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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

In Which I Meet One of my Favorite Bloggers

Karen and I have been talking for two years now. We met thanks to our blogs, in my case specifically thanks to Liz! Karen comments on Liz's often and one day I clicked over to check out her blog. And realized she had mine on her blog list too. Her most recent post at the time (October 7, 2013) was about having a best friend who rides and how much that meant to her. And it struck a chord with me: I met my best FL friend Diana at the barn and we had just clicked from Day 1. She had been one of those people I met and immediately thought, "OMG I really, really want to be your friend!" That doesn't happen every day: friendship at first sight. And it was mutual. It was like Diana and I had always known one another. The barn became the setting for our friendship and though we didn't get to ride together very often (she had a very demanding infant and very little spare time), our endless chatter and laughter over life and work and horses while doing barn chores was one of the biggest highlights of my day for my remaining time in South FL. I missed that. I still do. And Karen's post touched on that, so I commented.

She then started commenting on my blog as well. And then we started e-mailing. And then texting. And for the longest time now, not a day goes by that we don't communicate. And you know what I said about Diana in the above paragraph? That's how it's been with Karen too: she is very familiar to me, as if I have always known her. Which is why I would constantly forget the fact that I had never met her in person! Not in this lifetime, at least.

That changed on Saturday, October 17, 2015, exactly two years and 10 days after "meeting" online. :)

Karen travelled out to Baltimore, MD for work-related reasons (which turned into quite the adventure. Read her story here!) and scheduled the trip so that she would have time to swing by Frederick to meet up before having to fly back home to Colorado on her last day in my state.

She had wanted to meet the horses and I had originally planned to take her out on a long trail ride on the barn's trails, me on Lily and her on Gracie so she could see the fall colors, which were very close to peak when Karen was here. They get the color changes in CO but due to the drier climate it's not quite as dramatic as it is here, and I'd really been looking forward to this ride. Except Lily decided to break her face that same week (I'm telling you, every time I have planned something with her this year, she has hurt herself. The only thing she let me do with her this year was Foxcatcher in April. Literally every week before I've been about to take her somewhere or do something especially significant, she has hurt herself. I don't understand, and the whole point of getting the trailer was so we could go out and do stuff!) so there went the plans for the trail ride. Technically Lily could be ridden but she had her mummy bandage on her face and I knew that if she were to sweat underneath it (which she inevitably would) it would make her that much more itchy. I had already caught her trying to rub her face on things as it was, and decided to not tempt Fate. I was so upset.

I mean, seriously horse, what the hell is wrong with you?!
We met at the barn at 9:00 am anyway. Karen was in her rental car right by the driveway and when I saw her there, in person, I found myself choking back the tears. It was akin to meeting a long-lost relative.

We gave one another a big, big hug and it was like we had been talking face-to-face for the last two years. Like we had always known one another. Whether it shows on the blog or not, IRL I have a shy streak a mile wide which did show itself when I initially met Liz three summers ago, but that shyness did not even take a peak when meeting Karen.

She helped me get the girls from the field and got to see Gracie's dog impersonation first hand: if you pet G-Mare's forehead and then stop, she'll nudge your hand for you to continue. They both had their mashes while we groomed them. Lily's bandage had what appeared to be strikethrough so I decided to remove it to take a look at the wound. The wound actually looked great: the Telfa pad over the sutures had slid down and the Furazone underneath it had soaked through the Elastikon. So I removed everything, wiped the medication off of the sutures with clean rolled cast padding, then applied a new Telfa with Furazone and the mummy figure-8 bandage. Karen helped me with it because, while the wound didn't seem to hurt Lily at all, she was being weirdly reactive about the roll of Elastikon going around her head. So Karen also got to see the side of Lily that I rarely blog about (because the blog would be one angry tirade if I did).

I was grinning over meeting Karen, NOT over having to re-do the bandage.
This was the 4th time in 5 days that I had had to replace it.
Gracie got tacked up and Lily went back out into her field. Karen and I walked G-Mare over to the arena: I wanted to show off some of the stuff Gracie and I have been doing and also give Karen the opportunity of riding a gaited horse. :) The best way to get to know the different gaits is by experiencing them!

I did some groundwork with Gracie but she was especially glued to my side on this day and was not really responding to my requests to go out to the rail and work. Adorable, yes, but she's still supposed to do as I say. My other bone to pick was that she was changing directions at close quarters by turning away from me: normally she'll turn facing me. (We have reviewed both of these issues and corrected them in later sessions.) She cracked me up by occasionally trotting or cantering right past Karen, who was sitting on the mounting block watching, to check her out.

Video by Karen

Still, what I like the most about this kind of session with Gracie is seeing what she brings to the table. She has been extra, extra lovey with me lately and it shone bright and clear during our show for Karen.

Pic from another evening where I was just hanging out next to her and she totally put her head on my shoulder for attention. Check out her expression over being kissed. <3 She's a total marshmallow, this one.
Gracie was bridled and I hopped on in the arena to show Karen her gaits and buttons. And then it was Karen's turn.

Gait. Specifically Gracie's slow rack.

Here you can see where Gracie changes from rack to trot: lateral to diagonal movement.
Karen did a great job with her and even cantered her a bit, commenting on how different she feels from Ashke, even at the trot and canter. Yup: Gracie has one of the smoothest canters I've ever ridden, which is the main reason why it's Charles's favorite gait on her. :) It's very uphill and it's a little lateral (a common thing in gaited horse canters though I've met some with beautiful distinctly 3-beat canters.) Even with her trot, you don't really need to post because there's no true suspension phase. With her gait, the movement changes from up-and-down (trot) to side-to-side, which Karen got the hang of quite quickly. Gracie took excellent care of Karen, just like I knew she would.

Afterwards I took the blonde bombshell out into the grassy area over by the jump field so Karen could see how different she is outside of the arena. G-Mare was on fire, snorting with every stride, but extending and collecting her gait at my slightest request. She was awesome.

We walked her back to the barn, where she was untacked and released in her field.

After that, we met up with Charles at Sabor de Cuba, our fave Cuban place in downtown Frederick. He was working that afternoon but had to leave at exactly the same time as Karen, so it worked out perfectly. Karen got to try vaca frita (shredded beef, fried), tostones and maduros. We later went for a walk through town so Karen could find gifts for the family.

We also took her to Carroll Creek, one of my favorite parts of downtown where everything takes place during the warm months, so Charles could get evidence of this visit! :D

The visit was over way too soon: Karen had to return to Baltimore to make her flight. We hugged good-bye in the parking lot, until we meet again!

Thank you so much for stopping by Karen! It was beyond wonderful to finally get to meet you! <3

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Of Mountains, Magic, Music and Merriment

First of all: thank you everyone for all of your comments on my previous post and the healing thoughts and prayers. I will update on Lily when the sutures are out later this week, as I'm terrified of jinxing anything!

In the meantime, this post has been in the works for a long time now.

The last weekend of September, we drove down to Canaan Valley, WV to visit Liz at her bf Dave's house just outside the little town of Davis. The visit coincided with the Leaf Peeper's Festival, which is a huge deal in Tucker County: people come from all over the region to celebrate the peak fall colors in the mountains of West Virginia.

This was going to be a very long, very wordy + picture-heavy post but due to a changed work schedule with more hours (a good thing!) and the pet portraits booming (my website is this one and I am taking Christmas orders right now!) I have not had anywhere near as much time to blog as I used to...so this will be a not-as-wordy but still very picture-heavy post instead. :)

The truth is that there really are no good enough words to describe this trip with. As usual with our visits to WV, the best word to describe it all is "epic."

There is a pretty awesome story behind this photo but you're going to have to wait for it.
Yes, I was laughing. Hard!
And as you can see, these ain't no damn "hills" out here. ;) Sorry SB, that's become a thing among us East Coast horse bloggers, especially with my husband who now always goes, "We have such tiny hills out here..." :)

We were originally going to arrive Thursday but Charles had some training he had to do for work that he could not reschedule at another time, so we ended up leaving early Friday morning, arriving in Canaan a little after 1:00 pm thanks to an initially confused GPS. -_- Once I had Google Maps installed on the phone, it took us right up to Dave's front doorstep, to our utter surprise: this is the most reception we have ever had while visiting Liz. Usually we are completely unreachable. Yes there are parts of the East Coast that are THAT remote!

The day was cloudy, chilly and dreary with a threat of rain, but we had plans to ride so we changed into riding clothes, grabbed rain gear, and piled into Liz's car to head to her friend Dan's barn. Liz had hauled Griffin and Q over for her and Dave to ride, and Dan had two horses for Charles and me: Charles would be riding a chestnut steady-Eddy of a QH named Skippy, and I was going to be on an odd-eyed Morgan-QH mare named Nell.

We were all ready to go in no time.

Where were we riding?

Into the Dolly Sods Wilderness, a magical place that I saw for the first time ever last year. It was love at first sight. You know how you are unexplainably drawn to some people from the first time you lay eyes on them, even before getting to know them? That's how I had felt when I saw Dolly Sods for the first time. Like it was mine.

I had wanted to immerse myself in it, and Liz had promised to take me riding there some day, because you can cover so much more ground on horse than on foot.

As always, she kept her word.

Dan is an honorary member of the Lakota tribe. He has Native friends and nephews out in North Dakota and can ride a horse bareback through anything just like you would expect a Native American to do. He has his own small herd of horses, which he currently uses for therapy work with both disabled and troubled children. He is a pretty freaking amazing human being, and we got to meet him in person for the first time on this trip, since Dan also happens to know the trails of the Dolly Sods like the back of his hand. Nell is one of his personal horses and Skippy belongs to his work partner.

Nell was AWESOME. If she had fit in my pocket, I would have taken her home. ;) Yes, another mare! She had a brain and she had opinions, and she let me know when she didn't necessarily agree with what I asked her, but she obeyed when she realized I knew what I was doing. The opinions ceased once we were climbing up the mountain into the Dolly Sods trails and we had to work as a team. She knows the trails so I gave her her head to pick her way over some truly rocky terrain that she tackled with the skill and sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

It had been spitting rain ever since we got on the horses. I had brought a riding rain jacket (this one by Irideon, bought on sale at Riding Warehouse last spring) and stuffed it into the backpack with water and snacks that Charles would be carrying. Except the second we hit the road on our way towards the trails, it started raining harder. So I had to ask for the jacket.

Charles had no issues pulling it out of the backpack. I had Nell trot up to Charles so he could pass it to me, and each time he held it out, Nell stopped dead in her tracks and stared wide-eyed at the black thing in my husband's hand. I burst out laughing.

We repeated this a couple of times until I was able to bring Nell even with Skippy (Skippy is harmless but he will give other horses dirty enough looks to intimidate them, so this was easier said than done) and he was able to quietly sneak the jacket to me without having to reach out towards me.

Getting the jacket ON was the next mission. Nell wasn't too thrilled about the black vulture-looking thing I was now holding, so I slung it in front of my legs, pinning it against the saddle pommel so that the ends flapped a little across each of my knees. This was deliberate: desensitizing. After a few minutes she settled (all she did was get a little prancy. Like a said, she's a GOOD horse!), and then I slowly, slowly managed to lift it up enough to get one sleeve on. The key was to use minimal arm movements while keeping the jacket from flapping around. Endurance riding develops terrific skills, one of them being the ability to get a rain jacket on one-handed while your horse is alternately walking and trotting.

Dan leading on Dakota, Dave following on Liz's Griffin, Charles on Skippy and Liz on Q.
Oh yeah: I also took pics while doing all of this. :)
Getting the other sleeve on behind my back proved to be a little harder, but I was able to do it quickly and smoothly with minimal upset on Nell's part. Once I had it zipped up (which required hooking the reins on the saddle horn and letting go so I could use both hands), Nell forgot about the offending jacket.

All of this while the 5 of us rode single file down a paved Davis road towards the mountains. It was cold, wet and dreary, but the sights were gorgeous.

AGAIN, WV reminds me SO much of PR.
The south side of the island looks exactly like this. Except it's a completely different ecosystem: this is bog and the south side of island is more like African savannah. But it looks the same!
See????? This is Salinas, PR, on the south side of the island.
We arrived at the end of the road and Dan veered off onto a trail to our right. Soon we were at the Canaan ski resort where Liz works in the winter, riding up a wide trail that would take us up the mountain. We let the horses gallop up this section. Except for Skippy, the horse Charles was riding, who had absolutely no sense of urgency about getting anywhere or staying with his buddies. We stopped at the top to wait for them to catch up, as Skippy jogged his way up the mountain, completely ignoring Charles's requests to speed up!

Our men folk bringing up the rear.
Photos don't do justice to the day: the weather actually looks nice in them! It was heavily overcast, cold (in the low 50's-upper 40's) and lightly drizzling the entire time. 
We took a side trail into the woods and Nell followed along behind Dan's Dakota, the rest of the group behind us.
Dan and Dakota.
Charles, Dave and Liz.
Colors were not actually at peak yet, but still gorgeous!
We climbed up a trail that was about as rocky as the Old Dominion trails, steadily climbing up the mountain.

The colors!! <3
Look closely at Dan: his hands are hanging down. He simply drapes the reins over Dakota's neck and lets him choose the way.
All the rocks!
More colors!
Skippy keeping up for once now that Charles is carrying Liz's whip. That horse was a solid citizen but boy did he test Charles both in the speed and straightness departments.
We came out of the trees onto this view:

On top of the world, surrounded by clouds...
...clouds in all directions.

Liz took a million pics of us. Thank you Liz!!!
This photo OH MY GOD. Loooooove! You can get an idea of the enormity of the view. ;)

I was only grinning a little bit... :D

And then we rode off into the clouds again.

And it was magical.
And another dream came true here: I had always, always wanted to ride through fog. Through clouds. And I got it on this trip, along with riding the Sods. 
This starts to give you an idea of how dense the fog was.
It was like we were in a movie.
The rain was starting to come down harder so what was originally going to be a 4-hour ride ended up being 2 hours. We still covered a good 14 miles.

These clowns <3

Dan took us back down the mountain and the fog thinned, then disappeared as we rode back onto the wooded trails.
Charles and Skippy way, way behind. We stopped a few times to let them trot to catch up.
We trotted and cantered down a FS road, and eventually were back onto the main road that would take us back to Dan's property.
Road riding? NBD for any of these horses. Canaan and Davis are a very small community: the few people that drove past us knew Dan or Liz or both.
Nell <3
See that mountain shrouded in fog? That's were we had climbed up to.

Charles has never used a riding crop or whip before so this was his introduction to carrying one. He was cracking both Liz and I up with the way he was choosing to hold it when not in use, despite explanations on how to do it. If he had held it in this fashion in front of himself, he would have been holding it the Alta Escuela way. :)
By the end of this ride, Charles had mentioned several times how much he missed Gracie!
Once back at the property, we untacked, groomed and the horses were all turned out again. We thanked Dan profusely both for letting us borrow his horses and for the wonderful tour! We then piled into Liz's car again to return to Dave's house to shower and warm up. 

Dave built his house himself over the course of 3 years. It is a timber frame house with absolutely no metal used to hold it together: all of the beams lock in place with one another or are held together by wooden pegs. It is a breathtaking architectural wonder. Maybe in our next life we'll get to have a house like that.

Have some photos of The House That Dave Built:

I love the floating second floor of the house.
That tree!!!!
See what I mean about floating second floor?
Dave built this shower by hand.
So, so many windows in every direction. The house is very well insulated so the cold outside never creeped into the inside despite all the glass.
This is in the master bedroom.
Telescope! Because on clear nights you can see all the stars!
That's a hot tub on the deck, still covered up. :)
View of the woods from the room Charles and I slept in.

Our bedroom.

See the pegs on the beams? Those are what holds the house together. Isn't that incredible?
Dining area. Views of Canaan wilderness on all sides!

Detail of dining table view.
The entrance.
View from the windows by the front door.
Front door deck.

We all showered and got dressed to go into town for dinner. Night fell rapidly in part thanks to the overcast skies. We went to Hellbender's in Davis for Mexican. We hung out in their top floor while waiting for seats, totally goofing off.

Liz and Dave.
The food was well worth the wait: the burritos were AMAZEBALLS. And I failed at getting pics!

After that we walked over to Stumptown, a local bar that had some pretty awesome craft beers on tap. We got to meet a lot of Liz's friends from ski patrol here and it was nice to put faces to all the names! We continued having a blast.

The place was PACKED!
With Dave and Liz. :)

No words. Lol!
After that we retired back to Dave's house, where we would meet up with Roberto and Michele, two friends of Dave's and Liz's who would also be staying over for the weekend.

Roberto is Mexican from Veracruz and Michele is a from the US and her first language is English but she is a Spanish teacher: that's how her and Roberto met.

Like it always is when meeting Liz's friends, it was like we had all known one another forever.

It was cold outside with a very chilly wind and leaves blowing from the storm that was passing through, but we all changed into swimsuits and plunged into the hot tub on Dave's deck. It was awesome.

Afterwards we regrouped in the living room for an evening of music and singing by the fireplace.

It was beautiful.

We finally all retired to bed, as the next morning we had to wake up early for the Leaf Peeper's Festival 5K!

It dawned foggy and still cold, with the wind blowing through the tall grass outside. Liz made an amazing breakfast for us and then we all headed out for Davis. Charles and I had decided to register the day of the race and registration was closing at 9:00 am.

Well, we got there RIGHT at 9:00 am and they had literally just closed registration. So I was out of the running...and I can't say I was too horribly upset about it because I was FREEZING in my running clothes! At Liz's suggestion, I basically piled on the clothes that I had brought for changing into after the race and was so happy to feel warm.

We returned to the race start to cheer Liz, Dave, Michele and Roberto on!

Their body language says it all re: temperature!
These two. <3
Race start!
Once they were off, Charles and I hung around the vendor section, checking everything out. I bought a bunch of local honey: one of the things this region is notorious for is allergies, so I always keep local honey at home for pouring into my coffee in the mornings. It helps minimize pollen allergies. So far so good!

Wearing...3 layers. And almost comfortable.
He was so proud of himself...lol
The blackboards said, "As I age......." and people filled in the blanks with chalk.
Someone had written "...I will have a hot wife!"
Charles corrected it to "I have a hot wife!"
The wood sculptures were amazing.
The place where you can buy them at is called Wood Crafts.
See the rocking chair? It's a double seater!

I loved the dragon!!
Dave arriving at the finish! He completed in around 22 minutes, I believe.

Liz arrived about 12 minutes later.
Once Liz and Dave had cooled down, we all went back to the car so they could change into dry, warm clothes. We hung around the vendors for a couple of hours and had lunch. And meade. And tasted wine. And it was awesome.

Roberto and Michele stayed in town, while Dave, Liz, Charles and I returned to the house where we all proceeded to take naps. Seriously, this was the best vacation ever!

In the afternoon Dave and Liz took us to Blackwater Falls.

Per Liz and Dave they weren't as impressive as usual due to the recent lack of rain, but they were still gorgeous!
After that, we went to Lindy Point, another big WV landmark. Liz and Charles wanted a photo of us standing on one of the rock outcroppings.

Hiking towards Lindy Point
I am afraid of heights, but it depends on the circumstances: if I have something in front of me to stop me from falling or something behind me that I can lean against, it isn't quite as bad.

Now. Put me on a flat surface with nothing to lean against in front of or behind me, and it is a completely different story.

I could not stand up!
Which resulted in much laughter on my part. I knew we weren't right on the edge, but I felt like if I stood up, gravity would just pull me right over.
This was the best I could do!

Better! Taken at a different part of Lindy Point, where I never got to see the drop behind us!
Afterwards we headed to a house party being held by some of Liz's and Dave's ski patroller friends. Michele and Roberto caught up with us here, and Roberto, Charles and I ended up standing in a corner chattering away in Spanish about the varying slang of our different countries. Liz later told us that our corner had been dubbed "Little Mexico." Lol

The food was awesome and so were the drinks and music. We had a great time!

House yard as seen from the upstairs balcony.

I absolutely adored her voice. She reminded me of The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan.

Michele and Roberto headed their separate way: they would be spending the night at another friend's house. The four of us eventually headed back to Dave's, where we warmed up in the hot tub again before heading for bed.

Dave's house was surrounded by fog. Charles and I packed up and we had a leisurely breakfast with Liz and Dave before hitting the road back home.

The drive was more than a little foggy as we drove through the mountains on Corridor H.

Driving through clouds.
The cloud behind us.
Clear down in the valleys.
Once out of the mountains, the roads were clear. It was an uneventful drive home after another magical weekend in WV. Can't wait to go back!

Thank you as always Liz!!