Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More changes for Deli and me as 2014 sets.

Sadly, Deli had to leave her old-mare buddy behind.
As the New Year beckons, I find myself thinking over 2014 and what it meant to me – and Deli. This year has had more downs than ups, and I’m happy to see it go.

As if to emphasize my need for a fresh start, I moved Deli again this week.

We have moved back to the barn where she had her serious groin tear – the barn I was at around the time this blog was started. Sounds insane, right, given that still ranks up there as one of her most serious injuries to date?

But I’m pretty sure groin tear was a fluke, a true accident where Deli decided to roll too close to the fence and probably got a foot caught under the gate. I don’t believe it’s a serious danger as the facilities were nice. AND this was a standout barn in that the barn owner was not a liar, cheat, actually has good horse sense, and was primarily concerned about the health of the horse and a lack of drama! (Also, her hatred of mud is a nice perk in the PNW when you have a horse with skin issues.) It’s sad how rare those things seem to be in horse boarding, but Deli and my experiences over the past couple years prove that boarding a horse is often terrible. Case and point: this person doesn’t even OFFER boarding anymore because her boarders were awful.

Horse people: why do you have to be so nasty to deal with? And illogical, mean spirited, and uneducated in the ways of equines! Not to say there aren’t some salt-of-the-earth equestrians out there. I know many. But they seem few and far between these days.

Within 10 minutes at the new place (Deli on left).
So we moved to get away from the anxiety-causing insanity and give us a safe place to heal and for me to get the emotional boost I would normally get from being with my horse back.  I still love spending time with her, of course, but my barn situation was frosty at best and I needed to get out for more than one reason.

This new barn does not have great trail access (which is why we moved away from it originally), but trail access has to be secondary to my horse being safe and me not having anxious fits about her care all the time.

Deli’s most recent injuries were caused by a new horse in her pasture who literally grabbed onto her with his teeth on more than one occasion and would not let go. Like a bulldog. Or an aggressive stallion. I didn’t see this happen, but it’s the only explanation for the physical evidence I was left with (there were clear teeth marks, so it wasn’t a kick). She had significant deep tissue damage in her right-hind and left shoulder, with other equine professionals saying they had very rarely seen such bad bites with respect to the level of deep tissue damage (the surface wounds were minor). When I brought my concerns to the forefront, I was essentially told I wrong because they saw no evidence of aggressive behavior from the other horse.
Look at this troublemaker...

The barn and other boarders reaction was very very odd, to be honest, because Deli had been housed with an extremely dominant (but better socialized!) gelding before and they hadn’t heard a peep from me. In fact, Deli never had a mark on her from that horse and wasn’t anxious about him even though he would herd her around all the time.

Essentially: I cause drama because I'm not okay with my horse being housed with a dangerous horse who has, twice, injured her seriously enough to require both vet care and several months of lay up before starting rehab riding?! And somehow this is both Deli and my fault. The only solution they gave me was to isolate her from the other horses in a smaller paddock (also not good for her health, which I explained to them). If you are shaking your head in disbelief - that has been my life this month.

Perpetually unimpressed with humanity... 
So I call bullshit – I’m pretty sure something else was going on behind the scenes. I have seen this gelding chasing Deli and was very disturbed by the fact that he would come up to my horse with a nicker and forward ears – essentially making friendly overtures – and then go after her with intent to kill. My poor creampuff of a mare, who wants to be friends with everyone and is so well-socialized that she will move away with a mere look from a dominant horse, was very confused and anxious around this gelding’s and his not-normal behavior. Unfortunately I wasn’t given any options for either moving her or separating them. Despite this, I was hopeful she would be okay because after the shoulder injury Deli’s friend, a sweet ancient mare, seemed to be guarding her. And Deli seemed to have learned her lesson and avoided the gelding even when he was acting friendly.

But the people drama. Ugh, the people drama. I don’t have a horse for the social aspects of it, to be perfectly honest. I certainly like riding with friends but I have a horse for the time spent with the horse (what a novel concept!). I look forward to time alone with her, particularly when we can get outside in natural areas away from the bustle of the city that I dislike.

As if to emphasize how well-socialized and friendly Deli is, it took all of 2 minutes for her to make her new pasture companion a friend. Deli lip-nipped her over the fence, they were turned out together and the older dominant mare chased her for about two strides before they settled down and grazed next to each other.  And my horse is the problem? Puh-lease.

This barn will be our place of rest and recovery. Her re-hab riding is going well after I got over my mental block and pushed her past some early discomfort.  Equine massage has also been a real help in getting her back on track and I hope that, come spring, she will be well enough for more trail riding and horse camping with friends.

Eyes up. Forward moving.
That’s my small goal for her: take her horse camping and trail riding out and about.

For me? I’d really like to do another endurance ride or two, if I am lucky enough to get another pick-up ride.

Here’s to 2015 being better than its predecessor!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Final thoughts on my first Limited Distance ride (for now)!

Even two months later I still find myself thinking about moments during my first ride. I wonder how long rides stick with established endurance competitors.

Things I can do better next time:

  • Take better care of myself. I’ll admit I had some excited nerves – which part of the fun – but I was very focused on the horse and not so much on eating breakfast. Not a bad thing since I’m ultimately all about the horse anyway, but I do need to remain functional! This mostly applies to drinking more, since I am heat sensitive and dehydrate quickly when doing any kind of intense exercise.
  • Have horse-care stuff available at pulse-in. For this LD I went back to the trailer for a cooler on that cool first loop – not a big deal as ride camp was small. For the future I think throwing a cooler and some other things in a waterproof bag would be good. I don’t think it’s common for things like this to get stolen at a ride?
  • Get different water bottles! It’s a little thing I didn’t really think about before, but those sports-drink tops that you can suck on while moving? GREAT invention. My wide-neck water bottles? Not so great! (Seriously? How was this not obvious to you Marie?) I need to be able to drink at the trot. I may consider looking into a camel pack given I know this is a weakness…
  • Half chaps and generally more protective gear! I don’t normally wear them, but more protection is needed on these rides. I've learned that 25 miles is very different then even a long conditioning ride. Protective clothing is a good thing. Mesa was not a puller and listened to half-halts, so I was able to ride with a pretty loose rein for most of the ride, which saved my hands even though I did have the foresight to wear gloves. I imagine with other horses that would be different (for instance, Deli! Who is also never a puller but certainly did some leaning during our Grizzly ride experiment).

Things I did right (I think):

  • Focusing on riding effectively even when I was tired and my ankles hurt from being rubbed raw by the fenders! It took a lot of focus at the end of the ride. I’d like to think I’d do this no matter what – but it was certainly a focus of mine throughout the ride because I was very aware I was riding a stellar borrowed horse and wanted her to remain comfortable. Happily, her back felt great at the final CRI. Note to self: the horse’s soundness matters, yours doesn’t! The vets made that VERY clear.
  • Certain food choices were good. Bringing coconut water with me was great. Again, it’s not something I EVER drink; I picked it up on a whim when getting snacks for the ride. Back in ride camp after the ride, when I was exhausted, water tasted gross. Everything tasted gross – except for the coconut water. After I downed a ton of that I was able to perk up and drink water without retching. I don’t know that sports drinks will work for me because very sugary drinks make me ill, but it would be good to take some electrolytes myself. Cubed watermelon was also great both as hydration and food – and Mesa loved it too, so it was a good treat for her as well post-ride.

(I think this truth is probably what will keep my husband from competing – he doesn’t understand the appeal of anything that might hurt.)

I DO understand now how a crew can be useful. I was fine taking care of Mesa and myself, ultimately, but I bet if I'd had my husband putting water in my hand before the start of the ride I would have been in better shape dehydration-wise by the end. 

Altogether - I can't wait for more!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My first limited distance ride: Foothills of the Cascades

Whoa. It has been awhile!

I blame a summer fraught with pitfalls on my lack of blogging about our adventures – more updates on that, and Deli’s current status later (probably).

BUT I do have some stellar news: I completed my FIRST endurance ride!

This Fall I went searching for a horse to borrow for the ride most local to me: Foothills of the Cascades. I knew at this point that Deli wouldn’t even be up for a 10 mile trail ride, but after volunteering at this particular ride for three years in a row I wanted to ride.

I ended up completely lucking out and was lent an experienced and sturdy little mustang mare to ride in the LD (25 miles) named Mesa. I got to ride the mare for the first time the afternoon before the ride, in the rain, and was impressed by how BIG the pony could move! It was pretty clear there was a lot of Spanish in her heritage (at that point my brain was going “wheeee fun!”). She was well trained and an old hat at this endurance-riding-thang. Perfect for a newbie like me!

Foothills is a VERY technical ride and I was told by my endurance mentors that you really had to move out when the footing was good to make up for time lost elsewhere. They were absolutely right! The morning started out cool, grey, and rainy and I was able to ride the first five miles with the 50-milers and Mesa’s owner, which was great. I got to have someone experienced by my side to illustrate by example how things were done on a race (like passing people).

Once we split ways I alternated riding with others and by myself. The first loop was 10 miles and in general most of the footing was great and Mesa was happy to move out. She is a short-statured and short-bodied horse, and so I found she could move out much faster in windy thickly-forested trails. In those areas I was able to pass larger and less maneuverable horses – it was so much fun to have a maneuverable and sure-footed pony at those times!

At the first pulse-in, it took Mesa about a minute to come down but she vetted through great. I parked her in front of food and water in her cooler and went to change my soaked clothes and grab some water. I realized I had made a mistake for not drinking more that morning because at this point I was feeling a bit dehydrated and I get heat stroke easily. I think given my excited nerves and the fact that it was raining made me forget how much I needed to drink. Having come into the check with a group of rowdy horses, I stayed a little longer in my hold to give myself a bubble before we headed out on the trail again. 

Right away it was clear the second loop (15 miles) was where a lot of the technical trails were. Some of the early stuff was deep footing intermixed with wet slippery sticks in an area that had recently been clear cut. We crawled there, and I felt like the footing was wearing Mesa out more than moving out on the good footing had! When we finally got back onto some logging roads it was a relief for both of us.

At some point I got in with another group of riders and we all missed a turn, making us need to back track a good bit to pick up the trail again. Oops. And the sun had come out making me glad I had shed my soaked clothes in favor of a lighter long-sleeve. Up until this point Mesa had not had anything to drink and I was a bit worried about that even though I knew the little mare was used to longer distances. I needn’t have worried: when we got lost it did have the advantage of having the trail cross a small stream where Mesa took a looooong drink and some bites of grass.

After going strong all day I felt that Mesa was getting a bit tired about midway through the second loop. I admit, I was getting tired too! After the fact I now know that a lot of my fatigue was due to dehydration – I was focusing on the horse and not on myself! Next time I’ll do better. Someone else told us we were at the base of a mile-long hill and I decided we were just going to walk up it. Mesa’s owner had told me she was an honest horse and if she was telling me she was tired, I was going to listen. So we walked, loose rein, enjoying the beautiful PNW forest. Mesa, being somewhat race-brained all day (in a polite way, mind you!), showed she hadn’t been kidding about being tired as other competitors rocked past us up the long hill and she didn’t even bat an eye.
When we reached the top the view was astounding. I TRIED to take some photos with my cell phone, but the camera had gotten wet earlier (next time: plastic baggies) and they came out terribly! Sadly, these were the only photos I got all day. I’m a failure as a photog… but to be honest it was the last thing on my mind! Next time.

Cute floppy mustang ears.
After the hill-walking-break Mesa perked right up. That was clearly all she needed. At this point I was eyeing my watch wondering how much further we had to go, because time was running out! We had blasted through the first 10 mile loop, but 5 miles of the second loop took us just as long as the first loop had. After some easy trail, we got to another long but more gradual incline. The footing was the best we had seen all day. I asked Mesa to move out and she obliged happily. There was a group close behind me at that time and the leader moved up to be neck-and-neck with us. When I started up the hill I felt like I had a lot of horse under me again and seeing the other rider grin at me as both our horses chomped at the bit, I asked Mesa to move out a bit more, and she sprung into a lovely quick canter. It was the only point in the day I actually let Mesa race and it was absolutely one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I know I was grinning ear-to-ear. Mesa was totally trustworthy and game and I also knew we needed to make up some lost time.

The final miles were the roughest. I was exhausted, which later I realized was mostly due to my own dehydration. I have ridden many miles in my life, but never at that speed. The stirrups on the saddle had rubbed my ankles raw. I was luckily able to pair up with someone I knew for the last part of the ride who let me complain a bit with good humor, and we swapped off pulling each other along.
Coming into camp at last, trying to be wise about it, I jumped off to hand-walk Mesa in while loosening her girth and taking off her bit. This clearly worked because she was down to pulse criteria (60 bpm) when checked. We also walked the last ½ mile into camp with our gaited buddy since Mesa is a heavier-bodied, and hairy(!), mare. Our pulse-down time gave us 10th place, as LD placings are determined by that criteria rather than crossing the finish line.

It was apparently a tough ride even by experienced competitors standards! I pulsed down only 15 minutes before cut-off time and I was MID-pack pretty much the whole ride. At the vet-in Mesa got all As and the vet and scribe joked with me how lame I was in the trot out but Mesa looked great! Ha ha, yes, very funny. I did show for BC despite wanting to collapse and fall sleep where I stood, and I got 4th in BC scores (all 10 showed for BC) so I'm quite happy about my first ride results even though I know with equipment I probably weighted the most out of the top 10 and that helped my score. But since I wasn’t TRYING to top-10, as evidenced by the 15-minutes-before-cutoff pulse down… I’m happy with that!

Waiting during the hour before the CRI re-check, I took the time to curry Mesa, give her more mash, and generally make her comfortable before I forced myself to eat and drink as much as I could. I’m normally just a water drinker (or Izze – yum!) but water tasted absolutely vile that afternoon. Coconut water was great though, and probably saved me from the more serious effects of dehydration.

After the hour CRI I knew I needed to weight myself and my tack, so I lugged everything over to the check, got weighed, and then headed back to the trailer. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but in the spirit of my newbie/Green-beany-ness I will say that halfway back my energy gave out. So I just sat down in the middle of ride camp underneath what had gradually become a VERY heavy saddle and pondered my fate. I could have slept right there, except I was rather close to some horse poo and intellectually I did NOT want to die next to poo. So I got up, went and got Mesa, put the saddle back on her back and had her carry it back to the trailer. After carrying ME and that tack all day in both rain and hot sun, she couldn’t have cared less. At that point I did take a nap after drinking another liter of water. I woke up feeling much better shortly before Mesa’s owner came in for her final hold (she was riding the 50 on Mesa’s daughter).

Mesa’s owner ended up getting 2nd and BC on the 50 mile ride, so it was a good day for both of us!

Next time: things I learned on my first endurance ride. In other words, things to do/not do next time!

Because now, after Foothills, I have this endurance riding bug even WORSE than before. Does that mean I’m insane? Not yet as insane as some of you other endurance folks (you know who you are)… but maybe a little.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Grizzly Mountain Endurance Race – Part 2 – The Trail Ride.

 All you REAL endurance riders, feel free to laugh about my 10 mile "adventure ride." I have been wanting to do an endurance ride with this horse for five years, so I guess I was just pleased to actually get out and do something even if it's the very definition of greenbeany.

The trail ride at Grizzly Mountain is 10 miles and I was very confident the distance would not be an issue for Deli despite the fact that our regular rides at the time averaged around 5 miles at a stretch on less challenging terrain. Despite multiple injuries and bad luck, she is an athletic and capable mare who has a good judge of footing and does great with technical trails.

Friends leaving on their LD on Sunday, the day after our ride.
I opted to delay leaving in the morning so I could “ride my own ride” away from the other group of trail riders. This was both a good and a poor decision, depending on how you look at it. My husband wanted to hike with us the first mile or two, which I welcomed because the loop we were to ride had a couple gates that I was nervous about opening because they would require a dismount. I can’t mount Deli from the ground – not because she’s too tall, but because the saddle slips. She has low withers and a wide flat back, so this isn’t an unexpected problem. When riding in Western Oregon trails I almost always was able to find a log or rock to scramble up on, but I wasn’t so sure about my luck in the Eastern Oregon sage land. I did end up dismounting 4 times on the trail and the first three times I was able to find something to stand on, or have Deli stand in a deep rut in the trail while I swung up. The last time I was so close to ride camp that I just decided to jog back.

Deli was in good spirits as we set out. My PLAN was to walk the majority of the trail ride – enjoy the scenery, take pictures, and see how Deli would be in such a different environment. Almost immediately she turned on her speed walk, showing she was more energized than she usually is at home. My husband, Brian, is a very fast walker (around 3.5-4mph) and he has a hard time keeping up with her when she is grooving that walk. Ironically her slug walk is around 2mph and he normally leaves us in the dust on home trails unless we are trying to make time.

She felt curious and forward and happy. One horse passed us politely and she stayed 100% with me – she didn’t care. We crossed the highway and Brian opened the gate for me, and then he headed back to camp, leaving us on our own. Deli wasn’t the least fussed by being alone in the sage. She was definitely alert, but I was very happy to feel that her alertness was more from excitement and curiosity than anxiety (though there was a very small amount of that too, which was eased by moving FORWARD).

As we wound through some lovely juniper forest she suddenly spooked forward, and I heard someone call behind me. I rushed to get her off the trail (which was luckily wide enough in this spot). The front runners of the 50 mile race galloped past us with a wave, calling out “beautiful horse!” as they left us in their dust. Deli was NOT happy to be bum-rushed, and at this point I realized what others had been telling me: you can practice all you want, but nothing will give you the experience of actually BEING at a ride.

I let Deli trot, which seemed to ease her anxiety caused by strange horses galloping past us like a bear was on their tails. Our trail split off from the path the front runners were taking, but Deli wasn’t bothered that we weren’t following them: she just needed to MOVE and was not happy when I asked her to walk.

We got to the second gate and I dismounted, deciding to lead her in-hand across the next highway crossing and find a place to pee. I am very very prone to heat exhaustion and so of course I had drunk quite a bit of water before leaving camp. I had to GO and I figured it would give me some time to find a place to re-mount and let Deli grab some bites of grass.

After peeing I walked back to the road only to have more fifty-milers pass us. I used the rut in the road to mount Deli again as she trembled with excitement but stayed put for me to mount with a stern word.

At this point it became clear to me that we might not be walking quite as much as I had planned on this trail ride. Deli was very excited, and while I could rate her at the trot and FORCE her to walk by hanging on her mouth (I’m very glad she had a bit in her mouth, honestly, because her side pull would have hurt her), she was very dissatisfied by walking. And dissatisfied, I mean her brain stopped functioning when she wasn’t trotting. At one point, trying to hold her to a walk she started kicking out (her version of bucking in annoyance) and getting VERY wiggly. At this point we were around 1.5-2 miles into the 10 mile ride, and about to head into the hilly bit. In fact, from what I could see right after re-mounting, this is where the trail went UP and UP.

I decided that at this point letting her trot was the safer compromise, and that if she felt off or lame at all I would be getting off her and hand-walking the rest of the ride – remember I was worried about her soundness since we hadn’t done anything like this since her last collection of injuries. In fact, if I hadn’t been worried about HER, I probably would have been much happier to trot because my saddle was hurting me at this point and trotting is by far more comfortable.

So we trotted. And Deli felt great. I kept us at a fairly conservative pace, asking her to collect up when the footing was iffy, and letting her go a bit when the footing smoothed out. There were three main groups of fifty-mile riders that we kept leap-frogging with as their trail met with and split away from ours. Seeing other horses on the move ramped up Deli’s excitement level by several degrees every time, but I was still able to steer and tested to make sure I had an emergency halt twice.

At the first water trough we discovered that a gang of cows had taken up camp and they were not giving up their spots to my chickenshit mare (she has lived with cows before, but I think the mommas with their babies were being threatening enough that Deli didn’t want to test the waters). In the end we left that water tank without Deli drinking. She wouldn’t get close to it, with all my coaxing. She didn’t seem at all dehydrated at this point, though it was definitely warming up. She was VERY aware of where the trail continued and wanted to GOGOGO.

Before the "race" started when we were still in the flat lands.
 So we went.

While less than pleased that I couldn’t get her to walk calmly on a loose rein and forget all the excitement, I was happy that she didn’t seem to get herd bound. Just excited. And the only cure for that excitement was FORWARD. Forward always cures her anxiety, too, and looking back I have encouraged that (when she is spooky or anxious I always push her forward and it helps her brain come back to me).

At any rate, we pretty much trotted the remained of the ride, slowing for steeper downhill and technical bits. She did great on the technical bits, including one spot where the soil was loose and somewhat rocky – she just tucked her bum at my request and power forward. Literally chomping at the bit the whole way.

One of the most thrilling moments as a long straight wide stretch where I let her open up her trot and also asked for some dressage “lift” in the back. She dropped down into the contact, lifted her back while I did my hover-half seat-posting and power trotted the whole stretch. At this point I had turned on my GPS on my phone since I had good reception (without dropping it, amazingly – the simple work I’ve been doing to teach her to neck rein is helpful) and that trot clocked in at 13mph! The canter I asked her for a bit later was only 10mph.

She was still feeling good ¾ of the way through the ride, but I was starting to regret not sticking around at that first water trough to sponge her. She was very sweaty, and with most of her winter coat still present, very hot to the touch. I tipped her nose regularly so I could make sure she wasn’t breathing too hard (she did start breathing in time with her steps, which was kind of cool), and she wasn’t in distress in any way as far as her respiration was concerned. She also didn’t seem dehydrated based on the pinch test on her shoulder. At this point I decided to dump the remaining water from my water bottles on her shoulders, and spread it around on her flanks with the sponge I borrowed from Melinda after drinking half of the bottle myself. All at the trot!

(I undid her noseband so she could graze more easily in this shot)
We came into camp, finally, with Deli still raring to go. We pulsed in immediately just to see where she was at – and she was down despite being totally amped still. I then took her back to our camp to untack her and remove her Easyboots and DUMP water on her while she drank, and grabbed mouthfuls of grass and hay. Then, after my husband forced me to drink (I was definitely more dehydrated than my horse) I ran her over to the vet check. She got all As and superb gut sounds except for attitude (B) because she was an absolute BITCH for the capillary refill and decided flailing around was a good way to make friends. No, pony, it really isn’t. It’s something we really need to work on, still, because she’d gotten fine with it at home for me. Clearly I need to have more strangers poking her mouth on a regular basis. Her trot-outs are stellar, and other than having a hard-to-find heartbeat she is good for everything else to do with the vetting in.

So that was our ride. I opted not to take her out again because I didn’t want to push our luck – I was immensely satisfied with the fact she was able to trot a good 7+ miles without any negative consequences other than me being a worry-wart. As for my health only my arms were slightly sore the next day, which is to be expected as I don’t think I’ve ever had to hold her back so much in the history of our relationship.

So do I think this horse could do 25 milers? Yes. Given a healthy body and some needed tack and booting tweaking, I think she would have no issues eating up those miles.

I actually think energy-wise she had another 15 miles in her that day. But I am conservative. I am cautious. And I’m working with a horse with lots of ongoing and/or potential soundness and health issues. Her welfare comes first and it always will.

And of course the day after we got home from Grizzly Mountain her girth-skin issues flared up again BAD and I haven’t ridden her since. It’s healing, but I’m not sure what my next step is as I don’t know how I am going to afford more expensive treatments that (according to my vet) are unlikely to make a difference. It’s possible the Grizzly trail ride irritated her skin just enough, but I don’t think the irritation alone was the cause of the flare up (hint: I was riding her regularly when it was dry and warmer in late winter/early spring without issues). This is the frustrating tug-of-war my horse life plays with me – hope and excitement and planning quickly replaced by disappointment and limbo.

C'est la vie?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Grizzly Mountain Endurance Race – Part 1 – Ride Camp

Otherwise titled: the Red Mare’s first camping and endurance ride experience! OR: Finally put down in writing, nearly a month later. And yes, since I am verbose I am splitting this post.

We decided to try a couple new things at once! And it actually went really well, for a change. I’m not going to say perfect, because perfection is just too high of a bar for the perpetually-broken pair Deli and I make.

Our plan was always just to do the 10 mile “trail ride” on Saturday (otherwise titled the “welcome to endurance, PUNY NEWBS” ride) given Deli’s unfitness and the fact that she is still coming back from an injury of fairly epic proportions. Also: first time! I really wanted the ride itself to not be the most stressful part for her, and I am very interested in the “dipping toes” approach to trying a new sport. I have been waiting FIVE YEARS to do try sport with Deli. I am both hurried and unhurried.

Fresh off the trailer on Friday.
I had my vet out a week before the ride to do a general check by a professional who judges several endurance races a year, and try some acupuncture on the sensitive lady for the first time. The resulting advice: she looks good, go out, don’t push her, have fun.

Okay, we can do that, right? Turns out we absolutely can.

I bought a stack full of anti-anxiety meds for Deli (which was probably more for me than her, especially evidenced by the fact I didn't use them at all except for trailering) and organized everything I could so that I wouldn’t be hectic on Friday morning, when an experienced endurance rider I have met and become friends with was due to pick us up with her rig and two horses. Melinda was a great travel companion and it was wonderful to have someone experienced and knowledgeable with the sport and horse camping in charge of hauling and just knowing the ins and outs of ride-day planning.

I’d say the trailer ride there and back was easily the most stressful part of the long weekend trip for Deli – but she got right both directions in despite having anxious brain fits. Unfortunately not having my own trailer means her hauling experience is limited mostly to when I move her to a new barn.

We arrived at Grizzly Mountain, which is in central Oregon – the DRY side of the state, for those curious. After setting up camp, I installed Deli in her little corral living quarters (thanks to Melinda, for lending us the use of some of her corral panels) and started the process of feeding her to death. One of my goals for the weekend was for Deli NOT to lose weight, when this horse drops weight very easily when stressed. She was certainly stressed by the trailer ride, but happily I think I was able to meet this goal for the weekend by stuffing her face at every opportunity. She is a very food motivated horse, so I was also hoping that she would associate camping, at least in part, with being fed very well. Food = positive experience!

Ride camp in the evening after it had filled up. See that mountain in the background? We went up that sucker.
Overall I was VERY happy with Deli’s camping attitude, especially considering her “anxious” personality. At her worst (when all the horses around her had left on their rides on Sunday) she screamed and did some pacing in between taking mouthfuls of hay. During that time I choose to ignore her completely and wandered off to help pulse and vet-in (leaving my husband in camp doing chainmail, so there was still someone with an eye on her). I could see her from the vet-in area and I can recognize her voice, and I know she calmed down at some point. In fact, she ended up napping (she didn’t lie down, but there was lip-droop) in the sun while camp was quiet.

In fact, her appetite was superb all weekend. I had brought her normal diet less-rich orchard hay, a compacted bale of “candy” orchard hay (which she loves more than any other forage besides fresh grass), and some alfalfa which I planned to feed before exercise or trailering and in handfuls throughout the weekend to help buffer her stressed stomach against ulcers. Other than the hay, I brought a substantial bucket of both haystack special blend and equine senior to make into delicious mashes for her. 

Yeah, it was a lot of food. Deli went through what I calculated to be around 90-100lbs of hay products that weekend (this is counting the Haystack, which is a high-fat forage feed). I pretty much kept hay in front of her any time she was in her corral and she made good use of it. Good pony!

She drank very well all weekend too (though less well on the actual ride – more on that later), and I think her propensity to play in water when it’s warm or she’s bored, which was a given in the small corral, helped her keep drinking. She would splash a bit, take a sip, put some hay in her water and eat it, and repeat. All good things – so I’m told – for an endurance horse. I really like the soft-sided buckets for horse camping as they seemed much safer in the confined space for Deli and the smaller ones made carrying water much more comfortable. I plan to get a full set before our next trip.

Strange YET delicious, according to Deli's discerning palate.

We spent a good amount of time hand-walking her over the weekend. She was in LOVE with the eastern Oregon clump grass and was always happy to get out away from ride camp to graze in-hand. Once, out with just the two of us I saw three different horny toads! We also walked around camp and she was very polite and curious about all the activity and strange horses. There were a couple stallions in camp but we stayed away and she didn’t seem like she could be bothered. It was another story with her camp and trailer-ride buddy, Melinda's gelding Pepper. She really formed a fast friendship with him over the weekend, and was always sad to see him go!

Melinda's horses, Dazzle on the left and Pepper on the right.
The weather was highly variable and not very enjoyable for me. I am definitely a “wet-sider” when it comes to the kind of weather patterns I enjoy – give me rain over blistering heat and scouring wind ANY day! It was very hot at some points, but the weather in the Oregon arid lands changes quickly. Enough to make old scars ache something fierce, that’s for sure. It was very cold in the evenings and even froze one night. In fact, that first night I was miserable and unable to get warm in my tent. I got little to no sleep and just spent the night shivering and occasionally poking my head out of the tent to check on Deli and the other horses in our camp. All this made me very glad I brought Deli’s medium weight blanket; she was very happy to have it on once the temperature started dropping.

I also brought several different weight coolers, so I was able to put a thick wool one on her after our ride – when she was soaking wet with sweat and water from me sponging her off – just as the terrible Eastern Oregon wind picked up on Saturday. It was miserable for all involved, I think, though luckily Deli’s Corral was set up where trailers blocked a good bit of the wind on three sides. I felt fine energy-wise after our ride on Saturday (other than being a little dehydrated), but the wind on both Saturday and Sunday sucked everything out of me and scoured a layer off my skin. That is something nobody enjoys.
My husband keeping us company!

Despite the weather woes, the whole Grizzly Mountain area was stunningly beautiful with dramatic skies, interesting rock formations, sage land, and juniper forests. I wish I got more photos on the ride itself – particularly of the aforementioned rocky outcroppings (which included some caves) and meadows full of wildflowers. However, after a certain point on the trail ride, photos were NOT possible. Or at the very least they were not something on my mind. I had my hands full dealing with a VERY EXCITED Deli.  But more on that later!