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
- Vet Check
- Trailering Tips
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:
- 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
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?