Riding Keeps Me Sane

So much has happened in the last month it’s crazy to even try to type it out.

A quick & dirty review:

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I went on the first camping trip of the season, over to Sisters and rode three times in two days, all on Ray. By the end of the trip, I was riding Ray bareback three miles while Cyrus chugged along behind.

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I left my state job, after a bare six months (fresh out of trial service in good standing meant I was permanent with the state, so leaving was a big jump!)

I got freakin’ married! Three weeks in and we still don’t have our rings due to ordering them so late; I haven’t changed my name on anything official yet due to our upcoming trip to Canada; and yet, things feel subtly different but we’re still…us.

I started a new job at which my name proceeded me. I left my state job to work for an old manager at a different company, and everyone here has mentioned how well my boss has spoken of me and how excited he is to have me on board. It’s temp to hire so not ideal, but the pay is so much higher, the career path so much easier to see, and I get to kick ass doing what I do best; assisting a safety group to be the best, most efficient and well organized team in the biz. That I can now carpool with my new husband since we work for the same company is just another added bonus.

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But, with change comes stress, and I’ve never been accused of managing change in the most mature way possible. For the month of April I lost almost 10 pounds due to basically not eating or sleeping overmuch. I’m not kidding! We went out with a big bunch of friends to Fuddrucker’s and I ate maybe a quarter of my meal.  I only ate one piece of pizza at a friend’s house, yo. When has anyone known me to eat less than two pieces, no matter how sucky the pizza? I mean, pizza, c’mon.

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The trip to Sisters and then my next ride on Ray, a solo jaunt to our normal stomping grounds that we can access straight from the barn has worked wonders for keeping my head screwed on straight. I went 7 miles with Cyrus trailing along, almost on a loose rein the entire way. Ray did try to pull a few wimpy “Can I go back to the barn” half turns, but sticking to him at Sisters gave me the calmer confidence I needed to deal with these without getting worked up over them, and we had a fantastic ride. I’d ask him to trot or canter at the speed I asked for, then we’d stop, eat and wait for Cyrus to catch up. I was once again alone in the woods with a very good horse, a very happy muddy dog and sunshine.

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My new job is ten times the amount of responsibility and people I effect, but I don’t have to listen for Code Greens or wonder if a friendly hello will tip off a patient. I can put my headphones on and chug through my day, hip deep in some of the things I nerd out over. My friends are coming down this weekend to pick up Ray & I so I can play tour guide at one of the best spots for conditioning and trail rides nearby, and I can’t wait for the heat wave and miles under sturdy hooves (please don’t lose any shoes between now & Sunday Raymond!)

IMG_6313.jpgAny of these automatically become the best view in the world!

Mrs. Morse

I started today single, and ended as a Mrs.

What does one say about ones wedding day, especially one whipped up in two weeks and held in a judge’s chambers on his lunch break?

I know two main things: our family and friends are rockstars all, for whom we are deeply and abiding grateful, and I love my new husband, the same but different as I did this morning.

I’m sure I will have new words as the shock and joy quiets, as we take our first steps in this old and weird and brand new tradition, but for now the sun shining on our day full of love is enough, and more than enough.

Dry Side Jaunt

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Two bridleless, three bareback & one horses first real camping season, Three Sisters behind us!

Last weekend was a perfect start to the riding and camping season, but it made me re-examine my equine priorities. My main goal for the past two years has been to train for and complete a 50 mile endurance ride. I obviously have to loose a few more pounds, seriously up my fitness to post 50 miles, and get over my first five miles of racing brain anxiety.

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Relax, sit deep, shoulders back, post to the movement…room for improvement, but a nice power trot!

Starting an endurance ride is deeply stressful for me, mainly because I’m usually on a horse I’ve only met a few times before, if I’m lucky. My most successful ride was last year at Klickitat with Jokker; I finished feeling like another 25 would be easy, albeit dusty, and I loved most every second of it. Any horse can feed off the energy of ride camp, dozens of horses high as kites and fit as cougars and ready to go. Problem is, I hate riding that high headed, upside down back when I just know I only have .1% of the horses attention, cause that’s when shit hits the fan.

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Camping with my current trainer and a few of her working students and friends was…amazingly relaxing. I had only one moment of stress, and it was based on my lack of fitness at keeping up at the canter/almost gallop, but by the end of the weekend I was riding bareback up to the viewpoint on the same horse. Ray and I really hit our grove this trip, and now I’m looking forward to the summer spent with this mostly easy going, occasionally surprising redhead.

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It was wonderful to lumber out of my cozy hammock where Cyrus and I had snuggled all night, sipping coffee in front of the fire and waiting for the sun to rise and the day to warm before we slowly tacked up and moseyed out of camp, no hollering or jigging required. We set our own speed, not quite completion speed but moving out more than we’ve been able to all winter.  Each horse had to have their moments of spring fever, cantering in place, spinning, side passing down the trail but those were mostly in good fun, no one bolted or screamed or disagreed too badly.

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There was plenty of time to chat, take awesome photos, revel in the dry and the sun and the open forest of the dry side. It was a good shake out for the season, testing equipment and rider’s legs and recovery times.

Cyrus even got to come along and see if he would make a good camp dog…he makes an excellent camp dog! He never strayed too far or ate too many weird things, he charmed all the other ladies, snuggled all night in the hammock with me, and even got to join in on the sunset ride to the viewpoint.

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That ride ended up with three of us riding bareback and two bridleless to boot! We soaked up the sun, huddled out of the wind, ate good food and drank just enough to relax and hit on every topic under the sun.

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I think I might like horse camping better than endurance, ya’ll. All the fun and horses and company, none of the stress! Many thanks to Terreka, Shannon, Verena & Stacy for an epic weekend!

Joy

I write this with joy in my heart. A tired joy, comfortable and welcome. I set everything aside yesterday and played hooky from work (using up leave time) to spend the day sans phone and any responsibilities with my son.

I can get too caught up in my goals, keeping the house clean, walking the dog, paying bills and all the rest of it and forget to enjoy the whip smart, silly kid I’m raising. I know a good chunk of the rest of the world can’t just turn things off for a day, but I can only live my life.

We spent the day in our swim gear at the Winds N Waves Waterpark, and it was quite simply one of our best days in a long stretch, and badly needed. We swam in the vortex pool, flew yelling down the water slides and relaxed in the crowded hot tub. Never once did I have to raise my voice or an eyebrow; we just hung out and enjoyed each other, only giggles, no cross words or chores.

On the drive home we were both quiet, sipping our Dutch Bros drinks and trying not to fall asleep. I was happy, and so was Kade. I was happy, without reservation or worry or anxiety.

I hadn’t realized how big the weight I’d been carrying as a result of my job in the psychiatric hospital has been. Now that I’m leaving, I can finally take a deep breath. Not only have I turned in my two weeks notice, but the job I’m going to is a complete 180 from the hospital. I’m supporting my old boss and doing the work I’m discovering I’m best at, logistics and organizing and making things smooth and straight forward. It’s a relief to be working for someone who thinks I kick ass, instead of those who hate the change I bring.

Joy is also tasty homemade food with best friends, hitting up the nickel arcade and super tasty ice cream to announce and celebrate our upcoming elopement.

Life is rainy but good!

Embarressing ride story!

I’m part of many endurance ride related groups on the old Facebook, and in one I mentioned my twin ride goals for the season of completing my first 50 mile ride and not embarrassing myself in ride camp.

I realized that while I wrote up and shared the story of last year’s sad attempt at Grizzly, I’d never shared it wider than the PNER newsletter. So here it is again in all its glory, or don’t follow the Bad Idea Fairy!

I’ve had better weekends. I’ve had worse weekends. Overall, I’m chalking this year’s attempt at the Grizzly Mountain ride up to the as the ever exciting ‘learning experience’.

I first tried to complete Grizzly for the first time a few years ago, on Nicole Miller’s incomparable Arab Cid (who had given me my first ever endurance completion at Home on the Range earlier that year). I ended up pulling out via rider option at the first vet check, as through nearly 18 miles and a 30 degree temperature change, I hadn’t really drunk any water & ended up with heat stroke.

This year, Nicole had the amazing patience and trust to offer me another of her Arabs, this time Reno, to again attempt the LD at the now first ever EDRA ride. I felt quite a bit better about things this time; I’d been riding almost every weekend for months, including solid rides on a beautiful Appy/Arab cross (many of you may know him; Vicki Nelson’s Jokker is a stand out kinda guy!). I had my Camelbak all packed, my riding clothes dialed in, neither too hot nor too cold, I’ve been biking to work for months so I felt stronger than I had in years, & I was familiar with the rhyme and rhythm of Nicole & Jala’s work, if not Reno himself. I’d even brought two friends along, Adriene & Sarah, lifelong horse people but endurance newbies to volunteer, crew & provide what turned out to be critical emotional support.

So it should come as no surprise that Murphy bit my ass hard, in the form of the valuable maxim “Never do anything new on ride day.” I hopped up on a horse I’d never ridden, in a saddle I’d never seen, to do a nice 30 mile ride in the sunshine with friends.

I should take a moment here to fill a gap: I’m a catch rider. I have no horse of my own currently, so I’ve tried my best to build a solid reputation as a good horse person, a decent rider and a trusted friend. I was two of those three things at Grizzly. It’s only due to the open generosity of the endurance community that I have horses to ride at all! I always try to go the extra mile, from cleaning tack, stalls & trailers to working on any training issues as asked. There’s a delicate balance between my desire to ride endurance, the need to put conditioning miles on an ‘extra’ horse, and not straining friendships.

Back to the ride report that turned out not to be: We blitzed out of camp after Reno nicely bucked me off as his test (failed that one but popped right back on), took a wrong turn, futzed with my stirrups while Nicole’s Dancer lived up to her namesake, then crossed the highway & headed up the road for my one sweet spot of the ride, Reno alternating between a Hackney pony trot & a beautiful canter that I loved. As soon as we left the road I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t find the sweet spot of the stirrups; either too short & they popped me up with every stride, or so long I couldn’t sink my weight into them. Reno’s saddle had a tree, but I’d been riding almost exclusively treeless all winter. I felt perched above his movement, & coupled with my shiny but comfortable running tights, I had no grip on the saddle & lost my balance with every shift, unable to sink into the saddle & wrap my legs around him as I normally did.

At the first real downhill at the trot, I did the predictable thing & came off again, this time rolling over his shoulder in painful slow motion. After a stunned moment I collected my glasses & left my pride on the trail. Nicole & Cassie headed on & I took my sweet time hiking back to camp, explaining to every rider who passed that I was an idiot & not to worry about us. Of course the first rider to pass was the woman who got me in to this dang sport in the first place, Brenda Casebeer! I will admit, I didn’t feel so bad about leaving the proper place on Reno’s back when I learned Brenda’s up & coming gaited mare, Grace, had also dumped her a little farther up the trail.

I will be honest, even though only Reno saw, I did cry a bit on that hike back to ride camp. I’d never encountered a saddle I just couldn’t suck up & deal with, at least for a few miles. It was just a bad combination, & an expensive lesson to learn. By the time I handed in my ride card, I’d at least accepted I had made the right choice for the horse. We avoided a sore back by not hauling around an unbalanced rider, & not holding up my friend’s ride. My friends back at camp talked me through from sadness & self-guilt to the mentality of ‘lessons learned, you lived to ride again another day, here’s some things to try’ via a trip to Dairy Queen in Madras.

The main lesson I took from Grizzly is I have to control everything I can, so ride day is as smooth as possible. Things I can’t control are always getting a pre-ride in (due to distance between me & the offered horse), or the saddle (which endurance riders are rightly very specific about). I did go out & find a new pair of actual riding tights (slightly sticky seat Kerrits & half chaps on the way from the UK, the only company to make them in my size), find a seat fleece, & pick up dressage lessons again.

To follow up the ride that wasn’t, I had a fantastic ride the following weekend on Vicki’s Jokker. We managed a nice 13 mile ride at a decent clip, in a saddle I love on a horse I adore, only getting hailed on at the end of the ride. Heading up a long gravel road at a just right trot, just me & the big spotted horse in the woods following Vicki on her mare, was one of those sweet spots which remind me why I’m putting in the work to make myself a better rider.

I strive to keep people trusting me with their amazing horses & the open trail, all in pursuit of a completion & a nice t-shirt. I’ve been biking ten miles round trip to work several times a week since January; riding as often as I can; filling in walks around campus & Wii workouts (Dance games & Biggest Looser) during the worst of the winter weather, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, & wearing my Fitbit & tracking what I eat. These actions have helped me drop 30 pounds & turned my calves into rocks, & I’m hoping adding in dressage lessons will get me closer to this season’s goal of my first fifty mile ride.

From my end, the trickiest part of being a catch rider is the relationship building. I’m lucky enough to ride mostly with people I also consider friends, which makes it a little easier to keep the conversation flowing on long rides & the communication open during trickier moments. I always offer to pay full ride fees & half gas & food for any trips or events, & I fully embrace the “take what you need as it works for your current horse, store the rest for later” policy around any advice I give or receive. I take pains to question & learn as quickly as I can how each owner handles their horses, their setup & routines; the goal is to minimize aggravation on both ends & maximize riding time.

Easy like Sunday morning

Say what you will about Facebook and their questionable business practices, today I’m thankful for the ability to connect with a wide range of people.

This weekend has been full of spending money and giggling like a little girl, but it’s not Jokker’s fault this time. In response to my last post, a friend suggested I contact a boxer breeder she knew of who had an older dog looking for a new home (a million thanks Ann!)

Based on the cat’s still roundly pissy yowling whenever Cyrus gets too close (he isn’t scared, just mad he’s not an only furry animal in the house now) it may be too early to declare total victory on the dog acquisition front, but in only a day we’ve made adorable headway.

Cyrus is the same age as Kade, coming six years old, already a distinguished gentleman with impeccable manners and a tendency for carrying stuffies around in his mouth. He’s a super cuddler with a soft mouth and needing a soft place to land (he prefers the couch to the super highly rated dog bed I found on Amazon). Kade is already smitten, Tom is being won over by Cyrus doing his best to ignore said pissy cat, and strangers stop and they comment on his handsomeness on our walks.

I know there are a lot of heavy, terrible things racketing around the world these past few weeks, and I’ve given what blood and help I can. In our little corner of the world, our hearts are quietly full, and I’ve made at least one little boy tremendously happy. Coupled with a heavy headed snoring dog, tasty coffee, Tom home from South Korea and a new job to start at tomorrow, life is pretty excellent!

Giggle Attack

I spent my Sunday in the best way possible: Ignoring the bittersweet feeling of being dragged out of bed way too early for a weekend to drop Tom off at the airport, bound for business in South Korea. Instead I headed to the woods and giggled my way through a 12 mile ride in the woods on my favorite spotted pony, the incomparable Jokker.

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With the possibility of the last endurance ride of the season in three weeks, Foothills of the Cascades in our backyard, we focused on elevation and enjoying the single track trails which will be closed to us as soon as the really wet weather arrives to usher in winter. We spent a perfect few hours heading up…up…down up down up switchbacks giant hill lean forward step up walk down aaaaaand back up. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to tack up and just ride; Vicki’s been nice enough to let me leave all my gear on Jokker’s saddle, so I don’t have to fiddle with everything each time I get to ride him.

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During a rest break at the very top of the hills I crinkled open a Rice Krispie treat, a guilty ride day pleasure which Jokker couldn’t help but have a very strong opinion about. His opinion boiled down to the same as a toddler’s, “How DARE you not share woman!” I spent about five minutes laughing so hard I had to actually work to stay in the saddle as he kept tossing his head up for a bite, while Jokker’s dam KC jiggled with her normal Arab mare impatience to be moving forward.

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On the way back down we stuck to the logging road, where I was able to sit deep and really stretch Jokker out as we tried to catch up with KC and Vicki, faster and far in front as usual. If you’ve met him in real life, you’ll first notice the spots, then his size…or vice versa. Either way, the boy has a canter that truly cures all ills…and I feel privileged every time I’m able to ride him. Foothills, give us a dry year, and don’t have any rocks with our names on them!

 

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View from the ground

Life has tossed a few loops at me this summer, from Kade's second broken arm, job loss and Tom hopping back and forth to Phoenix, not to mention the unreasonable heat and wildfire smoke hanging over everything. I'm writing this on my friend's living room, PNER Green Bean mug full of coffee in one hand, kid playing on his iPad and stuffing his face full of bagels and remarking on the ducks once again taunting the dogs.

I picked up blogging (again!) as a way to remain somewhat publicly accountable for my new exercise plan. Since my last post I've only put in two solid bike rides, although I've been working out a different way; horse back riding, schooling horses in the ring, on my feet or in the saddle a good chunk of the day.

I have so many horse people I look up to, from the newly Tevis buckled Jala Neufeld to my old Fjord and Dales farm owner Marcy Baer, still going strong in Vermont. I have long held an educational view, accepting I will never know everything about horses, but by golly I'll spend a lifetime trying. Due to this I always look around the horse world from a learner's mindset, hoovering up everything and filing things away for later. I rarely toss anything out as complete hogwash, always mindful of the
occasionally huge leaps between disciplines.

There are a few basic things I hold to as someone whose goal is to be called 'horsewoman', mainly being mindful of the horse's point of view in what we ask them to do; letting predators on their backs, trailering to strange places, tolerating everything we toss at them, and always trying to keep their comfort levels in their terms in mind.
So for someone who still and always views themselves as a learner, it's taken some doing to gracefully accept that in a small way, I do have some wisdom and knowledge to share.
(I swear this isn't a humble brag post, stick with me!)

Since my day job was cut, I've been spending the bulk of my days helping a friend with her still relatively new boarding facility up in Washington. And by helping I mean giving lessons, evaluating horses, and giving horses some tune ups. Me, giving lessons! Helping other people not only be better riders, but figure out how to enjoy their horses more.
Despite the heat, long hours on my feet, a general weird feeling to be teaching people *cough* mildly older than myself, and a weird case of what was probably pink eye…. I've loved every moment of it, of watching concepts click in someone's mind or seat, of hearing owners gush over how much calmer their horse is. Even Tom has seen how much calmer and happier and flat out excited I am, and is fully supportive of trying to make this training concept work, however we can.

I've been in full on research mode the past few weeks, reading and plotting and mulling ideas about *gulp* setting up an actual horse business. I have already identified my niche- kids and reriders or older new riders, people who want to work on themselves and making their lives with their horses easier and more enjoyable. I know where my gaps are as a rider and horse person, which is why I'm as dedicated to learning as ever. I still have big goals for myself (Tevis 2020 anyone?) but this doesn't discount what I do know.

Part of this post was to finally process how I feel about the whole experience (weird! Excited! Happy!) but also toss my little shingle into the wide ring of horse people in the Pacific Northwest. If you find yourself looking for lessons or boarding near Olympia Washington, give T and A Ranch a look. It's the facility I would build given the time and inclination, and it's a fantastic place to learn to ride or keep working on things 🙂

See ya on the trail!

Back in the saddles!

Are we going to talk about how long it’s been since I last posted? 

Nope, except to say that life is busy as it is for everyone, and I have a new job that demands so much more brain power than my old one…Which, unfortunately, I am loosing after this week due to budget cuts. I am, of course, going through the stages of grieving over it, since this is the best team I’ve worked with since college.

No, the reasons I’ve decided to devote some time to writing here are many, mostly focused on self improvement through accountability. If I can consistently post here, doing so will help keep my goals and steps towards those goals front and center, where even people outside my immediate circle can help keep me accountable ttowards them. 


My primary goal for this endurance riding season, the real goal that pushes everything else, is to complete a 50 mile ride. It’s July and the PNW season ends, more or less, in October. I have completed one 25 mile ride and felt great, fully embeddeding the endurance bug once again. 


A large part of my success at that ride came down to two main factors; a wonderful mentor and an utterly forgiving horse with a build that carried a heavyweight rider without issue. Jokker is amazing horse and I’m privileged to be able to ride him, but as a catch rider I would like for a few more doors to be open to me. Expanding my options entails loosing weight (my eventual goal is to ride as a midweight, preferably by next season), gaining strength and riding ability. 

As I am facing uncertain employment, I can’t shell out for lessons right now, but I have all the tools available to work on the first two. Through extensive trial and error, I’ve found what works for me to keep moving towards those goals; primarily hiking and biking. I loath running; I just can’t stick with it, as sweaty and slow and jiggly as all the various bits of me right now. Swimming costs money to belong to a local pool, being stuck in the gym around strangers is boring and unmotivating, and even plain walking is just ugh. 


Thanks to a birthday gift from my parents, I’ve discovered I actually love biking, as it allows me to go a lot father and faster than my own two feet, carrying more gear, with a lot less jiggly and rubbing parts. The one issue is it’s not super cheap, between maintenance and new gear to make things a bit more comfortable. I weigh every purchase with a thought to my ultimate goal; will a new bike seat help me get more miles in to be fitter for a 50? 

I am also lucky in that Canby is a surprisingly good town to bike ride in. There are certainly some roads leading out of town I’m not up for trying yet, but most roads have bike lanes or wide  shoulders, plus their is a beautiful multi-use path without cars that cuts right through town. I can just hop on the bike and go, without having to drive somewhere and park (which I still do if only for variety). 

I am also keeping a private journal in Evernote, which I use everyday for tracking mental headspace, measurements, food and workouts, as well as various apps such as Map My Ride and My Fitness Pal. I’ve started and lost motivation on several workout plans over the years, but most of them were running based. I think having a clear and attainable endurance goal in mind and a biking based workout plan will help get me there, as well as more public accountability. 


My next possible endurance ride is Santiam Cascade in a month, with the incomparable Jokker once again on deck. I also want to be prepared to jump on any chance offered, without doing a disservice to any offered horse. 

For now, Santiam is in my sights and I can’t wait!

Sore, sweaty, tired

I know I’ve shouted my thanks on Facebook already, but a huge thanks has to be repeated for everything that went into getting me & almost 200 other riders on beautiful, expertly marked trails on Mt Adams last weekend! The stars aligning & all the hard work & effort put in was astounding, & now that the soreness is wearing off I can better appreciate all of it!
I’m not going to do a blow by blow account of the ride, but more a general overview of things that stuck out at me, & things I need to work on before I hunt down another ride, if I can between house buying craziness & camping with the kiddo as much as possible while the weather holds.


I did complete the race, & thankfully Shadow was in much, much, ten times better condition than me at the end. I made the mistake of not wearing my Camelbak to try to avoid all the sloshing, & so drank far less water & more Gatorade than my body liked. So I threw up after Allyssa trotted out Shadow for his completion vet check. No bueno, drink more water.


My core was juuuuuust enough to keep me ahorse, but only on a saint that never once spooked. My left leg was numb by mile 12 & this did not improve my posting ability one bit.

I have two good pictures from the photographer, & one of me at the final vet check right before I ditched all my food into the grass. Two are faintly attractive, the other shows that I really did earn that completion, by enduring & trying not to whine too much.


Maaaaan it was pretty. And perfect weather. And Shadow’s trot is a thing of beauty for an Arab, sitable (though I need a double bra next time, so told by the bruises on those lady parts), calmly ratable & smooth. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse to ride my first time out in two years.

I’m addicted to endurance riding. Every time I think I could be happy enough not doing it, I score the magic of a ride & remember that nope, this is my thing, so I return to scheming my way onto horseback as often as possible. Because dirty, sweaty, sore & grinning is perfect (now just gotta learn to drink water…)


I am also on the hunt for a good pair of riding pants. Yoga & running pants aren’t going to cut it for me, so what’s best, a nice pair of Kerritts or spring for something like Crazy Legs Tights?

I will keep working on my reputation as a solid, caring, directable catch rider…or in other words, growing up to be like Kathleen Jepson, though I’m less specific about riding pretty spotted ponies!

Endurance people are the best, hands down, in the horse world, & just the best in general. Not enough can be said about their general awesomeness, caring, & ability to kick ass.