Saturday, December 29, 2012

Endurance rider gift guide?

I think that Christmas 2012 will be remembered as the year that my new family really started to figure me out.

My mother-in-law had called Brian to ask what kind of jewelry I liked. Since that was a bit of a non-starter, she ended up consulting cousin Amanda. ...which is why I am the proud owner of the fanciest body brush I have ever seen. The handle is real wood and leather and the bristles are actual horse hair. I never thought a grooming product for a horse could feel so sinful and luxurious.

Gifts from Brian included many of a girl's best friends: An elegant set of heavy duty floor mats for the truck, a sparkling Gerber multi-tool, and magnificent machine washable synthetic half chaps.

Of course, my parents have known me quite a bit longer than my in-laws. Because of this, they can be trusted to purchase the kind of horse-related gifts that really make endurance riding possible.




They sent me Anti-Monkey-Butt Powder and money. :)

Nice haul, eh?

*     *     *

In other news, earlier in the week, the last of the nail holes disappeared for good. Blue's feet looked a bit raggedy where the holes were meeting the ground, so I grabbed the hoofjack and the rasp. They already look approximately 26 billion times better than they did in November.

It's also helping that the landowner built a new pasture option. There is this long, narrow track that opens up into the Christmas trees, where the mud will be less intense than it is in the open field, but there will still be some enrichment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ho Ho Ho




Ho ho



Ho, HO!

I said, HO, dammit!

"It's pronounced 'whoa,' Mom."
Happy holidays, everybody. I hope your kids sat nice and still for the Christmas card this year.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Four weeks, one day

It had only been four weeks and one day since we pulled the shoes, and my farrier was genuinely shocked at how much the toe shot out in that time. I called and had him come back earlier than we originally scheduled, because, well, LOOK.





The lighting was a bit different between the two, so it's a little hard to really compare side by side. I guess the easiest marker to work from is that front nail hole. Huge difference from before to after. He may not grow nice feet, but at least he grows crappy feet really fast.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spooky coincidence... or fate?

I got my December issue of EN today.  


But I very easily could have.


Yep, sweetie. you just stay off those nasty ol' feet. Mama's gonna fix 'em.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

“Everybody in life makes choices.” (Part III)

Blue came to me from a neglect situation. The day I went to look at him in Terrebonne, he looked awful. I remember driving up to the arena and seeing two horses saddled and tied. One was a pretty little palomino, a little skinny but bright-eyed and shiny. The other was this mud-colored bag of bones with his head down and his coat falling out in patches. You have to be kidding me. I drove six hours for this? Maybe they listed the color wrong on the ad. Maybe the palomino is the one I’m here for.

It turned out I was there for the mud-colored horse. But I liked his attitude, so I bought him… dismal hooves, British teeth, skin diseases and all. I was told that he was on a natural barefoot regimen, which I guess was probably code for “he hasn’t been trimmed in years.” The day I first saw him, his hooves looked to have been very recently lopped back down into some semblance of the correct shape. You could see the individual “bites” from the nippers. Whether he had been allowed to get to the elf-shoe phase of overgrown hooves I’ll probably never know. But it wouldn’t shock me.
Even my old-school farrier in Washington could see Blue’s hooves would be a project. He continued with the lopping, but said it would be a long haul. For now, we would do the best we could with what we had.
And so Blue was shod nonstop from mid-June 2011 until late November 2012. He didn’t get a winter break in 2011 because we had excellent weather in Washington right up until the move to Oregon. The move itself delayed his next farrier visit MUCH longer than it should have. He went nearly three months in the same shoes without a trim or a reset while I settled into my new job. I recognize now how much damage that lapse did. I take full responsibility. His feet got very long and the shoe just kept going further and further forward on them... leaving us with the makings of where we are today.
I apologize for the gore, but these are the only hoof photos I have of him when my WA farrier was on the job. what I see from this is that his toe angle was pretty decent, if a bit long, but his heels are also too long and the shoe doesn't come back far enough to support them. This is late July 2011.
My Oregon farrier is younger and more open-minded about the barefoot thing, though it isn't his specialty. He and I have chatted about boots before just in the course of resetting shoes. He’s intrigued by the Gloves because they are much easier to apply than the old Easyboots, which he has always carried as spare tires when he goes elk hunting. I told him about my booting challenges with Otto, and he pointed out that it might be even harder where we are now because it is so wet 10 months a year and Blue spends so much time indoors besides. Still, it’s open for dialogue. I told him I just want my horse to be as sound and free-moving as we can make him, no questions asked.
So the shoes came off for the winter this year, and the farrier and I are both just waiting to see what Blue’s hooves tell us. So far, they are telling me a lot. Look at this angle on the left front foot (the same one as above). This has been his worst foot as long as I’ve known him… and I’m pretty sure right now is the worst it has ever looked.

Gah! Look away, look away! It's too horrible! (I took this photo earlier this week.) So here's the deal. Continuously shod without dropping and then supporting the heel, the toe and heel continued to slide forward. He has no frog and no heel to support the back of his foot, so he lands toe-first. His breakover is a mile out in front.
The short lines with the blue extensions show where the hoof probably wants to be, based on the first couple growth rings at the base. Pink and green show actual tubule angles where they sit right now.
Contracted heels, anyone? The frog on the other side is even worse, if you can imagine that. What is kind of hard to see here is that the white line is surprisingly tight all the way around the (thinnish) wall, which makes me nervous about rasping off an inch of toe all at once. What do you guys think?

Would you buy that foot? No you would not. And if I took video of it you’d see how it lands crooked and he toes in on that side and twists his leg and looks just…ugghhhh. 
I don't want to say that I've lost faith in my farrier. I like him, and he seems very competent and well-educated. But the pictures don't lie. We need to be super-aggressive with the next several trims if we're going to fix this foot for the long haul.
I want Blue’s feet to grow all winter. I want him to grow feet like that string of camp horses grew feet. Blue only gets four to eight hours of turnout every day depending on the weather. Because of his recent shenanigans involving fence-and-blanket destruction, he’s banned from the “interesting” pasture, which had rocks and stumps and water. Now he’s in the “special needs” pasture, which is the one with manicured grass, fancy board fencing and not much to do. (It's really one step up from a padded cell.) This pasture exists so that people who are coming to weddings on the other side of the property see something resembling the Kentucky Bluegrass instead of the mishmash of electric fence that surrounds most of the turnout areas. But being in there means Blue’s bare feet aren’t getting a ton of stimulation—stimulation that’s needed to activate hoof growth.
Watching him out there trotting with his buddies, a few things become obvious. Mainly, he short-strides and lands toe-first, even at liberty. You can see this in many of the photos I have on the blog too. It needs to change if he is going to be sound in the long run.
I’m pretty sure everyone at the barn thought I was nuts on Saturday afternoon. I was lunging my horse in the parking lot under a steady rain. Little did they know I did the same thing in the pitch black on Friday night. Both times, a perfectly lovely, well-lit indoor arena was available. But until the arena has decomposed granite footing, the parking lot is where I need to be for at least part of every ride. The uneven half-inch basalt will wake his feet right up. Nature will do the rest.
I mean, I hope it will.

Who doesn't enjoy night-lunging in the rain?
I’m not saying that we’re going to go barefoot in the coming season. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that we won’t. What I’m saying is that the next several months will give me my first chance to see Blue’s feet do whatever it is that they naturally want to do. Maybe they want to get better, maybe they don’t. But until May, barring catastrophic foot failure, shoes won’t be getting in the way anymore.
Everybody in life makes choices. Even hooves.

“Everybody in life makes choices.” (Part II)

When I moved to Washington, Rusty came with me. I had my first real job with a steady income, so when the farrier came, I asked for shoes. By then, I believed that wearing shoes (much like having a blanket and a warm stable) was a sign that horse was getting the best care. Shoes = owner’s love, or something. Look—everybody in life makes choices.
Rusty and baby Topper shortly after I moved to WA (2005)

At the same time, I acquired Topper, who was the horse I started with in endurance. His shoes did serve a practical purpose (beyond allowing me to feel like I was being a good horse mom). Heather and I were riding out on the road enough by then that Topper’s feet weren’t keeping up with the wear he was putting on them. I was literally riding his feet off. 
Topper at Mt. Adams (2008?)

I was really happy with Topper’s performance in shoes, and I didn’t feel any need to question it. But I was just getting into endurance, which means I was in the “information sponge” phase. One thing about sponges, they aren’t picky. They suck up grease and garbage water just as easily as wine and soap suds. So I read every opinion on Ridecamp as if it were gospel, with very little personal experience to act as a filter. I would try anything to get better at endurance, including purchasing the requisite gray Arabian.
Otto was also barefoot when I got him. He grew up in the bone-dry, volcanic hills outside of Prineville, Oregon, and had never needed shoes. He had these big, black feet that were tough as nails. By the time I got him, I was at the height of my online endurance obsession, so I had read all the pros and cons about barefoot versus shoeing. The more natural approach made a lot of sense to me, honestly. Moreover, my recently-acquired cousin-in-law was a vocal proponent of the barefoot/boot system. I thought Otto was a great candidate, being that he already had fantastic barefoot feet, but they were getting worn pretty heavily by all the road conditioning we were doing. My thought process went like this: Boots would solve the wear problem, and I’d be another Barefoot Success Story for the internet to crow about. This was going to be easy.
Completely bare (and bitless!) at HOTR 2010
But it didn’t work out that way, and the reason is laughable. Otto’s feet were too good for the boots available at the time. That is, a lifetime of being barefoot on rough ground with frequent trimming had left him with textbook front hooves—wide, round, ideally proportioned and angled. At the time, you couldn’t get boots for that kind of feet. Let me say it again: No one was making boots for the ideal hoof. I tried Easyboot Gloves, which were too long in the toe and too narrow side-to-side. I tried Renegade cutbacks, which solved the width problem but were bulky and made my fluid-moving horse clumsy and cranky. And let’s not forget that they were all a hassle to put on while my riding partner stood there waiting for me.
But look at that movement!
My farrier was also very anti-barefoot and anti-boot. I won’t badmouth him. He was an expert and an artist with shoes, but very, very, very old-school. (We’ve been shoeing horses for hundreds of years. Why change now?) He trimmed Otto because I asked him to, but he didn’t really approve of what I was trying to do.
Maybe, with a pro-barefoot farrier, a local booting mentor and access to Glove Wides (which came on the market after all of this happened), I would have stuck with barefoot. As it was, the whole thing became too much of a hassle. That year, we did HOTR totally bare without incident but had to RO from the Milwaukee ride for lameness, even after applying boots. After that, I gave in and had him shod. I didn’t want to waste my time and money figuring out barefooting anymore. I saw that there were plenty of good riders who still shod, and plenty of yahoos who didn’t. Really there were plenty of mentors and yahoos on both sides… so I made the choice. Otto did great in shoes (and got pulled for lameness one more time without them). His feet stayed nice, but his personality still left much to be desired.

Did I tell you about the time he tore my rotator cuff?

Monday, December 3, 2012

“Everybody in life makes choices.” (Part I)

Today’s subject line is a quote from a news story you’ve probably all long-since forgotten: Man Mauled At Bronx Zoo Wanted To ‘Be OneWith The Tiger’; Charged With Trespassing.
That statement has become something of a meme on the websites I frequent, since it is such a perfect answer to all questions. It works great in the horse world too.
Why don’t you ride in the rain? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why did you buy a truck that can’t tow a gooseneck? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why do you use a martingale? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why do you ride a mustang instead of an Arabian? Everybody in life makes choices.
See how easy it is?
But there is one question that relentlessly dogs the endurance world online. And this time of year, when it’s the off-season for the majority of us, and people are online instead of riding, it is virtually inescapable: Why do you/don’t you shoe your horse?
Elsewhere on the internet, we call that kind of question Troll Bait. You are asking for a war. People are oddly passionate on the topic. And if you’re a Midwesterner like me, all that conflict and raising of voices (even when they’re typed) makes you really uncomfortable. Anyone who has done endurance for a while and spends time online can spot the battle starting from miles away. We quietly step out of the line of fire and let the newbies and the loudmouths fight it out. (Admit it, the carnage was amusing the first time, but now it’s just sad.)
Anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about hooves because Blue’s are terrible and have been since the day I got him. But first, a mountain of background about choices…
I have owned seven horses in my lifetime. The first three (Gazab, Jake and Jethro) were never shod—not once—in the time that I owned them. Living outdoors full-time in the flat, rock-free environment of central Nebraska, they didn’t really need shoes, especially for as little riding as I was doing. I might ride once a week in the summer and barely ever in the colder months, and most of my riding was in flat, grassy, rock-free pasture and the occasional dirt road. 

Gazab and Jake
 But even when I took Jake with me to work at a summer camp that had both hills and rocks, I didn’t bother with shoes. I didn’t want to try to find a farrier there (before the days of Google), and I didn’t have any money anyway. I brought along my rasp and nippers in case I needed to clean up any chipping, but otherwise, nature took its course.
The rented camp string horses were all barefoot, too. Their owner subscribed to the “crazy” notion that the hooves would take care of themselves, so these nags arrived at camp with overgrown, chipped, ugly-but-basically-functional feet. As head wrangler (OK, the only wrangler), I requested a morning off my other duties to do some very basic maintenance on the string and get them presentable for the campers. I knew nothing about barefoot trimming, mustang rolls, breakover or balance, but I trimmed seven horses that morning just to knock off the rough edges. Everybody stayed sound all summer, even on the gravel roads. 
Part of the camp string. (Casper, ????, Thunder, Jake)
Chief and Casper (camp horses)

Camp string butts. (Jake, Smoky, Thunder, Casper, Chief, Buck and ????) Look at all that grass!
I suppose if I had been a student of equine locomotion at the time, I might have gleaned some useful information about horses that got lots of work (a hilly, 40-acre pasture plus four hours of trail riding six days a week on varied surfaces). To wit: They were sound, moved nicely and grew TONS of hoof (I trimmed them all three times in three months) despite having no nutritional support beyond pasture grass and the oats required to catch and saddle them all.
But I was just a kid working at camp so I didn’t learn anything about anything.
My next horse, Rusty, stayed barefoot because he came that way and I was too poor to seriously consider other options. By then I was working at an AQHA breeder’s barn in exchange for board. The horses I was caring for were elite reiners (multiple world championship placings) and they were all shod with sliding plates and lived in stalls, under bright lights for 23 hours a day. This was all new to me, since none of my horses had ever lived indoors. The clean cement floors, hot-water wash racks, and groomed arenas were very appealing. The horses were just as immaculate as the setting. This seemed like it must be what was best for performance horses—to be safe and snug in their stalls. And so convenient!
Linus, the sweetest horse you ever met. I saw him out of the stall maybe twice in the year I worked there.

Sneakers, too stinkin' cute. (I only knew everybody's barn names, so I have no idea if he ended up being a big-name show horse...)

The Great Kid (TK for short), the first stallion I ever worked with.
Not being an elite reining horse, Rusty still lived outdoors. He shared a gravel drylot with the babies, who picked on him mercilessly, something he tolerated with characteristic grace.

Rusty, indoors for a much-needed bath.

Rusty's tormentors, Sunny and Shrimp. (Again, I wish I knew their registered names!)
A smarter rider, more interested in her horse’s welfare, might have noted some correlation between her horse being chased around a gravel pen by those babies and his ability to trot down a gravel road without flinching. But I was too dazzled by those fancy reiners to notice. 

Look at the reach!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Two of my favorite guys (not Brian and Blue)

I was visited today by two of my favorite guys: the FedEx guy and the UPS guy. They're basically the grown-up version of Santa Claus...right?

One box was the big one from Schneider's. The blankie is a beee-yooo-tee-ful shade of emerald green with black, and it could not fit Blue any better had it been custom made. If anyone's shopping, it's a StormShield VTEK Marathon, and the contour wither alone was worth the money.

Sorry about the color. I didn't realize how much of a green/yellow cast the barn lights give off!

The other box was something I forgot I ordered: the Specialized Fit Kit. Now, I already have a specialized saddle that is perfectly adjusted to my horse, but it's old. It's approaching 10 years old, if I remember correctly. Specialized has made a lot of changes (dare I say "upgrades"?) to their design since then, and I want to be sure that if/when I order, I get the correct thing.

Here's what comes in the box. I think the gullet gauge is the same one you use for the changeable gullets on Wintec saddles. The back templates are clearly homemade from masonite.

It took WAAAAAAY too much effort to get his front legs square for the wither measurement. It would have been nice to have a helper!

It's hard to see here, but Blue's angles go right down the middle of the black wedge, which makes him exactly Medium.

Lifted it off for a better pic.
 Next it was time to do the back of the saddle. To get an accurate measurement, the horse needs to stand square.
(Sigh. This is NOT square.)

 It took an embarrassing amount of wrangling to get Blue square, then get the step ladder next to him, then start in with the templates, but it was pretty obvious when one fit. It fit so perfectly that I didn't have to hold it up!

So now, armed with information, I await word back from Specialized about the possibility of a 17" demo. That's not standard for them, but I figured I might as well ask. I'll keep you posted!

Doing non-endurance things

I can feel myself getting a little lax about the blog, you know? We’re in the middle of that gap in the year when I am relieved that the season is over and still have a few more weeks before I begin longing for it to start again.

So, in the meantime, I’m all over the place with the riding. I don’t have any reason to condition aggressively, so I’m not. Blue’s shoes are coming off next week, and I’m hoping to leave them off long enough for the nail holes to grow out.

The weather has been all over the place too. We had a sunny day last weekend, so we did hill work on the back 40. We had rainy weeknights, so I’ve been doing arena work with the German martingale.

I’m concentrating really hard on bend-bend-bend, followed by lift and extend. Meantime also working his offside diagonal, which is hard work for both of us. I came home just as sweaty from riding the bad diagonal as I did from a half-hour on the treadmill at the gym.

I also got out “The Athletic Horse” again for a quick review of those principles. All that did was make me more determined to even out the diagonals… and change my cool down. Instead of walking around doing not much for the last 10 minutes of arena work, now we walk around flexed to the inside or the outside. Physically, it isn’t particularly demanding, but Blue and I are giving the synapses a much-needed workout: “Yes, I can walk forward but look to the side.”

Speaking of that. As long as I’m jumping all over the place with gymnastic training, I’m also drilling him on the trot-outs. They were abysmal at Foothills. He trudged, I dragged.  And while I don’t exactly blame him (considering the weather), I could cross-reference with all of our other rides this year and safely assume that he was only getting worse. His leading has never been particularly light or responsive, and I was paying for it in my vet scores. Luckily, Sarah has a training wand with a shiny, noisy pompom on the end of it. It scared the everloving crap out of him the first time I shook it at him. But danged if he didn’t offer a more animated trot after that. I’m going to keep drilling until I can put the wand away. Then I’m going to drill some more. ;) He is still a far cry from Otto, who would drag me from one end of the trot-out to the other.

In other news, Blue absolutely DESTROYED the waterproof blanket I bought him. It was a Kensington Roustabout, which is supposedly 1200x600D and only 120g filling. Whatever. Blue got out of his paddock, as usual, and left pieces of this $100 ebay bargain hanging in various trees. So, new plan. I just ordered a 1680D rain sheet for an outlandish amount of money—1680 being the highest denier available without a prescription (I’m pretty sure). 

If he shreds this one, he’s SOL. I’m clipping him. 

He’ll be cold, and he’ll like it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Blue proves me wrong

Mud isn't something we really dealt with on the east side. There were muddy days, but I could ways find somewhere with sand or gravel to ride. When I did ride in mud, Otto would flail around like a marionette with wet noodles for legs. He was amazingly coordinated in all other footing, but just couldn't deal with mud. Topper was lousy in mud too. So I have kind of an irrational fear of riding at speed in mud. What if my horse slips, falls and takes me with him? Same with wet grass. Really, anything that's potentially slick makes me nervously stick to a careful, collected walk.

Chapter 1—Friday.
It was Friday, and I couldn't decide whether to go to the Foothills of the Cascades ride. After more than two months of glorious hot dryness, the weather gods suddenly remembered that this is Oregon. The skies opened up, and it rained. It rained for days without stopping.

I do not want to camp in rain. I do not want to ride in rain. I do not trust my horse in mud. I hate being cold. I am tired of getting up early.

After work, I decided to go to ride camp. Google maps told me this would take an hour at least. It was a fun little drive, though. I got to see more of the gorgeous backroads outside of Silverton. I went through the valley hamlet of Scotts Mills and up, over, around and through the sparsely populated foothills. As I approached ridecamp, the weather went from overcast to gloomy to downright threatening.

I got up to camp, mostly interested to see how many brave fools were there. I was surprised to see lots of rigs. Interesting. On the way back down, I stopped in the places where the trail followed or crossed the road. I walked up the trail a bit on both sides, testing the ground with my own feet. Feeling for the dry footing under the slime. Debating.

I stopped at the barn before heading home. I loaded the truck "just in case" while mentally looking for an excuse not to go. Bob, the barn owner, wanted to know whether I was going—if I went, he'd need to have the gate open for me at 5 a.m. He told me to go home and watch the weather report, and call him by 8 p.m. with a decision.

I really didn't want to go.

I don't think Blue did either. The one time that I had ridden him in hard rain he had an absolute fit and almost got us both hit by a car. I have not forgotten that miserable, wet training ride.

Blue found the one dry spot in his paddock and spent the whole day there. He's not a fan of the weather over here. Or is he?

When I got home, I told Brian my worries. I told him I didn't want to ride in mud and rain. I was worried about my safety. But also, I'd be kicking myself if I woke up at home on Saturday with the sun streaming in the window.

Brian said I should go. I called Bob and told him I was going.

Chapter 2—3:25 a.m.
The alarm was set for 4 a.m., but I never sleep well before a ride. Sleeping in my own bed is no exception, apparently. Awake at 3:30, I figured I might as well just get up and start my day.

Packing the truck with a day's worth of food, water and dry socks, I felt optimistic. It was balmy in the valley (50-some degrees), and the sky was perfectly clear. I had made the right choice. I was going to have a great little ride in the sunshine!

It remained dry for the half-hour out to the barn. The gate was unlocked, and I sneaked in and hooked up the trailer. Blue followed me willingly out of his warm stall and into the trailer, where his breakfast was waiting. He put up no fight at all, in spite of the baffling time of day and his groggy owner.

It was a good thing I had pre-driven the route to ridecamp in daylight. It was pitch-black and still two hours before sunrise as I made the various twists and turns. The weather held steady. The temperature was dropping (41 degrees as I pulled into camp), but the sky was clear.

Now that I was actually at the ride, the debate in my mind had changed again: trail ride or LD? I heard from others in camp who were awake that it had poured on and off all night, and indeed the ground in camp was squishy and sopping.

But when I went to pay my entry, Anna convinced me that the wetness wouldn't really be a factor. Most of the ride was on gravel road. The dirt single-tack parts would all be under a thick canopy of sheltering trees. I believed her and signed up for the LD.

Blue vetted in at 48, which is pretty high for him, but I decided to ignore that in favor of his attitude, which was just as snuggly as always. He was relaxed and interested, and I wasn't about to waste it.

Chapter 3—7:31 a.m.
We let everybody go. I stood and watched, and didn't lead blue up to the start until they were gone. We walked to the gate, I mounted, and we walked out of camp, cool as a cucumber. We walked the first little bit of the ride, because I really wanted to let Nicole and Dancer get away from us. Blue knows Dancer, and I didn't want him catching sight or scent of her and trying to keep up. Blue is a horse who does best alone. I decided that in deference to this, and because of the soggy footing, we'd try for turtle. So now I was racing the clock and not the other horses.

Deciding to finish last on purpose really frees you up to have a nice, easy day. When 50-milers caught us, I'd just stop and let them pass. When we ran into some hunters walking along one of the forest roads, I stopped and chatted with them a little bit. When the sun peeked through and made the trees sparkle, I stopped to take a picture.

Blue was doing great on the wet gravel roads. They varied from recently graveled (car-worthy) to mossy and overgrown, but the rock base kept them well-drained, and blue didn't seem to be struggling at all. When we entered the first section of dirt single-track int he woods I was pleasantly surprised to find it the consistency of a well-watered arena. It wasn't slick or goopy at all, and Blue seemed delighted to float over the exposed rocks and roots in such nice footing.

But coming back up into camp, the weather started to deteriorate. In fact, it seemed like every step upward brought the clouds lower and darker. And that was when what had been overcast with patches of mist and drizzle turned into real rain. Cold, blustery rain.

We came into camp to the news that we would have a 20-minute hold. It was too cold to let the horses sit longer. So I had just enough time to vet through, put a mash in front of Blue, eat a granola bar and pee. As I was putting the bit back into Blue's mouth, preparing to head back out, it began to hail. It crossed my mind that I could pull. No one would judge me for it in such appalling weather.

Instead I headed back out.

Chapter 4—9:49 a.m.
I hand walked Blue down the paved road, the rain coming down in icy sheets.

At the bottom of the hill, the "trail" was essentially one continuous puddle. I mounted up, and we started out again. Blue kept up an easy jog in spite of the rain, and we wound down an overgrown road back to the common trail. It was raining still, and my glasses were alternately fogged over and covered in droplets. I made a decision. Blue was having a good day, so I would ride blind.

The kind of footing we covered on the second loop was of the sort that I might not have let a horse walk on when we lived in Walla Walla. By the, 30 or 40 horses had been over the trail. It was torn up from hooves and drenched from the rain. But I wanted the completion. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. So I took off my glasses, pressed my spurs against my horse, and hoped for the best. We trotted and cantered through through the mud like it wasn't even there. I couldn't see it, so I didn't worry about it.

Eventually, the rain eased off and the sun came out. The earth and trees steamed for a time, until the clouds closed in again and the drizzle began. By this point, all I wanted was to finish. I was soaked to the skin, despite my raincoat. My breeches were covered in a fine dusting of droplets where they wicked away the moisture against my skin. As long as we kept moving, I was warm enough. When we stopped, I shivered at the slightest breeze.

Just like at Mt. Adams, as soon as Blue set foot on the common trail back to camp, he found another gear. We were right on the edge of the time limit, and it really felt like he knew it and wanted to help. Cantering up a muddy trail to the last half-mile of gnarly single-track coming into camp, I marveled at my horse.

Blue proved me wrong. Mud is not an issue for him at all. How about that?

Blue having a well-deserved snack before we headed home.

Right as we were leaving, the sun came out again. See the steam rising off the ground?

My first card was mush by the end of the ride, so my completion was on the second card.