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:)


  1. I hate Gatorade and most sports drinks out there, but live in the desert and cannot survive on water alone. My preference: S! Caps for electrolytes, and the accompanying drink mixes. The drinks are really low in sugar and just barely sweet, and are actually tolerable, taste-wise, if they're not icy cold.

    This summer, I've also been experimenting with Elete electrolytes, which are liquid drops added to water. I personally don't taste anything different, but if you're particular about salty-tasting stuff, you might pick up on it. I like the convenience of just grabbing the bottle versus fishing out e'lyte caps, but I do think that the caps might be slightly more effective when it's really hot.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Ashley. I definitely have to do something because I can really tell that my body is craving something more than water.

  2. I had so many comments it wouldn't fit here and I had to email you, but GOOD JOB!

    1. Ha! I feel like you just gave me a gold star:) And you might be sad you e-mailed me because my e-mail back was even longer:)

  3. Hey, you guys did good! All that build-up and I was expecting some kind of real disaster. LOL.

    The CTRs I've done have had 20min holds...and stripping tack is not required. It's a fine amount of time to do a quick vetting and a little sponge-and-graze, but I can see how that would get eaten up quickly if you were removing and replacing all your gear! I have an impression that endurance holds tend to be longer (but maybe I'm wrong)?

    I am no distance-riding expert, but I am seriously side-eyeing the "only ride in the winter" advice. Be smart, sure, but arbitrary advice is arbitrary.

    Thank you for the write-ups! I am motly brainless right now, but I have really enjoyed reading 'em.

    1. Hannah, it really felt like a real disaster, especially when I realized the boot cable was broken and I didn't have a spare. I mean, it was only a 5 mile ride, and I felt like it was a 100 by the time it was over:) And I think you're right that normally endurance ride holds are longer. I think the organizers just wanted to give a quick simulation of the hold and maybe didn't expect that a rider would want to practice pulling tack. I just figured that I hauled a long way and had been waiting to do a practice ride for so long that I wanted to make it really count. And I'm really glad I did because now I have a better idea of how much time I need to get through a hold.

  4. Heavy horses: I am 90% certain I know the vet you talked to. Either way, I have seen folks compete in our ride IN THE 50 on heavy horses (Arab X Draft) in AUGUST. You just poke along and enjoy the ride. Turtle gets more awards than the middle of the pack anyway! ;-) So just condition and play it easy and you'll be FINE.

    Hoof protection: Yes. Highly contested. From my experience? There is no right or wrong. Everyone who has a belly button has an opinion on it. Everyone who has a belly button has preferences and lacks certain facts on the other side of the matter. Whatever works for you works for you. I just smile and nod when people spout off to me about "their" way. If it works for them and their horse, GREAT. What I do works for me and my horses. I won't throw it down your throat unless you ask about it. Its just not worth the time. Smile. Nod. Do your thing & move on. Focus on you and your horse and finishing. If you both finish and are happy and healthy, what else really matters? Even when I've had folks bashing my method to my face and showing me "why they hate it" and their facts are skewed, or when I have vets spout off about why a heel first landing is "bad" I just smile and nod and do my thing. What works for me and most importantly my horse is all that matters!

    Looking forward to seeing you at Fort Valley!

  5. You're totally right, Liz. Of course, because I'm so new, I don't actually know what works for us yet:) At this point, I just have ideas that I'm trying out. I definitely have no intention of being competitive with my guy. I just want to ride and finish. I'm too old to be a speed demon on an Arab anyway:)