"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year of Achievement

This has been an interesting year. For every high there was an almost equal low. Some were real lows and some were potential lows that caused a lot of worry and stress before they vanished into nothingness. The potential lows all turned out to be temporary illusions that actually brought on some true highs or simply pointed at some possible issues that needed to be resolved before they turned into Real Issues.

I originally wasn't sure I was going to do a review at all, given the mental hole I was stuck in, and the fact that these things always seem to take me anywhere from one to two weeks to finish up. I'm actually really glad I did do this review after all because in getting it finished today, it helped me realize that while 2014 was a pretty stressful year, it was actually a really great year. In reviewing it, I've had to go back to the Year End Meme post and modify it multiple times as I reconsidered the answers to the questions!

Here we go:

We brought in 2014 with a great dressage ride. For the first time in the history of the blog, I wrote a post about specific goals for the year, which I will review later.  I also wrote one of my favorite posts of the year on Three Kings Day. We continued riding and working on the trails despite some of the coldest weather Lily or I had ever experienced and had tons of fun riding in the snow with Kathy and Queenie.

Charles and I went to the Maryland Horse World Expo with Kathy and Zoe for the first time ever and the post I wrote about it gave me 5 seconds of internet fame when it was featured on Julie Goodnight's Facebook page! At the end of the month, I introduced my Tales From the Trenches series on veterinary ER stories.

We had TONS of snow in Maryland throughout the month, a highly unusual amount for this area.

We continued doing most of our riding on the trails, Lily falling more and more in love with this new job and me falling more and more in love with the horse that was flourishing before me. I gushed about it here. I tried jump-starting the commissioned artwork side job but it continues to be a struggle. I finally started my website. I gave the Blogosphere a sampler of my drawings in this post.

Portrait of Kenai, done by moi
I sent some of Lily's mane and tail hair out to Texas A&M's Animal Genetics Lab to find out once and for all exactly what breed she is. Two reasons for this: I wanted to find out the age-old question of whether she had any Andalusian blood at all, and also since we were training for endurance I wanted to find out if she has any Arab in her given how she looks when she does stuff like this:

The results? She is mostly, if not all, Thoroughbred.

However, the biggest highlight of this month was getting to meet and ride with Gail from the blog The Journey to 100 Miles at the Manassas Battlefield! Gail is as engaging and knowledgeable in person as she is on her blog and it was wonderful to be able to not only meet her and the awesome Nimo, but to get to ride with another person who was at a very similar point in her endurance training journey. We had SO much fun! Lily, the mare who used to previously refuse to cross even the tiniest creeks, proved how far she had come when she plunged into the chest-high waters of the Bull Run River without even batting an eyelash.

We are hoping to repeat another ride together this winter. I hope to be able to trail ride again within the upcoming weeks.

This month was epic. We started out with a 20-mile trial ride to really test Lily's fitness and my tack + hoof boots. It had been recommended that I test Lily over an LD-length distance a month before the actual endurance ride we were planning on attending, in this case No Frills. (You don't really want to ride your horse over that kind of distance too close to your ride, as it could predispose it to injury or poor recoveries. Though some people with seasoned horses will do 2-day endurance rides or will compete over consecutive weekends with specific conditioning goals in mind.) Charles stopped by so we could even do a fake trot-out and vet check, and Lily got to eat during a "hold".

Heading out for our "second loop" after the "vet check."
She handled all of it like she'd been doing it forever. In fact, she did so well and we both felt so good afterwards that I started considering aiming for a 50 mile ride instead of a 30-mile LD.

A big highlight of the year was the AERC Convention in Atlanta, GA: Liz and I did the road trip down South to learn as much as we could about the endurance sport and take a break from the bitter cold while we were at it.

Karen had said she really wished she could be there. So we made it happen.
She went shopping with us at the AERC used tack sale.
And enjoyed coffee (and margaritas!) with us.
One of the many awesome things of this weekend was sending her these pics either via FB or text!
We had SUCH a wonderful time. And we also got to meet some of my favorite bloggers: Mel, Ashley and Caitlin.

Endurance blogger meet-up!
At the end of the month, Liz came to visit for a long weekend and brought Mike, Kenai and Q! The highlight of the visit was driving to Wye Island on the Chesapeake with Kathy, Doug, Mike, Charles and Kenai so that we could ride on the beach!

From left to right: Lily and me, Liz and Q, and Kathy and Queenie.

Cantering on the beach was a lifelong dream of mine that finally came true that day.

But I think I loved the fourth and last day of the visit even more so than the beach ride: Liz and I went for a long, fast ride (13 miles in 1:44) around the perimeters of the soybean fields and had an absolute BLAST.

Drawing because no photos
Shortly after Liz's visit, new round bales were delivered to the farm. They were not the same quality as the previous bales that the horses had been eating all winter and Lily refused to touch these. She stopped eating the hay and also her grain, and I wasn't told about it until a week after the fact. By then she had turned into an ulcery mess requiring treatment with GastroGard. She dropped a ton of weight in a very short period of time.

This was supposed to be the month where Lily and I went on our first endurance ride. We went on our first TROT ride at the beginning of the month, where I was able to really test Lily in a group ride setting at w/t/c.

She was a rock star. I sent the entry deposit for the 50 mile ride at No Frills and not a week later after 72 hours straight of rain followed by a hard freeze, I found Lily dead lame on all 4 legs, worse in the front than the back. I feared it was laminitis from the early spring grass that was cropping up in the fields. My vet thought severe sole bruising from the combination of prolonged wetness + poor field management (mud everywhere; nowhere for the horses to dry their feet) softening Lily's soles and then becoming bruised when everything froze hard and fast overnight.

Mud even in the run-in
Treatment for both was the same: Magic Cushion + hoof boots to protect and harden her feet and, thanks to the BO, access to the farm's dry lot to get her away from the mud. It also got her away from the grass. I fed her soaked hay, Safe Starch forage, and Triple Crown Lite just in case.

Lily in the dry lot. I was lucky to be boarding at one of the few barns in the area with a dry lot. Many thanks to BO for allowing us to use it and coordinate the turnout of other horses so Lily could be out there most of the time.
Within 2 weeks she was completely sound. We missed the endurance ride but I didn't care at this point: I was worried about how a metabolic issue might affect Lily's future management. She was tested for insulin resistance and came back negative, confirming my vet's suspicions: the lameness was from sole bruising caused by the mud + freeze combo, not laminitis from a metabolic event. Lily was slowly re-introduced to pasture and her regular grain uneventfully.

Around this time I was asked to work with Gracie to exercise her. I didn't mention it on the blog, but it was a welcome distraction. Shortly afterwards, I was informed by Gracie's owner that she was for sale and we worked out a deal. My last post of the month was telling you guys that we had bought her. :)

She was exactly what I'd been looking for in a second horse:
gaited, green, alpha, confident, loves the trails, can be ridden alone, spirited, an easy keeper, loves people.
She is 100% exactly what I wanted.

This was the Month of Trail Riding. I started riding Lily again and before long we were back to our previous 20-30 mile weekly average. Gracie did what every horse I've ever bought/adopted has done within a week of signing the paperwork: she damaged herself enough to require a veterinary visit. In this case, she gave herself a big cut on her left hind leg that became infected despite prompt cold hosing, washing with Betadine scrub, and Corona ointment to protect the cut. She had to go on oral antibiotics. I wrote about all of this here.

Lily and Gracie
They used to not "talk" to one another right up until the moment I signed the bill of sale, despite having been in the mare field together for over  6 months. That same day, they started to become friends. It was weird: like they knew.
I started taking Gracie for longer walk-only trail rides with Kathy and Queenie. I was impressed with her confidence leading on new trails given how green she was. We went on our first solo ride and Gracie was actually better than with company, a trend that has continued though I haven't had a chance to practice with her again in a long time.

In fact, I felt so good about the mare that Charles started riding her a lot sooner than I had originally planned: he kept asking me every day he was off when would he be able to ride her. <3 I took him on a tour of the park across the street.

I worked on Gracie's trailering issues thanks to Zoe letting us borrow her trailer.

Kathy and I took Queenie and Gracie to the Ag Park for Gracie's first off-property trail ride and we had a ton of fun.

Gracie rocked her first trail obstacles like bridges and creek crossings
Lily continued to really flourish on the trail as her confidence grew by leaps and bounds and she really started to enjoy her new job unlike anything we'd ever tried before. Around this time, our access to the back woods, which provided some 3 miles of trails on private land, was closed off because of one of the land owners getting a dog and not wanting to fence in their yard. This also cut off access to Redneck Park from the barn, so our trail riding options from the farm were drastically reduced to just the park across the street and the 1-mile bridle path.

Charles and I continued enjoying riding together and Charles proved to be a natural on the gaited beast. I took Gracie for the year's second TROT ride and she did really well riding w/t/c with a group of unknown horses.

Kathy and I went on another off-property trail ride, this time to Little Bennett Park. It was quite the adventure just getting there...we still laugh about Kathy crossing a river with the truck and trailer!  (As in through the water...) Gracie was a little leery of the bridges but she again did well leading on this outing.

The Little Bennett trails are still some of my favorites. Beautiful park.
Nick the ride vet and his wife Carol, who is also a small animal vet tech, moved to the barn and this opened up a whole new realm of riding opportunities. Carol was conditioning their mare Katie for drag riding at the Old Dominion endurance ride, for which I was conditioning Lily to compete at. In May we went on our first trail ride together to Annapolis Rock. It was also quite the adventure: Carol proved to have a knack for keeping an eye on lost boots, we rescued one of Lily's Vipers before it sank into a bog, and got lost on the trail but Lily found the way back to the trailer without missing a beat.

I was still struggling to get weight back on her. She was back on pasture by this point and she was being fed 3 lbs of Triple Crown Senior twice a day plus an alfalfa lunch AND a beet pulp mash before and after each ride.
I gave Charles his first informal riding lesson while doing hill sets with the girls and he was successfully able to get Gracie to gait more consistently after this.

This was a HUGE month. Up until now, I'd been riding Lily a lot in my Wintec dressage: I'd been hoping to do the OD 50 in this saddle because it is much lighter in weight than the Alta. Also, since I only had 2 saddles and the Alta also fits Gracie, whenever I rode with Charles I was forced to ride in the Wintec anyway. At the beginning of June, we had the opportunity to trailer to the Ag Park with Carol and Katie. Charles came along and we brought both Lily and Gracie. This would be Lily's fastest long ride to date and Gracie's first ride over 10 miles in length. We rode over some of the first MD trails Lily encountered when we first moved here from FL, along with the same obstacles that she used to be terrified of. She ROCKED IT. All of us had so much fun.

Carol on Katie and Charles on Gracie cooling off in one of the streams.
It was also an opportunity for me to truly put the Wintec to the test AND to see how Lily handled the combination of heat and humidity over a longer distance. We completed 14 miles in 2:15. Conclusion about Lily's performance? Success. Conclusion about the Wintec for longer distances? Fail. The review is written here.

Lily had 2 weeks off after this trail ride in preparation for her first endurance ride, which would be the Old Dominion. The Old Dominion is notorious for being very hot and humid, though June weather in the DC/MD/VA area can be hit-or-miss. I sent the deposit for the 50 with the plan of switching to the shorter LD if the weather promised to be particularly muggy. Lily was not ridden; we just did some active rest on the longe while I stuffed her with food. The last week before the endurance ride I was allowed to put her back in the dry lot to keep her as safe as possible from possible herd drama (3 new horses had just been added to the mare field) and also to allow her to be fed free choice hay + beet pulp lunches. She had put on a ton of muscle during this month but I still wanted her to have some fat reserves going into this ride. I did not succeed with the fat gain, but she still looked like a super-fit machine:

One of my bucket list items since moving to the MD area was to ride part of the C&O Canal trail on horseback. I got my wish when Carol was game to go. Since Lily was on her break, I took Gracie along and she was stellar for this adventure. Carol and I completed 16 miles in 3 hours.

Carol on Katie leading the way.
Totally thrilled with her! She was a trooper on this 100% completely unfamiliar trail. She stayed on the towpath and didn't care about bikes whizzing up her butt or past her; didn't care about little kids and joggers; didn't care about the sounds of the rapids; didn't mind leading or following...she was just awesome.
On June 14, Lily and I rode the 50 mile Old Dominion ride when the weekend promised to be both cooler than usual (in the 70's) and less humid than usual. We didn't just get our feet wet in the sport. We took the full-on plunge.

Walking back to our campsite after the initial vet check.
The Old Dominion is the most difficult ride of the East Coast and the second-hardest of the country after Tevis. Was it incredibly stupid to try this as a first ride? Yes. Was it a miracle that we completed? Yes. I knew it was a tough ride, but not being able to find photos of the trail online, I had no idea exactly how hard it was until we were scrambling up the mountain on the second loop's 5-mile straight shot of a climb. That's when I started beating myself up over ever having thought this endeavor was a good idea.

The Old Dominion 50's second loop, showing the rocks and the verticality of the trail in this section. A photo for the internet to have. 
The details of our ride prep and the arrival at the OD ride camp are here. The story of the first and second loop are here. Lily arrived at the vet check after the second loop's hard waterless climb so dehydrated that she had developed a grade III heart murmur. She recovered beautifully though. I seriously considered pulling as I was worried about her and I was mentally DONE after that hard climb. But I was told that the third loop was much easier and it should not be a problem. It ended up being a problem because there still wasn't enough water and there was not a lot of shade for the first half of the loop during the hottest part of the day. Liz and Q, our companions for this entire ride, did a fantastic job of pulling us along. We never would have made it through the ride, but especially that loop, without them.

Liz and Q pulling us along
We were almost pulled at the third vet check due to a high CRI, but since there were only 6 more miles to go until we finished, we were allowed to continue. Lily and I crossed the finish line dead last one minute before the official end time of the 50. And you know what? I was that person that cantered her horse for 20 strides on the way to the finish line, despite our issues at the vet checks. You know why? Because we had struggled that entire damn ride. Because after ALL of that, I didn't want that damn trail to defeat us. Because we could see the finish line right there and we knew exactly how many minutes we had left to cross it. Because we had a 30 minute hold before the vet check, Lily had walked tons on the last 6 mile loop and had eaten and drunk plenty of water, had recovered beautifully in the afternoon's cooler weather to the point where I had to hold her back from cantering several times, and I knew she would be able to pulse down and recover by the end. I just knew. To tell you the truth, if we had been overtime after that heinous trail, I never would have competed in the sport again. I would have simply accepted that this sport was just not for us and moved on into something else.

We ultimately did complete and won the Turtle Award for being the very last ones to complete. For the Old Dominion 50. The toughest endurance ride of the East Coast. My admiration and love for my $1 Thoroughbred mare with the wonky conformation knew no bounds. She has a grit and heart unlike anything I'd ever experienced before in a horse of my own.

 This horse can do anything. 

Lily at the end of the OD.
Photo by Dom
The biggest highlights of this ride, other than actually completing, were having Charles there (him and Liz's Mike did a fabulous job crewing for us), getting to ride the whole thing with Liz and also finally getting to meet Dom and her Mike!

From left to right: Dom's Mike, Dom, Liz, Liz's Mike, Charles and myself.
The Endurance Trifecta was born.
We had a lot of fun hanging out the night after the ride, delirious in our exhaustion. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and I was still completely elated that not only had we finished the whole thing, we had completed. We had completed 50 miles, my horse and I.

Despite the difficulties during the ride itself, Lily ate and drank and ate and drank and ate and drank from the second we put her in the corral with Q after the vet check, to the next morning when I loaded her up in Nick and Carol's trailer to return home. She ate everything I put in front of her: hay, alfalfa, grass, her extra-soupy beet pulp + Triple Crown Senior mashes. I had brought a week's worth of beet pulp and TC Senior. She ate ALL of it over the course of 3 days.

The morning after the ride. Eating.
I would try to educate myself more on electrolyting after this ride, but one of the biggest problems I would discover much later is that most of the information widely available out there is written by people on the MUCH drier West Coast. Humidity is a BIG game changer when it comes to electrolyting: while on the West Coast you'll see metabolic pulls for over-electrolyting and dehydration, on the East Coast you'll get metabolic pulls for under-electrolyting and dehydration.

Lily had a 2-week vacation after the OD, during which I stuffed her with hay and beet pulp mashes. Shortly after that I decided to finally start bumping up her grain ration since 24/7 pasture access was not doing the trick. I chose to finally start feeding her like a TB and over the course of those 2 weeks doubled her grain ration from 6 lbs a day split into 2 meals to 12 lbs a day split into 2 meals. I was finally happy with her weight. Yeah yeah yeah: horses and excessive grain yadda yadda. For the past 6 months she has been on this ration and there have been no issues with hyperactivity, ulcery episodes, etc. She is still on 24/7 pasture, but she needed the extra calories from the grain. She still gets Triple Crown Senior, which is 10% fat and beet pulp based. (I want to note that if she had been on stall board, the strategy would have been different: less grain and free choice hay while in the stall. This mare gets fed very differently when she is confined vs outside all the time.)

Not skinny
I swear Gracie got jealous of the attention Lily was getting and went and sliced her right knee open. It was healing well when we left for the OD but upon our return it had swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. I ended up calling the vet out so it could be flushed out: the wound had abscessed. Gracie was started on SMZ and with movement and bute was soon back to normal.

We finished June with a trip to visit Liz in WV while Lily was on vacation and as usual had a wonderful time in her hometown of Elkins. Elkins never ceases to feel like home away from home for us, as I talked about here. Liz had a barn beach party on our first day at her house.

The second day we went on a long trail ride. Charles rode the BO's TWH Little Bit, Liz was on Q, and I had my first long ride on Griffin. Griffin was absolutely spectacular on trail, and I still think he is one of the best behaved and most well-rounded 4-year-old I've ever ridden.

From left to right: Little Bit, Griffin and Q
Afterwards Liz took us to the spectacular and magical Dolly Sods, which I would love to ride on horseback one day.

On our last day, Mike and Liz took us whitewater rafting and much fun was had by all.

I started taking Lily out for easy rides in July. I went on a longer trail ride with Charles to show him Redneck Park now that an alternate route had been made available for our farm's boarders. Lily and I almost fell into a sinkhole, resulting in Lily spinning around in fear and me coming off. For the first time ever, she stayed by me when I came off. This experience caused Lily to be upset about any irregularities in the ground for a long time, and to also be extra-extra careful about me losing my balance while on her. She was as upset about me coming off as she was about the hole itself, a first. I had never experienced this part of her personality in relation to myself. I knew that she is a worrier like me, but I had never seen her worry about me or feel responsible about me. It endeared me to her even more.

One of the first off-property expeditions with her after the OD was a trip to the C&O Canal with Kathy, which was not a very relaxing experience, though we still managed to have fun. Lily was more nervous than I had seen her in a long time but she did a fantastic job of containing herself and actually became quite goofy in her way of expressing her insecurities when I was able to keep my cool and reassure her over and over. We ended the ride on a good note and it became another bonding experience for us:

Charles had another more formal lesson on Gracie, where I showed him all of the fancy buttons I'd been installing in the mare. He had a lot of fun learning and couldn't wait to try all of this out, but on our next ride together while cantering on trail, Gracie took a bend around a tree a little too close. Charles didn't correct her in time and ended up with some major knee trauma that required a hospital visit and 3 weeks off from work due to his inability to walk from the severity of the injury.

His knee the day of the accident. It would become 3 times larger than that over the next few days.
I think July was kind of the start of the downward spiral of the year for me. I was worried about Charles and felt horribly guilty about the incident. I did not share the way I felt with the world because it would just reinforce the guilt. The accident happened at the beginning of the month and I wasn't able to write about it until the end of the month when Charles was finally starting to be more mobile.

Our finances took a hit with Charles having to be off of work: he was able to use paid time off for the entire 3 weeks off, but his base pay (which is what you are paid when taking time off as a nurse) is significantly less than what he actually makes working (he gets night shift and weekend differentials). For a while there we both thought he would never fully recover. This cast a shadow over the next few months. He wouldn't be able to walk normally again until the end of September.

I continued working with both horses. I was initially entertaining the idea of taking them both to Fort Valley and doing the LD on Gracie and the 50 on Lily on separate days, and that's what I was conditioning Gracie for: I was putting in 10-mile rides on both mares. Lily went on a regime of hillwork, speedwork, dressage work with lots of transitions and long fast distance in a supreme effort to prepare her for the Fort Valley ride better than I had for the Old Dominion.

Our trust in one another grew.

The last weekend of the month, Charles and I went to WV again to meet up with Liz and Dom for the Ride Between the Rivers endurance ride. I would be riding Griffin in the LD for his endurance debut. Dom would be riding Dr. Bob's horse Magic in the LD, Liz's Mike would ride Q in his first 50, and Liz would ride a friend's Arab in the 50 as well.

It was a great Endurance Trifecta reunion. One of my favorite parts of the entire weekend was getting to ride the first loop with Dom.

Dom and I heading out. Photo by Mike Turner.
Despite riding at an easy 5 mph average, Griffin took significantly longer to recover and Dom, who was riding another person's horse that could have easily Top 10'd, did the right thing by choosing to continue. I figured we would catch up to her on the trail NBD. Griffin however reminded us that he is still a baby by having an epic mental meltdown on trail where he put both himself and me in danger. After several attempts at forward with no progress and not wanting to have to race against the clock like I had with Liz at the OD just to complete, I chose to turn around to head back to camp where we RO'd.  Despite walking the 2 miles home on a loose rein, Griffin was still so upset that he had a high CRI at the vet check, making me feel even better about choosing to pull vs continue trying to push him.

As it would turn out, Liz would end up with a RO too: the horse she was riding developed a cramp during the hold and it was decided between her and the horse's owner that it would be best to just pull. His owner wanted him sound for the 100 he would be attempting next.

Liz and I got to hang out in camp together with Charles and Dom's Mike, and cheered for Dom and Liz's Mike when they returned victorious from their rides.

Liz's Mike cantering up to the finish line on Q.
Dom tells an excited Magic Man at the end of the ride that he needs to calm down. He LOVES attention and his pulse had gone up when 4 of us started sponging him down at once!
Afterwards the 6 of us took a plunge in the icy cold waters of the river behind ridecamp before some summer storms rolled in for the night, stayed up late talking and laughing, dry under the pop-up tent. We woke up next morning to break camp and head for Bob Evans for breakfast before heading back to our respective states.

Dom's famous Chocolate Milk Face. The best! <3

It was the perfect ending to the month!

This month started out with more trail rides. Kathy and I took Gracie and Queenie to Annapolis Rock and again Gracie did fabulously on these completely new-to-her trails.

I continued conditioning both horses using a combination of the fields at the barn and the barn across the street.

We bring Zombie home and I tell you guys his story.

At the end of the month, Liz came to visit. She came with only Kenai this time. It poured the first day, so we stayed at the apartment fixing my Vipers while sporting our future competition tights.

And then Liz wore hers at Fort Valley and I didn't because, while I remembered I needed to bring them, I forgot to actually put them in my bag! GRRRRRR...And they are so perfect. Note the tiger print details.  Because Tiger Lily. :) They were a gift from Liz.
And Zombie tried to help...do you see him? Note also that Kenai is right there. Of the three cats, he's the only one that is not afraid of dogs.
"You. Play with me."
Yup, completely fearless.
That afternoon when the rain stopped for a couple of hours, Liz and I went to the barn where I hopped on a Gracie that had not been ridden in a few days to try to show Liz all of her buttons. Gracie was a fire-breathing dragon and it was nearly impossible to show Liz all of her different gaits and how to get them because the mareface just wanted to canter and/or pace as fast as possible. Liz mounted up to get a feel for her and was surprised at how uncomfortable the pace can be. I explained that that is why we try to get them to rack instead. I figured she'd get to experience Gracie's better gaits on our planned long ride the next day.

The weather gods favored us and we had a muggy but sunny day for our ride. I had been wanting to do an 18 mile ride before Fort Valley in October to put both mares to the test, but Charles was still out of commission.  Having Liz ride the distance with me meant that I didn't have to put that whopping distance on both mares myself. I had not been thrilled with Gracie's performance on hills: despite all of the conditioning work I'd been putting on her, she would tire out on hills pretty quickly. I wanted to see what Liz thought.

We rode around the park about 3 times to complete the distance. I kept forgetting the connections from one trail to another and we ended up crossing through the forest 4 times as I tried to get on a specific loop. We trotted and cantered and let the mares walk when Gracie needed a break. Lily was a rock star as always. Liz confirmed that Gracie was not ready for a mountainous LD, which would remove the pressure of simultaneously preparing both mares for Fort Valley.

We took the mares through the river so they could cool off.

Proof that Liz rode Gracie
And had a ball racing around the meadow trail. Liz figured out how to get Gracie to do her rack and coasted along with a big grin on her face. We ended up cutting the final loop short when Lily pulled up lame on one of her front legs after a hill sprint. She had stepped on a thick branch and it had snapped under her hoof; I figured she had poked her foot in the process but was worried about it being something more serious. She was 100% sound again after a short walk, but we simply walked home after that. It was hot and we were tired. We ended up doing somewhere around 17 miles.

The mares got hosed off and put back out in their field. Liz was craving bubble tea and googled a place in downtown Rockville. We stopped by Southern States first, and then went to Ten Ren Tea. I had never tried bubble tea before. Liz advised to get it with extra boba. It was amazing.

Charles was working that evening so we settled in for an all-girls' night, something which I hadn't done in...decades, I think. I made tostones, Liz got chips and queso, and we sat down to watch Pineapple Express and The Lone Ranger.

Tostones, Flying Dog, and a movie. :)
We went to bed early as Liz had to return to West Virginia in the morning and I had to go to work in the afternoon.

Liz returned home to discover that Q's scratches had literally exploded while she was visiting us. I felt awful about it and she panicked about the scratches being something more. And that is why neither one of us wrote about this visit. I do hope one day Liz writes about what she thought of Gracie. She's the only person other than Charles and I that rode her this year.

September started with a visit from the in-laws where we took them exploring. We had a blast showing them around Frederick and we also bought The Beast.

Downtown Frederick
The Beast!
It ultimately was not a fun month: there were some changes happening at work where I thought I'd have to resign and Astarte lost her voice. (All things I didn't blog about.)

Astarte and her love of Chipotle carnitas
I brought Astarte in to work to be checked out, as it is not normal for cats to lose their voice. They don't get laryngitis like people do. My vet of choice for her, our double-boarded internist and criticalist, was able to do a quick oral exam and see that the back of her throat was ulcerated. She wanted to heavily sedate Astarte for a full oral exam by our throat specialist but I got a really, really bad feeling about that. I expressed my concerns and when my vet ausculted her chest, she heard the grade I/VI murmur that turns into a gallop rhythm when Astarte is upset. She agreed that sedating wasn't a good idea. Astarte had an echocardiogram last year and her heart was fine; this year with all of the horse-related expenses I just couldn't swing it again, especially for just the sake of sedating her for a more thorough oral exam. It wasn't like I was going to do chemotherapy if we confirmed it was cancer: cats don't do well on chemo in general, and it doesn't buy that much time when they do (maybe a few months. And chemo, even with my work discount, is expensive). I ultimately chose to wait and see what happened, though we did take chest radiographs and sent out a senior wellness panel. Everything came back normal.

Astarte's tumor-free chest and throat
As it turned out, Astarte surprised all of us with the return of her voice 2 days later.

Kathy and I took Queenie and Lily up to Catoctin Mountain for 8 miles of climbing. Kathy had been considering taking Queenie to drag ride at Fort Valley, but this ride ultimately made her decide not to: Queenie was not as fit as she had been earlier in the year and she had a hard time with the climbs and the rocks.

Gracie fell while I was riding her in one of the fields and thankfully we were both okay, but it's never normal for a horse to fall like that without trying to catch itself. So the vet got called out and Gracie was evaluated. We discovered her high ringbone.

Ringbone pastern on the right
It is very mild, so we started her on Previcox and a liquid joint supplement with HA. She is sound with consistent work and the turnout situation that she currently has.

Kathy bought her farm but I hadn't told you guys about it yet. In this post I trialed the Wintec again, but with a full sheepskin cover which made it a shoo-in to be used for Fort Valley, and had some epic and very frustrating boot issues.

On this same ride, Lily and I stopped by Kathy's to help get the stalls cleaned out and the barn set up, and so Lily was the first of the four horses to be turned out in Kathy's fields.

We were having a really bad run of euthanasias at work this summer. Multiple euthanasias on every single shift I worked. I started writing a post about the subject several times but always gave up because by the time I got home, I didn't want to think about all of those animals we couldn't save. The post kind of wrote itself at the end of the month, and I consider it one of the best things I've ever written, even if it's heartbreaking to read.

One of the many patients that died this year, and the only real patient photo I've ever included in the Tales From the Trenches series. This was the young cat I mentioned in the post.
I felt like I had exposed my soul and when I hit "Publish" had been afraid of criticism for writing about what ultimately is a sensitive subject. I was so moved by the response the post received that I had a hard time expressing in words how I felt afterwards. Thank you everyone for the enormous outpouring of love, sympathy and compassion, and for sharing your own stories.

Around this time, I had realized that what I originally thought was burnout was instead a classic example of compassion fatigue escalating its way to downright depression, a common problem in both the veterinary and medical fields. You can read about that here. The changes I'd been fearing at work actually ended up working to my advantage: we were backed off from four 10-hour shifts a week to three 12-hour shifts a week. Having that extra day off and having the mixed schedule (Tuesdays 6 am - 6 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm - 2am) was a HUGE help. Between that and just writing the euthanasia post, I able to let go of the death aspect part of the job start enjoying work again.

We started October at Kathy's new place: Copper Penny Farm, named in Queenie's honor. She is Kathy's copper penny.

Some of Kathy's fields
Gracie was doing fabulously with the increased movement that was a result of the turnout setup at the new barn + all of the modifications to her diet and exercise regime. I told you guys about it here. Charles finally was able to ride again. He got back on Gracie and it was like he had never missed a day. He later confessed that he had been very nervous about riding again, but the whole knee incident taught him that he couldn't be timid with his commands from the saddle.

With Charles's getting back on Gracie, I toyed with the idea that Karen and Liz mentioned in my Christmas Magic post: I have always been aware that Gracie really needs her person, and over the summer she had enjoyed the very consistent work schedule that I had for her: 4 days a week of work like clockwork, with Lily getting 3 days a week (she holds her fitness incredibly well.) She thrived on it and looked forward to hanging out with me and to our rides, especially rides on the trail.  Other than the knee incident she had been wonderful with Charles but I could tell that she was happier with me on board. When I decided I wasn't going to take Gracie to Fort Valley after all, I backed off her work schedule significantly: I was riding her 2 to 3 times a week instead of 4 (the weeks I rode her 2 days, Charles rode her the third day), and I found myself dealing with a sometimes hyped-up and pretty unpredictable horse. Not in a bad way, just in the sense that I never knew what horse I was going to have until I was already on her: on some days I'd have the mature sensible creature I'd gotten to know over the summer and on others I'd have the green baby that she showed me initially, with the green baby showing up more and more often for me as time went on. Gracie missed a full 2 weeks of under-saddle work around the time of the move to Kathy's. I knew once I got on again, I'd be dealing with Green Horse Gracie. So I kind of kept my rides on her to a minimum throughout this month and just had Charles ride her for the most part, especially as we got closer to Fort Valley, figuring that maybe if we just assigned her her own person (Charles) she'd be fine...but it would turn out that consistency is more important, at least at this time in her training.

Fall started to show her colors and Lily and I continued having great rides.

We stayed at Kathy's for a weekend to farm sit while her and Zoe were out of town for a wedding. Charles and I rode, and I got to see our horses from the house windows.

Kathy and I went for a night ride one evening, which we have not been able to repeat. I chose Gracie for that occasion and other than being a spazz when I first got on her, she handled it like no big deal.

Charles and I went for more rides in the park and he got to experience fall colors on the trails for the first time ever.

I was working on tapering Lily before Fort Valley at the end of the month. We basically did short arena rides and hill sets in the park. Between her blanket clip and the cooling weather, Lily was handling this exercise effortlessly.

I had a really bad ride on Gracie that I never wrote about, where she had a FIT about returning home at a canter: when I told her NO, she proceeded to have a spinning, whirling, half-rearing tantrum that lasted a good 20 minutes and involved some near-misses where we almost hit trees or fell off of the trail. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been that angry at a horse, and being angry is what kept me from being terrified. I finally got her under control and made her back up half way home and piaffe the rest of the way. Once back in the back field, she got worked hard for half an hour to reinforce the idea that coming home does NOT equal immediate rest. That was my worst ride on her that month.

My best ride on her was the one in Kathy's front field.

And then, before I knew it it was time for Fort Valley, the ride that I had basically been preparing for since the Old Dominion. I shared Lily's prep with you guys here. With the last preparations for the ride, I was tired. I was kind of burned out on all of the riding I'd been doing from June through October, especially with two horses that I'd mainly been riding myself. I'd never thought possible that I could get burned out on riding but there it was. I'd been crazy superstitious going into the OD but I was much more relaxed about Fort Valley. We had 48 hours of rain before the day we were trailering down to Virginia, and Kathy was awesome: she let Lily spend both nights in Queenie's stall so her feet would stay dry (I had been nervous about any hoof issues like what had kept us from No Frills.) Kathy let us borrow her trailer for this adventure and Lily self-loaded for the trip down. This was the first time in a long time that Lily was travelling by herself in the trailer, but she did just fine.

One thing I'd been concerned about going into this was Lily's herd-boundness. She'd become pretty attached to Gracie after the move to Kathy's, which she typically does after a barn move: she'll become very attached to x horse for a while. However, unlike in the past, her work ethic had continued to be excellent despite this, but I was nervous about issues with this at Fort Valley especially since we'd had pulsing down issues at the OD whenever Q was out of sight at the vet checks. I didn't share it with anyone, but I was kind of in a negative mental place going into Fort Valley and I had fallen into old thought patterns in regards to Lily: I had complete and undoubting faith that my mare could complete; I was just afraid that she'd do something that would get me off and prevent that from happening.

As it would turn out, Lily did have something of a fit when I got on for our pre-race ride with Liz: she started backing up crazily and almost backed into one of our neighbors' electric corrals. I was very shaken up by this but got Lily under control without too big of an issue. I'm pretty sure this was because I'd swapped out the chin strap from her halter bridle and it was smaller than the previous one, making the entire bridle sit differently on her face. After I fixed it, she was fine.

Liz and I had a great time trotting and cantering 3 miles of what would be the ride's last loop the next day. It was a beautiful, cool fall afternoon.

The next day, Lily would prove that she is an endurance horse. She led our team of two riders and two horses for most of the entire 50 miles, most of the time with no horses in front of us. For those of you not familiar with the sport, this is not an easy mental feat for most horses, even on much shorter rides, and even experienced endurance horses will need a break from leading. Apparently not Lily. She walked, trotted and cantered at will, drinking and eating at every opportunity. Her ears were always pricked throughout the ride.

The best endurance partner. I'm so sad we won't get to compete together again next year.
The last loop of the Fort Valley ride was glorious. Something about cantering around hay fields surrounded by fall colors, with the light of the setting sun turning the world to gold accentuated by blue shadows, accompanied by your best friend on her horse as we both laughed into the wind.

It will stay with me for a long time.

The one thing I'd been somewhat concerned about was that Lily was a little lackadaisical about her mashes at the holds. However, she'd been drinking on trail and she attacked her hay at the holds. She peed in front of me at both holds and both times it was yellow. We were turtling at a 6 mph average. Some of her hydration parameters were getting B scores at the checks throughout the day but they weren't worsening. Her CRIs were fine. The vets were never concerned about her being dehydrated and so there was no real warning when, at the end of the ride, Lily crashed and burned.

She just wasn't recovering. She didn't want to really eat or drink so there was no way to make her better. The vets gave her oral potassium chloride and she got well enough to complete, which at that point I didn't give a hoot about: I was too worried about my horse and so confused that this was happening. I couldn't stop thinking, "But she was doing so well! How can she be this bad now when she was doing so well?! We did everything right!" I asked to have her seen two hours later and the vets said of course. Once back at our campsite, Lily still refused her mash and I had a hard time leaving her to go to awards and dinner. I felt sick to my stomach from worry and barely ate. One of the vets found me at the dinner and we went back to the campsite to look at Lily. She was worse. I was given the option of waiting and seeing if she got better, or just placing an IV catheter and bolusing fluids. I chose the fluids.

Throughout all of this, I tried really hard to not fall into the mental pit of guilt. The one where you are convinced that your horse's downfall is all your fault. The one where you're sure there must have been something you missed throughout the day that if you'd only noticed, it would have kept this from happening. That would have kept my horse from becoming so dehydrated that she required IV fluids because she couldn't replenish her fluids herself. I had done everything right, I had prepared her well without over-conditioning, I had tweaked her nutrition to maintain weight and muscle while maximizing her stamina. I had given her all the preparation she would need to excel.

I made it through the night, the next day, and the writing of the Fort Valley posts. I fixated on electrolytes, thinking that that must be it, that is where I failed Lily: I had not given her the right electrolytes. I wrote vets and tried finding the information I needed online. I never did hear back from the vet at the ride who had offered to e-mail me his electrolyte study and guidelines, and I decided to not harass him about it. I found other papers written by him but not what had been offered. If I ever go to another ride, I'll just bring a zip drive so I can get a copy of the papers from him.

But eventually I did fall into a hole of unexplainable guilt and beating myself up, which has tainted my memories of both rides this year. I can't change what happened or make it better after the fact, but I'm still left with a desperate feeling of, "What if...?."

And if you're wondering, people really do stare at the horse with the Vetrap around its neck in ridecamp.
A highlight of this ride was getting to see Gail and crew for her and Nimo, who were doing their first LD.

You can read her story here
Lily suffered no ill-effects from the ride other than a rub on a front pastern from one of the Vipers. She had  a 2 full weeks off from ALL work, in which she got to enjoy her 24/7 freedom just being a horse. She was happy to see me at the barn and would come to me when she saw me, despite me syringing her electrolytes once a day for the following week. In fact, the Fort Valley ride was such a positive experience for this mare that to my utter astonishment she became herd leader within 24 hours of returning from the ride. From second-to-last on the totem pole to herd leader. That's the kind of confidence that only competing successfully in endurance can create in a horse. I talked about all of this here.

As of today, she is still the herd leader.

The month started with Lily still on vacation. In the meantime, I had already started working with Gracie in an effort to undo what my inconsistency had created in her behavior in the past few months. When we first moved to Kathy's, she was a pushy brat about food, a problem created by the fact that this horse is highly food motivated and had never been asked to behave before being fed. I was worried that Kathy would get hurt so I showed Kathy just how firm you have to be with Gracie when asking her to back away from you before feeding her: she knew what "Back" meant but she chose to ignore the command at mealtimes except when I was the one asking for it. Of course the demonstration didn't go so well, resulting in me having to assert myself as the boss of Gracie by shooing her away from me (and thus her food) and working her around the run-in shed (where she is fed) before she was allowed to eat. Gracie turned into a goofy idiot, doing her dragon snorting and flagging her tail, and managed to wipe out while trying to cut through the run-in shed. I was shocked, as were Kathy and Zoe, who had been watching. Gracie got up and continued running as if nothing had happened, and I finished the session by allowing her to come into the run-in shed but still making her back up and wait before I would allow her to eat. She was brilliant about it after being asked to work for her meal, and so Kathy and Zoe were able to follow this example from there on out. I didn't blog about any of this, but this was the first time that Gracie fell since moving to Kathy's.

We had a few more struggles during this time and I focused more on working with Gracie's ground manners, which needed to be addressed now that there were more people handling her. Kathy and Zoe continued asking the mare to back up and wait before she was fed, a behavior which she has retained since then. She now steps away from her feeder calmly and looks away when you tell her to "Wait." She knows that when she looks away, the grain is dumped in her feeder.

With consistent longing in short sessions, I got her to be this calm:

It started to reflect positively in her manners under saddle. I actually attempted riding her with just a rope halter one day when she was being particularly good, but she soon started to realize that she could get away with a lot more than with a bit, and thus I put her regular bridle on before she could start getting any ideas. We've never tried that again.

I wrote about how much I hate the time change and struggled with some serious de-motivation. A big part of it was the longer darkness, but also the fact that I wanted to stop the frenetic pace I'd been functioning at leading up to Fort Valley and just didn't know how. I started working with Lily again and she a had couple of meltdowns while just working around her on the ground and we narrowed it down to a fear of static electricity. She's been fine ever since we started spraying her with Show Sheen prior to blanketing.

About 2 weeks before Thanksgiving Charles and I had the Ride from Hell when Lily got her foot tangled up in barbed wire.

The worst cut, taken the day of the incident.

Her leg 72 hours later, 24 hours after starting antibiotics.
This was one of those moments that I'm referring to when I mention the illusions in the introduction to this post: this could have been really, really, really bad and I was worried sick about her long-term soundness, afraid that the wounds were actually deeper than they seemed...but it really ended up being nothing and she ended up being totally and 100% fine. I learned my lesson though: from here on out we stay on well-marked trails in the fall and winter when so many leaves cover the ground.

3 days later I stopped by the barn to treat Lily's wounds. I had asked Kathy to leave Gracie's sheet on because it was supposed to be cold, but once at the barn I realized it wasn't that bad. I went to remove Gracie's sheet, she took off before I could finish, and she proceeded to gallop around the pasture with the sheet still partially attached "chasing" her, both running full-force into the closed back gate that leads to the front field and then coming around to knock me to the ground in her attempt to exit from the field through the open entrance where I was standing. If there had been no rocks on the ground, I probably would've just had bad whiplash and a headache: Gracie leaped over me when I fell underneath her hooves (because I literally fell underneath her) and I was completely unscathed. Except for the fact that there had been rocks right where I fell, and I smashed my head open.

An ER visit, a clean CT scan and 14 sutures later, I was diagnosed with a concussion and ordered to rest for the rest of the week. It would take way, waaaay longer to heal than just a week, but I would continue trying to push myself every time I felt better which made for a few setbacks that were thankfully minor. I am hard-headed after all. ;)

The Friday before Thanksgiving, my vet came out to look at Gracie: I wanted her eyes checked since she had slammed both into a gate and into me the Day of the Horse-Eating Sheet. And while we were at it, I wanted a full neurological exam since I had witnessed Gracie fall at least 8 times during November so far while running around at liberty in the paddock. The results: inconclusive. Gracie was mostly normal on exam but my vet wanted to do see her work on the longe with her head in different positions to see if we could figure out what was going on, if anything. I was still way too dizzy to attempt any kind of groundwork with G-mare so we postponed this part of the exam for a later date.

Kathy was going to be out of town for Thanksgiving and she needed someone to stay at the farmhouse during that time to take care of the horses. Charles and I brought the three cats and stayed from Thursday through Saturday, and we had our first snowfall in Montgomery County on Thanksgiving night. Just a light dusting of snow that stayed on the ground for 48 hours.

It was beautiful and I would have loved to ride in it, but I was still so dizzy post-concussion that I was struggling with basic farm work. There was no way I could get up on a horse at the time.

Charles made a lovely fire in Kathy's fireplace.
I didn't blog about any of this.

I usually look forward to Black Friday and Cyber Monday for all of the online deals and discounts. I scored some sweet loot last year that brought our endurance ensemble up to speed. This year I had a very long Christmas wish list, all things related to endurance, a lot of it related to Gracie's everyday gear (like extra blankets) and getting her set up gear-wise for an LD in the spring. Charles wanted more riding gear, like Ariat Terrains and winter riding pants. But after the accident, the wish list was drastically reduced because I didn't know when I'd be riding again, if I'd be able to compete in endurance again, and whether Gracie would be staying with us at all. So the whole idea of the holidays ultimately bummed me out even more.

The Friday after Thanksgiving my vet returned to do the second part of Gracie's neuro exam. Everything looked pretty good. We took cervical spinal radiographs to see if there was anything blatantly and obviously wrong in Gracie's neck, but everything that we could see (myelograms are always better for seeing issues with the spine but this was not an option for us because money) appeared to be fine. As it would turn out, working with Gracie and my vet for an hour would prove to be way too much for my head effort-wise and I had my first setback that weekend.

The mares enjoyed an extended vacation from all work.

I tried to look on the bright side of things, enjoyed the company of the cats when I was stuck at home resting on my days off and wrote about them, and hoped that I'd be back on a horse in another week or two.

One Zombie Kitteh grew up!

The first 3 weeks of December were a drag as the dizziness continued rearing up its ugly head every time I thought I was getting better. I felt positively bipolar, my emotions ruled by the current state of my head on any given day. Most of the time it felt like I would never get better. Like I would never ride again. Like I would never be normal again. Most of the time the progress was not linear: I'd be better for a few days, then regress. Something would cause dizziness one day, the next day it would be another thing. It really was challenging to work and like I said in the Year End Meme post, it made it challenging to be around the horses. I needed to work with Gracie to do the recommended exercises with her, but I honestly didn't want to deal with her. I was anxious around her, especially in the beginning after the accident. I contained it, and I still do, but I don't doubt that she feels it. I spent a lot of time beating myself up about every perceived mistake I made, not only on the day of the accident but in every other moment of the past year.

I worked through my new anxieties and Gracie got worked in side reins.  I set up a cavaletti grid in the back field to work her through to develop agility as recommended by my vet:

Karen sent me Ashke's Balance Training System (aka Bungee Straightjacket) so I could use it on G-Mare: my vet had also advised working her in a Pessoa-type system.

Charles and I did some light exploring during this time, since my spare time wasn't consumed by the horses at this point, and one of our big discoveries that I didn't write about was Butler's Orchard. Let me tell you about Butler's Orchard.

It is a large family-owned farm in Germantown, MD, and one of several places where you can go pick your own fruit and veggies from the farm's fields. I'd been hearing about it for a long time. I knew they were having an open house the weekend before Thanksgiving and originally, when my mom and Aunt Lucy were going to come visit for that date, had planned on taking them to check it out for the first time. Charles and I went anyway when their plans were cancelled. 

I had a hard time leaving! :)

The road to Butler's Orchard.

The farm store.
They had all sorts of locally grown fruits and vegetables inside, among other goods like Maryland honey and maple syrup, eggs, milk, handmade soaps, etc.
We were like kids in a candy store.
They had all sorts of samples of their fruits and baked treats for customers to try.

Their pies are to die for! We've celebrated each of the holidays with one of their homemade pies.
Afterwards we went to check out the farm's Christmas tree fields, where you could pick and cut your own Christmas tree. We abstained this year because of one young Zombie cat (pine needles are toxic to cats if they eat them) but enjoyed looking around all the same.
Because of the open house, they were serving homemade kettle corn and had drinks like hot chocolate and warm cider. 
We would return to the store several times during December, often on the way to the barn since it was only 15 minutes from Kathy's! We fell in love especially with their chocolate milk and eggnog. The Butler's Orchard visits were a highlight of December for me. That, and being able to ride again.


Looking back on the year, I'm seeing a few things:

1. The worst thing that can happen to Gracie is to be inconsistent. She will need a lot of consistency for a long time before I can step back to riding/working with her a couple of times a week like I have been able to do with Lily this year. Gracie was doing stellar with her progress over the summer when she was being worked 4-5 days a week. Her behavior deteriorated somewhat when I started focusing on really prepping Lily for Fort Valley, and later with the move to Kathy's, where I let myself slack off because the mare was already getting so much more movement just being out in the turnouts with this particular herd that I thought maybe I didn't need to work her 4 days a week. Her soundness didn't suffer because of the reduced workload but her brain did. I still need to treat her like a green horse because she is one. She has many redeeming qualities: overall bravery and confidence, natural curiosity, loves the trails, and is overall not a lazy horse. She just has the maturity level of a 5-year-old and she tries to boss her rider around if she feels that she can get away with it. The more consistent I am with her, the more willing of a partner she is.

2. The concussion came about at a time when I felt I couldn't stop, where I felt like I didn't know how to take a break and I wanted to take a break. So maybe this was the Universe's way of saying, "YOU HAVE TO STOP AND THE WORLD IS NOT GOING TO END BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T RIDE YOUR HORSES FOR 2 MONTHS. TAKE A BREAK NAO." Kind of like the time back in FL when I said I really wanted a vacation when I was switching from a vet job I'd hated to one I was really looking forward to at the start-up hospital...I gave myself a week break in-between the two jobs...and then the start-up had some issues with some building permits...which set their inauguration back a full month. We were in a good place financially at the time and were able to survive with just Charles's salary...so I spent the next few weeks riding Rhythm (this was all pre-blogging) and as many horses at the barn as I could get my hands on and just having a blast. It was awesome and I had to laugh at the fact that you really have to be careful what you wish for.

3. Speaking of wishing for things: this year I got everything that I asked for:

  1. My main horse turned into my heart horse.
  2. We competed in endurance.
  3. I freaking rode on the beach guys!
  4. I rode with Liz on my own horse, both in a competitive setting and leisure settings. More than once!
  5. I went on a long road trip with my best friend.
  6. I finally got Lily to gallop. Really, truly gallop. She wouldn't gallop before this year.
  7. I got my second horse. A gaited horse. A horse that Charles could ride. A horse that I can ride bareback.
  8. I got my third cat. A third cat that is both special needs and mostly black (yes, I've wanted a special needs cat for a long time. Either blind or tripod. I received a tripod that came back from the dead).
  9. I got to ride with Charles consistently, which we had not been able to do since FL.
  10. We got a truck that can tow a trailer right within our budget.
  11. I had originally wanted to be on four 10-hour shifts at work: shorter shifts. I got them. And then when I realized that this was part of what was causing my burnout/compassion fatigue, I wished to go back onto three 12-hour shifts. I got that too.

I got every. single. thing. I wanted.

Because when you really want something, the Universe really does conspire in helping you to achieve it. 

And thus I declare 2014 The Year of Achievements.

I am beyond thrilled over Lily's brilliant progress this year and I love that horse more than words can say. She will do anything I want to do with blind faith in that I'm looking out for her. She will forever be an endurance horse in my book. While she excelled mentally, she struggled physically, which in turn made me wish we had just started with LDs as originally planned. There are many things I can still try to set her up for more success over 50's, but we won't be doing that distance any more for reasons stated below. Regardless, she came out all the better for the experiences: the conditioning leading up to the rides and the rides themselves did things for her mind, maturity and confidence that no amount of ground work or arena work could have ever achieved. She really is the horse that I saw that first time I took her on an adventure outside of the arena, the horse that made me say yes when she was offered to me for $1: a confident, sweet mare who is up for anything.

AERC has further dropped their pulse criteria for this upcoming year, continuing to make endurance an Arab-specific sport. (And then they wonder why more people aren't signing up as members? They really need to stop saying it's a sport any horse can do. They're officially making that statement more and more impossible. I'm not selling my non-Arabs just so I can participate in this sport. I like Arabians to look at. I love all you guys' wonderful Arabian companions and admire all of you that have made your partnerships work but I personally could not handle working through the typical Arabian temperament in a horse of my own.) It used to be 68 bpm. Now they are lowering it to 64 bpm. Our Virginia rides of No Frills, the Old Dominion and Fort Valley, were already using criteria that was 64-60 depending on the ride. Lily completed at both rides with the maximum pulse allowed: 60 bpm at the Old Dominion and 64 at Fort Valley. I would not be surprised if the Virginia rides drop their pulse criteria even more. This would completely put Lily out of the running for more 50's in our region. 50 miles is not a distance I wanted to try again in the near future anyway, if ever, the more I've thought about it, but there is a possibility that if the criteria is lowered even more at our rides, there is no chance we could compete successfully at the longer distances.  I would like to take Lily on LDs next year anyway, and I know that she could complete just fine even with lower pulse criteria: at both of our 50's this year, she had no problem going down to 54 bpm heart rate at the earlier vet checks. She started having issues pulsing down at the 44-mile vet check at the OD, and at the last vet check at Fort Valley. So the shorter limited distance rides are still completely doable for us. I just don't know if it will be feasible to compete at all due to some of the bigger personal changes that are supposed to happen.

2015 is going to bring about some pretty big changes. The road splits into three choices and we have taken the middle one. I just hope that it works out. I will tell you guys about it when the time comes.