Part 1: Base camp, volunteering, and saddle fit

Sunday, October 11, 2015

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We arrived in base camp Wednesday afternoon and unloaded camp. It was great to have all 3 of us to handle horses, gear, hauling water and throwing hay and we were set up pretty quickly. Just as we sat down for a drink and snack an unfamiliar guy pulls over in a car and walks toward us Jaime McArdle? he asks and I stand up and walk over- it was Garnet who I’d contacted to help me with saddle fit.

We pulled Khaleesi out and indeed she had back soreness. He looked at my saddle and said the fit wasn’t bad, but there were two spots about where the soreness was that were uneven and putting pressure into her back. The reason the only pad that seemed to help at all was my thicker felt pad was probably because it gave more support to the whole saddle and helped distribute those pressure points. We decided to reconvene the next day with some trial saddles to see what might work and what might not, and some generous AERC friends had offered to bring saddles either for sale or just to borrow for Friday to help us out.

By the time we finished we had to pick up our volunteer and ride packets and head to the volunteer meeting… then dinner… then make sure our sleeping areas were set up before it was too dark and we headed for the volunteer showers to freshen up before we landed in our hammocks completely exhausted.

Camp!

One thing about camping at these ride events, I find there is little time for relaxing around with friends. Between set up and organizing gear and vetting in and organizing your crew bag and making sure your my horse has it’s soaked beet pulp or electrolytes, mash, etc… and ride meetings it always seems like sitting down to relax a minute is a short lived luxury. Probably that is why I find it more fun than just regular camping when there seems to be maybe too much down time…

The night was cool but we were snug in our cocoons. I slept ok. I love the aluminum corral, and I like to use the hay bags because they make less waste and keep the hay out of the poop and pee in the small area they are in- however… at night the clanging of the fence panels when the horses pull the hay out is magnified by a million and woke me up more than once. Madison and I had tried to zip tie the bags to the fence so they wouldn’t fling out and slam the fence, but this just meant with each bite the whole fence got pulled a little and clanged back against the other joining panels and I was sure I was keeping the entire camp awake.

one hammock per stall, the little trailer works great for 2!
one hammock per stall, the little trailer works great for 2!

I pulled the hay bags, checked the water, and went back to bed. Of course they spread the hay and still had some grass right outside the corral so sometimes they’d still hit the fence and it would clang, but I tried to ignore it and went back to sleep. I never sleep so well the first night anyway…

Thursday morning: 5am

GOOOD MORNING BASE CAMP… OFFICIAL RIDE TIME IS 5AM…. TWO HOURS TO START… they played a trumpet call of Reveille and a few minutes later some crazy goofy instrumental that I had to laugh out loud which is what woke Madison up.

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We hunkered into our cocoons a bit longer, then got up and started the coffee and got ready for the day. Mornings might be my favorite time in camp, if you get up early enough (which is not that hard when you are excited) you get a few quiet moments with the horses and your coffee. Khaleesi was way more interested in my oatmeal than her beet pulp and grain applesauce mash…

We met the vets under the tent at 7:30 just after the ride start to volunteer for the day at bird haven.

The start of the 50 mile viewed from our camp.
The start of the 50 mile viewed from our camp.

We had a great day at VC1 for the 50 mile riders. I really like Bird Haven because we get to see the horses come in to their first stop, and we are also their last stop going home. Sarah, Madison and I were all stationed together the whole day and have begun to get to know some of the vets and we learn a ton from listening to them chat in between horses coming through. Also we see things in other horses and are able to ask follow up questions that they are generous to try to explain in more plain english.

Bird Haven in the Fall
Bird Haven in the Fall

The riders came in fast that morning- it was particularly cool and this was a National Championship ride. In fact the first rider was in before we were ‘officially’ open (though we were ready!) which means she came in before they estimated any rider would be able to make the first loop. Most riders felt really good about their first loop and we had no pulls that morning.

Sarah and I took off in our lunch break while the 50 milers were out on trail for a few hours and we walked the girls around base camp hand grazing them to stretch their legs and get some good green grass. Then we stopped for lunch together at a little cafe and enjoyed some down time!

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We saw many riders start to slow down for the afternoon as the weather heated up and they had ridden hard (maybe some a little too hard?) in the morning with the excitement and coolness… We had a few pulls, quite a lot of holding the card and wanted to recheck horses that were a bit borderline at the last stop.

Cute goat hanging out at bird haven!
Cute goat hanging out at bird haven!

After most of the second wave of horses were through some of us left for base camp to vet in our horses for the Friday ride.

Madison and I caught a ride back with another vet and we groomed and prepared our girls for vetting in. Khaleesi’s back had been continuing to improve and I was a little curious if it would be a problem but felt if we had a solution to not continue the damage then she would be fine to ride.

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We headed over to vet and both girls got As (she didn’t exhibit any soreness) and were cleared to go.

Standing still (kind of) for the vet.
Standing still (kind of) for the vet.

On the trot out, I thought it would be better if we trotted them together… maybe I was wrong. As we headed down the lane we were ok, then in turning to head back Khaleesi did a rearing, bucking dancing move that I think was excitement… she was not only ok to trot out, she was excited and ready to canter back at full speed. We collected ourselves and started back and she did more dancing on the line. This is new. I hadn’t expected this, but once again after our training and work and I think we get somewhere, she keeps me humble as she reminds me Hey, I’m still only 5… don’t get comfortable yet!

Trotting out- before the pony on a string episode.
Trotting out- before the pony on a string episode.

I asked the vet if he wanted us to go again and he laughed and said no, we were good to go.

Just again as we were going to get comfortable for a bit Garnet found us as did some friends with saddles and we proceeded to do a saddle fit/analysis as best we could in camp. I am always astounded by the AERC community and though I thought I had 3 saddles lined up, as Kate, Aimee and Madison helped bring them over from various other people they kept accumulating and we ended up with probably 10 possible saddles to look at from ortho-flex to an old Stonewall to some streamlined South African saddle and lots in between- some for sale, some who would let us use it for the ride Friday, and some that were just to see how the fit was. We felt them all together and Khaleesi was very good at just standing still while we experimented for at least an hour.

I got to feel them as well and he’d ask what I thought/felt. It was good to see all the possibilities, many were too narrow on her spine, some were pinching in front by her shoulders, some bridged a little and we talked about how in some cases a little bit of bridging can help a horse move into that space and develop a nice topline. I was able to see many different fits and gratified to learn I wasn’t crazy in thinking the Wintec was pretty good.

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In fact the Wintec was the best fit of the ones we looked at. Two issues to consider that were not ideal: #1 the CAIR panels were possibly not working properly in the middle and creating a pressure point (someone suggested there are 3 sections and the middle section might have malfunctioned). #2 the Wintec and many English style saddles have more narrow panels that don’t distribute the weight as well as an endurance (or western though I’m not going that heavy!) style saddle does.

We discussed the possibility of reflocking or having the panels fixed and using a pad that will help distribute the saddle pressure better in the future as a possible solutions. We also discussed trailering over to their place to use his pressure sensing pad to really sort out fit and options. Garnet has been riding endurance in a Cloud 9 pad for years and says they really do make a difference and he highly recommends them. He generously agreed to lend me a new pad to see if it made a difference. We tacked up and rode out and back up the road a few times and she seemed to move just fine in it. We had a plan for Friday.

At this point we’d missed the ride meeting (though I sent Madison to get information) half of dinner and still had things to do so we decided to get our work done while we still had some light and then go back to the cafe to eat, then shower once again to regain some feeling of humanity and get a good night’s sleep for the ride the next day.

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With a light headache (lots on my mind and maybe not enough water though I try to stay hydrated) I took a Tylenol PM this time and threw as much hay as I thought they could eat in the middle of the pen and climbed in to bed. I only woke up once to some light clanging, realized I really had to pee and got up to do a check/bathroom run and otherwise slept MUCH better night 2.

stay tuned for ride day…. the rest of the story…

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The Big South Fork

Monday, September 14, 2015

I was on the fence about this ride.

I worried about the long drive. I worried that we would drive all that way for a miserable ride in the pouring rain and lightning. I worried that I have too much to do to give three full days to this self-indulgent hobby turned obsession that is endurance riding for me.

The drive was long. It took just under 10 hours to get there. The day was warm and I have to keep it slower as it threatens to overheat on the mountainous Virginia highways. I worried about dehydration and unloaded Khaleesi twice (every 3 hours or so) to eat some grass and  apples, move her legs and get a drink. I loved seeing how good she was at the grassy areas at the truck stops. She didn’t mind the activity or sounds a bit. She was a good traveler.

at one of the truck stops
at one of the truck stops

We got in later than I’d expected but still got set up and were able to vet-in before dinner and the ride meeting. I used a small pop-up tent this trip in case we were tacking up in the rain, at least I could start semi-dry and ride out in my new raincoat. Also, the pop-up covered most of her enclosure, so I’d hoped she might stay at least somewhat dry.

The way I had to park (spots were at a premium with largest turnout they’d had for this ride in years) I could only tie to one side of my trailer. I planned to attach the corral to that side as well. We would be doing everything in there, under the tent. I set up the pop-up alone (it took a few extra minutes but I did it!) and put it in place and walked her under it thinking after the fact “Gee, I’m glad she didn’t freak out about being underneath that huge ‘tarp-thing’! It was just about at her head height!” We hadn’t practiced that at home. I tied her to the trailer and built the corral around her while she ate hay.

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Base Camp
Base Camp under stormy skies

With not much time to hit the vets, she wasn’t even brushed, but we got all As and a pink L110 on her hind and we were good to go. It stormed during the ride meeting, medium rain, lightning and thunder. It passed over us and back at the trailer, things began to quiet down so of course (my loud-mouth girl) Khaleesi began calling out to see who was around… horses from afar would start calling back and then after a few would quiet down again. Then she’d start it up… I must have the loudest horse in the AERC.

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Finally she stopped and and as I tucked myself into my hammock (in the trailer) the rain came and went gently on the roof and I slept on and off listening to her munching, drinking QUIETLY. At least until about 4am when she thought it was a good time to see if everyone made it through the night. I am pretty sure it was she who broke the silence and started talking again. I laid there and finally got up around 5am to get ahead of the game. It always seems like so much time in the morning, and then I’m barely tacked up for the start time. Today I wanted her to be ready early. We weren’t going out dead last today. Goal was to get into mid-pack and see how we do.

Thankfully she was dry, and it wasn’t raining. it was cool- good for the horses. The only thing I forgot this weekend (which was unfortunate but not disastrous) was my mini-press pot for coffee. I had the camping percolator but I hate dealing with that thing, it’s terrible for just one or two cups and at 5am it takes way too long. The first time I thought it was done the water was still clear at the bottom, then I turned up the heat and somehow boiled it dry. I added water again and finally got some weak excuse for coffee- that was at least something. I decided the next morning to just get out of dodge and hit a coffee shop en route.

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I tied on my big raincoat knowing the last weather I checked promised 60% chance of rain ALL morning. I’d never tied this raincoat on before… I didn’t have the best ties for it, I used some good boot shoestrings and left it in the twine I’d wrapped it up in. We were ready to go in time to check in 20 minutes before start (I still did so on foot, no sense getting her all worked up yet)- though I realized my GPS had been left in my crew bag, and I’d sent that on ahead to the vet-check already. Today I was the anti-gizmo. No heart rate monitor, no GPS, my phone on airplane mode to conserve battery (no service in camp… as usual).

We took a walk around camp under saddle just to get moving and hit the trail just after they called the start time. We walked past the timers, gave our number and I let her start trotting slowly out. We hit the trail and she was good to go! Which would have been fantastic – except pretty quickly my raincoat was coming undone. I tried to salvage it under saddle… I didn’t care how it stayed on, but it’s one of my most valuable articles and there was no way I would risk losing it on the trail. We screwed around with it for a few minutes walking/trotting… trying to get her to stand in place a minute reins in my teeth, and in the end end I knew it was futile. We HAD to stop and fix it. Darn.. loosing valuable time to equipment kinks, and she was not going to like this one bit.

I hopped off and she was not happy. A slower rider camp up behind and graciously stopped to wait for us. She was not in a hurry and told me that I might want to take a breath- maybe my horse was reading my agitation. (oh… yeah… right! thanks) of course it only marginally helped. She wanted to GO… there were other horses out there! I did what I could to re-tie the coat while she did not stand so quietly, then I got back on with a little difficulty (standing still!) and off we went again. It took about 5 minutes of trotting for the raincoat to begin to slide out again. This time I did stay on and began pulling parts of it through the loop top of my cantle bag. It was all over the place, but it seemed secure enough, and it didn’t bother her a bit. I could feel part of it behind my left leg, so I knew it was there (hopefully would notice if i lost it) and we kept going forward.

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the “snack” bridge… with grass growing on it

Thankfully we had a good pace going and we did pass a few other riders which meant we were not last. We eventually caught up to two riders who seemed to be going a perfect pace. We had to move to keep up, but they weren’t leaving us behind. Khaleesi and I settled in to shadow them and see what happened. Turns out we rode the entire rest of the ride together, at least Sabina and I did. Her partner ended up pulling at the vet check for a slightly lame front hoof (possibly a bruise?).

Our first ride together two weeks ago we led a new horse the entire ride, this time we followed Sabina and Leon, an experienced rider who goes back and forth between 30s and 50s depending on her training schedule. For this ride the other horse (who pulled) had been on a 2-year break and this was his first ride back. So the 30 mile LD worked best for them.

Turns out it did not rain that morning. At all. Good thing I fought with that raincoat- I’m sure if I hadn’t had it the rain would have poured!

Example of rock formations we rode past- blurry because we were moving!
Example of rock formations we rode past- blurry because we were moving!

The ride was stunning- huge rock formations big as buildings along the way, pretty woods, lots of streams, and crossing Big South Fork was really a treat. With rain that week the river was up- actually it was about as high as it can get before they detour and do not cross. The picture at the top of the blog is (by Becky Pearman) of the river crossing. We were focused on staying in between the boulders (park rules) that you could barely see due to the water level. She didn’t mind the depth at all and depending where you stepped it got even deeper, the guy riding with us on the 16H Thouroughbred was in over his feet where he crossed.

crossing Big South Fork
crossing Big South Fork

A few miles from vet check 1 at a brief water stop that she wasn’t drinking at, I was trying to feed her an apple (I carried a few with me to encourage her to snack on the go and also provide some moisture) and as I lured her head with the apple she sniffed it and refused and I thought I saw something… I asked her again (gently) to turn toward me and she had pinkish/reddish saliva around her lips. Blood.

Except refusing the apple, she wasn’t acting odd or uncomfortable, though I think she had shaken or jerked her head once or twice in a way that was unusual for her recently… in the past… uh… little while? Not continuously though… and I couldn’t think of anything that would have done that like stepping on her reins, or an accidental hard jerk on her mouth… I had been trying to encourage her to eat an occasional apple- had she bitten her tongue? Maybe back as far as when I got off her to fix the raincoat and she was fighting with me refusing to stand still. Also Pam and I had lowered her bit a few days previously. We checked and it did not interfere with her teeth, and had less potential for pinching her mouth this way. That could have something to do with it, but didn’t seem like a good reason.

She didn’t appear to have blood pouring out her mouth- so I decided to continue riding as we were into the vet check and get a better look there.

We rode into the vet check (almost 14 miles) at 2.5 hours giving us a decent first loop pace. It took me a few minutes to find my bag (this vet check did not have many volunteers, and was a little hard for me to sort out what was going on at first). Not very efficient, I eventually just dumped my saddle in some random area and took out her bit- checking her mouth though not too invasively and saw no more sign of any blood and decided she must have had a quick small injury that was not an issue. Brought her to pulse in after about 6 minutes because I couldn’t waste any more time looking around for my bag/spot before getting our out time. Due to all the time we pulsed in at 48 (fantastic!) and flew through the vetting.

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I did remember my chair, but only sat in it briefly. The area was crowded with all the crew gear and it was all I could do to keep Khaleesi from eating everyone else’s food (in bowls unattended, which is annoying to me). Apparently she didn’t have a serious mouth injury that affected her eating! I tried to move away a few things to create enough space to tie her so she could only reach her own food, hay and apples and sat to eat my roll up for a whole 3 minutes before it was time to start tacking up again (hate to wait too long and be rushed!).

Sabina and I decided to ride the home loop together and as we headed out I told her we were looking to push ourselves, and her pace had been great for us. I asked her to lead the way at whatever pace she wanted and we would just do our best to stay with her. If I felt it wasn’t going to work I would tell her and we could either modify or separate. Don’t wait for us if we lag, and if we come up a little quick, we are not trying to pass. I did not feel she needed to “be in the front” this ride. I know she can do that. I wanted to learn from a team who had been riding AERC rides for 10 years and often had been top 5 if she was riding alone.

loved all the neat rock formations along the trail
loved all the neat rock formations along the trail

She told me the first loop was a little slower than she would have gone for the other horse- he was now waiting back at vet check for a ride home, so we took off and kicked it up a notch on the longer loop back. Leon has a great fast extended trot- Khaleesi and I often switched between trotting and slow cantering to keep up with him. I don’t mind that, it gave us both a break from the relentless trotting to canter here and there. I enjoyed Sabina and we shared some nice conversation (and just rode in agreeable silence too).

My favorite part of this ride was coming out of the woods to this stretch. The sky was rich blue, clouds puffy white, temps were mild… it was September in all it’s glory.

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We only walked where the footing was too rocky or too deep, and one relentless steep hill. Sabina let Leon trot then canter up and as we’d turn a corner it would get steeper… Khaleesi followed behind but tired quicker and up the trail I saw Leon stop and Sabina hop off. I wondered if she was adjusting something and thought “good- we’ll catch up to them” and she immediately just started hoofing it herself up the trail. We did catch them and I did the same. She said “This was as far as he was able to canter, so it’s the point I get off and give him a break as we walk up the rest of the way. If he’s walking,I might as well be walking too”. We were only maybe half way.

At the top, we got on and let them walk a little more to catch their breath (I was breathing harder than Khaleesi was!) and with an “Are we all good now?” away we went again.

at one of the water troughs- she drank a lot on the second loop
at one of the water troughs- she drank a lot on the second loop

On our first loop Khaleesi took no water and no grass. I gave her electrolytes in powerade & applesauce at the VC, she drank half a tank of water before we headed out, and she drank at every stream and every water tank on the second half. It was warmer, dryer, and she’d been out longer as well. She sweat a bit, but often was dry and didn’t seem to find the workload too hard. It was only the last 4 or so miles on a boring, but easy flat dirt road she began to lag and I had to ask her for more, we had to trot trot trot, then canter (more often than previously) to keep up with Leon. I hadn’t needed to ask her to keep up wit Leon before now. I realized she was getting tired, but I didn’t think she was going to hurt herself- this is where we had to push on and break through. She did.

After I got home I read a reprinted article about training and over-riding horses in the Endurance News and the author suggested the ideal workload is when you tire your horse around the last 20% of the ride. Not to exhaustion but to where you sense they are getting tired but can still carry on the same basic pace if you ask them. If they reach this point too early in the ride you have over-ridden the horse and will cause harm to continue in the same pace. If they don’t get tired then you should push a little more. I believe we hit this mark just about perfectly! 

Just as we began to think the finish was a couple miles off we saw camp through the trees. The trail wound around the outside of base camp, so we knew we were very close. We jumped off and walked the rest of the way in and crossed the finish line together. Saddles off, we took just a minute before heading to the pulse box. We both pulsed in within a minute of each other to be 10th and 11th place. With 25 riders started that day that put us easily in the mid-pack goal I had set out with. Thanks to Sabina letting us ride along and learn from her we were almost in the top 10! Our moving pace on the second loop was 6.1mph according to my GPS which was not bad at all!

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We went through the vet and had no trouble. Attitude and impulsion were good! she is doing much better trotting out with me now that we’ve been practicing She had no soreness or tack issues, gut sounds were all +s, cardiac recovery went from 60 down to 56 after the trot out. She was alert and happy, was barely sweaty (I’d left my sponge and scraper in the crew bag, but ended up not feeling the need to rinse her off anyway) drank a ton more water and ate her hay and grain back at the trailer.

I grabbed a refreshing drink and hand walked her around and out of camp to find some greens to munch and stretch her legs for a while and rubbed her and told her how amazing she was. She walks through camp like she owns it- calling around her to the other horses just to chat as she goes. She’s calm- it’s not stress calling like when she was looking for Faygo- it’s like she just has the need to announce herself and talk to the other horses.

hand grazing lazily after the ride
hand grazing lazily after the ride

We had these horse neighbors in camp that always stood right next to each other like little twins watching us. I never saw their people, but they were always side-by-side and too cute not to get a picture of.

i called them the twins
i called them the twins

Also, on our walk around camp to graze and stretch our legs we saw this horse who apparently found the bag of carrots and was working on pulling them out one at a time… cracked me up…

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I couldn’t close the top 1/4 door by the corral because of the way I’d set up the pop up tent, so that was always left open at night and at some point Khaleesi realized I was in there and sometimes she’d pop her head up through the corral or over top of it. As it got dark she’d put her nose all the way around as if to ask “Are you still in there? What are you doing?” I’d go over and say hi and rub her nose and chat for a minute and she’d go back to eating. She did this a bunch of times Saturday night. What a character.

The trailer corner of the corral... she learned to poke her head around and check me out that evening
The trailer corner of the corral… she learned to poke her head around and check me out that evening

I love to head home after a 30 mile ride and let her in a big field, and me hit the hot tub, and relax and catch up with Ed, but with the long drive we had to stay the second night. Once we start doing 50s we will likely also have to stay the second night. One perk was a glorious nap in the afternoon instead of packing up to go. Dinner was BBQ and it was nice to stay for awards and see how everyone else did. I spent some time packing up as much as possible that night so all I had to do was load my corral and horse and get on the road before the 100 milers went out on Sunday at 7am.

The next morning I was up at 4am… Khaleesi smacked her hay bag loudly with a thump on the side of the trailer, I think she was trying to get me up. After being jarred awake and wondering panicked “oh no- did she just push the fence over?” (of course not, but I was half asleep and strange things come to mind before you’re fully awake). I rolled out of the hammock to look and she was standing there chewing on hay.

Might as well get up and roll out! It took me a while in the dark, trying to stay at least somewhat quiet to finish packing up and take down the panels. She loaded on a little after 5am and we got out of camp and on the road close to 5:30. After about 2 hours, close to Knoxville we stopped at a starbucks where I ordered and then hit the restroom glad for a mirror where I also brushed my hair and did a good hand wash. After the coffee appeared I felt almost human again!

Starbucks & apple stop around Knoxville
Starbucks & apple stop around Knoxville

We hit the road again, moving faster today in the cold morning (the truck runs better in the cold) and had an uneventful drive home. It felt so good to pull in and unload her. The horses came running to welcome her back, and once I took off her halter in the big field I thought she’d run off kicking her heels and doing pirouettes (I’ve seen this before) in joy from being home again, but she stood next to me for a minute while I rubbed on her and took a few bites of grass… then she walked a few steps for some better grass and didn’t seem to be in any hurry. After she got a few feet away Faygo came in to say hello and I gave her some scratching and love time. Khaleesi took a big roll and sauntered over to the water tank. I headed home and hit the hot tub (after some unloading).

Looking back, we did improve! And learned some new things too.

Get an extra press pot that lives in the camping box. Never be without good coffee again!

Buy the lightweight saddle pack that goes with the raincoat and clip it on next time.

We picked up the pace. Yes, I would have loved to pick it up even more and creep into that top ten, but I think we found the appropriate balance. She got tired, but still seemed happy and she was sound and healthy at the end.

Look up, and ride better… those were my riding goals from the past ride. Thinking about this early on the ride I had a motto: Trust our feet. Hers and mine.

Trust her to set her feet, don’t look down. I definitely improved this and it helped us with keeping up our speed too- I was always looking up the trail a little ways and I found she almost never tripped or slipped. I can’t remember one time actually. True, the footing was basically good, but there were rocky sections and mud and plenty of chances to trip up.

I needed to trust that if I kept my heels down/toes up I would not fly out of the stirrups and the saddle. I have been riding in fear of losing a stirrup (like that is the end of the world) and tried to find a good spot on the ball of my foot where I could stay balanced. It helped.

I did ride better. I wasn’t perfect, and I still felt a little jarred around sometimes, especially watching Sabina in front of me who seemed to be exactly in balance and never wavered from her seat no matter what. I think I was a little more leaned forward for this ride than I’d like, but at least I wasn’t siting behind my feet. We mostly posted, but a very occasional 2-point and on uphills I found I could actually do a few sitting steps too balancing better on my heels and almost hovering. A few times we really hit a sweet spot and it was easy. I almost never had to grab the saddle to stabilize.

Our trot outs and standing still for the vet were also better. She occasionally tried to step away from the stethoscope, but basically stood nicely and stayed with me on the trots.

Aside from the need to continue to improve my riding skills overall, and continued fine tuning of her standing nicely when asked, we really hit the mark on this ride and I was very proud of her and pleased with my own improvement. Two days later I’m a little ‘sore’ or tight in a few spots- thighs mostly, but not jarred around sore like the last ride. We are efficient in the vet-stations, have the crew bag needs down, and have picked up speed.

I think having a ride only 2 weeks from our first ride was really helpful for us because the things I wanted to improve were fresh in my mind. It was absolutely worthwhile for us to stretch our comfort zone to get to the Big South Fork ride. We now have just under a month until our last ride of the season: the open LD (25) at the national championships in Old Dominion territory over in Oarkney Springs.

I am looking forward to this ride because it should be exciting (lots of people from all around) and it’s right in our backyard. Also, my future crew, Sarah and Madison are coming and Madison is going to ride Faygo as a junior rider along with Khaleesi and I.

I’ll be spending the next couple weeks focusing on getting Faygo ready for this ride, and it should be cool enough that she will do well. We will plan to stay in the back of the pack, be kind to Faygo and Madison, and not be pushing our limits. I’ve heard the OD courses are tough- this is good for us because when people say that, they are speaking of the things Faygo excels at: rocky terrain and mountains. I wanted Madison to have the experience of riding an AERC ride since she’s going to be helping me, and I enjoy her company and she does fantastic with Faygo.

With my teaching schedule in full gear this week, team green signs off for a little break for Khaleesi, she’s earned it!

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8 feet on the ground

From Friday, August 28, 2015

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With everything loaded in we hit the road on Thursday and though my poor truck was loaded down, we made it to Ivanhoe mid-afternoon to set up camp on the New River. It was the first big weekend for my new trailer which is so nice to have! My truck heaved and hoed a little bit on the hills of I-81, but it got us there pulling two horses and all our gear (including aluminum racks piled on top!).

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It was really nice to have Kate in camp to help set up the corral and help wrangle the horses- and just to have a buddy… company… is also nice. The camp was along the New River and run by the local fire department. There was a ton of grass and big water troughs nearby with tons of scattered ports-potties as well as (HUGE bonus!) SHOWERS.

New River
New River

It was a pretty big ride with roughly one hundred horses participating each day (a few less on Friday, a few over on Saturday). Base camp is a busy place like a little town with a tack shop, vet stations, registration, ‘mess tent’, even an ice cream stand and people and horses are milling about. Lots of trucks, trailers, dogs barking, horses calling out, kids running around… until 10pm (quiet time) it’s a noisy bustling place.

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We got set up and went together to vet-in Faygo who got all A’s on her scorecard. I like having a vet look at my horse more than the once a year or so I have my vaccines and teeth done. They checked her back and the vet asked if I have trouble with her saddle rolling (yes, sometimes)- she said she’s almost “mutton withers” shaped, so kind of flat backed. Her back is healthy, no soreness (YEAH for the Imus saddle!) and she even gave her a body condition of 5 (which is ideal) though I still think she’s closer to a 6 compared to how she looked in peak shape this spring.

Headed to vet-in
Headed to vet-in

We hit the dinner & ride meeting and learned that the trail is marked with very clear signs, arrows, flags and red plates with Xs if you should NOT go that way; you’d pretty much have to be an idiot (I think that was almost verbatim) to mess up this trail. In recent memory they haven’t had anyone get lost.

We had a mellow early night though I never sleep that great when my horses are with me as I wake up at 2am… 3am… 4am…

What was that noise? Did Khaleesi get her hoof stuck in that fence? Oh no, she’s going to pull a shoe before the ride tomorrow… Are they out of water? Did they eat all the hay?

There were no issues however, and all was well in the morning.

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Kate and I headed toward the start after 8am (the 30 mile riders went out at 8, the ride & tie start was 8:15). Faygo was a handful – way out of the ordinary- and I was glad I suggested I’d ride first (the opening of the course was flatter and since I’d kind of roped Kate into this, I thought it would be nice to give her the easier run to start… I would do the infamous switchbacks everyone was talking about).

Faygo and Khaleesi were calling to each other and Faygo was determined to go back and get her:

Faygo: She can run along with us, she doesn’t NEED a rider you know! Actually- you guys ride her and let me just come along!

Me: No Way. We are not even discussing this, turn back around we’re going that way in just a minute.

Faygo: She’s gonna be mad. I’m going to tell her it’s your fault. You don’t have to be in that little pen with her all night!

Me: Ok, I know. Aren’t you glad to get a little space from her!? PAY ATTENTION you almost ran that lady over backing up like that!

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

There were only 6 or 7 teams running the ride & tie. So we all assembled at the starting line, riders and horses milling about waiting for the “go” when back toward us from the course came a galloping riderless horse at full speed. As we watched in horror frozen in place not knowing what that horse would do and which way to go, the front handful of riders at the start began to have their horses start a stampede. In that instant I wondered which way should we go (though also glad not to be on foot if there really was a stampede coming)- Faygo was already a bit wound up and this was NOT GOOD- when a woman jumped out in front stretched out her arms wide and said WHOA! And as that horse barreled right at her she grabbed his reins and he stopped.

Crisis averted… for us at least. The horse had red and green ribbons in his tail (green means “green”, like inexperienced; red means watch out, I could kick you) and I thought (oh- just like Khaleesi tomorrow!).

Thus we began the race – all just a tad more amped up than usual, and the other horses ran out at a canter. I heard myself talking to Kate the night before when we had our ‘strategerie’ meeting.

Kate: Ok, so what’s the plan, we know she likes to go- but keep her to gaiting? And how long should we go between ties? Maybe we should do time instead of mileage?

Me: That’s not a bad idea- just keep her from cantering and she should do ok. She’ll have to walk the big hills, just make her stick to her gaits and she’ll do better. Just don’t let her canter.

Race Day Reality: Right from the start line I was cantering along behind the other R&T horses trying to slow her without fighting and wasting all her energy.

Me (to myself): In an endurance ride I know better than to go with the first group- what was I thinking… just because there are only like 7 horses here- we should have held back and gone our own pace. 

Thankfully a short distance in, the rider in front of me asked to pass another rider who seemed to want to hold back a bit. As I then approached her I asked:

Are you trying to slow up a bit?

Yes, actually- you can go by if you want

Nope- I’d love to slow down and get a little control, want to ride together a bit?

That would be great.

That started a new friendship with Faygo & Miles, Kate & Cindy (who had a similar experience with the running crew), and Alison & me. We ended up riding the entire 15 miles buddied up and enjoyed the day!

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First tie up on the switchbacks

The trail was beautiful, but basically we ran from the New River up to Iron Mountain, so it was mostly uphill. The grade varied, and there were some beautiful ridge trails that were mostly flat- occasionally a downhill into the vet check (which was our finish line), but poor Faygo did a hard 15 that day.

Sometimes we all walked together up the hills (we’ll say it was for Faygo, but I was grateful not to have to try to keep up running those things! Alison is a good uphill runner!) Sometimes we did get some distance and tie off, but we were never very far from each other. I’m still amazed after trying this sport out that horses and people are not so far off from basic speeds.

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Somewhere around mile 11 or 12 we got the idea that we might have taken a wrong turn. The course was like a lollypop shape. The first 9 miles in and out of camp is one trail, then there’s a right turn that takes you into the vet check through the “rangelands” gorgeous cow fields, once you leave the vet check you go up the mountain trail to then meet up with the 9 mile in and out. We knew that the distance was about the same either way, so decided to continue on and deal with it later. When we saw the ride & tie ride manager coming toward us a couple miles out of base camp – she was headed back to camp on the 30 mile trail- we knew we were backward.

She was worried about us but we assured her we’d had a great run, and ended up sticking together- and that we’d all missed the turn. Considering at the ride meeting we were told only a complete idiot could have missed it, we did feel bad. But in our case no true harm was done because we’d still do 15 miles, and still end up at the vet-check finish line. She agreed that it was fine and we went on.

just a mile to go!
just a mile to go!

Once at the finish the AERC ride manager was more concerned because they’d been looking for us (there are radio spotters, and we’d of course never gotten to the one between the turn off and the vet check). So they were glad we were fine, but she asked us exasperatedly “Did you not see all the signs by the water trough to turn? How could you miss that?”

We told her we were sorry, and that we can’t say the signs weren’t there, but that indeed we did miss them. Thinking back- not far from that spot was a guy on a little bob-cat tractor pushing dirt around near the trail. Our horses were annoyed but not that bothered (they are used to tractors), but the runners said they tried to let the man know that horses were coming through and he was a bit rude to them and seemed to get more in the way of the trail. We have no way of knowing if these things are connected, but we did find out later that some of the signs HAD been intentionally removed, and that a rumor (that has no specific proof) is that there is a political argument going on internally with a local back country horseman chapter and some of those disgruntled members were the suspect of the ride sabotage.

Thankfully we are not complete idiots, and that turn was leaving the Alleghany Highlands trail down a dirt road that we would never have seen without signs. The following day they had volunteers at the important turns to be sure the signs were not taken down again.

End of the ride! All happy!
End of the ride! All happy!

Faygo took about 5 minutes to pulse down at the finish which isn’t terrible for jogging in the last couple of flatter miles, and then the vet-check is up on a hill, so we had to walk up to pulse in. We pulled off her tack and let her get a good drink. She hadn’t eaten much on the trail, and though she was hydrated her gut sounds were minimal. The vet said that isn’t abnormal and that he wasn’t concerned- just make sure she eats and let them know if she doesn’t seem to want to graze (that was not a problem at all). Her back wasn’t sore, but it was a little tight as was her hind. Again- not cause for concern, but just something to note. It was a tough uphill course and it had been a challenge for her. She was tired but not overworked. The 15 was a good distance for her- especially for the elevation we covered.

It was a great thing to do with her, and as I have been focused on making sure Khaleesi was ready for her first 30, Faygo just didn’t get the hard training she’d had in the spring. Now that the weather is cooling down and Khaleesi is in good shape, I will probably put more time into getting her ready to do the LD at the national championship ride. It’s only 25, and we will plan to “turtle” the ride and just finish. I am sure she is capable of that as she did a solid 30 in the spring at the No Frills.

Faygo & Miles
Faygo & Miles

After relaxing a few minutes up at the vet-check, we hitched a ride home in the “ambulance” trailer (it’s there in case horses are pulled and need a ride home). Faygo was looking good and got to ride with her new friend (Miles, Alison’s horse, who is a Rocky Mountain- so they were both gaited and made a great pair).

A few things I learned: 1) “Leaves of three, find another tree!” (don’t tie your horse to a tree covered in poison ivy.. I didn’t do this, but will try to remember the saying in the future, it’s good advice). 2) When/where to tie? Don’t stress too hard about this. It will become obvious at the time. You can practice (I’m glad we did), but in the end you will know the right distances on race day.

Unfortunately Kate had to leave that afternoon. I missed having her there, but don’t mind alone time either. I had plenty to do getting Khaleesi ready for the next day, checked in and vetted as well.

A walk to the New River after the ride with both horses
A walk to the New River after the ride with both horses

I was slightly concerned about Khaleesi as I hadn’t ridden her since Tuesday night and we were in a strange bustling place with lots of distractions. I wasn’t sure how she would be race day morning, and considering how hot-headed my solid mare had been I wanted to at least ride Khaleesi around camp a few times and be sure I had some control. Also, it couldn’t hurt to make sure my tack was all in place and working before I had to ride out in the morning.

I tacked her up, hopped on and took a walk around camp. The ENTIRE time Khaleesi and Faygo called to each other. By the way, Khaleesi is a SUPER LOUD MOUTH. She will likely be remembered by people as that really loud horse. Not kidding.

As we made one loop around Faygo was pacing and pawing in the corral. I decided to take one more loop- see if they could figure out that they weren’t going to die. It got worse. Khaleesi was ok, a little distracted, but not dangerous, but Faygo was a hot mess. I felt bad for her.

My neighbor said to me “Boy, she hasn’t been happy since you left.” It was Khaleesi I was worried about leaving in camp. But to all accounts, once we left that morning, she just settled in and ate her hay all day. I had visions of Faygo running the corral, pawing and pacing and screaming all day. Then my neighbor continued “Once a very experienced ride told me you should really never consider bringing two horses to a ride. Unless the world is coming to an end.”

That seemed a bit extreme, but I was concerned and felt a little off the rest of the afternoon. I put Khaleesi back- her tack was fine, she was safe to ride, and it wasn’t worth the stress to just ride her around a few loops. I decided to get an ice cream cone and take a walk. This was the self-doubt walk.

What are you doing here? Do you know how much work this takes to get a horse ready to do this? Your life is busy enough- you hardly have time to think straight lately with your actual work, keeping your family responsibilities together around the house, and then devoting all this time to your riding- to keep two horses fit to participate. And now you tried to juggle it all, and the horse you want to be able to include- because she’s your first love, is stressed out and going to have a breakdown tomorrow when you leave her with your new horse that you are having so much fun with. Do you think that’s fair to her? How selfish are you? And here you are alone- overwhelmed with two horses in camp who need attention and your big day is tomorrow and you just feeling like packing up the trailer and going home… 

I didn’t pack up the trailer to go home. Completely out of cell service and not able to call mom or even my husband for a pep-talk or just to talk to someone, I walked along the highlands trail above camp a bit and tried to ask myself why I felt so defeated. We’d had a good day. Faygo was sound and had a good ride, we’d made new friends… I still don’t know really why I had such a crash there, but I put my mind to working around camp. First I took a shower (that helped a lot), then organizing my ride/crew stuff for the next day, and made a plan for Faygo. She was going to have to be ok. I also said a little prayer for her- that she wouldn’t be so stressed out. After all, God loves her as one of his creatures- I suggested maybe he could give her a little comfort while we were gone.

I decided that I would take down the corral the next morning and give her a smaller enclosure connected to the trailer (for added security) with hay and water so at least she couldn’t get too much pacing, running, or hopefully trying to jump out/escape. If I knew her, she might fret a bit, but after we were out of earshot, I knew deep down she was settle down.

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Exhausted, I called it an early night. My new digs are a nice improvement over my first event weekend in the old rusty trailer. My hammock is comfortable and knowing the horses made it through the previous night with no drama, I slept a little better. I also set my alarm earlier because I always seem to run short on time, and the next morning I also had to take down and re-set my corral… alone… before riding out.

The moon was beautiful. The horses were content. It was going to be ok.

moon over the horses
moon over the horses

to be continued……..

H52611

 Saturday, July 11, 2015

We have officially committed! I’ve registered Ireland’s Khaleesi as an AERC Grade Horse. Considering she has 4 different breeds, we decided to basically call her an equine mutt, which is what a Grade Horse is. Because she does have 1/4 Arab I could have chosen to list her as an Arab Cross, or 1/4 Arab, but 90% of AERC horses are some kind of Arab, and I wanted her not to be just one more Arab cross. Truly I don’t think of her as an Arab cross. In fact, I don’t feel that any one part of her breeding really takes over in her case. She doesn’t rack yet, so I can’t call her a racking horse; she doesn’t seem like a TN Walker at all (and doesn’t have a walker gait), and I don’t feel like anything about her screams Arabian either. The more I thought about it, the more Grade horse seemed to fit her. She is totally unique and I love her for it.

She is Bay Grade Mare #H52611- Ireland’s Khaleesi.

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There was another break in the rain Saturday, so I took the moment and rode her alone on for a little over 6 miles. The trails are slush and muck so we weren’t making any fast time. On the other hand all the rain has some of the creeks roaring at a volume you literally couldn’t talk over and that’s one more thing that’s been good for her to get used to. At Douthat there was a waterfall that was loud and she was a bit freaked out over the sound.

Douthat ride where she was worried about the waterfall and wouldn't stand with the group
Douthat ride where she was worried about the waterfall and was nervous to stand with the group

I reflected today at how lucky we are to have these mountains to train in. There was a recent AERC Facebook post about what you need to have your horse ready to do before their first ride and I feel pretty confident that we are doing our best to have her ready for anything. Of course there’s always that one thing you weren’t expecting, but all-in-all we are on track:

Crossing a narrow bridge
Crossing a narrow bridge

creek & river crossings: check… bridges of all kinds (concrete, wood, large and small): check… steep climbs and descents: check/check... rocky footing: check… deep sucking mud: check... complicated navigating over downs with grapevines: check… roads with vehicles: check... bicycles: check... tractors: check... most wild animals animals: check… riding alone: check… riding with others: check… long mountain climbs: check… multi-day camping: check

At this point, she’s still ‘green’, but she’s about as ready for her first AERC ride as she can be. Even if for some reason we don’t complete, it’ll be great experience to get out and try.

The only complication that came up was toward the end of the ride a back boot came loose. I ended up pulling both back boots because we were so close to home. I have decided that I need a smaller size on her back feet. The front renegades are working just about perfect- I haven’t lost one in many many miles as of now, but after using them and seeing how they work, I honestly believe I could go a size smaller on the front boots as well. This means that the back boots are possibly more than one size too big which would be the reason they are giving me some trouble.

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I went ahead and put in an order for the next size smaller (after measuring one more time) back boots and plan to use the current back boots as emergency spares. Before entering our event next month we absolutely would have had to order at least one- possibly two spare boots anyway.

I’m glad I waited and used the boots to see how they’d work before moving forward on a spare. Now that I see how they fit and work I have more understanding. There is a distinct difference between the length and width play in the measurement with renegades and I think I have a grasp of the variables and which measurements need to be closer and which can either be cut back or fall a little shorter than I’d originally thought.

Hopefully this will be a better long-term solution. I may find she goes a size down in all 4 feet.

Trails have turned into creeks in some stretches.
Trails have turned into creeks in some stretches.

It looks like another week of rain is coming. This has been a tough year for getting enough riding in, and also for soggy trails and difficult footing. The last thing I want to do is pull a tendon rushing through slippery muck. One thing working with horses and children has taught me is that you have to be more creative than the challenge you face. I will try not to complain about the rain but let it make us a stronger riding team. As the event gets closer and my travel schedule begins to fill, I’m going to have to start riding in that rain more often to get our miles in. And one never knows- our ride could be a soggy wet mess as well.

Endurance riding is not for sissies- that is for sure!

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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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