Two people. One horse. One tough race.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Today Kate and I finally made a date to practice a ride & tie. We’d been tossing the idea around since May, and we decided to make a goal of the Iron Mountain Jubilee ride weekend at the end of August- so that meant we really had to get out there and give it a go.

The basics are that ride & tie started in 1971, but is a pretty small niche sport. It’s a cross between endurance riding and running. I spoke to some R&T folks at the Old Dominion ride and found that there are few rules in the sport- and really we just have to try it to see what works.

So with more questions than answers between us, we met at the Hidden Valley horse parking lot with Faygo in tow and tried to devise at least some kind of loose plan of action.

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Ok.. um… so… one of us will start running and one will start riding…

I’ll ride first because I think I know roughly where the first mile marker is…

Oh good because I was hoping you’d ride first…

So I’ll tie Faygo up at the end of the second field where the shale road starts…

Then when I get on her, I’ll pass you…

I hope you pass me… if you don’t pass me, don’t tie her up because…

Right…

So if we get to the swinging bridge and come back that should be just over 3 miles…

Probably not far enough- so let’s see if we’re doing ok and if we are we’ll loop around the campground too…

That will be closer to 5 miles…

Great.

I guess we should ride at an easy canter or a fast gait…

I would think so…

Watch for cyclists- Faygo is afraid of bikes, kind of… I’m sure it’ll be fine… just talk to them as they pass…

Ok… this is so new, I’m kind of nervous…

It’ll be great- we should never be too far apart so yell if you need help…

Right.

Right.

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Kate takes off jogging while I hop on and ride Faygo out. We start with a fast walk to warm up and then I let her gait a bit. I’m surprised at how long it takes me to catch her. Kate is fast! We pass and continue on to the spot I know is just about a mile in and I tie Faygo to a tree and start running. The dogs seem a bit confused, but they go with me anyway. At some point Kate passes me on the way to the swinging bridge and so on and so forth.

It was GREAT fun. Just about anyone can jog a mile. Then you hop on the horse and get a break.

What I was surprised to learn is that we are just about as fast as she is!

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When I caught up to her after my first running turn, I could see Kate heading off. Faygo was breathing kind of hard and had JUST gotten tied. I had thought she’d be waiting at a tree, bored. We had planning to ride her not at a canter, but at a good fast pace because she’d have rest breaks. So when I caught up to her I walked her a bit to let her catch her breath… meanwhile Kate was running on ahead and I had an idea of where we’d try to tie next and I passed right by it without having caught her yet!  So with Faygo having ‘walked it out’ and doing ok I pushed her on to a fast gait then a slow canter to catch Kate… who had been running over a mile with no sign of us and started to worry.

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I handed over Faygo to Kate and we had a quick conference. We decided that we had plenty of energy to add the campground loop, and that Faygo is working harder than we thought she would- so Kate walked her a bit again to give her a chance to recover. I headed out running toward the campground. She passed me at the main parking lot and we agreed not to tie IN the campground (where technically horses aren’t allowed), but outside it.

When I got to the campground I saw the shoe prints, but no sign of Kate or Faygo. The dogs and I went around the loop and as I was coming back out I started to wonder where on earth she was planning to tie her? This has to be at least a mile right? Then I started wondering if I might have missed Faygo before entering the campground? Is it possible to not see a horse tied to a tree? When that is all you are looking for? I’m out of the campground, slowing my pace and looking harder off the road in the trees… it was like a treasure hunt- only the treasure is my horse… Then ahead I see Kate. On foot.

Ok, if I don’t see Faygo by the time I get where I saw her on foot, then I’d better turn around and start looking again.

How can you miss a horse? Could she have gotten loose and is heading back to the trailer without us?

THERE SHE IS! Woohoo!

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At this point we are only about 1/2 mile from the trailer and she’s worked harder than I’d anticipated, so I hand walked her for a while, and then rode her at a walk. Kate made it back then started walking out to meet us.

We got back to the trailer and talked over how it went and what we learned. We all had fun and did great! Faygo is great at this (as I’d suspected) and is fine with being tied. Kate and I are pretty comparable for stirrup length and pace- I think the 3 of us are a perfect team. We were both surprised to see that Faygo isn’t going to have quite as much down time as originally thought. She did fine, but it was a pretty rigorous ride for her. We chose Hidden Valley to find somewhere kind of flat to start and Ed mentioned to me that the terrain probably makes a big difference. We are pretty fast there, but with more hills we might find ourselves slower on foot. The good thing is that this will keep us all in better shape.

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In the end we did almost 5 1/2 miles and somewhere around 5-6 mph on average.

As for Faygo, considering her pasture is endless, and her activity is down a bit this year, I put the grazing muzzle on her when we got home today. I’m going to try to start dropping her weight a touch. If she struggles in summer heat it can’t help to have an extra layer of insulating fat, and dropping a few pounds means less for her to carry too. She won’t like it, but I’d like to see her body condition back at what it was in the spring. On the body condition scale she was a perfect 5 (out of 10) in April, she still looks good, but she has definitely moved up to a 6 this summer. Kate and I are dedicated to doing this at least once a week now, so her workload should go up a bit as well.

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I’m beyond excited that we had so much fun, and that we’re going to do the event in August. My body condition has lapsed a bit as well this summer and the motivation to work hard just hasn’t been there as much as it has in years past. This is just what I need as well to kick it up a notch and have a new goal.

I’m also excited that Kate is enjoying Faygo, and I now have a good way to include Faygo in some events even if she’s not doing true endurance riding. And it’ll be fun to have Kate for the night to camp out and hang in ride camp.

IMG_0524For anyone out there who might like to try ride & tie, you don’t need a horse of your own. Lots of riders need a running partner and they will help connect you. For more information you can check them out on the web at: www.rideandtie.org

We’ll keep you posted as I get two horses and myself (and Kate!) ready for the Iron Mountain Jubilee.

A horse, a dog and a hammock…

June 29-July 1, 2015

This week we spent 3 days in Camp Creek State Park in WV. It was a really nice park and we had the horse campground all to ourselves.

After the mare squabble a few rides ago we’d decided I would ride with my friend and the 3 hour haul in the trailer with the girls side-by-side would do them good. I don’t travel in a living quarters trailer and my camping is pretty primitive, so it’s ok to horse-truck-trailer-pool. I like to sleep in my hammock- takes up very little space, easy to set up, and more comfortable than the floor- as long as it doesn’t rain I’m happy under the stars.

I took the farthest corral (since i don’t have a rig) and enjoyed my first night hanging between some trees next to the corral with Peggy-Sue my ace (though it was her first time) camping dog right at the base of the tree. All you really need: a horse, a dog and a hammock.

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We pulled in on Monday, got settled and did an easy 8.5 mile ride getting acquainted with the park. We met Michelle who had ridden there before and the four of us were a nice group. The mares were a little off-key on the first day, or was it the riders? Nothing to report- just an energy that wasn’t exactly relaxed and easy. This was Khaleesi’s longest trailer ride, to end up in a foreign place, put in a foreign pen, then ridden on foreign trails, adding in a foreign horse (Michelle’s sweet gelding). She was pretty good, but I was paying attention all the time.

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lunch break at Almost Heaven

The park is really pretty- lots of waterfalls and variety in trails. We had lunch at an old farm property called “Almost Heaven” where there was a primitive camp with a covered picnic area and beautiful views. We rode about 13 miles together on Tuesday. Khaleesi had really hit a sweet spot that day; I was more relaxed and she seemed to figure out what we were doing and was great in all places in the group (front, back, middle) she didn’t threaten, and even seemed fine with Mireyah (the other mare). After returning to camp a little earlier than we’d thought and our horses still having energy, Carrington and I decided to head out for a quick hour ride to run them around a bit while the other two relaxed by the creek.

IMG_0341We did 6 more miles in just over an hour. Khaleesi and Abaco had been doing well together this trip – they may actually be related, we’re not completely certain- (also two horses is simpler than 4) so we enjoyed some stress free romping on the trails. We trotted and even cantered and really let them go- I didn’t have to ask twice, Khaleesi seemed to love running the trails together which was really nice to see (my biggest worry about her was she would be a slow-poke!). Her canter is really coming along and when she finds it is a joy! We led, followed, and traveled side-by-side at all paces and after 19 miles she was still doing great. I am encouraged that we really will be ready for a LD ride next month!

Khaleesi and Abaco (who may be related)

Tuesday night we ate dinner and laughed and drank until the storm came in. I am always thankful for the time I get to spend with my trail riding girlfriends- it’s a special bond we share and it doesn’t matter if we see each other regularly like my local friends, or once or twice a year like my out of state friends, it’s always a good time.

Carrington kept getting weather alerts so we knew severe thunderstorms were possible. As the rumbling came closer and some lightning flashed in the distance we put our plan into action and loaded our 3 horses onto Carringtons (3-horse) trailer (Michelle loaded Mac onto her own) and climbed into Nancy’s to wait out the worst of it. It was amazing how fast those horses loaded as the storm got closer. You didn’t have to ask any of them twice! They sensed something.

After it passed we put them back out but I hung my hammock in a trailer that night as the rain continued until early morning.

Wednesday morning was pretty- cool but no rain and we had breakfast, coffee and saddled up for a short ride to Neely Knob before driving home. We saw more beautiful trails with Rhododendron canopy, creek crossings and some nice views as we got toward the top. It was a short ride, but just right before getting loaded up and heading home.

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I wish I had something more dramatic to report, but alas my mare made me really proud and is still coming along well.

In camp she was quiet and even though she was the farthest away from us and the other horses (she could still see Mac), she didn’t complain and was a good sport.

Her boots stayed on perfectly and we didn’t loose one in the entire 3 days of riding.

Pretty flowers along the trail
Pretty flowers along the trail

I worked on my Jedi skills when able and started tuning in to our beat, tempo, and which shoulder is moving L R L R L R or L H R H L H R H L H R H instead of 1 2 3 4 sometimes so I can get better at knowing what I’m doing with what she’s doing. I switched diagonals on our longer trots too.

On the trails she’s not perfect, but her manners are still improving. She did pull the stop and not want to go forward trick a few times- only if she was the leader on new trails. If we were in territory we’d covered before or if she was not the lead horse she did not stop. Each time I was able to move her forward with little drama.

She didn’t kick out once although I think she considered it twice. I like to think she thought it over and made the right decision both times because she didn’t raise a leg.

I have a few pictures (below) I enjoyed seeing where she just didn’t look quite happy and well behaved. I think they sum up her figuring out how this trail riding with others thing works… The other horses are normal, then there’s Khaleesi like the toddler: she isn’t 100%, but she’s not dangerous either.

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For the future, I’m hoping to start pushing our speed on a ride each week just to get used to more trotting out for longer periods and in exciting news I’ve sold my tiny ‘death trap’ trailer and am picking up a new (used) one next week that will haul both girls together and is not so heavy. I am now 8 weeks away from the Iron Mountain Jubilee ride that I’d like to be her first 25 miler! We are moving faster than expected this summer!

Manure on our Shoes

Sunday, June 7, 2015

One more small step: first overnight trip.

IMG_9675Douthat is a local state park with fantastic horse camping sites. It’s still in the county, barely an hour drive door to door, and has new covered stalls for the horses complete with buckets, water, and horse amenities like shovels and wheelbarrows and hay racks. The park is pretty although there are only about 6 miles of trails accessible to horses, but once you ride through into National Forest you can go just about anywhere if you’re looking for a longer ride. It offers lots of options and makes a great home-base if anyone is looking for good horse camping in our area.

We had a somewhat rough start to the day as we pulled into the almost empty campground to find our 3 camping sites were the farthest away you could get from the horse stalls. There were no maps of the site numbers available online when I reserved, so I just asked if they could be as close as available to the stalls. (Apparently the woman who helped with the reservations at the call center wasn’t paying attention). We drove back to the camp office to ask if there were any other sites available for the night- well, almost all of them and for a small fee we could switch. For what it’s worth, the Douthat Staff were fantastic and helpful.

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Khaleesi tied to her stall while we set up and got ready for a ride

Then we had girth troubles- Laurie’s horses hadn’t been ridden since October and had gotten a bit fat over the winter, plus her gear wasn’t exactly set up yet for the riding season, so though they grabbed a handful of girths to be sure they would have whatever size they needed, most of the ones they grabbed were english rigging, and two of her three horses were using western saddles. They weren’t a perfect fit- but for a short easy ride would be fine.

Karin however had had help loading her trailer and they had completely missed bringing her cinch. Her saddle was also western and we had not one extra between us. She said she’d be fine with staying at camp with a glass of wine- but we were not going to let that happen!

This was not much of a problem for a group like ours- between everyone we fished out leather strings, a sturdy english girth and got to work. We rigged her up and crossed our fingers that she’d be good to go and except for one stop to tighten it up, she was fine!

Small issues out of the way we set out onto the trail.

IMG_9679We had a group of 7 riders so this was also our first “large” group ride. It was a really nice group of easy-going ladies with great horses. For the most part Khaleesi did really well on the ride. We led the pack to start, rode at the back, and also in the middle. She didn’t kick out at anyone although I’m sure she thought about it a few times. As the 9 mile, 3 hour ride was wrapping up she got into tired toddler stage again and refused to go in front, but she didn’t do anything truly wrong on the ride [which I’m constantly reminding myself she’s only done a handful of times- this was her 4th group trail ride…] and I’m happy with her progress.

IMG_9673As for the renegade boot saga… her back boots stayed on the whole trip. At one point she had a spook at a shadow in the woods (last few miles of the ride) and jumped back slightly twisting her front foot and the boot also twisted.

was it not tight enough? Her feet were just trimmed days ago, so maybe they need to be pulled in a bit tighter right after a trim than I’m used to the week before a trim.

At least we saw it immediately (thanks Madison!) and I hopped off and put it back on. We still haven’t had a ride where all 4 boots have stayed on perfectly the entire trip. On the positive side, I love how easy they are to deal with if they do come off, and how they seem to be handling the ‘abuse’ of our riding overall. The jury is still out if by next spring I’ll be ready to nail on some shoes and call it over, or if we’ll have it dialed in and be happy with the boot solution.

IMG_9620She didn’t love being in jail instead of turned out into a huge pasture, but she was a good sport. I gave her a ton of hay, and since she’d just been on a 9 mile ride with 6 other horses, she’d used some mental and physical energy up so was ok with relaxing alone for a while.

Though this ride was planned in my head for a good (easy) first overnight for Khaleesi, it was also a great chance for camaraderie with the best women rider-friends in the neighborhood, and it’s a good (easy) first camping trip for some of them too!

IMG_9637After our afternoon ride, we took care of the horses and settled into camp for some drinks and snacks and laughs.

My friend Karin and her beautiful Saddlebred mare “Fritzy” had never horse-camped before and I was so glad she came to join in. Karin is a great horse-mentor to me. Her horse was “born perfect” and is always a pleasure to watch as she calmly does whatever Karin asks her. They both carry themselves with lovely grace, and Karin’s smile shines the most genuine inner light I’ve ever seen. She is a trooper and slept on mats in her horse trailer with her cute little dog Nigel.

IMG_9652It was also Madison’s first camp out- Madison is my favorite 15-year old with beautiful blond wavy hair and a big laugh from a carefree joyous spirit. She is always up for anything and she and her mom have become great friends of mine. Because they live in Florida we don’t get to ride together as much as I’d like- but they visit often.

“hanging out” in our “bedroom”… we hung our hammocks in one of the empty horse stalls!

Madison and her mom are my crew in training for when we start really endurance riding and I can’t decide if I’ll be excited or disappointed if she gets the “bug” and starts riding with me herself and I have to find another willing horse-savvy group of folks to help me out! (In truth, I’d love to see her start endurance riding… she has the adventure spirit too!)

After drinks around camp we headed to the next reason Douthat is SO easy for us… the Lakeview Restaurant. The food is average, the wine is inexpensive, and the view is lovely. It’s a perfect way to end the day- no cooking and no camp dishes! Everyone can eat what they want, and the salad bar isn’t bad. The deck overlooks Douthat Lake and it was a beautiful night.

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As I kicked a pile of Khaleesi’s poop from the trailer and then tried to clean off my shoes in the grass, I thought of a quote I clipped out and stuck to my fridge that talked about how many friends in life come and go… separated by lifestyles, geography, choices, ages… but there’s something about the horsewomen bond with that has staying power across those divisions. Somehow it doesn’t matter that our group spans in age from teens to 60s, in geography from the Mid-Atlantic to the far South. What bonds us is stronger. It’s the horse manure on our shoes.

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