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?

12 comments:

  1. Ohh, Taylored Tack! I have been coveting their ride-and-tie bridle for _months._ I don't do ride and tie. I don't even use a rope halter. But wow, it is the prettiest halter-bridle I have ever seen.

    I'm also planning to ponder horse-camping over the winter. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I find metal panels more convincing than electric (my guy has a history of letting himself out of stalls/pastures and I can see him "solving" an electric-only corral in two seconds flat) but I'm not sure how you transport those...

    FWIW, my rides thus far have been done crewless with out-of-camp holds and I found it no problem at all. Found a volunteer to stay with the horse while I ran to the bathroom and other than that, everything was easily done by myself. I can see how crew would be handy if one's horse wasn't easy to manage or if one were riding far enough for serious fatigue, etc., to set in. But for 25, for us, it was no big thing. Consider it practice for riding cavalry. ;)

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    1. The ride and tie halter/bridle does look pretty cool. I'm torn between that and a more conventional combo...

      For the panels, I think you can get brackets that can be attached to your trailer so you can haul the panels on the outside of the trailer. I think some panels may also fit in the bed of a truck. Because I only haul my one horse, I'm thinking about finding a way to attach the panels inside the trailer...

      And thanks for the info about crewless holds. That makes me feel better, although once you read about my mock ride, you may encourage me to have help...:)

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  2. LOVED THIS POST!!! As another newcomer to endurance living in the Maryland/DC/VA area, I was dying to go to this clinic with my mare, but I work weekends. Now it feels like I went - TOTALLY bookmarking this post for future reference! (Man, what a deal for the price! Worth at least twice what they charge in literature alone.) Thank you thank you thank you for sharing! Looking forward to reading how your practice ride went.

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    1. You're welcome:) I'm sorry you weren't able to attend - maybe next year? There is also an OD Intro Ride of 15 miles on the 26th. I know you said you work weekends, but it might be worth your time to go if you can!

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    2. I will actually be there, but crewing for a friend doing her first 50 on her own mare. I was going to bring Lily but the trailer I normally borrow is being used. So I'll just be helping out. :) it worked out in the end though-I'll get to learn how race day works before our actual first ride. Hope to see you there!

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    3. That's great! I hope we manage to find each other:) I think crewing or doing some other kind of volunteer work first is probably a better idea anyway. I'm kind of wishing that I had found a ride to volunteer at over the summer, but oh well, I guess we'll just be learning as we go!

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  3. I love the Taylored Tack stuff. I've got a buddy out here that I ride with who has her tack, and after drooling over it, I've been secretly wishing for some of my existing stuff to break so I have an excuse to buy some of the TT offerings. (That, or I need a second horse to outfit.)

    Crew? What is this mythical creature you mention? ;) Seriously, the couple of times I managed to wrangle a crew person (my father, before he jumped ship and started riding with me), it was nice, but I could have managed without...and managed all subsequent rides without. What is nice is if you've got a riding buddy, then one person can watch both horses while someone retrieves the crew bag/visits the potty/gets food.

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    1. I don't know - I'm feeling a little feeble right now:) It's good to know you are able to ride without a crew, though. And the riding buddy idea sounds good. I'm definitely going to try that for our Intro ride later this month:)

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  4. Awesome, awesome post. I was really looking forward to this - I helped Aarene a bit with her west-coast Endurance 101 stuff, and I've been mentored the Nevada way, and I'm really fascinated with how the different areas bring along new people. I've always thought OD is the east-coast equivalent of Western States, and your clinic sounds like it was top-notch.

    I guess the only thing I really wanted to point out is that there's no right answer in horse containment systems. You just pick your poison.

    I hi-tie, like a lot of West riders. When I went to OR then to WA this summer, I noticed that a lot of NW riders use corrals of various kinds. There's drawbacks either way. I think you're totally right about electric corrals; they won't even slow down an excited horse, and the horse gets to drag the white rope of death behind it as it gallops through camp setting everybody else free. But horses can lift and drag ANY portable corral. The heavier it is, the worse the wreck might be - at least those stupid PVC corrals break easier...

    The risks I'm assuming with hi-tying are 1) that my idiot gets the rope around a leg somehow and lames herself and 2) that strange stallions come rape her. They're nontrivial risks, but like I said, pick your poison.

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    1. Thanks, Funder! It's funny because I didn't realize how good the clinic was until the next day. I initially thought it was just OK, but then as I looked at my notes and started writing, I realized that I really did learn a lot, and I can't even understand how I could have thought otherwise. Maybe the heat baked my brain?

      There's a lot to like about the Hi-Tie system, I think. The only reason I'm not seriously considering it is because I have seen so many horses seriously injured with ropes and my horse is not really smart about ropes. You know how some horses are just smart about ropes and despite their owners' stupidity never get tangled up? That is not my horse. He panics at the least bit of pressure and pulls. Of course, I could absolutely work with him and it is on my list of things to do, but I'm lazy...And you're right that no matter which system I pick, there will always be a potential serious problem. Even a strange stall for the night can be an issue. I guess it's just part of the fun!:)

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  5. Sorry it took so long to respond, my computer is in pieces on the dining room table (thank heavens for the public library, right?)

    GREAT post, you've given me tons of good thoughts for the next E101 clinic! As for "horse containment" I wrote a post that might be handy (there's a longer version of it in the E101 book, but the short version is on the blog): http://haikufarm.blogspot.com/2010/04/in-which-i-talk-about-horse-containment.html

    Can't wait to read more!

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    1. Thanks, Aarene! I'm glad the post was helpful:) And I've actually got your book already (it was the first one I bought), but thanks for reminding me about the section on containment systems. I'll reread it before I buy anything:)

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