With the truck in the shop and *checks calendar* only 16!!!! days until we leave for the John Wayne Cross State Ride, this is the perfect time for some reflection. Power washing my trailer last weekend gave me plenty of time to think. I’m also doing twice weekly PT for my ankle, as that’s been our biggest barrier to speed work. Tarma is as fit as she’s going to get before the ride, so she’s getting plenty of time off to just be. For now the focus is on rest and thinking sessions, with daily massages and double checking her feet and legs and back for soundness and little issues that can be bigger issues 50 miles in. We have one more ride planned, a shakedown for all our camping gear, tack and fitness levels, aiming to do all 22 miles of the Deschutes River Recreation Trail this Sunday. When Tarma and I did 11 miles of it last year, we were still shiny new in our relationship, and she wasn’t even half as fit as she is this year. We got along, but we didn’t really know each other.
It may be cliché, but we’ve come so dang far together. I tend to think I’m not doing enough, focus on the road still ahead and the goals yet to meet, but Tarma needs a bit more nuance from me than just the next adventure. A friend recently pointed out my main driver right now is FOMO; fear of missing out. After the past two years and the constant marching towards dystopian news, she’s not wrong. I lost Flash and Cyrus both way too soon, but I’ll be forever grateful for every adventure and quiet night with both of them. With my recent frustration over Tarma’s “can’t catch me unless I spend 15 minutes showing off by cantering around” pasture dance (aptly addressed by Aarene Storm’s recent blog on mares), I forget to focus on the major achievements. Which include but are not limited to:
- Loading into the trailer, 100% of the time, usually self load, and travelling calmly each and every time (minus occasional fits over her new buddy Cody not being loaded fast enough for her comfort). My relief at this cannot be understated. We went from crying because she wouldn’t load, to taking 20 minutes to load, to just…loading.
- The addition of Benny, the annoying, questionably trained Chocolate Labradork: The folks I got Tarma from had dogs and puppies around, so she came more or less dog broke. However, there’s a major difference between a calm older dog and a menace literally spinning around like a tornado when all she’s trying to do is take a drink from a stream. The fact she didn’t eject me the first time Benny ran into her with a stick in his mouth gets her every gold star.
- Blanketing: I try really hard not to over-blanket, but life in the PNW means she needs to wear one occasionally, sometimes for a week on end when we’re bouncing between hail, snow, crazy winds and relentless drippy rain. The first time I blanketed her, she acted like I was trying to eat her. Now I can toss it on and off while ground tied, and even put her closed front stable blanket on and off without too much stress (she doesn’t love that one, but she looks so good in it and it fits the purpose of keeping her clean overnight, or as an extra layer for camping).
- Feet: When we went to go see her for the first time, the only way to handle Tarma’s feet was to put her against a wall and pry her foot off the ground, and you could only keep it a few seconds before she put all her weight in it. Now I can hop off in the middle of the trail, ground tie her, and futz with a boot as much as needed, and the farrier can work on her without stress to either one of them. Also, her hooves have come from 4/5 (out of 10, our farrier scores us all every month) to a consistent 8/9, closer to 9 in the summer.
- On the trail: Tarma has always shined on trail, it’s where we both belong and click the best. I’ve only come off her once, in a way I still don’t blame her for. However, there are behavior and training things we had to work on, from riding out solo, being left behind, being passed at speed, switching up within the group, rest periods, tack futzing, hopping on and off for various reasons, following distance (still working on that one), and one of my proudest moments, wiggling into my Artic Skirt as a hail cloud approached, while mounted, while being passed by other horses at an endurance ride, hands free, and she stood the whole time with barely an ear twitch.
- Sheer miles: It’s not a full account, but as far as tracked trail rides go, we’ve managed about 376 miles mounted, with at least 30 more hikes and walks around the orchard in hand. I know that’s not a ton overall, but to have come so far in less than 400 miles is huge. Just imagine what we could be in 400 more?
While I still have a whole check list of things to do to ensure we’re totally packed and ready for the ride, mentally and relationship wise we’re solid. I’m still a bit nervous as to how she’ll camp in a new spot every single night, and her reaction to the wagons, and there’s always the fear she’ll get loose, remember her roots and be gone for days on massive acreage. That last is a fear that’s not really specific to Tarma, any horse can get loose and take off, but the fact she was willing to let complete strangers walk right up to her in ride camp when she got loose makes me feel more hopeful should it happen again.
Even with these worries, I’m *knocks on wood* fairly confident we’ll work through them together, and at least I’ll know how she feels at any given moment, as she’ll tell me without fear I’ll shut her down or push her through it without giving her time to think. A few nights ago we played with the big horse ball, a tarp and a pool noodle. When I yelled at Benny for trying to bite and play with the big ball (my fault, what is a ball to a Labrador after all), she hid behind me instead of bolting off and nudged me with her nose, like “hey, lady, don’t love that, fix it please.” I anticipate there will be bobbles and issues and less than amazing moments, we’ll be doing around 80 miles in five days with about 250 other folks and horse and mules, so things are bound to go side ways. As long as I’m home again with a sound and opiniated chocolate mare, I’ll be happy.