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!


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