Bluebird Day

I received hard news from my boss on Friday: a coworker, a senior manager I supported and was mentoring me a bit, was found dead in her home.

For this and various other reasons, I desperately needed a good day, a smooth day when I didn’t have to worry about a million things and everything just moved…easily.

Today delivered and I seriously lucked out in every way. Truck and trailer are both roadworthy, sealed, organized and basically as good as they get. Flash loaded more or less willingly (I’ve mostly accepted that he’ll load cause he’s a good guy and not because trailering is fun or neutral for him), and I got zero traffic up to Washington.

I had managed to snag a mid Monday lesson with a new trainer, Rebekah L., And boy both she and the facility she trains out of were definitely worth the drive! The sun was shining and it was warm enough for Kade and I to have a picnic lunch in the grass while we relaxed from the drive.

Rebekah is the first new trainer I’ve introduced myself to in years, and this time with my own horse! My main goal for the spring is to get Flash and I to a solid, well matched place, so we can pick up from there when I come back from pregnancy recovery in August. Might as well make the most of our arena time while we’re stuck there, and today’s outdoor arena was just… breathtaking. I don’t go for hyperbole much, but the sun was shining, the views of the hills were beautiful, and the footing was fantastic. I just wish it were a tad bit closer and we’d be there all the time!

Flash trailered well, relaxed while we waited and I tacked fuzzbutt up, and only called once to the horses all around him. He had a few opinions under saddle, but nothing to budge even my out of fitness butt. Rebekah gave me one main pointer that I was desperately needing-carry your hands! Huh, so that’s why I lurch forward at the posting trot, my hands were way too low!

Flash and I have tons of work to do, but there’s a well trained, happy partner under his blonde, cookie hogging exterior and I’m more excited than ever to bring it out. Good boy Flash, very good boy 🙂

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.

Escape the smoke

After the topsy turvey summer we’ve had, neither of us could face a crazy holiday weekend of travel, even for horse training. So I skipped a farm visit, and today my little family of three (minus His Royal Fuzzy Whiteness Wilson) mosied over them that hills to the beach.

This lazy day of wandering was exactly what we all needed, quiet time together and an escape from the awful heat and wildfire smoke filling the Willamette valley again today.

We hit Lincoln City, which was reliably packed, enjoyed a nice lunch at McMenamin’s, and found perfect high winds and few people (although still enough kids for Kade to play with) at Bob Straub State Park in Pacific City.

Tom had a blast flying his high tech kites in the wind, busting a steady 15-23mph, and being that special kind of puzzled only engineers get when he couldn’t figure out why I kept crashing the kite. (Hint: you work the kite lines the exact opposite way from reins, which I’ve spent the better part of my life learning and teaching!)

The large pack of kids digging energetically in the sand taught Kade how to find shrimp; we took turns burying each other in the sand; hit pause for a snuggle break to warm up my zero body fat kid; wrote a little of the stress into my journal; and relaxed, watching Kade play, Tom fly kites, on a beautiful sunny windy smoke free beach. I managed (barely) not to cry, out of gratefulness that we live where we can safely steal a day like this, peaceful and together and happy, far from the stresses and strains and sadness of the world for awhile.

Perish the thought

kiddosleep

Way too early this morning, my kiddo half woke me to crawl back into bed with me after a nightmare. Trouble with this is that’s my deep, REM sleep time, so today I’m sucking down coffee like there’s no tomorrow because I’ve been stuffing in as much overtime as I can. I eventually drifted into that state of “I know I’m dreaming but it feels so real this sucks” mode, & from my subconscious rose panic. I woke up to my car, my Emerald Queen just gone. Oh, not Tom’s little Scion, but my big green horse hauling badass? Gone, & found by the local cops stripped down for parts near a local park. Not a restful image, so thanks brain for that.

kidsleep

If this had actually happened to any other vehicle I’d owned, I’d pretty much shrug & move on, being not overly attached to any particular one. Also,, when I lived in the city close to work with a bike & solid public transport wouldn’t have affected us too badly. But now I live in car dependent suburbs 20 miles from work, which is perfectly doable…with a car.

But I panicked far beyond that to find the Queen not just gone but totaled, as the insurance would say, destroyed both in utility & as an idea.

queencampbeach

I’ve only had her a few months, but I’ve put on a couple thousand miles, obsessed about keeping her clean (a losing battle with a growing boy), hauled horses several times, filled her to the brim with friends, Ikea, & Costco, helped random strangers in the backwoods, sought & found numerous road trips, camping trips, & assorted other adventures, not to mention making it to work every day without a hitch.

More than any other vehicle, the Queen is freedom for me, freedom to commute comfortably, to seize the weekend & camp anywhere, to tow a horse to seek beautiful places to ride, to bring friends along for the haul.

queenhelp

This weekend I’ll vacuum & clean her out once again, get her a (shudderingly expensive) oil change, & load up to seek a quiet spot in the woods. This time we’ll be grinding low gears to climb Mt. Hood, travel the back way & gravel Forest Service roads to find a cool creek side campground. I won’t have a second of worry that everything will fit, that I’ll be stuck up there, or not be able to escape the hordes of mosquitos.

queensleep

The Queen & I thankfully have miles yet to go.

queencampview

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.

Time to enjoy

  
While I was standing at my desk this morning, back within the blue fabric walls of my home sweet cube, I was trying to decide what the best part of my weekend was, & mostly failing to choose between two awesome things. 

To describe it shortly isn’t easy for me but I can try: 

On Friday I lit out from work early, scooping up my child & hot footing it east wards again, like any good Portlander desperate for an uncomplicated dose of sun & clear skies. After a short stop at Fred Meyer’s to load up on s’more ingredients & an excellent burger at Big Jim’s in The Dalles, less than three hours later found us (read: Mom) setting up camp on the shores of the Deschutes River. The park there is a green, shady oasis in the scrub hills of the Eastern Columbia River Gorge, & it was perfect despite being packed to the gills.

I’d nabbed a primitive site farthest from the highway & only feet from the river, & Kade was off like a shot & barely seen until past dark, waving his light stick around & playing with all the other kids he could find. This left me to set up the air mattress in the back of the Queen & make a fire with the help of the friendly fishermen from Bend next door, as I’d neglected to find kindling. But I quickly had a roaring fire going to ward off the night’s chill, so I was able to settle down to the serious task of stuffing myself & my randomly appearing child with that gooey campfire staple, read a magazine & let every bit of stress leak out with the blood the few mosquitos managed to score. 
  
I kept adding logs & poking coals to keep the fire bright & toasty, glancing up every so often to assure myself that somewhere I still had a happy, safe, utterly free child, finding myself utterly unable to keep a stupid grin off my face. Even with all the stress of our lives & decisions to be made this year regarding relationships, money, jobs & housing (it’s never just one thing!) for this golden night full of fire & nature & wild child, it was all good. I can handle myself so much better with these regular doses of natured filled routine breaking. 

It only got better after we managed to drag ourselves out of the warm car & into rapidly warming daylight, cozying up to heaping bowls of oatmeal. Camp packed up quickly & we headed down the trail along the river, spying lizards, deer beds, & a hungry hawk swooping in for her morning fish. The views you have to see for yourself, & Kade commandeered the perfect lunch spot on a bluff above the river, the only man made thing in sight the railroad tracks on the other side. We devoured Goldfish & sandwiches while watching seagulls fight over a girl, only three miles from camp but just us beneath that huge blue sky, the likes of which you just can’t get in the forest. 

  
That was the start of the weekend. To finish it I headed north across the Columbia, alone as both boys were huddled in the dark at home with various ailments (Kade too much sun, Tom too many blooming trees). Courtesy of a new friend in the making, I was able to ride two amazing horses, & to break The Emerald Queen’s hauling cherry by hooking up a nice (tiny) two horse trailer & moseying our way over to Whipple Creek with a beautiful Palomino named Jake munching in the back. I managed to piss off countless drivers by maintaining at least 5mph under the speed limit the entire way, but I didn’t clip a single corner so it’s all good. 

  

The first part I was able to ride King, wherein we got lost & talked a teenager off the ledge of whatever cliff she stared down. He’s an angel of a big sorrel gelding, with a “let me eat the world” attitude & the best gaits west of the Mississippi. The trails at Whipple are perhaps Endurance-lite, but they are full of loops with good footing & if you go around & around enough you’ll make yourself dizzy & put a nice wet saddle blanket on your mount.

For the second half of the ride I (mostly gracefully) hopped on the other blondie, Flash, & we became reacquainted to the idea of transitions & doing whatever the silly human asks. It was fun (his slow trot is show level smooth & easy to ride), which was fortunate as I was squeezed into the teenager’s saddle, which felt like being shoved in a jousting saddle for the amount of movement I had (sorry Flash, you are a wonderful & patient golden boy!)

  
So today I’m that lovely kind of sore that reminds me how excellent it feels to move out beneath the sun with friends, put on some road music & let the Emerald Queen take us away for awhile. I got home Sunday night in time to kiss my sweetly sleeping child, hear Tom’s tale of dealing with kid squabbles, enjoy a blissful shower & drop like a stone into sleep!

 

Up and away!

Spring has arrived & with it my driving need to do all the things, every day, all at once.
The longer days also bring with the increased energy to get more done-not all the things, but more than Winter Jamé feels like bothering with.
Riding, hiking, DMV, house cleaning & writing all in the same weekend? Bring it on!

  
However, with springs comes blooming things, & the boyfriend is miserable outside the clean room he works in all day. Which is, really, everywhere for the next few months.

  
I’m also trying to get everything done because ride season has begun, & we set it off with a bang with what will probably be one of our longest road trips this summer. We headed off through the Gorge & up…& down, up, down, & finally up again, for six gorgeous, cloudless hours into Eastern Washington, just south of the Grand Coulee dam. 

  
Despite the fact-or perhaps because of the lack of trees pretty much everywhere but people’s yards, it was one of the most beautiful ride camps I’ve ever been to.  Maybe with the possible exception of Mt Adams, where we’ll be heading to on Memorial Day. As below, the view outside The Emerald Queen where I’d set up an air mattress that ended up being super warm & comfy for the kiddo & I, was breathtaking-yet also relaxing.

    
But the best thing about ride camp wasn’t the drive, the view, or even the food (although that was most excellent!)…it was friends. More specifically, friends I only ever see either on Facebook or at ride camp. Even though I totally am a camp hanger-on, seeing as I showed up with my gear, kid, & no horse, I was able to pitch right into helping without once feeling nosy or useless. 

  
In fact, my kid was far more useful than I was, keeping the teenagers from mischief, general giggly entertainment, & relating mixing electrolytes to chemistry. He’s multipurpose, this child is, & only once did he give me a heart clutching, oh please dear gods don’t kick him Belle! moment (she’s a good girl, she declined).

  
Kade’s other big benchmark this weekend was we drove for six hours both ways to get out there & back home, but thanks to Mommy throwing everything she had into making this a decent road trip-we made it fine. A year ago we couldn’t have gone on a six hour drive without another adult in the back to distract him. But between the iPad, endless snacks, legos & stickers books, ice cream from Dairy Queen, nap time & being able to control his own window, it went off without a hitch. We upgraded him to a belt positioning booster seat now that he’s big enough, & he loves it! He can reach everything, & it’s so much easier to get in & out of, including the fact he can buckle himself in & out!

 Five is shaping up to be a damn good year, & we’re going to make it to as many ride camps as my wiggle off early on Fridays schedule allows!

  

It’s always something

I wasn’t quite sure where to start this post, or more like journal entry, but stream of consciousness has usually been my go to, so here goes…
  

 
This week I turned 27, which compared to most of my coworkers leaves me the baby of the office. And yet I don’t feel like a kid, or even a young adult really. I don’t concert or bar hop or look for the perfect Instagram shoot; I drag my boyfriend through Ikea & worry about my kid’s insurance so he can be seen at the hospital I grew up at (last year it took four nurses to hold him down & draw blood for a lead screening, hopefully we can trim that down to one for his shots this year!)
   
More & more lately, with that teasing, bright south wind blowing & reaching corners of myself I’ve let lay in the winter dark, I’ve been considering my career. If you had cause to glance at my cubicle, you could surmise I’m here for the long haul, plants lovingly set up, a snazzy standing desk, pictures & cards & receipts from adventures outside these basic blue walls. I’ve been promoted & managed to find a bit of a niche here, trying to get myself comfortable with fully employer covered health insurance & utterly reliable hours. As much as anyone has these days, baring the normal life disrupters, I could stay fairly secure at this company for the 20+ years over half the company has been here for, inching my way up some ladder or other.
   
One of the issues that came up with the recent counseling with my parents (yeah, like just saying that out loud doesn’t totally bite ass) was that I don’t want to make the same choices my mother made. She turned away from horses & into corporate life for all her various reasons, spending her life within four walls & weekends hiking with her fluffy huskies. Such is where I’m at now, & the circumstances & choices that led me here, barring one or two, were pretty solid, & all based on getting myself to a place where I could support Kade without panicking about the rent money every month.

  
 
This weekend I’m heading to my first endurance ride in almost two years, & it’s fairly likely I won’t be riding at this point, seeing as how I haven’t been able to ride for months & I’m bringing the kid along to get out of the city for a while. I’ll be surrounded by one of my favorite groups of people, endurance riders (I will be bringing my helmet along, because it’s nearly impossible to go to a ride & not ride, even if it’s just a quick spin around camp, that’s how awesome these people are!) Most of these people (read: 99%) are a decade or more older than me, & made choices & decisions to fight & sweat for lives that allow them horses & three day weekends to come put miles under hooves in beautiful country.
 

  
So I look at my cubicle, commute filled, fighting to lose weight life & ponder how to get from point a to point b, considering such things as soccer camps, school schedules, always bills, & the ever so patient but far more concerned about security boyfriend. This also speaks to the balance between my wants-horses every day or at least a lot more often, not living in a cubicle, doing good work instead of just work; & the more practical needs, like a roof over our heads & not being driven crazy & snappy by stress.
I’ve toyed for several years with the thought of pursing a farrier business, but such requires me to live without or with a tiny income for years while I train, learn, & build a business, not something we’re set up for currently. A newer idea is vet tech, but I’d like to shadow or at least have coffee with one before making that kind of jump.
But for now its time to put these thoughts on hold again, to load up the Emerald Queen for her first road trip through the Gorge and up on the plateau! 

  

Get it out there

  
The world is bursting into crazy spring, cherry blossoms, tulips, rainbows as far as the eye can see. The south wind is blowing hard & of course I’m full tilt crazy. Each spring comes, & that exuberant south wind fairly shouts at me to set loose, make a change, hit the road. This year is no different; I’ve got a long road trip ahead this weekend, the plans & gear & to do list painstakingly obsessed over, the closets are looking a bit bare, & the patient boyfriend has persuaded me not to tear the apartment apart in my quest to make it different.

  
At the same time I’m a little more settled than usual, my job proceeding apace, Kade’s still in preschool though kindergarten looms at the end of the summer, I’m able to work with horses each week & soon, so soon I hope to add riding every week to the list. Included in all this is the writing group I’ve been able to wiggle my way into, & I love every moment of it.

  
The south wind pushed me to do something crazy last week-volunteer a sample of my last NaNo novel I’ve been working on for public consumption & critique. Gulp. Thanks buddy! So now I have to choose what is hopefully a somewhat coherent, sorta polished 10,000 word section of the story I’ve been penning since November…which no one else has read. Well, I’ve read aloud some of it to the five year old, but he thinks everything I do is awesome (unless it involves some form of the word “No.” Then he’s not so keen on it!)

  
Part of me is quietly freaking out over someone reading my writing-well, at least something I’ve put more effort into than, say, my woeful fourth attempt at blogging. The larger part is happily ticking away, mulling over which section to present & what kinds of critique to ask for. 

Between sharing my work, the world’s best (and most patient) boyfriend, my cutest blondie, a short work week and camping in the Horse Haven hills to look forward to, it’s a good time to turn 27 🙂