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.