Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Klickitat Trek Intro Ride - Part 1

I took Deli to the Klickitat Trek endurance ride near Glenwood, WA this past weekend – arriving on Saturday and doing the 13 mile “intro ride” on Sunday. This was a test of sorts for us. She did fine at the Grizzly endurance intro ride, but there were definitely some things I knew we could improve on – namely getting worried when other horses zip past, and not getting too strong. Even though she was never uncontrollable at Grizzly and remained rate-able even when excited, I did want her to pay a little more attention to ME.
Hanging out at the start. (Brian gave her braids.)
Some of my valuable mentors in this sport have indicated that endurance is as much a mental sport as a physical one, and Deli’s mental health is very important to me. As is her physical health.

As anyone who reads this blog knows well Deli has had quite a few serious injuries. She has come back sound again, but I know these injuries do add up. That’s just the nature of a living body – and my body’s own creaks agree! So this little trail ride was also a test of her soundness, how our tack worked, how our boots worked, and all that stuff. In part this is because the trails I have access to at my current barn do not have a lot of areas to move out, and Klickitat had easy, mostly flat, trails.

On Saturday Deli got off the trailer and was immediately interested in eating. Ride camp was a bit cramped, but we found a spot and set up a fairly ghetto high line. I need to learn how to tie some knots to make a high line more effective! This was Deli’s second time camping and first time on a high line – she did great and camped overnight without issues despite never having been tied to anything overnight. In true Deli fashion, she made quick friends with the horse we traveled with – a spunky little mustang gelding named Primo. Primo’s owner was doing her first LD on Sunday so we were definitely a camp of “greenbeans”!
Deli's primary concern is always stuffing her fat face.
With green ribbons on Deli’s crupper and on my helmet, we started out Sunday morning as chill as possible. Her boots were a pain to get on – I made the mistake of believing my trimmer that a smaller size than I thought would work for Deli’s hind feet. I got them on, but it was more difficult than I ever want to wrestle with on a regular basis. Deli has never tossed a boot even when I have been adding pads (for when we ride on asphalt a lot).

Ride camp is always a bit stressful on race mornings – lots of horses screaming and being excited. Deli was bunched up when I mounted so we meandered to the “start” line for our trail ride with my husband snapping pictures of us. We stood around in the start area and Deli quickly lost her bunchy-ness and got bored as I chatted with people. And  my husband took pictures of us. The awesome, kind, ride manager Marilyn matched us up with an experience endurance rider who was taking her horse on a “test” ride as well as he was coming back from an injury.

Klickitat REALLY has some good water crossings – something Deli had next to no practice with. Historically she is a PIA crossing small streams so another reason I wanted to do this ride was to conquer some water crossings. The loop I did had multiple deep FAST streams/culverts to cross, and the water was a glacial milky color. Our riding buddy was kind enough to walk us through the first few crossings and I was VERY happy with how Deli did. I only used my dressage whip once to tap her on the whole ride!

Investigating things before we start off. It's veeeerrrry suspicious!
We trotted quite a bit at first, finding Deli’s normal trot pace was no match for our gaited buddy’s natural pace. I was shooting for consistency in Deli’s gaits in this test ride and I think we did really well. Honestly – she was in heat and LAZY all weekend. This is typical of her when in heat, especially when it’s warmer out. And no, I’m not complaining about her being in heat. I realize I have it rather easy compared to some people with more bitchy mares!

The trails were a mix of 2-track roads and single track winding through brush and open evergreen forest. There were lots of wildflowers and a multitude of birds and other wildlife to be seen. We ended up moving out pretty briskly during the first few miles while riding with our buddy who is clearly a hotter horse than Deli. This ride also confirms what always seems to be the case with Deli: she starts kinda slow and is happier to move out more as the ride goes on. This is, I think, part her temperament (she wants to conserve energy as much as possible when she’s not having an anxious fit) and part her appreciating a good warm up. As already mentioned she HAS had a lot of injuries and is 16 years old now, so the warmup theory makes sense.

She really is a lazy horse despite people with warmbloods and quarter horses always considering her to be “hot”. Moving out when asked and not needing to be constantly harried should not be an indicator of a hot horse, in my opinion!

The things that spooked Deli the most? The check-in humans we rode past (and gave our letter to), the lime arrows on the ground, and… water troughs. Overall she spooked very little and never very dramatically. She did seem a little confused by the ride-and-tie folks we encountered – WHY, she asked, are there horses just being left tied randomly?! What the heck is going on? At one point there were a bunch of big black cows on and beside the road and Deli was absolutely fine with them. Just walked past, looking at them curiously. So I guess our cow-chasing recently has made her realize cows are nothing to be afraid of – which was an issue at the Grizzly intro ride last year.

A section of very beautiful trail.
I was prepared to get off and wade the water crossings but she was so good there that didn’t happen. I did, however, end up getting off to lead her at one point. It was at a MUD crossing where the footing was deep and slick. Deli did have a bit of a meltdown here when she started sinking and slipping. When I felt that she was TRYING to be good, but shaking in fear, something clicked in my mind. Maybe her being a PIA when crossing the little ditches we have done in the past was a MUD issue rather than a WATER issue! She was so willing to trust me and forge the actually intimidating water crossings (that had rocky bottoms) that there was suddenly a stark difference I hadn’t noticed before. And her being adverse to mud – not just stubborn, but nervous and worried – also makes sense given her many times having bad mud fever and celluitus. She may have a pain association with mud

A note for the video below: someone has commented that she is very “looky” here, which is often associated with spookiness in horses. However, this right here is what Deli is like when happy and relaxed on the trail. She is a curious horse and really loves looking at the scenery and checking things out. She’s the kind of horse that will want to explore deer trails and other things. You can tell she’s not nervous because she is walking out confidently on a loose rein here, whereas when she’s nervous her stride contracts. All the trail pictures were taken with my cell phone, so I didn't try and do anything while trotting.

At any rate, I hopped off and found the least mushy path to lead her through and she followed me willingly. At this point we separated from our buddy because I was worried we were holding them back with our slower pace and walked and jogged with her in hand for a bit to see how Deli did with that (absolutely well behaved) before finding a stump to mount her again.

For a time we rode in our own little bubble again, enjoying the beautiful scenery and wildlife as we alternated trotting on a loose rein and walking with her nice forward walk on a loose rein. We were able to get a nice consistent 6mph(ish) trot with her head in a lovely neutral position (near wither height) pretty reliably. Occasionally we sped up to absolutely FLY with Deli’s super fun superwoman trot (which clocks around 14-15mph) and earlier when catching up to our buddy we even did some hand galloping (clocked at 21mph) with the excuse to see if our boots would go flying off at that speed. Deli’s speedy trot does tire her out more and I discovered she appreciated some walking breaks after doing some flying. I think with some more conditioning she will be able to do a nice easy 6mph trot for a long time, however. It seemed very energy efficient and she was very relaxed just clopping down the trail at that speed.

All done! Deli back to eating and drinking...
At different points we were passed by riders going either direction. Ride-and-tie was sharing the loop with us, which was more great exposure for Deli to ride past and around runners. We had one spook when a rider appeared behind us suddenly, but it was just her being a little startled. She was also fine being passed by faster riders, not needing to “catch them”. There was some worry on Deli's part when a rider ran up close to her butt from behind. I find that rather rude, to be honest, but I still think its good exposure for Deli. She is a very submissive horse and it makes sense that she would get concerned with a horse getting that close, but I’m happy to say other than getting a little “up”, she calmed down quickly and we resumed our consistent trot pace.

As another test, I trotted her the last mile or so of the trail, getting a pulse right after I hopped off and loosened her girth. It is a good sign, I think, that she was down to 54bpm at that time. She vetted in great and I spoke with the vet, Dr. Foss, about what he thought about her doing an LD this season. More on that later!

Altogether we averaged around a 5mph pace for the 13 mile trail, finishing the trail in just under 3 hours.
Relaxing back in camp.
Next time: Klickitat Trek - Part 2: my final thoughts on Deli’s future as an endurance/trail horse and my thoughts on our tack “test” at the Klickitat intro ride.

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