Basics are good

Here he has his thinking cap on…

I had to admit to a friend today that despite all my experience in the horse world, I’ve never studied or really learned how to build a horse’s strength and carriage up from the basics. Oh I’ve picked up some tricks here and there, but no consistency.

V says he’s actually pretty good at shoulder in!

My main goal for the next two months, my last of this surrogate pregnancy and first of pregnancy recovery, is to build Flash up to the point that when I’m ready to ride again, he has the strength to carry me (who will definitely be a wobbly mess for awhile). Right now he’s definitely in pasture puff status and while he’s happy to be so, I dream of adventures together so to work we go!

We are so lucky V is working with us both! So much to learn!

Today V showed us a good amount of in hand work, which revealed that Flash is stronger on his right side than his left. I have been asking him to stretch and step under himself every night, which is helping a bit.

Bending and picking up his shoulder

While lunging him Flash got super speedy and started to canter around and give little bucks, telling us he’s anxious and trying to figure out the right answer…and that building up his fitness will be a long process but we have time. Once he figured out the right answer (stretching down and stepping under himself) he calmed down, though breaking into a canter was still easier for him than stretching. But he’s an awesome horse and he’ll get there…with his opinions firmly intact!

The post workout roll is always entertaining!

Every time I see or work with this great golden dude I fall for him a tiny bit more. I’m so excited to finish baking this beautiful baby for his parents and climb back in Flash’s saddle!

Work is hard but pasture life is easy!

The curse of ‘eventful times’

This has been a monumentally hard week. I know it’s been even harder for so many folks who aren’t me, middle aged fully employed white lady in a small town. All week I’ve had my own struggles, quietly watching social media and struggling, struggling over what course to take. Speak up, or black out? Share heartbreaking, terrifying stories of people of color being killed, of violent authority response to protests, try to beat back racism and ignorance with sanity and logic when emotions are so high and terrifying?

I’ve settled for watching, scrolling and seeing many good friends and people I respect tear into each via social media, and a few glimmers of hope when rational, sane discussion prevailed. That last component- discussion- has been sorely lacking this week, and for my perspective that’s been the hardest part. This isn’t to discount the daily lives and experiences of people of color and others…but I absolutely cannot speak to that experience, only my own, and navigate finding the best way forward for my own little corner of the world, just like with the pandemic response. What is right and okay for one person or family just cannot work for someone else, and we all have to engage together to ensure everyone has a little bit more of a chance and a little bit better experience than before. Everything else is just noise.

For me, it feels like everything is on edge, between the reality of a mostly unknown, highly contagious virus, the scattered and politicized public health response, everyday life being utterly altered, ugly racist encounters and deaths at the hands of an overly militarized and mostly unaccountable police force, the rising anger and riots and destruction of the response and trying to weed out the next best steps forward. There are so many quagmires all going on at once, all equally urgent, which require us to pause, to thoughtfully and deeply consider changes, our part in such systems…and few folks with the extra bandwidth for just such things. Much easier to toss out a slogan, meme or unverified news link when you’re juggling work, home schooling, economic worries and “normal life” than pause for a few minutes and working to contain your own initial emotional reaction and putting forth a reasoned, measured response to a deeply complex issue.

Even when you do take the time, other people won’t and tend to dig in on the flippant or emotionally powered response, which only sets up a spiral of unhelpfulness or hurt feelings that doesn’t get anyone any closer to solving or changing the underlying issue. My own background in EHS (environmental, health and safety) has exposed me to the concept of “root cause analysis”, something I try to bring to any bigger or hot button issue. Beyond the emotional response, what’s the actual issue? What are fundamental, system level changes that need to happen to cause the issue to be erased or mitigated? It’s not a perfect system, especially when dealing with painful and emotionally charged subjects like our country’s deep rooted racism and treatment of any marginalized group, but it’s a place to start. I’m working on separate posts for the various issues we’re facing lately, because each one is nuanced and complex and productive conversations are needed on each one.

Equine time

I know the world is literally on fire and the many injustices folks face are being hammered into us this week, and there’s a vicious mix of fear, despair, depression, uncertainty, and unfairness to unpack…but I’m lucky and privileged enough that I can retreat to the barn while I process what’s going on, where I stand, what I “should” do and how I support my family, friends and community through all this. So that’s what I did tonight.

Being now almost 34 weeks pregnant (and feeling very preggo lately!) my time spent working with Flash has…well, kinda tanked. Oh, I see him pretty much every day, groom him and feed him his supplements and fill his “bad roommate ball”, but some days that’s all I have mental and physical energy for. I would feel a tad bit guiltier that sometimes all I do is feed and run back home (to sleep), but our new barn and barn owner are simply awesome and I know he’s living a good life here even with my occasional in attentiveness.

Flash *loves* his bad roommate ball, aka treat dispenser!

However, as a friend kindly pointed out to me, there’s still tons I can do and not every session has to be a long, involved process to gain some net positives.

I make him carry my water when we go for strolls around the gorgeous new farm.

Tonight, since Kade is preoccupied with his cousins camping on our back porch and it was a long and stormy day, I spent 20 minutes grooming, stretching and playing soccer with Flash. Another friend, who is kind enough to help me by working him once a week under saddle, pointed out he has some muscle to build, so we worked on a few simple lunges and stretches to get him to start stepping under himself. Every moment I can spare now sets him up to carry me safely and be more prepared for the unbalanced, unfit rider he’ll have to put up with come July (or August, hopefully I’ll be back asaddle by then!) Plus, Flash digs soccer just like the kid does!

Treat please! (And yes, I do put schtuff on that poor pink nose, which he usually proceeds to try to rub off on me)

Also, a quick update on his supplements (since he’s shiny, rock solid barefoot and not chewing himself to death this time of year):

  • Handful of alfalfa pellets
  • 2 scoops CalTrace powder
  • 1 scoop SmartPak ItchEase (jeezum it’s pricy but it’s working!!! Usually he’s in full fly sheet, belly band and anti-bite himself muzzle but all he’s in now is a fly mask!)
  • 1 scoop iodized salt
  • 1 scoop Magnesium
  • 1 scoop Selenium/Vitamin E
  • 1 scoop Biotin
  • 2-3 carrots, wet and stir 🙂
I know some rush through this chore, but for me mixing up his supplements for the week is almost meditative

Take a break

I love my little family, I really do. I also acknowledge how lucky we are in these current ridiculously challenging and frightening times.

But…

Preggo selfie by the river=mandatory, of course!

But after two months more or less 24/7 with my wonderful, charming family…like anyone else my rope is stretched. I’m still deeply conflicted about travelling, and camping alone at 32 weeks pregnant is out of the question…

Rainy river

Thankfully one of my favorite State Parks close to home reopened for day use this week, so after a smooth OB appointment (everything looks good!) I headed out to Champoeg State Park, put my headphones on and strolled. Long story short, I still need a good 25 hours without anyone but this is a good start!

Pandemics and outdoor recreation

The world has been turned upside down, inside out and beaten thoroughly, like a freshly washed down comforter. Emotions have been set to critical for over a month with only more confusion in sight, which doesn’t make for lovely, pleasant spring days for many. Personally, I’ve had major writer’s block since I returned from our first try at a Mountain Trail schooling show and my state implemented “Stay Safe, Stay Home” orders. An argument now rearing it’s ugly head has unstuck me to some regard, so here’s my thoughts on trying to recreate outdoors during a global pandemic.

Really wishing we could do this again soon!

I will state right up than I’m still grieving the loss of being able to go hiking, walking and camping with my little dog, pony and 9 year old son show. I may be heavily pregnant, but I was still planning on getting out at least every other week with friends until June if I could. I’m pretty sure my 19 year old, been everywhere gelding will pretend he’s never seen a trailer in his life when all this is said and done.

The last time I hauled this face, it was to his new barn over a month ago!

For every argument for throwing public lands back open, come what may, there’s a great deal of solid science, utter unknowns and plain humans being humans reasons not to; or at least, to try to find alternatives. The hardest part of all this for me, who likes to rely on experts and solid science, is that even the experts are flying a bit blind and there’s just so many unknowns around Covid-19, it makes “returning to normal” especially fraught…and humans, as a species, don’t always operate the best in the grey areas.

Proof Blondie can be uphill and balanced!

My neighbor to the north state, where a good chunk of my friends live, is cautiously reopening state public lands for day use next week, with several caveats. The biggest impact to me personally being the “don’t drive far” and “only travel with those you live with” directives. My state has prolonged opening the state parks until Memorial Day at least, which considering the supposed cross state agreement we joined seem a bit moot on the surface.

  • If one state opens but another doesn’t, people will be people and will travel across borders. This will lead to the crowding and overuse the officials are trying to prevent. Large fines and other enforcement strategies won’t change this behavior, as there are only so many officials able to enforce directives available anyway. Trail heads regularly see break ins, trash dumps and vandalism during normal times due to lack of enforcement, and that will just get worse.
  • State lands already feel the effect of budget cuts, chronic under funding and lack of staff. I did a stint as a park ranger and can attest to the uphill battle it normally is to keep up cleanliness; I shudder to imagine how much harder it would be with facilities closed and unable to be safely maintained by park staff even further constrained by lack of PPE and other materials. Opening access without opening facilities leads to the more careless humans making a huge mess, not recreating responsibly enough and providing disease spread (which even now is still not totally clear).
  • For those crying “But those are our lands!” This is true on the surface, but we live in a system in which we’ve given over management of such places to officials in whatever form. They currently face a heartbreaking battle between open access for all, maintaining the health and safety of both staff and visitors, and halting progression of a virus we still don’t have a clear picture for. Whether we fully agree with their decisions or not, they do have the power and the right to make them, and shouldn’t be vilified for it, only supported in whatever ways we can; whether that be through public comment, staying home or recreating as responsibly as we know how these days.
  • To those of pretty much all my friends, who I include in the “can recreate responsibly” guidelines and/or be reasonably self contained, I’m with you on desiring open lands where we can make our own choices and visit safely. But just enough folks just won’t or can’t follow the LNT guidelines or just manage to care enough about other people to open public lands without a solid, safe plan in place for managing such people, and that’s the bottom line officials have to reckon with. That part sucks the most for me, to know how hard my friends and I work when we camp, hike and volunteer to keep our public lands safe, clean and usable, and being unable to due to the subset of folks that just don’t care enough.

I don’t have any answers to the underlying issues above, maybe a few suggestions that I still don’t know would lead to a “safe enough” opening. Sure a permit system to avoid overcrowding is a decent idea, but leads to it’s own subset of problems, chief among them access for all and the time and budget to even set one up or expand the existing system (plus the additional cries of “It’s my land, why should I pay for it or have to arrange access to it?”).

As much as it sucks in the short term (and boy howdy does it really freaking suck when the sun shines and everything is bursting into bloom), the most responsible, ethical and kind thing to do is to stay at home until a safe enough system is worked out. I still hold hope for at least one more camping trip before I pop, even if it is just to my friend’s pasture!

If we all keep our heads, surely we can figure this out!

Sun and adventures to come

Three awesome lads

Thanks to the later sunset, I was able to fit in a quick, two mile hike after I picked the kid up from school. My second best hope has been realized and Flash is loading now with zero fuss (he’s not yet self loading but maybe someday). I’m hoping he actually likes going hiking (or, as I’m sure he calls it, “sampling the wilderness”.)

Must eat every five strides

If it’s not cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, I’ve signed up for a Mountain Trail Schooling Course at Bolender Horse Park this weekend. I’ll be doing Novice, Level 1 and Level 2 in hand if Flash agrees with that. For all it’ll be our first event like this together, I’m hoping we’ll do okay…at least not embarress each other! The hardest move for Flash is a side pass; I just don’t have my signals down for nice, smooth ones so we’ll try to eek through that.

Kade is a great videographer in training!

Wish us luck and hope we don’t freeze up in the hills Saturday night! At least Flash will have a nice cozy stall on site.

After school fun

Sunny and dry=time to hike!

I can’t resist his poses!

The weather gods and the work gods smiled at me today, so once again I hitched up and tossed Flash in the trailer to explore new local trails being rebuilt. This time around I wore my trail running sneakers instead of my barn boots, which meant we stuck to the gravel roads instead of the single track but still had plenty of fun.

Yeah, it’s steep heading down into the canyon!

It was warm but the wind still has a bite to it, just enough we didn’t sweat too badly climbing back up the steep ass hill we followed down into the canyon.

Flash loves hiking…I mean eating…

I still have some adjustments to make, having Flash carry our gear is definitely nice but I want to make sure it doesn’t move or cause discomfort at all. I’m picking up a custom breast collar for him since the one I currently have is Arab sized…and Flash does not have Arab shoulders 😄

Flash did have some riders after all!

Next time I really have to remember the sunscreen… living under the almost perpetual grey winter skies here makes me forget that sun=sunburn!

Camping in February?

Damp but happy to eat everything in sight!

Between work stress, pregnancy, new horse/truck/trailer excitement and frustrations, the winter blues have been real this year. So when the weather quietly murmured the mere hint of a not freezing, not raining day a week ahead, I reserved an equestrian campsite at Battle Ground State Park and hoped for the best.

Settling in…before the rain appeared

That’s not quite what we got…but this trip was a shakedown of everyone’s new gear, new and/or rehabbed horses, and to scratch the cabin fever itch. Lessons were learned, rain was endured and good food was eaten, and for a last minute tossed together trip in February I count us lucky enough.

I never fail to have extreme trailer envy when I see this beautiful, well thought out, every excellent detail covered Double D…

On the good side, Flash camped pretty much alone for the night and didn’t loose his mind. My friends horses were there, including a member of his old herd, but they were in a separate area and due to the miserable weather we didn’t have them interact much. I remembered his mid-weight blanket so he wasn’t totally soaked and cold overnight, plus his coolers to dry off in the morning, and grabbing a flake of alfalfa was a pony approved choice.

Still don’t know when the “I HAVE MY OWN TRAILER!” excitement will wear off.

I’ve been hammock sleeping the past few years, but with increasing awkwardness around pregnancy and limited space in my trailer, I sprung for the Kingdom Cot 3 from REI and I’m in love! Cyrus and I spent a warm, dry, and comfortable night together while Kade took the hammock. My in-trailer camping set up is pretty spot on, so that was a definite win. I’m still going to figure out a way to enclose the sides with mesh, to keep out bugs and stuff off the roadway while driving.

Cyrus actually slept on the cot with me instead of his dog bed, but nice to know it fits for hotter weather

The only major bummer was the total change in the weather; it was both much colder and much wetter than we’d expected, though that’s the chance you take with camping in February, after all! I also realized I haven’t really done any camp cooking and have been relying on the generosity of friends for…well, years, so clearly there’s still some adjustment to my equipment and skills in that area needed. Sandwiches are fine but a hot meal on a cold day definitely makes a difference!

I think Flash loves hiking cause it equals more time for eating…

Up next…maybe a jaunt over to Reehers Horse Camp? LL Stub Stewart? My plan is to fit as many trips as I can before I really balloon up and bending over to hitch up my trailer becomes an exercise in huffing and puffing!

Close to home adventures

I’ve finally reached 20 weeks pregnant, wooot!!! Halfway there! We had the mid way ultrasound yesterday to check all the measurements and growth and baby is moving along normally, always good to hear that from doctors!

I love my new spare tire cover!

This also means that I’ve reached the point in which I’m voluntarily grounding myself from riding; the risk of a fall from Flash is fairly low but not zero, and as this isn’t my baby my comfort level is lower. So, we’re back to hiking and today the sun shone so out we went!

Happy dog, starving horse

An awesome local group is gathering and bringing some old trails back to life that just so happen to be a 10 minute haul from my barn! I was able to load Flash, unload, shove his boots on, make him carry my stuff (some adjustments still needed there), go for a two mile hike and make it home as the kid got off the bus.

Trail building: downhill edition

Flash was super well behaved except for the occasional reminder to not trip over me (personal spaaaaace!) and even when we saw other horses he didn’t scream for them. He did get a bit fast heading back to the trailer, so we took an out and back detour on a single track trail and he settled back down.

Awesome viewpoint

A beautiful hike and some exploring in a new place on a sunny day with a good dog and a starving blonde pony…it helps a great deal! Now to pack the truck for our camping shakedown trip to Battle Ground Lake tomorrow!

Pony chooses food over views naturally
Nom nom

Exercise schmexercise

During my pursuit to become a surrogate, my BMI went too high, even though everything else was golden (I blame the husband’s meat smoking hobby, soooo delicious!) So, to loose the weight in a healthy and sustainable way (no weird fads or crash diets for this mildly lazy lady), and also in pursuit of some actual strength for horseback riding, I got a gym membership.

When I took the above photo, at the beginning of 2019, I was working out at the gym two to three times a week (mostly rowing and the stair master), jogging with the dog twice a week, riding my bike when the weather was decent, and horse riding once a week. I finally hit the BMI number I needed and decided the gym was not for me, so I ordered some kettle bells and a short group training session from a personal trainer in the UK, Aadam of Physiqonomics (definitely check him out when you’ve time, he’s got an awesome voice and utterly practical style I appreciate).

Immediately following the embryo transfer, you are considered “PUPO”, or “pregnant until proven otherwise”. During the two week wait for the official pregnancy test, you are daily injecting yourself with various hormones, emotions are all over the place and you’re instructed to really take it easy physically; no heavy lifting, keep your heart rate from spiking, and generally embrace a slower speed to life to ensure everything settles in smoothly. For me this meant no lifting at home, no riding and no running. It was November and I fully embraced the couch life, aside from dog walks and futzing about with Flash in the arena.

At least there’s sun in Las Vegas!

About 10-12 weeks pregnant you shift over from the reproductive endocrinologist’s care to a regular OB/GYN, and your exercise restrictions are more or less lifted, with the caveat of curtailing really heavy duty things. Instead of picking up the kettle bells and the running, I started flirting with yoga and hiking with the dog and horse. I’ve realized throughout this process of get fitter/loose weight/do almost nothing/do a little that other than horse riding, there’s no one exercise I’ve stuck with long term. I like variety and things I can do with the kid and or dog, as they are great motivators since both are cheerful and faster than me at everything.

Fast forward to last night, when I finally purchased a three month pass to our local pool and used it…and guys, I may have finally found the exercise I’ll stick with. Our local pool is just hands down awesome, cheap, and comfortable (warm water!!!). I can do my lap swims (I remember how to swim! Almost better than ride a bike!) while Kade plays under the watchful eyes of the lifeguard. Kade was so thrilled to be going swimming! He’s taken lessons for years but those are structured, not just free time. The pool is between the barn and the house with a generous open swim schedule, and it’s just…fun. 10 laps last night was a perfect starter; enough to push but not exhaust me. The biggest bonus for swimming: nothing is out there jiggling between the swimsuit and being underwater, and I can keep this up later into pregnancy when all my muscles and joints start to relax (and running would be far less fun anyway).

19 weeks and still no preggo belly, though my normal jeans are no longer comfy (also this week baby is the size of a mango apparently)

It only took me, what, almost 4 years of living in this town to get into the pool? I’m very much a “better eventually than never” kinda girl! For now the goal is three times a week, since including the drive, shower and changing takes less than an hour and I’m going to be back to non-riding status here shortly.