Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sunshine Award

The Sunshine Award is for people who "positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere." The nominee must do the following: thank the person who nominated her, nominate 10 bloggers of her own, answer the 10 questions given to her, and post them and the Sunshine Award button to their blog.

Saiph over at Wait for the Jump nominated my blog for a Sunshine Award.  Thanks, Saiph!  It means a lot to know that my sometimes crazy and random ramblings matter to someone:)

Here are the answers to the questions:

1. Mares or geldings?  Geldings.  I've owned one mare and she was a wonderful creature that I spent 15 years with, but I do not miss her heat cycles or crazy attitude days that continued until her last days at age 28.

2. English or western?  That's a tough one.  I grew up riding western and never sat in an English-style saddle until I was in my mid-twenties.  Within a couple of years, I'd completely transitioned to English saddles and I've only ridden English since then.  But I have a lot of fond memories of my good ole barrel saddle that I remember making me feel super secure and that was comfortable enough for years of long trail rides.  However, I once sat in a western saddle a few years ago and was horrified by how little I could feel the horse's back.  Plus, my dressage saddle has taken me through some pretty rugged terrain and I feel pretty secure in it.  In the end, I'm going to say that there is nothing like a great dressage saddle for disciplined arena work, but I am looking for an endurance-type saddle for our future, longer rides, and I expect that saddle to be a bit of a hybrid.

3. Do you prefer younger or older horses?  Here's what I like, an older horse that I started as a young horse.  Before my current horse, Nimo, I mostly had horses that basically had become a problem for someone else, so they were cheap enough for me to afford.  They were absolutely wonderful animals, but I spent years dealing with the issues resulting from either health mismanagement or training mistakes/abuse.  And, in some cases, I was never able to get the horse to completely recover.  Not that I haven't made my own mistakes, but I don't think any of them have been severe enough to cause a chronic illness or projectile diarrhea due to complete terror and panic.  Working with a young horse can be frustrating and it is hard to be patient to wait for the maturity to set in, but when it does, it is wonderful to see.

4. Have you trained a horse from ground zero?  Yes.  I actually did buy a weanling quarter horse when I was 13 or 14 and trained him as a 4-H project.  I did have help from a professional trainer for the first 30 days under saddle, but otherwise, all his training came from me.  Unfortunately, we just never clicked, and I ended up selling him to a girl for Pony Club.  I also bought my current horse as a yearling and trained him.  Again, I had some help from a trainer, but in this case the trainer just supervised me every once in awhile rather than participated, so I think I was the only one on Nimo's back until he was 4 or 5.  To this day, only 2 other people have sat on him.  He seemed to work well for them, though, so I'm guessing I did something right:)

5. Do you prefer groundwork or riding?  Hands down, riding.  I HATE groundwork.  I know it's necessary.  I do work on it periodically, and if I can get myself in the habit, it starts to grow on me.  But for every lungeing session I do, I keep thinking about the lost opportunity to work on laterals:)

6. Do you board your horse or keep him at home?  I've boarded my horses since I was 11.  I did get the chance to keep my horse at home for a few months just before I graduated high school because my parents moved to a small acreage, but especially where I live now, there's no way I could afford a facility on my own that remotely compares to what I can get at a boarding barn.  Plus, with all the maintenance, I'd never get to ride, and then I would be bitter...

7. Do you do all natural things or just commercial stuff?  I kind of want to say, "What Saiph said" because it made so much sense.  I prefer to use natural products if I can.  Drugs tend to be expensive and more like a short-term fix to a problem that needs to be resolved with a more sustainable solution.  I do tend to experiment a bit on myself, my horse, and my dog when it comes to supplements, although I do a lot of research beforehand to make sure there are no likely adverse outcomes.  I've had hit or miss results, although never anything negative.  With Nimo's possible ulcer, I ended up making a location change and a feeding change and didn't need to use any drugs and the problem seems to be resolved.  Maybe his problem wasn't even an ulcer, just a management issue.  I'll never know.  I am also giving some supplements that include ingredients that a person could reasonably expect to support digestive health, but I question whether the volume is sufficient to make a difference for a horse.  But, if my horse was in serious pain or was otherwise in a very acute situation that needed to resolved quickly, I would absolutely use prescribed medications.  On the other hand, for more minor things like rain rot, small wounds, and general health issues (like dull coat or chipping hooves), I'd prefer to try something more natural first.  I think part of that reasoning is because vets are often unable or unwilling to provide a good explanation for the expensive drug therapy they are recommending.  Plus, I've had a lot of bad experiences with human doctors, so I've gotten to the point where I often distrust the equine and canine vets too.  Whether that distrust is warranted is worthy of a whole new blog:)

8. All tacked up or bareback?  What is this, a trick question?  Bareback riding is for children who do not understand that human beings are delicate and breakable and who know no fear.  I haven't been on a horse bareback for at least 10 years and maybe much longer and I have no concerns that I am missing some glorious experience (unless you consider a glorious experience to include a trip to the emergency room, which I am perfectly capable of accomplishing with a fully tacked horse.)

9. Equestrian role model?  I have 2.  One is Mark Rashid.  I went to one of his clinics just 2 weeks after I got Nimo.  He was a headstrong yearling who had just been gelded (at my request and as part of the purchase agreement - getting a Friesian stallion approved for breeding costs more money than I will ever have in my life and the politics of the process were more than I was interested in getting into) and he had quickly learned that he didn't have to do anything he didn't want to.  He conned the ladies at the barn I was keeping him at to feed him a treat for every step he took to the paddock.  It was ridiculous.  15 minutes with Mark, and my horse has never had a leading problem since.  There was no beating.  Instead, Mark worked with me on my timing and my reaction.  Every time Nimo stopped moving, he had me immediately turn around, make myself "big," and start walking toward Nimo while flailing my arms and yelling.  The idea was that Nimo would make the connection that when he stopped moving if he wasn't asked to, his handler went scary nuts.  It worked like a charm.  I don't just love this trainer because of the successful clinic experience, though.  He's written many books and done some DVDs too, and every time I see him or read what he's written, I'm struck by how thoughtful he is about how he interacts with the horse.  The other thing that impresses me is that he periodically rethinks what he knows about horses, and he's not afraid to admit that he's changed his mind about something that he used to think.

My other role model is Jane Savoie.  This women's Happy Horse DVDs changed my life.  I had been riding with one trainer for 7 years and I had grown to hate riding.  I hated my lessons.  I hated my life because I hated riding, the one thing I thought I would love forever.  I was miserable.  I couldn't ride my horse (that I had actually broken to ride myself) and I was terrified to take him out of the ring because he was a basketcase.  Just when I was about to give up and I was seriously thinking about selling my horse and never riding again, I saw an ad for her Happy Horse program.  It was crazy expensive, and I didn't have much money, but I was desperate to do one last thing to see if I could change my outlook on riding.  I splurged on it, not even expecting it to work.  But it did.  It changed the way I thought about communicating with my horse and the way I thought about myself.  I fired my trainer, moved my horse to a new barn, started riding with another trainer who used a lot of Jane's training principles and got my balls back for riding.  Eventually, I gave up lessons altogether.  It's not that I don't think I can benefit from the occasional lesson, but I had fallen into a trap where I thought that if I wasn't riding perfectly and my horse wasn't responding perfectly, I was defective and a bad rider.  Once I realized that I was a good rider who could communicate with my horse, I didn't need what had become a crutch to me - weekly lessons.  I've also put dressage on the back burner, but I know what to do to pick things back up.  I don't need a trainer to tell me that my horse needs to move more forward or that our crappy canter depart was the result of a hindend disconnected from the front end.  I can feel it, and I can practice until we get it right.  I also no longer need the constant affirmation that comes from lessons.  Much like I don't agree with the principle of nagging a horse for every step, I don't think a student needs constant feedback.  Occasional constructive feedback, yes, but I think it's just as annoying and self-defeating for a rider to get constant "feedback" from an instructor as it is for a horse to get constant finger twitches and leg bumps from a rider.

10.  What's my one, main goal for my equestrian journey?  To become a better communicator with my horse.  I want to develop my sense of timing of aids and my coordination to apply them as well as my ability to listen to what my horse is telling me.  I think dressage can accomplish some of that, but there is nothing like being 15 miles from your trailer and stuck on the side of a mountain by yourself with a potentially serious situation to get you really listening to your horse and thinking about your aids:)

For blogs to nominate, here are the ones I go to the most for information or humor, although there are tons more that I enjoy.

1.  Haiku Farm - This was the very first endurance riding blog I started reading.  I had previously bought Aarene's Endurance 101 book and I loved her sense of humor and the way she presented information.  When I found out she had a blog too, I couldn't resist.

2.  It seemed like a good idea at the time... - When I saw the name of this blog on someone's blogroll, I had to check it out, and I've been addicted to Funder's sense of humor and the descriptions of her adventures ever since.  She writes in a way that makes me feel like I was there and no matter what the outcome or what horrible thing happened, I kind of wish I was...

3.  Boots and Saddles - This blog is so full of great technical information.  Mel writes such detailed posts about all kinds of topics related to horse health and endurance riding, and I've learned so much.  She also is so patient when she answers questions (especially from newbies like me who are confused at least half the time), and I am in awe of the time she must spend putting together the information on her blog.

4.  Karen's Musings and Endurance Ride Stuff - Karen has such great tips on her blog.  She's been riding a long time and I love that she cares so much about the health and longevity of her horses.

5.  Mugwump Chronicles - Mugs might be one of the bravest people I have ever heard of.  Her willingness to delve deep into what is wrong with horse training is a rare gift.  She analyzes the experiences she's had over the years and offers her conclusions as well as an opportunity for her readers to come up with their own thoughts.  There is no question that her posts are thought-provoking, and in the short time I've been reading her blog, I've spent more than my fair share of time rethinking my own experiences.

6.  The Longest Format - It took me awhile to figure out that the name of the blog refers to three-day eventing, although that really shouldn't have been a surprise, given Hannah's previous work as an eventer.  She's a little further along in her journey than I am, but still new enough that I can really appreciate her insights as she struggles with tack, horse, and ride issues.  She's also got a very direct writing style that I love and her posts are always jam-packed with analysis.

7.  In Omnia Paratus - This is one of the newest blogs I've been following and I was thrilled to discover that Liz lives in West Virginia (so close!).  I hope to actually meet her at a ride someday and soak up some of her brilliance through osmosis.  The woman can tie a rope halter like nothing I've ever seen and her zest for living is amazing.

8.  Trails (and Trials) - This blog has a lot more pictures than typical, and those pictures often showcase Major's thought process, which is hysterical.  Reading a "Conversation with Major" is enough to make my day.

9.  Go Pony - Ashley's most recent post starts off with one of my favorite quotes ever - "No ride plan ever survives first contact with reality."  I think that could be the motto for pretty much all of my rides, including the ones in the arena.  There's a lovely sense of humor woven through the posts, and I love having a great resource for barefoot/boot issues.

10.  My last nomination isn't actually for a blog.  It's for a lovely lady who has volunteered so much of her time showing me the trails in the area and e-mailing me huge vats of endurance-related info.  I won't post her name out of respect for her privacy, but I couldn't have asked for a better mentor.  She actually got in touch with me and offered to help, and I remember being so grateful.  I absolutely know that Nimo and I would not have done as well as we did at the OD Intro Ride if it wasn't for her help and I look forward to seeing her at a real competition next year!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

And the Turtle Award Goes to...

Not us:)  Actually, there was no Turtle Award given at the OD Intro Endurance Ride, but if there had been, it would have gone to someone else.  Don't get me wrong, I fully expected Nimo and I to be bringing up the rear on this and every other ride, and that's totally fine.  We're not doing this to be competitive with anyone other than ourselves.  However, in this particular case, the reason that we weren't coming in last makes me proud of us.  To find out exactly what happened, though, you'll need to read the whole post or skip to the end:)

Old Dominion hosted an Intro Endurance Ride in conjunction with its final ride of the season, a 30/30/50/50.  The intro ride was set up to be 16 miles and to follow the second loop of the 50 mile ride.  Apparently, it is typical for this loop to include the Indian Graves section of trail, which is notorious for its difficulty.  Luckily, that section of the trail was replaced with something easier, and I heard several riders say they were very happy about the new trail.

While I could have set up camp the day before the ride, I really wasn't ready for horse camping yet, so I planned to arrive the morning of the ride, which was scheduled to begin at noon.  My day started off at 6 am and we were on the road by 8:30.  I had hoped to arrive by 10, so we would have 2 hours to settle and get ready.  And, I probably would have met that goal if a piece of my hitch hadn't fallen off at exit #6 on I-66 west.

I have a weight distributing hitch for my trailer because the max tongue weight is 1,000 lbs, which is pretty substantial.  Also, because it is an all-steel trailer and my horse is pretty big, I think the hitch helps stabilize everything.  When I had hooked everything up that morning, I noticed the latch on one of the bars that connects to the trailer from the truck didn't feel quite right, but when I attached it, it seemed to be stable.  But, I guess it really wasn't.  I'm not really sure how it could even fall off, but apparently it did.  Luckily, the car behind me was able to avoid it and I was able to get pulled over, so I could retrieve it.  Because I had hauled the trailer without the weight-distributing portion of the hitch, I figured I could just keep going and investigate the situation later, but I did wonder if it was an omen...

Our trip out to ridecamp included a 12 mile section of Fort Valley Road, which is a constantly twisting road that goes through George Washington Forest.  I felt terrible for the line of cars behind us, but there was no way to negotiate those turns with any speed while hauling a horse.  And thanks to the tip from the organizer of the Intro Ride, we knew to take the second turn onto Seven Fountains Road instead of the first turn, thus saving us a nail-biting trip through an even worse road and crazily-narrow bridge.  Apparently, the general directions do not make this information known...maybe due to a sick sense of humor???

We managed to arrive a little after 10.  This is the ridecamp:

I didn't have any idea where the vet check was, but I didn't think we would be doing a vetting for this ride, and I had my bladder to consider, so I found a spot close to a water trough for the horses and a porta-potty:)  At this point, I tried to check in, but I couldn't find anyone to check in with, so I unloaded and got Nimo set up with hay and water.  There was supposed to be a ride briefing at 11, and I wanted to make sure I had my saddle packs ready to go, Nimo brushed, and all 4 boots on before then.  No problem.

But where was the ride meeting?  I went to the logical location - the main tent where other ride activities were held, but that wasn't right.  I asked around, and no one knew anything about it.  I finally figured out where the vet check was and headed over there to ask.  I hated to bother anyone, but I was getting worried about finding the briefing.  At the vet check, someone pointed me to the Ride Manager.  Surely she would know?  And that would be a no.

The Ride Manager had no idea about anything that was related to the Intro Ride.  I would like to insert a comment here.  Please understand that I think it is great that OD hosted this Intro Ride, but it really sucked that no one knew anything about the organization of the ride.  As someone who had never been to a ridecamp before, I was feeling overwhelmed already, and it sure would have been nice to have a sign at the entrance to the camp for the people coming for the Intro Ride.  I had to wander around camp for quite a while and ask a lot of people for help who probably had more important things to do.  The woman who organized the ride had sent an e-mail, but she said she would be parked near the vet check and described her truck as a white Dodge Ram 2500 diesel with a DD LQ trailer.  Here's the thing.  Most of the trucks were white, I have no idea what DD LQ means, and of course, I didn't know where the vet check area was.  I wasn't the only one confused.  I ran into a couple of other ladies who were as clueless as I was and eventually, we were able to figure out where the truck and trailer were.  When we got there, we explained they had been a little tough to find, and all we got from the organizer was a snide comment about people not reading their e-mails.  Not really the best note to start off on...

Anyway, I got checked in and discovered that 19 people had signed up for the ride.  The original plan had been to ride the trail as a group with an average pace of 4 mph.  Because there were so many people, the organizer opted to have us ride at our own pace with she and her son acting as drag riders and essentially setting a minimum pace of 4 mph.  She told us to follow the signs for the 50 second loop and we would be fine.  As I would later discover, these directions ended up not being complete enough.

I picked up the pink and black checkered ribbon to put in Nimo's tail that would designate us as newbies so competitive riders might take pity on us if they needed to pass, and I headed back to my trailer to get saddled up.  I had enough time to get all my gear on and grab a bite to eat.  I have to admit, my stomach was a little unsettled.  I guess I was a little nervous about the trail.  I'd heard how difficult it could be and I hoped that we could keep up.  The pace would be a little faster than we typically ride and the distance would be one mile longer than the longest ride we've done, so I worried that our preparation wasn't enough.

Here's Nimo all ready to go:

And just a word about the saddle pad.  It is one of my favorites because it is actually very well-made and durable, but the real reason I was riding in it was because it was the only clean one...I figured if endurance riders dress their horses up in all sorts of colors, I could at least have a flamboyant saddle pad:)

Here's the ribbon designating us as newbies:

We made our way over to the meeting place for the start of the ride.  Our leader would be an experienced rider on an Appaloosa.  After waiting for a few minutes, we were off.  And the last I saw of our leader was her horse's butt as she sprinted up the steep hill that marked the start of the ride.  Nimo tried to keep up, but trotting up substantial hills was not part of our conditioning work up to this point, and honestly, I really hadn't expected that it would ever be something we would do.  I read Karon Chaton's post about longevity and one of the things she recommended was walking up steep hills and trotting once you get to the top.  I am sometimes guilty of not taking perfectly good advice, but this tip as well as others she said made a lot of sense to me, and I honestly expected that an experienced rider would follow it.  I was very wrong.  Just minutes into the ride, Nimo and I were the only ones walking and the drag riders had already caught up to us.  But there really wasn't anything I could do about it.  Nimo was sweating the foamy sweat that tells me I'm pushing too hard and we still had 15 miles to go.

So we walked.  When we finally got to the top of the mountain, the trail leveled off.  Perfect for trotting, right?  Not so much.  It was crazy rocky.  It was at this point that the drag riders started the lecturing that would continue for the rest of the ride...I was told that I really needed to trot my horse over this footing or I'd never make the pace for the ride.

Interjection:  I don't have the space to go into everything, but there was a lot of talking about pacing and cooling.  I don't think any other Intro Riders got these lectures.  I'm positive that the young man giving me the information was doing it out of kindness and not to imply that I was stupid or incapable, but by the end of the ride, I was feeling a little bit like I appeared too stupid to ride my horse in a real ride without an extreme amount of help.  I am beginning to think that because I'm riding a big horse, people feel compelled to give me information that they wouldn't feel necessary to give to people riding Arabs.  The thing is, I do understand that I have a different set of challenges than most people doing endurance riding.  On the other hand, it is extremely unlikely that I will have to worry about overworking my horse to the point that he ties-up or has other metabolic issues.  His temperament just won't allow it.  Having owned an Arab for many years, and having absolutely ridden her to the point were she overdid it and tied-up, I fully understand the problem.  Arabs and other hot-blooded horses will work themselves to death without even being asked.  They need to be monitored.  My horse is very unlikely to do that.  I found during the ride, that as he got more tired, he stopped wanted to keep up with horses in front of him and did a good job pacing himself.  Enough said...

Not knowing what the rest of the ride terrain was, but thinking that this might be the best I was going to get, I was definitely thinking that endurance riding wasn't for us, and I was going to have to give up and head back.

One of the drag riders decided he would have his horse trot over the trail to show Nimo how it was done, thinking Nimo would follow him.  Interestingly, his horse absolutely refused to trot.  And this horse had been over the same trail the day before.  Then, I asked Nimo to trot, pretty sure he wouldn't, and get this.  He absolutely trotted!  It was not easy going, he would slow down or walk when we got to some of the bigger boulders, but we did make it through at a quicker pace, leading the two drag horses.

However, I was pretty relieved when we got to the downhill portion of the trail where it was clearly inadvisable to trot.  I have to admit, it was pretty rugged, and at some point going down the very-rocky, very downhill portion of the trail, the cable on Nimo's LF boot snapped.  There was no good place to stop, though, and I was feeling intense pressure to keep moving.  And this is the first time that I noticed Nimo was definitely more sure-footed and faster-moving than the horses we had caught up with.  That's right.  Several riders who had trotted up that first climb were now lagging behind and we caught up to them and really wanted to pass them, but we couldn't because there was no room.

Out of curiosity, I waited to deal with the boot with the snapped cable to see how long it would stay on.  It continued to stay on through more downhill, rocky trails and even some trotting - at least a mile, maybe more.  Finally, we got to a place where riders were beginning to separate due to different rates of speed and there was a good place to get off and replace the boot.  A couple riders waited for me, which was really nice, and I got back on and we were on our way.  I'm sure the organizer had some choice words for me in her head as she waited because she had made her views on boots pretty clear, and they weren't positive.  I knew I was likely to snap at least one cable just because the force of my horse's giant feet, steep downhills, and crazy rocks were going to stress the hardware on the boots, but there is no way for me to find out how my boots perform on rides without taking them on rides.

As it turned out, my fears that the crazy rocks would litter the entire 16 miles were unfounded.  We actually encountered some gravel roads and just nice trails with minimal rocks.  There were also miles of less steep elevation changes that allowed us to do some trotting without Nimo getting too overworked.  The only real problem I had for the next many, many miles was that we were alternating with moving a little ahead of the drag riders to kind of being pushed along by them.  I actually had my GPS on, so I was monitoring our pacing.  It varied, but for all of the ride, until the very end, our average speed was over 4 mph.  At one point, I think we were at 5.6 mph, which is actually a pretty legitimate speed for us, even at a real ride.

Again, I refer back to Karon Chaton's post, where she advises riding your own ride.  I found that without a doubt, Nimo worked best when we were alone.  If he could see horses ahead, he kept trying to go faster and if he could see horses behind, he tried to slow down.  On our own, he did awesome.  He happily trotted trails we'd never been on before on a completely loose rein at a reasonable speed.  He negotiated small ditch/creek things that normally worry him without a problem.

At about 8 miles, I really wanted to stop and give Nimo something to eat and get a drink and a snack for me too.  I had let a couple riders go ahead of us that we'd been riding with and waited for them to be out of sight, so we could stop.  I also looked for an area with good stumps.  When I found what looked like a good place, I got off and gave Nimo a couple of apples.  I hoped to give him some Fibregized too, but the drag riders caught up to us and I felt pressured to keep moving.  So I got back on...

The next few miles were fairly uneventful, until we encountered what I think is the steepest downhill descent we've ever done (and possibly that I've ever done on any other horse).  It seemed like Man from Snowy River steep.  And to top it off, halfway down, we ran into 2 bicyclists (WTF?  Who in their right minds would ride a bike UP that hill?).  And guess what?  They also had an unleashed Rottweiler.  Some of you may remember my experience with an unleashed Rottweiler at Andy Guest Park a few weeks ago.  And judging by Nimo's attitude, he remembered too.

The bicyclists had nicely pulled off the trail for us, but there was one on each side, forming a bicycle tunnel.  And the owner of the dog had a hold of the dog's collar, but the dog was growling and lunging.  And I had nowhere to go but forward.  Riders were coming behind us and there was no room on the side of the trail.  If my horse decided to blow up, it was going to be bad.  I just tried to keep Nimo moving forward one step at a time, and somehow, we made it.  Big sigh of relief:)

A little later, we encountered this lovely flat trail with nice footing, and we just trotted along.  A couple of riders were still behind us, but I felt like we were going at their pace.  Just when I decided we needed to walk for a bit, I asked if the riders behind would like to pass.  They declined, opting to take a water break instead.  I decided to keep going, and once again wrestled with my saddle pack to get a drink.  For some reason, up until that point, I had been completely stupid about getting my drink out of the pack.  I wrestled and swore at it because I couldn't get the bottle out.  Why was the stupid strap that kept the bottle in so tight?  How had it been so easy to get the bottle in the pack in the first place?  Eureka!  It's because the strap has VELCRO on it.  Idiot, you can just pull the strap up to release the bottle.  Wow, it really is true that you lose IQ points out on the trail.  Of course, I think typically, the IQ loss doesn't start so early...

A few minutes later, I had another epiphany.  Lately, I've been getting this terrible pain in my neck/upper back after riding.  I've been getting physical therapy every week for it, but I was trying to figure out why.  I realized it's because my damn helmet is so heavy!  I love my helmet, which is a Charles Owen, black velvet covered helmet, but the thing has got to go.  On long rides, it's killing me.  I need to get something super light weight and soon.  Mystery solved.

Then, I got to a fork in the trail, and there was no obvious choice.  I walked one way a little bit looking for a ribbon and then the other way.  No ribbons.  It appeared that one way went to a house, so I decided the other way made more sense, although I knew at least part of the trail was on private land.  It turns out that I made the correct choice.  I found some ribbons and then a lovely volunteer making sure riders were going the right direction at another turn in the trail.  It was so nice to see his smiling face!

And Nimo seemed to sense we were in the homestretch.  We had about 5 miles to go, and he happily trotted up a gentle hill, keeping us ahead of the riders we left behind.  Eventually, they caught up to us and passed, but they didn't end up being ahead for long.  There weren't a lot of opportunities for trotting because the terrain was a sort of rolling, forest path.  At one point, the lead horse needed to stop for a rest, signaling that she was getting tired...

When we had about 4 miles to go, we got to a section of trail where the choices were to take the 50 loop 2 or follow the sign to the vet check.  I'd seen the sign before and was confused.  Were we supposed to do the loop again?  I had forgotten that all vet checks were at the ridecamp, and I wasn't quite certain where we were.  Luckily, I was with the drag riders at this point, so they told me to follow the Vet Check sign.  And then the discussion about whether the other riders would have figured that out ensued.  And there was an assessment that hopefully, they would eventually figure it out if they kept taking the loop.  And there was a comment that any Intro Rider who was behind at this point would be on their own...Not cool at all.  I'm still a little angry about this.  The Intro Ride trail should have been clearly marked.  It's an Intro Ride, for God's sake.  You have to assume that you've got inexperienced riders on the trail.  Plus, we hadn't gotten a map and I know this information wasn't given at the ride briefing...If I had been on my own, I'm not sure what I would have done.

We continued riding with these 2 ladies and the drag riders until the final climb.  Brutally, with only 3 miles to go, we got to what I consider to be the most difficult climb of the ride.  It was the mountain we'd gone down at the beginning of the ride that had caused my boot cable to snap.  The other two ladies were in front of us and the drag riders were behind us.  I could tell pretty quickly that Nimo was moving at a faster pace.  The lead horse kept having to stop to rest.  I could have asked to pass, but it wasn't a competition, we were near the end, my horse was doing great, and we had nothing to prove.  However, at one point, it became clear that the lead horse was really having trouble and her rider asked if Nimo could go in front.  I guess she thought her horse was just tired of leading.  I admit it is hard work to lead, but that horse was just plain done in.  Nimo, on the other hand, was not.

We haven't done a huge amount of steep climbing, but I suspect we'd done quite a bit more than those ladies.  Here's what the trail looked like:

 Also, we'd ridden more conservatively, so my horse had something left to give.  So, I moved Nimo up front, and we left those riders behind.  He powered up the mountain, only taking a couple of short breaks, one of which allowed me to take this picture:

We never saw the other riders again.  We made it to the top of the mountain, and I decided that based on my GPS readings, we could walk the rest of the way back to ridecamp, which was good because except for a short level, but rocky section of trail, the rest was all fairly steep downhill.  At the beginning of the ride, I'd seen a lot of riders trotting this section downhill, one of whom was smiling so much, that I couldn't doubt she was having the time of her life, but I didn't think that was necessary, especially because Nimo was walking out pretty nicely.

And it wasn't.  We reached ridecamp exactly 4 hours after we left, doing 16 miles with an average speed of 4 mph.  WhooHoo!  So the reason I'm so proud of not being the last rider in is because with the exception of a short distance at the beginning of the ride where I pushed my horse too much, I felt like I did a good job of pacing Nimo and of preparing him for the ride.  I realize that most riders finished well ahead of us, but when we got to that last climb, and I still had a horse left, it was a great feeling.

Here's Nimo at the end of the ride, looking about the same as when he started, except for some dried sweat marks.

He drank several gallons of water, slurped up a Fibregized/beet pulp mash, and snarfed down 2 flakes of hay.  I didn't take his pulse because I didn't think it was necessary.  He looked great and was eating and drinking really well.  I let him rest and eat while I slowly untacked and unbooted and ate something.  I brushed the dried sweat off (I didn't use water because it was pretty chilly).

There wasn't any final ceremony for the Intro Ride, which was kind of disappointing.  I would have liked to have visited with other riders who participated to get their thoughts.  I think a lot of them were actually experienced riders maybe on green horses.  I say that just because of the tack they had and the speed they went.

So here are my final conclusions on the ride.

The Good

1.  That OD hosted the ride at all.  I don't think it's common to offer Intro Rides, and it was great to go a shorter distance, learn the terrain, and just try out our equipment on a "real" ride.
2.  Nimo did awesome.  He was a rock star.  He did a longer distance at a faster pace than we normally go, and he handled it really well.  Now I know exactly what we need to do to improve and get ready for an LD.  Also, I learned that Nimo is likely to move uphill more slowly and downhill more quickly than many other horses.  I'll need to use that to our advantage on rides.  I could have taken a longer break at 8 miles if I had been able to take advantage of Nimo's faster pace downhill.

Things That Could Be Improved

1.  Provide better guidance at the ridecamp for people coming in for the Intro Ride would be great.  Even though the bulk of the participants were probably experienced, it gives a bad impression to newbies to have to hunt for information.  One sign at the entrance to ride camp explaining where the organizer's trailer was would have been great.
2.  Give better directions for the trail, either with a map or signs on the trail.  If I hadn't been with the drag riders at one point, I would have been seriously confused and could have ended up wandering around forever.
3.  Have a check-in/check-out system for the Intro Ride.  The organizer had no way of knowing if all the Intro Ride participants ever came back.
4.  Offer a debrief for the ride, if riders want to stay, just to go over lessons learned and answer any questions.

As for our future plans, I'm giving Nimo a week off and then we'll do some shorter-distance "fun" rides in November.  Starting in December, we'll get back to more disciplined conditioning work.  I'd like to do a 25/30 in April next year, which is when the ride season starts in this area.  I'm hoping to focus a little more on speed for December/January and then start adding climbing and distance back in for February/March.  Our work will depend on the weather, though.  If we have a typical mild winter, we'll have no problem keeping to a schedule, but if we have lots of snow/ice, I may need to adjust a bit.  Anyway, I'm definitely ready for more!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Beautiful Day

While I grew up in North Dakota and lived in Iowa for 10 years, I really consider Virginia my home now.  One reason is because of October.  It is my favorite month (and not just because of the Halloween candy).  The weather in October can be unpredictable, but it is mostly just fantastic.  Sunday was the most perfect weather day.  Temps in the low 60s and lots of sun, with a gentle breeze that carried a hint of the winter to come.

I took the opportunity to head out to Shenandoah National Park, which had recently reopened after the government shutdown.  My goals were to try out the new stuff I had gotten from Running Bear (BTW, best shipping ever - I ordered on Saturday and the stuff was delivered on Tuesday even though Monday was a holiday) and do another trial with hind boots.  When I put them on last weekend, I ended up with a snapped cable and twisted boot on the right hind.  So I wanted to see if that was a fluke or something I needed to deal with.

The reason I choose the Shenandoah National Park for my ride is because we can do more difficult climbing there and get a longer distance than other places I usually ride.  I planned to go 10 miles, thinking that would be a great distance prior to our 15 mile ride on the 26th.

It took me about an hour to get everything strapped on.  I added d-rings for the front of the saddle (worked like a charm) and a sponge leash/sponge.  Last weekend I had added a bag to carry an extra Easyboot and some tools and hardware for the boots, but I wasn't happy with the way it was moving around so much during my ride.  I basically just attached it over the center part of the pommel pack I already had.  The position worked ok, but it shifted a lot, so I wanted to figure out how to stabilize it.

I would have been great if I had taken a picture of all my crap, but I was so ready to just get on and ride at that point, that you get this picture instead.

Headed up the mountain
This particular trail goes up to the top of a mountain, crosses Skyline Drive, and then heads down a fire road through the park.  The first 2.5 miles are a steady climb.  It's great because there is literally only one 30 foot stretch of level ground.  The rest is all up, with varying degrees of incline.

On our way up, we crossed this stream (not over the bridge, which I think is just for people), and Nimo stopped for a drink.  I'm so proud!


We made it up the mountain just fine until I looked down and realized that I had serious saddle slippage.  I do ride with a breast collar, but I think with Nimo's fitter shape, the saddle is a little wide now.  I decided to hop off at the top, adjust the saddle, tighten the breast collar, and double check the boots.  While I was busy doing that, Nimo's first admirer of the day, a young girl, stopped by with some carrots.  I'm pretty sure now that whenever we see people on the trail, Nimo assumes they are there to feed him.  Anyway, after some chatting and picture-taking, we headed down the mountain.

Of course, I was still on foot, so I was on the lookout for a nice stump or rock to use as a mounting block.  After passing one rock that was too short, and one rock that was too pointy for me to balance on, I spotted this stump that was just right.

And off we went.  We rode to the end of the fire road and I discovered that people actually lived way back yonder.  And I felt a little envious.  I do enjoy living in a town most of the time, but when I see this:


I admit to being tempted to find a way to live out in the country.

Anyway, we rode for a little longer and then turned around when my GPS said we'd gone 5 miles.  Once we got back to the entrance to the park, I decided it was time for a snack break, because who can resist stopping for scenery like this:

Nimo got some Fibregized and an apple, and I got a peanut butter sandwich and some Gatorade.

Then, we were on our way again.  At which point, my normally bright horse was stupid.  To get back on the fire road, we need to go through this:

As the most astute among you will notice, there is a chain between the two posts, but space for a horse to squeeze around to the side.  So I asked Nimo to go around the post and he absolutely refused.  I guess he thought it was stupid to squeeze in between the post and rock when we could just go down the road, because that is what he tried to do against my profound objections.  His knees hit the chain and finally, he realized why I was asking him to go around.  Luckily, he was unhurt and he immediately agreed that going to the side of the post was, in fact, the right thing to do.

And we began our ascent back up the mountain.  Going this direction was still a lot of climbing, but the footing was a lot better - no rocks hidden under fallen leaves - and there was some leveling out periodically because I guess you can't expect fire trucks to just go straight up a mountain.

We came across a stream and you guessed it, my soon-to-be-a-real-endurance horse stopped to take a drink.

Here is where I was absolutely supposed to practice with my sponge-on-a-leash, but I was so busy being impressed that my horse was drinking, that he didn't try to lay down and roll, and that he was happy to just hang out while I took a picture, that I totally forgot.

Then, we encountered some poor souls who needed directions and not knowing me, decided to ask for my help.  I am totally useless with giving people directions, even if I actually know where I'm sending them.  In this case, they were looking for a parking lot that was not the only parking lot I was aware of on the trail.  And they thought they were "south" of said parking lot, as if this information would be useful to me.  I had to assure them that I didn't know of this parking lot they were looking for and to convince them that they were better off on their own anyway.  Meanwhile, my horse wanted to know why no one was feeding him.

As we got closer to the top, we encountered a regular parade of small children, strollers, and parents who thought that Nimo was the attraction they had come to see.  While it is great to be an ambassador for horses everywhere, my next horse is going to be short and ugly...I will say that Nimo was fantastic, especially because I knew the strollers were definitely freaking him out, but he didn't spook a bit and walked past them like they were nothing.  Of course, he did keep eyeballing the small children like they were food...

We managed to cross Skyline Drive successfully a second time (no small feat now that fall color is here and that road may be busier than the Beltway) and we started on the last 2.5 miles.  The hind boots were holding up great, but I figured if there was going to be a problem, it would be here.  I imagine the force that is generated by a giant hoof slipping downhill over leaves and rocks is substantial and I was waiting for a cable to snap.  But none did.  All four boots were super stars!

I did want to report on the new EasyUp buckles I installed on 2 boots.  One of the cables that had snapped the week before belonged to a new buckle, so I was only riding with one boot that had the EasyUp buckle.  I do have extra cables, but they are different than the cables for the EasyUp buckles.  The cable for the regular buckle is longer and only needs one thing-for-which-I-do-not-know-its-name.  It's some kind of copper-looking metal piece that clinches the cable ends together.  Anyway, if I was handy, I probably could figure out how to make the regular cables work for the EasyUp buckles, but, as it turns out, I am not handy.  Despite the cable difficulties, I will say that I LOVE the EasyUp buckles.  They do not require the locking pins to keep them in place, even over rough terrain.  In fact, the design is such that the more pressure there is on the cable, the less likely they are to come undone. They also allow more finite adjustments, and are breathtakingly easy to undo.  So, well worth the $10.  I intend to get more and retro-fit all my boots.

Oh, and I did finally manage to get the shifting Easyboot bag under control.  I'm kind of aggravated, though, that the Easyboot manafacturers of said bag and my pommel pack didn't just make the center pocket of the pommel pack big enough to fit an Easyboot (for a horse of Nimo's size - the pocket that is there would probably fit a smaller boot).

So, all in all, I feel like I'm as prepared as possible for my Intro Ride this coming Saturday.  And it looks like a cold front is coming in, so my big, black behemoth of a horse should be just fine temperature-wise:)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rain, rain, go away...

It started raining on Wednesday and hasn't really stopped since then.  I managed to get a decent ride in the arena before the rain came down too hard, but I haven't done anything since then except pat my horse.  I even took pity on him and put his rain sheet on, and this is how he repaid me:

That carcass-like thing used to be a fairly expensive Rhino turnout sheet.  Somehow, Nimo managed to rip all three layers apart.  I'm guessing he had help, but who knows?  Sort of luckily, I have never really liked that sheet because the high neck rubbed his mane off in the middle and the lack of gussets didn't seem to work well.  Plus, I don't think it was all that waterproof (possibly due to overzealous washing by the barn staff a couple of years ago).  I had planned to try the Rambo Optimo blanket system because of the huge gusset, but because my husband and I are both Federal government employees, my financial leash has been snapped tight due to the shutdown.  So until I start earning a paycheck again, my horse is on a serious budget.

I checked at Dover Saddlery for a new sheet, but they had nothing in his size at the store except for a Baker sheet that didn't have gussets.  And honestly, I've been through most of the types of sheets they carry already, and none of them really do it for me.  So, I checked Smartpak and they had the Roustabout Ultra Light Rain Sheet.  It got good reviews, was significantly cheaper than a Rambo, and there was literally only one sheet in size 84 left.  I took that as a sign and ordered it.  We'll see how it works out.  I usually don't blanket unless my horse is clipped, but he doesn't have his full winter coat yet, and it was getting into the low 50s at night, so I figured he would appreciate some extra protection with all the rain we've been getting.  Silly me.  I probably will just leave him blanketless unless I decide to clip for the winter, but I always like to have something on hand, just in case.

Anyway, despite the call of housework, laundry, and organizing crap, I decided to spend some time today on horse stuff to get ready for my ride in a couple of weeks.  First, I ordered a few inexpensive items that I think I'll need.  I'd heard good things about Running Bear as a supplier of endurance-related stuff, so I thought I'd give them a try.  The website was a little hard to navigate, but about 10 minutes after I placed my order, I got an e-mail saying my package had shipped, so that's pretty impressive customer service.  I ordered a medical armband, sponge leash (I already have a sponge), mesh bag to put sponge in, a card pack for my rider card (thanks all for the tips to put the card in my bra, but that kind of weirds me out...), a water scoop, and D-ring add-ons.  I had planned to do what Liz did in this post, but when I came across the D-ring things for $6 at Running Bear, I figured I couldn't do it any better or cheaper than that.  My dressage saddle only has 2 tiny D-rings, and I really need a couple more.

I also followed the advice Aarene gives in Endurance 101, which is to get an ID tag to braid into my horse's mane in case we get separated.  Karen Chaton offered a good source on her blog, so I went to GoTags.com, and ordered a set of two military-style tags

Finally, I decided to deal with my Easyboot issue.  You may remember that I snapped a cable on my last ride and did not have an extra boot or cable.  Earlier in the week, I ordered more Easyboots (2 for the hind feet and one extra) plus extras like cables, boot hardware, hoofpicks, and a couple sets of the new buckles.  These new buckles are called EasyUp buckles.  Initially, I didn't really think I'd want to upgrade, but now that I'm going to be booting on all 4 feet (4 boots/shoes are required for the OD Intro ride that I'm doing in a couple of weeks), I can see that the buckle locking pins are going to get kind of irritating.  They do work really well, but it does take extra time to put them in.  Also, the EasyUps look like they have more adjustment options.  So, I thought I'd give them a try.  For $10/boot, EasyCare will make the upgrade for you, but I wanted to save some money, and I figured doing the upgrade myself would help me understand how to make boot repairs in the future.

So, I got my new boots, the new buckle kits, and went to the website to get the instructions for installation.  This is what the company posted:

Let me assure you that these directions are inadequate.  So, I searched a little more and found a sequence of photos.  These pictures and the accompanying descriptions helped a little more, but there are several errors in the directions.  I'll try to remember them and write them here in case anyone else would like to spend a fun-filled evening messing around with Easyboots.  First, the directions don't tell you that there are two screws of different lengths in the kit and it is important that the shorter one is on top and the longer one is on the bottom.  Second, the instructions don't tell you what the top and bottom of the buckle is.  You can look at the picture and figure it out, but if you just use the instructions without pictures, you might not realize that you are installing the buckle upside down...Third, the instructions tell you that you don't need the round white rollers for the cables for the EasyUp buckle.  That isn't true unless there are shorter screws included in the kit, which there are not.  So, you need to mess around with the rollers to get them to work with the new cable style to avoid having a screw that is too long go through the boot and potentially scrape the crap out of your horse's hoof.  Fourth, none of the instructions make it clear just how annoying it is when the little gold screw holder thingamajigs repeatedly fall out and wander around the boot, the floor, or the table while you try to get your stubby fingers to hold on to them while tightening the screws.  And finally, the directions do not tell you to make sure that the cable is on top of the buckle before you put the cables in place.  There is not enough slack in the cable to get it over the top of the buckle after it is installed.  After about an hour and a half and a glass of wine, I was able to get the new buckles installed.

Also, this now means that in addition to the two spare cables I ordered, I have two buckle replacements for the old-style buckles.  After learning how I'm supposed to replace the broken cable, I think it might be easier to just replace the whole buckle system if I'm on the trail because otherwise I need a hammer and an anvil...I'm planning to give the new buckles a try tomorrow to see how they work.  If they don't, I still have time to swap the old buckles back in before my Intro ride.  I know I'm not supposed to make any changes too soon before ride day, but I think I should have plenty of opportunities to try the new buckles ahead of time, and the boot itself is still the same model and size.

I also assembled my boot repair/replacement kit for the trail.  I already had a Hoof Boot Stowaway Pack so I laid out the items I thought I needed to put in it.

Sorry the picture is a little fuzzy (possibly I shouldn't drink and take pics at the same time), but I've got a flathead screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, hoof pick, spare cable, spare buckle with cable and installation hardware, complete hardware for a whole boot, and the extra screws that came with the boot.  Not pictured that I will also pack are my needle-nosed pliers and buckle locking pins for the old-style buckles.  Everything fits into the Stowaway pack pretty well except that I think shorter screwdrivers would work better, so I think I'll pick some of those up.

Anyway, that concludes my rainy day ride preparation.  I'll definitely post soon about how I like the EasyUp buckles, but for now, it's bed time!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The OD Intro to Endurance Riding Clinic, part 2

The second part of the OD Introduction to Endurance Riding Clinic was a mock endurance ride.  The description of the ride was that it would be two loops.  The first loop would be about 2 miles over relatively easy terrain, while the second loop would be slightly longer over more difficult terrain, but with options for part of the loop that would allow riders to choose Easy, Medium, and Hard options, depending on what they wanted to do.  There would be a Vet Check in between the loops to help us get the hang of what one would be like on a real ride.

Before I go any farther in this post, I want to let you know two things, because they become important later on.  First, it was unseasonably warm.  The temperature hovered around 88 degrees with a humidity of 45%, giving us a Heat Stress Index of 133.  That's not a number in the danger zone, but it is worth noting that the normal temperature for this time of year is in the low 70s, and we'd also had seasonal weather until about 3 days before the ride.  Also, my horse was growing in his winter coat.  Second, I have a 12 month old daughter who normally does not sleep that great, but who really outdid herself the night before this ride, thus giving me about 3 hours total of sleep.  So, in short, it's really hot and I'm really tired.

After lunch, we had a short ride meeting, where the organizer gave us the details of how the trail is marked.  She also spent a significant amount of time talking about turns and landmarks on the trail, which I kind of zoned out on.  I figured if I followed the ribbons, I didn't need to remember landmarks.  I'm not sure if that will be true of every trail, though, so my first note to self is to bring paper and pen to the ride meeting, so I can write things down that might be important, especially if I'm hot and tired.  I think she also mentioned that we should bring our ride cards and probably some other stuff that I didn't remember because all I could think about was the sweat running down my back while I was just sitting in the shade.

We then broke for about an hour before the ride started.  The start time was pushed from 2 to 2:30 because we'd taken a little longer for the information session.  The delay worked well, though, because I was able to give Nimo the opportunity to graze a little before the ride.  He'd been tied to the trailer in the sun, and I figured he was probably hot and needed to move around.  I noticed he had drunk some water, but not as much as he probably should have.  Second note to self, make sure horse gets every opportunity to drink on the trail.

About a half hour before the ride time, I started putting boots and tack on.  Third note to self, 30 minutes is NOT enough time to get ready.  I spent more time than I expected putting the Easyboots on, and ended up rushing toward the end.  Also, because everyone else was already moving toward the start of the ride, Nimo got a little anxious about being alone, meaning everything took twice as long.  And, it meant that I forgot 2 important things - my ride card and my waist pack that I use to carry cell phone, camera, knife, etc. AND my ride card.

We made our way to the ride starting area and I checked in with the timer volunteers to let them know I'd forgotten my ride card.  They told me they'd give me one when I checked in after the first loop, apparently not trusting me to be able to keep track of it until then, and honestly, I can't blame them...

I was also signed up to ride with a mentor at what would theoretically be a medium pace for the ride.  I happened to already know my mentor, who I'd ridden with a couple of times before.  She is the kind of person who makes for a great mentor because she's very positive and encouraging and doesn't lose patience with feeble, unprepared people:)  I think there were also mentors for a slow group and a fast group, but the medium-paced group had the most people in it (about 5, I think).  There were also a few people who opted to ride on their own.  I think there were 15-20 riders total.

The start of the ride was announced, and the faster people went ahead, while my group waited for a few minutes, much like we probably would during an actual ride.  We started off walking for 10-15 minutes and then trotted periodically as terrain and group comfort levels allowed.  I don't remember too much excitement from this part of the ride, except for our mentor stopping to pick up a couple of Renegades that didn't make it too far before being lost, unbeknownst to the rider.

It might be worth noting here that the topic of hoof boots vs. shoes and pads vs. no pads is hotly contested, at least judging by what I heard at the clinic.  Almost every presenter touched on it, and clinic participants also weighed in a lot, with experiences, recommendations, and questions.  OD rides are well-known for being rocky, and I got the sense from many of the experienced riders/presenters that people who ride with hoof boots are looked down on a bit.  I'll get ahead of myself a little here and say that based on the footing I saw on this ride, if my horse wore shoes, I'd probably add pads too.  The rocks were everywhere and most of them had sharp edges.  Another issues, which our mentor pointed out, was that the rocks were often hidden by grass, so you didn't even know they were there until your horse tripped on them.  But despite the experience I had, I still believe boots are a good way to go (more on that in a bit).

After our 2 miles of riding, we pulled into the starting area for the Vet Check.  I think I might be the only rider who actually pulled her tack, but I wanted to simulate the check as much as possible.  I timed in at 3:08, rode to a spot that I thought was a little out of the way and took off Nimo's tack.  I gave him a few carrots, then found the buckets of water that our mentor had thoughtfully filled with water and sponges.  It honestly never occurred to me that I would need to sponge my horse off after 2 miles, but with the heat and faster pace, he had worked up quite a sweat.  So I sponged him off and walked over to the pulse-taker and asked for a pulse.  I hadn't brought my stethoscope, so I had no idea where my horse's HR was, but I figured we had to be close.  And we were.  His HR was 56, so we were good to go 7 minutes after pulling in, which I thought was pretty good.

Next, we headed over to the vet for the exam and trot-out.  The vet did sort of an abbreviated exam and then we did the trot-out.  I should mention I have never practiced the trot-out.  I figured it would be something we would work on later.  Fourth note to self, practice trot-out.  Nimo did trot after a fashion going out, and coming back, he did eventually reach a speed where I was no longer dragging him, but there was not a lot of inspiration going on.  Anyway, we had a good recovery, with 56/56.

I'm going to interrupt the flow here and say two things.  First, keeping track of that damn ride card drove me nuts.  Because I didn't have my waist pack and my horse had no tack on, I had no place to put it.  At one point, I set it on the ground and my horse stepped on it.  Technology needs to come to endurance racing and there needs to be some sort of app that can record the info so riders do not need to carry those cards.  Also, apparently, you are supposed to know some kind of origami so that it is always folded with your current ride check section facing up.  By the time the vet check was over, I wanted to set that thing on fire...

Here's what it looked like at the end of the ride:

Second, the vet at this clinic had mentioned that she rode heavier horses, and I was hoping I could pick her brain for some tips.  This is what she told me (I didn't ask).  She said, "Oh, this kind of horse really works great in cooler weather.  Just make sure you don't ride after May 1 or before October 1."  Umm...WHAT???  Based on the ride schedule for this region, that would mean I could ride in April and October.  I was hoping I had calmed down about this particular tidbit, but I can tell I haven't. 

Here's the thing.  I totally get that my horse is not an Arab.  I absolutely have no intention of being competitive.  I only want to finish the rides I do within the maximum time.  I also have no intention of riding my horse in 100 mile rides if the temperature is 105 and humidity is 90%.  On the other hand, if my horse is conditioned for a 50, I might very well do a 25 in July or August as long as the weather is seasonal, which means 90 plus degrees and 60% plus humidity.  To just blatantly tell me when I could and couldn't ride based on an arbitrary date was absolute bullshit.  And I'm pissed...Still...Moving on...

As I tried to put my horse's tack on after the vet check, I realized how invaluable it would be to have a halter (fifth note to self - get halter for rides).  I just had my horse's bridle on, and I couldn't tie him.  Nor could I find a helpful soul to hold him.  I also ran into problems because I followed someone's advice to just leave my saddle pack attached to the saddle to save time when retacking.  I assure you it did not save me any time.  I spent several minutes trying to sort out stirrups, girth, and saddle pack loops.  Sixth note to self, unattach the saddle pack from the saddle.  I did eventually get everything back on (this is the point at which my horse stepped on my rider card because I had to set it down).

I had also noticed that the cable on one of my Easyboots looked loose, so I bent down to adjust it.  And I noticed that the cable wasn't loose, it had snapped.  Please don't ask me if I had a spare boot or boot repair kit.  I was only going 5 miles for goodness' sake, why would I need those things?  Seventh note to self, ALWAYS bring an extra boot/boot repair kit.  Anyway, my horse has decent feet, we only had 2.5 to 3 miles to go for the second loop, so I pitched those Easyboots and got on to ride the second loop completely barefoot (I only had boots on the front).

At this point, I was now 10 minutes past my 20 minute hold time.  And the ride volunteers were getting restless.  They basically started yelling that people should get going.  Luckily, I had super-mentor, who did not get upset that I was still dinking around.  I also was riding with a couple people I knew, who also did not appear to be upset (possibly just because they were being polite).  It absolutely helped not to have everyone reminding me that I was over my hold time.  Eighth note to self, 20 minutes is not enough time for a hold.

Anyway, we finally got out on our second loop and shortly into it, another lady in our group had boot issues.  She was riding her mom's horse and hadn't used the Easyboots before.  So, first her clips came undone.  I was able to help with that because I do always carry extra buckle locking pins and needle-nosed pliers.  Unfortunately, I think there was also a fit and/or adjustment problem, because she lost a boot shortly after adding the pins.  She gave up on her boots too, and rode barefoot.

We came across a stream and I was so proud of Nimo because he stopped to drink.  Yay, Nimo!  Finally, something that was working!

I will say the footing was not that great, but by this time, Nimo became convinced that he would not let the gaited horse at the front of our group out of his sight, so he gamely trotted over crazy rocks and even cantered at one point.  I'm sure if he'd been by himself, he would have told me that he was crippled over the rocks, but with a group, he did fine barefoot.  Here's where I will say that if a person can resolve some of the boot issues like loose clips and snapping cables, I think they are great footwear for the terrain.  Those sharp rocks could really do a number on soft soles (whether shod or not), and I am reminded of a comment from one of the presenters, who said, "With boots, you can literally take your horse over any kind of footing, even broken glass."

We were able to get through the rest of the ride without incident and Nimo even took the lead for a short time.

Here's where I get to my ninth note to self.  Despite me drinking a lot on this ride, my exhaustion at the end of the ride turned into something worse.  By the time I got back on the road hauling home, I was feeling downright ill.  I tried drinking a soda to see if the sugar would help.  It didn't.  I tried eating an apple to see if getting something in my stomach would help.  It didn't.  I tried drinking more water to see if that would help.  It didn't.  I had 70 miles to haul back to Nimo's barn, plus I had to unload him, and then I had a 30 minute drive home.  I think it was probably the combination of the heat and not getting much sleep the night before, with maybe a little of the adrenalin let-down from my forgetfulness and boot issues thrown in.

All I can say is that I haven't felt that bad in a long, long time.  So, before rides, I really need to get enough sleep (easier said than done) and during rides, I think I really need to be drinking something other than water, especially if it is hot.  I hate to drink Gatorade, because it's mostly just sugar water, but I tried coconut water and hated it, and I've got to get something in me besides plain water when I'm hot.  Somehow, I did manage to get Nimo back to his barn and me home, but I was minutes away from calling for help.  When I did get home, I ended up taking Tylenol and a shower, and then a 2 hour nap.  And then I peed a lot because of all the water I kept drinking.  The next morning, I still felt like crap, but after a protein breakfast (eggs) and 2 cups of coffee, I felt like a human being again.  However, if you've read my ulcer post, you know I don't think drugs are a good solution to most problems, so I really need to rethink my approach to managing myself on these rides.  'Nuff said for now, though.

So, to wrap up, here are some of my final thoughts.  First, this mock ride was really a great experience.  A bunch of stuff went really wrong, which I think is a good thing.  I now have a nice list of things to improve on before our 15 mile ride in 2 weeks.

Second, if I could give some advice to the ride organizers (which I will), I would suggest that the info session and the mock ride be split into 2 days.  We really needed more time for the information - there were so many questions and so much interest that 20 minutes per station was not enough.  30-45 minutes might be better.  And, given the popularity of boots vs. shoes, having an extra station devoted to that topic might be helpful.  Plus, for people like me who hauled from a distance, it was a lot to handle for one day.  I had to be up at 5 am, get out to the barn, load my horse and tack, haul 70 miles, get my horse situated, attend almost 3 hours of sessions, grab lunch, get my horse ready for a ride, go through the ride, pack everything up, haul 70 miles back to the barn, unload the horse, and head home before collapsing from exhaustion.  And while Nimo really did seem just fine after being on the road for 140 miles, doing a 5 mile ride, and standing in really hot sun all day, it might be better for the horses to split the session and the ride too.

For the mock ride, I think a slightly longer ride (maybe 7 - 10 miles) would be better.  If you remember, the ride start time was 2:30.  My group waited a little before leaving, and we got in probably 30 minutes or less after we started, so the ride felt very rushed.  I also think a 30 minute hold would be more helpful for those of us who really want to simulate a true hold.  Untacking, feeding the horse, watering the horse, sponging the horse, pulsing in, going through the vet check, and then retacking is a lot to do in 20 minutes, and I felt pretty anxious the whole time.  I admit that I may feel that way on a real ride too, but maybe the first time could be more relaxed...

Overall, though, the clinic was a great experience that I am so glad I participated in.  I feel so much more prepared now.  I'm sure there will still be glitches at future rides, but hopefully they will be different glitches:)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The OD Intro to Endurance Riding Clinic, part 1

I attended the Old Dominion Introduction to Endurance Riding Clinic yesterday.  I've decided to split my post into two so that my readers do not die of old age before being able to read the whole thing.  Also, I'm flat out exhausted and can't manage to type it all in one day:)  If you want the short version, though, here it is:  I learned a lot, both in terms of information and in terms of myself and my horse.

Here's the long version:

The clinic was set up into two parts.  The morning was designed to be an information session, with different booths set up covering several endurance-related topics, including:
  • Tack and Equipment
  • Horse Camping
  • Conditioning and Training
  • Crewing
  • Vet Check
  • Trailering Tips
After lunch, we would do a 5 mile ride that would be marked like an endurance ride would be marked and while there would be no pre- or post-ride vet check, there would be one in the middle of the ride with a 20 minute hold to help us get a feel for how vet checks work.

This post will cover the information session and part 2 will cover the ride.

We started off the clinic with a quick orientation of how everything would work, and we got these packets:

Here is a list of what was in the packet:
  • Schedule for the clinic
  • Conditioning for a 25 mile ride
  • Conditioning for a 50 mile ride
  • Learning to take T.P.R.'s
  • How can I evaluate my horse's fitness by measuring the heart rate?
  • Conditioning hints
  • The Art of Pacing the Distance Horse
  • Essential Skills for Endurance Horses by Mary Howell
  • Endurance ride checklist
  • A Former Competitor's Thoughts on Crewing by Nancy Smart
  • A sample ride card
  • Vet Check Necessities checklist
  • Tips on Trailering by Jack Weber
  • Tips on Trailering Your Horse by The University of Tennessee, Ag Extension Service
  • Ford F150 Trailer Towing Selector
  • A list of endurance organizations and shopping websites
  • Promotional materials for the American Endurance Ride Conference
  • 2014 AERC membership application
  • Endurance News, May 2013
  • AERC Endurance Rider's Handbook
  • Endurance 101 by Aarene Storms promo card
  • Small container of candy
Then we headed off in small groups to rotate among the booths.  My group started off with Tack and Equipment.  There were no handouts for this booth, but we got to see a selection of saddles and other tack that OD members use.  There was quite a variety in saddles, ranging from an Aussie saddle to a custom endurance saddle, with some treeless models also represented.  The presenters also talked about typical items they carry in their saddle bags and how important saddle fit is.

There were four important tidbits I picked up at this station.  First, I got a source for the coiled rein keepers I've seen a few riders using.  They can be purchased from http://silktree.com/ and they are callied Coil Ties.  If you haven't seen them before, these nifty little gadgets hook to your saddle and have a loop for your reins.  They are coiled, so they will stretch out if you want to let your horse drop his head to graze.  This way, if you are clutzy like me and constantly drop things, you won't lose your reins because you are messing around with something else while also trying to ride.  This item is on my need-to-buy-soon list.

Second, I found out that there is something called a retractable crop.  This is exactly what I need.  I carry a whip when I ride, and I almost never need it, unless my horse is worried about an obstacle and needs a little encouragement.  It would be great to have something that I could stow, but access quickly if I need it.  I do have just a regular crop that I could attach to the saddle with a clip, but then it's hanging off the side and I'd prefer to have fewer rather than more things dangling off my saddle.  The presenter didn't remember where her husband got it, and a quick web search did not reveal the kind of crops I was looking for:)  So, if anyone knows where to get one, let me know!

Third, one of the presenters mentioned how helpful a Port Lewis Impression Pad can be for assessing saddle fit.  I had heard about the pad before, but had forgotten about it.  While my current saddle is working for now, I do intend to get a saddle specifically for endurance riding once I successfully do a 25 mile ride (I know, it's like I'm bribing myself...), and I want to make sure the new saddle fits right.  This pad is a great idea to help with that.  Especially because I may be able to split the cost with someone else who also wants to check saddle fit.

Fourth, and possibly most importantly, I found out about Taylored Tack, also sold by Action Rider Tack.  I want to buy some biothane tack for Nimo, and have been looking at quite a few sources.  I've heard several recommendations for places to buy it, but I was still on the fence until I saw the bridles at this clinic.  They look great and have lovely bling on them.  I was particularly enamored with the beaded dangles from the center of the browband.  I realize that I absolutely do not need beaded dangles from the browband, but after only being able to look at black leather bridles for over 10 years and being a former western pleasure rider, I can't deny that the bling was super appealing!  Now, I just need to pick a color:)

Then, my group moved to the Camping booth.  The presenter had the system that he and his wife use set up for us.  He had a pickup with a camper in the bed and a two-horse trailer with a dressing room.  For the horse containment system, he had set up an electric pen.  He was unhappy with the kits you can buy for electric pens, so he talked about how he had designed his own.  I admit that I zoned out a bit at this point.  I am perfectly capable of understanding and implementing the design-your-own pen system, but I'm too lazy to do it.  Also, there is no way that I am going to put my giant horse in one of those pens.  I don't care how much voltage is in the electric tape, it isn't enough to stop my horse if he gets spooked.  I'm actually thinking about doing metal panels AND electric tape for my horse, but for now I'm just focusing on riding.  Over winter, I figure I'll do some more research and choose a system.  What I did really like was the camper in the bed of the truck.  The idea of paying for and hauling a trailer with living quarters is pretty overwhelming for me, but I am old now and I need a soft and comfortable place to sleep.  Also, if my husband ever comes with me, he needs a strong barrier against nature, of which he is not fond.  I have no idea how much those camper things cost and I was too scared to look, but maybe for the future, if I start doing a lot of rides, it would be a great option.  I like it because it can be taken off the truck when not in use (and probably stored in our garage) and I could still keep my trailer that I really like.

The presenter also had some good tips.   For keeping a water bucket stable when you have a horse that likes to mess with it, he recommended putting two half posts in the ground on either side and attaching said bucket to the posts.  This will not work for my horse, unfortunately, because he likes to climb into his water.  I'm not sure exactly how I'll handle that yet, but it'll be fun to see which of us (my horse or me) ends up being smarter...(If I were you, I'd bet on my horse.)  He also showed us a system he got that reads the tire pressure in the trailer tires and sends a signal to the truck when a tire gets low pressure. That is definitely something worth investing in because I suck at checking tire pressure and I've come to rely on a similar system that checks the tire pressure in my truck tires.  Finally, he showed us the reflective straps he uses to put on his horse's fetlocks so he can track them if they get loose at night.  He uses two different straps - one for the right front and the other for the left hind, so he can tell what direction the horse is traveling even if he can't see it.

Next, my group moved to the Conditioning and Training booth.  The presenter talked about how she conditions for a 25 mile ride.  She said she usually rides 3 days a week (Sat. and Sun. plus one day during the week), with one long ride, one medium distance ride at a greater speed, and one shorter ride.  She also had some heart rate monitors and hoof boots to show us.

Here is the thing about the conditioning plan she talked about, which is pretty similar to what other people have said to me.  I think 3 days a week of riding is very doable for me.  I'd actually like to put in more days this winter if I can.  However, I have found that doing too much work on the trail is not good for my horse's suppleness.  Now that I've had a chance to spend quite a few months working primarily on the trails, I'm ready to start doing some arena work again.  Also, while the new barn I moved to does have some trails I can use, as we get into winter, I'm going to have a tough time riding before dark during the week, which means it will be impossible for me to do any trail conditioning work during the week.  And let's not forget that my horse is bigger and heavier and that will probably affect the way I need to condition him.  So, I'm trying to think of ways to adapt the plan she mentioned to work for my situation.  More on that later...

For our next stop, we visited the Vet Check station.  There were a couple of vets there to go through how the different vet checks work (pre-ride, post-ride, and during-the-ride).  And they had a horse and rider there to demostrate how the exams look as well as the trot-out.  That was really helpful to see.  The other thing that one of the vets said that was reassuring was that it is typical for a vet to take into consideration that your horse has just completed 25, 50, or 100 miles for the post-ride check.  I kind of wondered about that.  I mean, I think the concept of fit to continue is great, but realistically, if your horse has just done 100 miles in 90 degree heat, 70 percent humidity, and extreme terrain, I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect him to look as fresh as he did before you started.  I would expect him to look like he could maybe do 5 more miles if he really had to, and it sounded like this vet was saying exactly that.  I'm sure every vet is a little different, but it was good to hear that there is some consideration given to where the horse is in the ride.

The other thing that the vet talked about was how the goal of the vet is to work with the rider to find a solution to potential problems like rubs or off steps, rather than just to instantly pull the horse.  Again, I found that comforting, because it must be really frustrating to be halfway through a ride that you've spent months or even years training for, only to be pulled because of a girth rub.  That also means that having a couple of different types of bridles, girths, and even a spare saddle might be a good idea because you can swap out tack if something starts rubbing or causing irritation.

Then, we went to the Crewing station.  The presenter had everything she thought a super fabulous crew would have for a rider and horse.  There was a big tub of beet pulp/grain, carrot, and pear mix; a blanket for the horse if it was cold, hay for the horse to eat (she mentioned she normally has two different kinds - an alfalfa and a grass mix), a chair and cooler of food and drinks for the rider, and her car with a trunk full of extra saddle pad, Desitin, duct tape, baling twine, brushes, hoof pick, jacket, rain coat, scrim sheet, and God-only-knows what else.

And it was it this point that I discovered something that scares me more than just a little.  She said ALL OD ride Vet Checks (including the 100 mile rides) are away checks, meaning that your crew travels with you in preferably a 4-wheel drive truck or you need to prepare separate garbage bags full of crap for every check.  That thought is a little daunting for me.  Admittedly, there is only one away vet check for a 25 mile ride, but still, that is a lot of preparation, and it means doing an OD ride without a crew is probably even more challenging than a ride that has at least some checks at the ride camp.  On the other hand, you probably never have to deal with the mental issue of having ridden 75 miles and needing to convince your horse (and yourself) that he really does have to go back out on the trail again.  I am definitely going to have to start wining and dining potential crew members.  I'll write more on this later in my next post, but I can see how essential having even just one person crew for you can be.

Our final stop was the Trailering Tips booth.  I regretably didn't get the names of the other presenters, but this part of the session was done by Jack Weber.  I know because he gave us his phone number and told us to call if we ever had any questions.  Wow!  That was very generous of him, especially because he is also the president of OD and probably has enough to do without answering questions from newbies.  Anyway, he had a trailer set up and walked us through some equipment that he recommended, especially for changing tires (Trailer Aid, cross lug wrench, blocks for other axle to stablize the trailer when it is jacked up).  Apparently my USRider membership won't do me any good if I break down somewhere that doesn't have cell reception.  (dang it!)

He also had a loading tip for reluctant horses, which would probably be really helpful if you have a helper.  He suggested tying a lunge line to each side of the back of the trailer to form a channel.  Then, have your helper stand behind the horse holding the lines as if to drive the horse while you lead the horse into the trailer.  He said he's never had a horse fail to load using that method.  However, if you're trying to load your reluctant horse by yourself, here's my suggestion.  Get your lunge line or any 20-30 foot rope (that you thoughtfully packed).  Run it through the tie ring at the front of the trailer and bring both ends to the back of the trailer.  Attach one end to your horse's halter.  Either hold onto the other end, or if the line isn't long enough, attach your lead rope to the end and hold the lead rope.  Then, get a whip for your other hand.  Stand to the side and slightly behind your horse and drive him onto the trailer.  If you need more leverage, use a lungeing caveson instead of a halter because the caveson has a ring on the top of the horse's nose, giving you maximum leverage.  If your horse tries to back up, hold on to that rope for dear life and use the whip to drive him forward.  Make sure you always keep the rope taut (not necessarily tight) so your horse doesn't step on it as he leaps into the trailer:)  I thought of this method when my giant and normally super loading horse decided one day that he just wasn't getting on the trailer.  I didn't have help, so I needed a way to get him motivated without a helper.  Cross fingers, but this has always worked for me.

Jack had a few other suggestions for beefing up your trailer to make it more visible and to help you manuever in the dark.  He mentioned having high-mounted brake lights installed on the back so that cars farther behind you can see if you apply your brakes because the car right behind you may block your factory-intalled brake lights.  He also suggested installing back-up lights, which automatically come on when you start to back.  That way, you have better visibility, especially if you are by yourself and don't have someone to help you find your way in tricky terrain.  Along those same lines, he mentioned that step-up trailers tend to work better for endurance riders because you often need to load or unload in uneven terrain and ramps tend to not be stable, which can freak out even a seasoned loader.

Whew!  That was a lot of information to learn in 2 and a half hours, but totally worth it.  In fact, I feel like I should send more money because my fee (I can't remember exactly how much, but something like $25 or $35) wasn't enough to cover all the great info presented. 

Next up, how did my practice ride go?