he says (the accident left him sounding a little like Boomhauer from King of the Hill), but that's merely a part of his charm. Several times I found myself getting a little nervous, and he may never know how much his nonchalant attitude and story telling helped keep me sane.
Jean-Luc actually did a really great job the first and last day keeping a relatively slow pace. Sadly, the day we were in the saddle longest (day 2), he really wanted to step out. In retrospect, maybe should have just let him go? The terrain Day 1 was almost entirely uphill, so no wonder he was a little slower. Still, I enjoyed his chill speed so much the first day that I was desperate to get it back Day 2. On Day 2 we had a very flat ride along the West Fork Trail.
By Day 2 I realized, Jean-Luc is a tough fella. I can't honestly say when he has ever completed that many miles in such a short amount of time. According to his previous owner, he never went on overnights. I could tell that he still had more to give by the end of each day!
All in all, this was the trip of a lifetime for me. Since I was a little girl I have dreamed of riding and camping with my horse like the great cowboys and gals of the 1800s. I have always been enamored with the men and women who, like my dear mentor, Mr. Perry used to say, "...settled this land with dogged determination." I still find it hard to comprehend months and months on the trail. What kept those early settlers going? What expectations did they have for their, "better" life?
Similarly to the individuals of old (or prior to the 90s), I did not have access to phone, tv, or any form of modern connectivity. Early on Day 1, I remember sitting down, sipping on my adult beverage with the president of the riding club. Like everyone else on the ride, he too has a persona he maintains outside of horses.
"I love this," he told me. "Here you can just be you. You know?"
Yes. Though it took a day or so to really sink in, I know exactly what he means. Out on the trail, the only one you really have to answer to and for is your horse. "The Trail" cares little for reputation or clout. Experience and preparation are the skills you cling to. More than that though, the trail is about building and testing relationships. Can you get your horse to trust you? What new people will you meet? What new lenses will your eyes see through?
Again, this trip was the trip of a lifetime, and the best part is that it was only my first! There are SO MANY MORE to come.
I'd like to say a special shout out to everyone that helped me along the way, and those that prepared me both before and after this ride. The community is what ensures rides like this continue, and welcomes newbies such as myself to the sport. The fact that the horse community continues to be one of kindness and acceptance is so important, and I pray I am able to pass that along in some way some day.
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.