Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Looking Back - 2011

Back in January I posted some Resolutions for the New Year.  Now is as good a time as any to take a look back on how the year turned out:

  1. Finish a 50 mile AERC ride on Diego. This can be considered a success, we not only finished a 50 at Rides of March but also a second one at Cooley Ranch in July.  Honestly, I was hoping for a bit more this season, but factor in the pull at NASTR in June and our successful second-day LD at Cooley, things didn't turn out too bad.  Mainly it was time and money that prevented me from attending more rides this season.

  2. Eat "better", make smarter food choices. Buy and consume more fresh produce, especially veggies, and watch my portions better.  I'd probably rate this a success as well.  I was thinner this year than I have been in a while, mainly due to watching what and how much I was eating.  We still eat a lot of pasta, and occassionally rice, as the basis for our dinners, but I have cut down on the amount of potatoes and other simple carbs I was consuming.  Fast food pretty much makes me sick now so I consume very, very little of that.

  3. Track my training miles better. I started an Excel worksheet with the date, distance, and duration of nearly all of my rides.  While I've been trying to update it after every ride, or at least weekly/monthly, I know that I've forgotten a few in there somewhere.  Overall though, it's a big improvement over not having anything formally recorded.  Diego is finishing 2011 with a little over 500 total miles for the year, not bad, but I hope to at least double that number, if not more, in 2012.

  4. Blog more. Um.... okay, maybe not such a success here.  My issue is I only want to post interesting articles and/or stories, and not just document what I've been doing.  But then I realize that some of my favorite posts to read from my Blog Buddies are just that, small quick updates on what they've been doing.  I have some wonderfully humerous stories about my horse-shopping for a friend adventures from this summer that I need to write down and get posted.
Other big accomplishments this year include:
  • Overcoming my fear of riding Diego, and finally learning to LOVE riding again
  • First successful solo trail ride
  • Getting Diego out on my one-and-only training trail from home, including finding a way to skirt the dicer first section by going down the quiet residential street
  • Riding on the Tahoe Rim Trail with my mom
  • Managing Diego's hooves and trimming on my own, and being mostly successful in that venture (NASTR was certainly a case of learning what not to do)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fitness Testing - Kind of the same but different

At some point after the horse has developed good strong connective tissue and bone, the quality of the exercise is more important than the quantity. A young horse starting out need lots of long slow miles on a regular basis - preferably every other day. Working up to slowly adding more distance and more speed ( more trotting and less walking). This is a slow process and should not be rushed. The time required will depend on a lot of factors, the age of the horse, experience of the horse, conformation of the horse, etc.

Conduct a Standard Exercise Test

Put the horse at as close to a fixed rate as possible on the heart rate monitor, such as 140 beats per minute (BPM) for a fixed distance, say 5 miles and see how fast they do it. Record the time to complete the circuit at that set heart rate.  This is always done on the same stretch of trail. As your horse gets into better condition, they will be able to complete the circuit faster, in a lesser amount of time, still at that same heart rate. Conversely, if they start to take longer to complete the circuit, then you are probably over training or have some other issue brewing, so more rest is indicated.

Adapted from a post by:
Truman Prevatt


Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Book about Tevis

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, my copy arrived in the mail yesterday, but who DOESN'T love a book about everyone's *my* favorite endurance ride?

Tevis, From the Back of My Horse
by Sharma Lynn Gaponoff

An action-packed true story about riding the most difficult 100-mile endurance ride in the world.  It is a story about triumph over adversity, about courage, teamwork and knowledge.  Join Sharma and her horse Tahoe on their journey through the rugged and scenic Sierra Nevada Mountains of California during their 24 hours of the 55th running of the "Tevis Cup 100-Miles-One-Day Trail Ride."  You will read about the "spills, thrills, and bumps along the way" in this compelling, entertaining and instructive chronicle.  Mount up and enjoy the ride!


Fitness Testing from Recovery Heart Rate by Gayle Ecker

Gayle Ecker, one of the foremost researchers on equine exercise physiology, strongly advocates periodic "fitness testing" to see how your horse is doing--getting stronger or weaker, etc. The way she did it was on a treadmill; which is impractical for most riders, however, she sent an EXCELLENT program that can be done on the trail. Do this fitness testing before the scheduled Endurance ride, give the horse a couple of weeks off, and do it again. That will give you a more quantitative measure of how far the horse has recovered.

Fitness Testing, from Gayle Ecker

Recovery heart rate test

Need a stethoscope and stopwatch or heart rate monitor.  Measure off a known distance that will remain fairly constant in footing from one repetition to another. A 5 mile section of trail, a one mile gravel road up a gradual slope, a 5 mile distance around a series of fields. Use a ATV, dirt bike, or vehicle to measure off the mileage (or kilometers).

After a warm-up of 15-20 minutes that includes walking, trotting, a bit of cantering, until the body temp of the horse is warm, then start the fitness test. Trot your horse over the distance and using the stopwatch time your duration over the chosen trail. You can trot some, canter some, even walk some, according to the fitness level of the horse. The overall intensity/duration should not be harder than your general training miles.

At the end of the distance, record the time to complete the circuit in a little notebook that you carry in a pocket. Start the watch again at the stop of exercise. At 2 minutes, take the heart rate using the stethoscope for 15 seconds, record this number. While dismounted, walk the horse along and re-take the heart rate for 15 seconds at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 15 minutes. Record these numbers. Cool out your horse (or continue with training miles, depending on the fitness level and your targets for training).

Once back in the barn, construct a graph (purchase graph paper from a stationery store to make this easier, or use a program like Excel if your good with computers):
On the bottom of the graph (the x-axis), put the time (0 to 15 minutes).
On the upright axis (the y-axis), place Heart Rate.
Record the heart rates above the appropriate time (HR at 2 minutes, 5, etc.). Connect the dots. Note the slope of the line.

Repeat the same test periodically, keeping the distance and duration as much the same as before. In other words, you are testing recovery heart rate, not the speed at which you can complete your circuit, try to aim for the same time as prior tests.  If you start this now, and repeat it periodically, you will have an objective measurement of how much conditioning has been gained or lost based on how quickly your horse recovers from a set level of exercise.  Keep in mind factors such as temperature and humidity will also affect results.  Best to record the date, temperature, and humidity as a footnote for each session if possible.

Modified from:


Monday, August 29, 2011

Tahoe Rim Ride - Kingsbury North to Spooner Summit

On Sunday, my mom Lynda and her Tennessee Walking Horse Joe joined Diego and I for a ride on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  My friend Sanne and I are going to be managing an AERC endurance ride over parts of this same trail, next August, 8/25/12.  You can go here:  http://www.endurancetrax.com/ for more information on the Tahoe Rim Ride.

So Sunday morning, both my mom and I hooked up our rigs and loaded our horses up.  Since we were going to be riding point to point, the plan was to leave my trailer at Spooner Summit, off Highway 50, and to take my mom's to the start off Kingsbury Grade.  We each trailered one horse up the first haul to the top of Spooner.  I parked in the main trailer parking area, which is on the south side of Hwy 50.  Next time, I would pull through the USFS picnic and parking area on the north side of the highway, where the trail actually comes out, as there are a couple of pull through spots you could just fit a trailer in.  Use the main trailer parking as a back-up if those spots (there are only about 4) are full.  I already had my tack in my mom's trailer from riding the day before, so only had to put Diego in and we set off to the start of the trail.

Going up Kingsbury Grade (Hwy 207) is a steep haul.  Definitely need to use a low gear and make judicious use of the sporadic turn-outs.  You turn onto Benjamin Road North off the 207, and follow the road 2 more miles through a neighborhood to the actual trail head.  These last 2 miles are quite steep and slow going.  At least, for the most part, the vehicles had to do all the hard climbing work on this ride, getting us to the top of the world, leaving less climbing for the horses.  There is a large dirt area to park a trailer in before the smaller paved lot.  Since we were the first trailer in, we were able to get turned around and parked facing out, which was a good thing as upon our return, there were two other trailers (vehicle, not horse) there and it made getting my rig turned around a bit interesting, but still very doable. 

We got saddled up and ready to go.  We were careful to pack extra drinking water for ourselves, and carrots for the horses.  This 12.2 mile stretch of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) has NO natural water.  Ensure you have lots of extra water for yourselves, and for your horses at the end of the trail.  Both of our horses drank around 5 gallons each at the end.  The first part of the trail is fairly technical, climbing a series of granite steps, along a narrow single-track, right within the first half-mile.  My mom rode up this section, but I stayed on foot and lead Diego up.  In less than a mile, the trail was less rocky and I mounted up.  There were still a few sections I would dismount for, mainly because Diego is still learning where best to place his feet, sometimes making not very wise decisions, and I would rather NOT be on him at the time.  By the end of the day however, he was able to confidently follow behind Joe, watching where he went, or pick the better path himself.

I truly cannot write words to describe the beauty of the trail.  The pictures do not even begin to do it justice.  I had to keep my camera on-hand, ready to whip out at any time to snap the next awe-inspiring view.  I found the best place to do this, was to tuck it in my bra.  =)  It worked great, the only problem being I kept forgetting it was in there and then "finding" it unexpectedly, like when we stopped for lunch, and while driving back home.  We took pictures of the three main areas where the road(s?) would cross the trail.  These were all nice big open areas that would easily accommodate a vet check.  We stopped often just to enjoy the scenery and appreciate being lucky enough to ride this trail.  There is a wooden bench nestled in a rock outcropping along the peak of the trail, with incredible views of Lake Tahoe.  This made an excellent spot for lunch, with grazing for the horses tied to nearby trees and endless views for us.  This spot is approximately 7 miles from the Kingsbury Trailhead, and 5 from the Spooner Summit side.

Since this is the shortest segment of the TRT, it does receive a fair amount of traffic.  We saw about 10 mountain bikers and probably an equal number of people hiking.  Everyone was very polite and courteous, correctly yielding the trail to the horses.  The trail was very clearly marked and easy to follow, either with the blue arrows or badges of the TRT nailed to trees.  Most of the trail was single-track, where there was simply no question as to if you were on the correct route, there was no where else to be.  We walked about 70% and did a slow easy trot/gait the other 30%.  We were cognizant of not wanting the horses to get to overheated and any more thirsty than they already were.  It took us a total of about 4.5 hours to get from one trailer to the other, with about 30 minutes being stopped for lunch.  You could ride it faster, especially during the ride where water will be provided along several points. 

There were some portions that were quite rocky and required walking, others were you could trot for a bit, walk a short stretch, then trot again, and yet others were there was just a long stretch of glorious perfect footing.  The elevation change was mild, being a total of about 1,600 feet over the entire distance.  If riding from the Spooner side, you would have more climbing from that direction, and it would be more difficult to navigate some of the rockier portions into Kingsbury, having to go down the granite rock steps, rather than up them.  If riding point to point, the Kingsbury to Spooner direction would definitely be the preferred choice, however, if you wanted just a beautiful out and back, I would recommend the Spooner side.  The access to the trail is much easier (hauling a trailer up the grades) and the trail itself is better footing and less rocky coming from that direction.  It would make an excellent 10 mile ride to ride up to the lake viewing area, and then back to your trailer at Spooner Summit.

Enjoy the pictures below.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


One of the greatest endurance horses ever.  I can't wait to see what more he is capable of.  This is a most excellent article worth reading:


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Low Mileage Training

I'll admit it.  I don't ride nearly as often as I should.  In the three month's before the 50 at Rides of March, Diego had 74 training miles.  In the three month's before the 50/30 at Cooley, we had 138.  There was also the 50 at Rides of March, and a 25 ride as well that I didn't count in the interim.  But still, very low mileage.  I'd like to say this hasn't always been the case, but in reality it often has.  My life was very full when I was competing my first horse several years ago.  My saving grace, and the ability to move up to and successfully complete 100-mile rides, was based on the simple fact that I used the rides themselves for training and conditioning. 

I also know I'm not alone in this, shameful as it may be.  :)  So how do we do it?  How are we able to successfully COMPLETE rides (note: I would NOT recommend COMPETING on this type of a schedule) with low-mileage training?  Here are some tips:

1. Specificity of training. Pick an event that you intend to ride, and tailor your training as much as possible to simulate the ride conditions (surface type, elevation, elevation change, temperature, etc.). If you're not sure what the ride conditions are like, ask the ride manager, or someone who has attended in the past.  If you're still not sure, it's best to "plan for the worst" and try to pick a more difficult training environment (hills, sand, etc).  Be aware, however, that if you train in the mountains, and the ride is flat footing, that it may actually be more difficult for your horse.  The same is true if you train in the sand, and then encounter hard-packed footing, or visa versa. 

2. Long training ride. Do at least half, and honestly - I've done ALL, of your weekly mileage in one long training ride. If you know that you only have time to ride once a week, work up to doing 1/3 to 1/2 of your goal distance on your one long ride.  This means if you want to ride 50's, then work up to doing a 25-mile ride once a week or so. 

3. Cross-training. Difficult if you're limited in your saddle time, but squeezing in an hour of arena work, or even putting your horse on a lunge (or free lunging) occasionally can help to increase and/or maintain fitness.  Taking a lesson will benefit both the horse and the rider.  Chances are, you'll both work muscles you don't use on a daily basis.  Horses kept in a large enclosure are better off than those kept in a small one.  Horses kept in an enclosure with hills, rocks, and other natural obstacles are better off than those kept without.  That being said, my horse lives at home in a flat 24x36 ft corral.  Just make the best of what you can.

4. Vary weekly mileage. Start at least 12 weeks before the intended ride and gradually increase mileage to a level that is about 20%-50% higher than your average miles per week (mpw). For example, if your annual average is 20 mpw, try to build up to at least 25 mpw during your training before the ride.  Ideally, my mpw would be at or near my goal distance, but since I know that's not feasible for me, I like to aim for 50-60% of my goal distance, or 25-30 mpw to complete a 50 mile ride.  To increase this before an event, I can add one or two shorter rides during the week to ramp up to around 40 miles before I taper.  A "high mileage" week, 2-3 weeks before a 50, might look like this:  Thurs: 8-10  Sat: 20-25.  If I can, I'll do one other shorter ride of around 5 miles mid-week sometime.

5. Peak and taper. Peak your weekly mileage two or three weeks before the ride, if possible, aim for around your goal distance as your mpw. Then taper your mileage down for the last 2-3 weeks. Your horse will feel rested and ready for action on ride morning.  If your goal distance is 100 miles, I like to start my taper earlier and will generally ride a 50 mile ride, or even two back-to-back, about 4-6 weeks before a 100.

6. Rest. The rule of thumb I've heard and like to follow is to give one day of rest for every 10 miles you cover in training.  This means that if I do a 50, I will not ride at all that following week.  I do try to get my horse out and take him for long walks and lots of grazing by hand.  I may go on an easy ride that weekend, but nothing fast or strenuous.  There are a lot of horses going, that are ridden only at actual rides.  If you live in a region where you can manage a ride every 2-3 weeks, or a multiday once a month or so, then this is possible.  However, if you only plan on doing one or two events a year, this obviously is not the schedule to use.

7. Pace. Ride at as close to a constant pace as you can during the event. This means going out at the start much slower than your horse will want to. It also means keeping your moving speed fairly low.  Remember, this is not the type of training you want to do if you intend to finish above mid-pack.  Keep your trotting speed around 7-9 mph and walking around 3-5 mph.  Your overall moving mph will be somewhere around 6 mph or so depending upon footing and terrain.

8. Ride your own ride.  Is your horse an uphill horse or a downhill horse?  Can she keep up a steady pace on a winding trail, or are long straight stretches her forte?  Is he happiest with a buddy along or does he work best alone?  Take advantage of their strengths and do your best to mitigate their weaknesses. 

9. Stopping and vet checks.  Since you will not be going very fast, make sure you do your best to use your allotted trail time, actually going down the trail.  Do not dilly-dally around too much at water stops. Have your horse drink, cool them if needed, and then get going.  Watch your time at the vet checks and try to leave on time.  If you're travelling at a 6 mph average, you cost yourself a 1/2 mile for every 5 minutes you are late leaving a vet check.

10. Navigation. Attend the ride meeting and bring the ride map and/or course description provided. Make note of mileages between main landmarks, such as the vet checks and water stops. Listen carefully for if there are any technical sections that are going to slow you down more than normal (overly rocky, steep, lots of roots, etc). You will need to take advantage of the other sections to compensate for this. Pay attention to the trail markings, you do not want to go off course. If you get lost, the best general rule is to go back the way you came until you know where you are on the course.

11. Post-race. After the ride, ensure your horse has plenty to eat and drink at the trailer. Walk around smiling, socializing with the other riders, and savoring your accomplishment. Go back and take your horse for a short walk every hour or so before you leave. Do not immediately pack up to go home, as problems are just as likely to occur in the few hours following an event as they are during. Keep an eye on your horse's appetite and comfort level. Best to stay and enjoy the meal and relax for a bit before trailering home. If you traveled more than a few hours to the ride, it is even better to stay overnight before going home.  Walk your horse again before trailering home.

12. Post your experiences. As soon as possible after the ride, be sure to write an e-mail story about your experiences. Share it on public endurance forums, your blog, etc. We all need to learn from each other as much as possible. It's also valuable to look back at later and recall some of the details of what did or did not work for you that particular day.

13. Ask veterans for advice. My favorite place to do this is to ride with them at the actual rides.  There is often a huge wealth of knowledge, happily trolling along at the back of the pack. Some of the highest mileage riders and horses are back there, quite successfully doing their thing. Subscribe to E-mail lists, read blogs, surf the web, train with them, subscribe to Endurance News magazine.


14. The "experts" say that you should be able to complete a distance 3 times that of your *normal* long ride (single ride, not mpw). For an LD (25-30 miles), that means an 8-10 mile training ride.  For 50's, that's about a 17 mile ride.  I personally like to round up and do at least 20.  For 100-milers, that means a 33 mi.+ training ride (approximately). I prefer to use 50 mile events to achieve this goal. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cooley Ranch - Day 2

Before I had even left to go to the ride, I was waffling on the idea of riding two 50's back-to-back. Considering Diego had only done ONE 50 to date, at Rides of March, in 11-something hours, and knowing that Cooley Ranch was considered to be one of the harder rides in the region, I was somewhat doubtful as to our ability to actually complete 100 miles that weekend. When I had first arrived at the ride, the Vet Secretary had me down as doing two LD's, but I knew I for sure wanted to ride at least ONE 50. I would rather have completed only one 50, and not gone at all the second day, than to have done two LD rides. So I had them change my Saturday entry to the 50, and we left my Sunday entry as the 30 for now with the mention that I could/might change it at the end of the day Saturday. However, at the end of the day Saturday, Diego was obviously tired so I elected to just ride the 30 on Sunday. I had been toying with the idea off and on Saturday, that I would maybe try to ride the LD alone. While Diego was happy to keep up with the group, I wanted to see how he would pace on a ride entirely on his own. We've truly only ridden by ourselves a handful of times. Most of our conditioning rides are done with company of some sort or another. And while Diego is happy to lead, be in the middle, or follow behind, I wanted to see how and what he would do without having a buddy along to help encourage and/or tow him with any sort of pacing. Plus I figured I'd be pretty safe to try my experiment on a Day 2, when he was a little less enthusiastic all around. =)

Sunday morning saw a much calmer Diego. =) Getting tacked up was no issue and I only had to walk him around a bit to just get him moving and ensure that he looked good and wasn't any worse for the wear and was indeed ready to go again. Diego was relaxed but forward, I was able to mount up and ride out of camp a couple of minutes after the actual start. The start was the same as yesterday for the first 3 miles, up the hill, down the hill, steep up hill, gradual small down, another big up, etc. The cloud cover was pretty thick and it as actually misting on us. I had a moment of hoping I wasn't going to need a rain jacket, but continued on undaunted. Initially I was riding off and on with a couple other horses, passing and/or being passed, but I kept Diego to a walk on the up hills while they were trotting some of them so we started to spread out. At the top of the hill, we went right instead of straight/left to get to the vet check in a shorter course than the day before. As I crested the hill, I got off to continue down on foot. I was walking past a clump of trees and could hear a bunch of rustling and "Whoa! Whoa! Stand!" from the other side. I peered through and could see a guy on foot, trying to get his saddle adjusted while his horse danced around and generally made things difficult. I asked if he was okay, he responded that he was. I stood there for a while, thinking that moving off would probably just upset his horse more, then got impatient with his faffing and continued on down the hill with Dig. We had only gone another minute or two when from behind I heard more loud crashing and shouts of "Whoa! Whoa!" and I turned around just in time to see the same guy, mounted now, come crashing around a turn, his horse trying to run away with him, as the guys slid to the side, pulling his saddle with him, and hitting the ground. Thankfully he kept hold of the reins so I didn't have to try to deal with catching a loose horse. He got up and said he was okay, walked down the hill on foot to where I was and I held his horse for him while he got his saddle readjusted, cinched SUPER tight, and then remounted. He was going to wait for me to get on, but I told him I was planning on just walking till near the bottom and he continued on - thank goodness.

I walked on for just a bit longer until things started to level out. I got mounted back up and rode past some tractors and other logging equipment, including a large stack of cut redwood trunks, a machine that cut them into boards, and the resulting piles of boards and sawdust. Diego didn't bat and eye and went right through the middle of all of it. In just a short bit, we went past a volunteer who was manning the gate into the sheep pasture. After having seen Dig's reaction to the sheep at the vet check yesterday, I was keeping my eyes peeled for the little buggers. =) We were happily trotting along when we crested a hill and the sheep were laid out like a fuzzy gauntlet on either side of the trail in a flat open grassy area. Dig stopped and took stock of the situation. I hopped off and started to lead him through. Once he realized that the sheep were scared of the big bad horse, and were in fact moving AWAY from HIM, he didn't care anymore and I remounted and rode the rest of the way through the flock. In just a few hundred yards, we arrived at the gate out of the pasture and at the vet check for a quick trot by (no check at this point ~ 5 or 6 miles).

We got the okay clear to go from the vet's and headed over to the water troughs. Dig then didn't want to leave just yet, thinking it unfair that we were AT the vet check and no goodies had yet been dispensed. =) I managed to convince him that indeed, he needed to carry on down the trail, and rode him across the wooden bridge and out the trail we had come in on yesterday. Rene shot a new favorite photo of mine here. Speaking of trotting along, I was DAMN PROUD of how Dig was doing!!!! He had been on task and just motoring down the trail all morning. Happily walking along when asked and trotting where ever the trail allowed. We had some common out-and-back on this section, so it was a bit harder to encourage him along UP the hill while being passed by all the 50's coming DOWN and back to the check, including his 3 new BFF's from yesterday. But I only had to use my crop a couple of times and he did keep going for me. This next loop was very enjoyable, up a big climb out of the vet check and then through some rolling hills and past a small pond on the property. The pond setting was SO BEAUTIFUL, cattails all along the bank, still as glass, with a large grassy area, all dotted with large oak trees. There was an aluminum row boat overturned near the bank, and all I could think was that if I had a book and some hobbles how enjoyable it would be to just spend the rest of the day floating in that setting, listening to Dig crop the grass. Sheer bliss. There was one sketchy creek crossing that I had to dismount for, since Diego decided to show off his jumping prowess and I could tell it was going to happen, and a couple of others that were nice and deep where I let the pone splash to his heart's content and thoroughly soak both himself and most of my legs. It's nice to have a "self-sponging" horse on occasion. ;) We hit the downhill off this loop, taking us lollipop like back along the same trail to the vetcheck, and the grin splitting my face as that boy tucked his butt and jogged down the hill should have won me some bugs in my teeth! =D He is a DOWNHILL HORSE! It was just like Donna Snyder-Smith talks about, like jogging on a trampoline, legs pumping up and down, collapsing into the hip, while my rear stayed nestled in the saddle and we just CRUISED down these hills with seemingly NO EFFORT - I couldn't see Dig but I think he was smiling as much as I was. =)

When we reached the top of the steeper longer hill into the vetcheck, he stopped and turned to look at me, "Um remember Mom, you got off here yesterday, twice." So I obliged him and dismounted and we continued on in. It was warmer and a bit more humid today. I scooped water on him at the troughs and then continued over to the P&R area. He was close but still a bit high, hanging around 64 when criteria was 60. I told the lady it seems to take him about 5 minutes, and sure enough, at exactly 5 minutes from our in time he pulsed down to 60. We went over to our little crewing area and GUESS WHO ATE HIS LUNCH?!? Yup, lesson learned from yesterday and Dig put his head down and ate and ate for our entire one-hour hold, only taking a break to go be vetted. Vetted through with all A's on the card too! Everyone in ear-shot had to listen to me gush on about how fabulous he was doing and how proud of him I was and yadda yadda. =) I did manage to shut up long enough to eat most of a sandwich. At this point, we were around 12 miles or so into the 30 and my out-time after the hour long hold was 10:30-ish something as I recall (7 am start).

We left out and followed the same trail as loop 2 from yesterday, down the road, across the river, and then parallel to the river on a fairly flat road up to a house with a trough and hose, another mile or so past the house, and yesterday's trail turned left while we continued on straight. I *think* this was new/different trail from past years as management has been working hard to make Day 2 a bit easier, or at least not HARDER than Day 1 as in the past. The loop 2 that the 50's were doing today (not the LD) was still challenging, but was all new trail and quite beautiful from what I heard. While this portion seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye the day before, I realized how far it actually was today. Riding by ourselves was a bit of a challenge as it gives you so much more time to be exactly in the moment and focused on every small thing. I think I multi-task pretty well and enjoy watching the scenery, monitoring the footing, while also chatting with my fellow riders - which helps the time pass more quickly. Instead I had to just chatter on at Diego or in my head to myself - totally doable but it did make things seem to take longer. Dig just chugged right along though, strong steady forward trot, probably in the 8-9 mph range. We had another tricky crossing on this road, a short sharp ditch into some rocks (no water) and then an equally steep opposite bank. Again, I could tell he was going to hop it so I got off so he could clear the 3+ ft gap in a single bound - from a stand still. Eek! Eventually, we reached the lollipop portion of this loop and turned left into the creek bed, following the river, crossing multiple times, going along through the deep sandy/gravely footing for about a mile or so before starting up the one (and only) big climb on this portion of the loop. Dig just put his head down and started marching. At a walk but up and up and up we went. We were passed by one girl and her horse, who were trotting/jogging off and on and while Dig thought about keeping up, I encouraged him to just keep walking so we did, until finally reaching a glorious old weathered and half falling down barn at the summit of the hill. This ranch must have been beautiful and very interesting back when it was in full-scale running herds of livestock.

At the top, we had another of those hills that you look at and wonder exactly how you are going to get down. So I slithered down. I honestly considered just squatting and trying to slide down half on my butt. It was steep. Like a dysfunctional slinky Dig and I managed our downward descent. I would slither ahead and then stop to catch my footing, he would just keep trodding along behind me, sliding himself every now and again. Eventually it wasn't as steep and I was able to walk more normally. Down, down, down we went until we reached a creek crossing at the bottom. Since I was already off, I grabbed my scoop and poured the water on while Dig drank deeply. Two riders caught up to us at this point, a heavier-set older lady who rode up exclaiming, "I've about had enough of these F*@$%! hills!" I found out after the ride, that was Ruthie Waltenspiel - the original Ride Manager/Founder. =) We chatted for a few minutes while the horses drank and grazed and when leaving, the encouraged me to go ahead, since I had the faster horse. I expressed my doubt at this, but in fact Dig proved them wrong, hitting the road and just happily settling into his brisk trot again - and away we went. I was starting to get a bit concerned about time. It was noon and we had to finish the ride, and be pulsed down by 2:15. I knew we were going to have to hustle it in and keep going in order to make it on time. In short order we were at the end of the loop and back on the out-and-back portion of the road. Dig did SO GOOD with having to pass and be passed by the 50-milers going the opposite direction. We actually had quite a bit of common trail where this occurred, and he just got better about it as the day went on. Cruised the 3 miles or so back to the house, off to jump the ditch again, got hosed down well and cooled off at the trough (I even hosed myself a bit), and then back on to trot trot trot down the road toward the river.

Finally reached the large river crossing. At this point, it was 1 pm and I had an hour and fifteen minutes to go the last 4 miles, but these miles included the huge 2+ mile climb along the paved road to the vet check. We set off, trotting where we could, following the paved road away from the vet check and toward camp right after crossing the river. Dig objected a bit to the left hand turn, knowing food and goodies were at the check to the right (someone is finally developing a sense of direction), but continued on when told to do so. We walked off and on, and I was so grateful to have on boots so I could just trot down the asphalt road when needed/wanted rather than having to deal with the narrow shoulder in some spots. We went through a small grouping of houses and then started the climb. At this point, I was cussing LD's and how you have to ride a faster overall pace to finish a LD on time as opposed to a 50 because the hold time deducts more of your overall riding time. We were already over 6 hours total elapsed time, so I was glad for the 30 having an additional 1:15 for those additional 5 miles. And so we walked, and walked, and walked, and climbed that monster hill. Dig was hungry and would head toward the side of the trail for grass - I would steer him to the larger clumps of long grass, where he could grab a big mouthful and then eat it like a child slurping spaghetti, chewing the stalks down as we went. Shortly before reaching the 1/2 way mark, we were passed by the first place 50 mile horse, just trot, trot, trotting up the hill. I was impressed. Wow! There was a water trough near then, he drank and moved on right before we go there. Dig drank happily for quite a bit. The next 2 horses in the 50 nearly reached the trough as we were leaving. They knew they couldn't catch the guy in front of them (Robert Weldin?) and were more concerned with the lady coming behind, who had a strong downhill horse and they thought might push that final mile down hill to try to over take them. So they also were trot, trot, trotting up the hill. Dig and I were suitably impressed, but neither of us felt much compulsion to JOIN them in that endeavour. ;)

I'm watching the time this whole climb... wishing I had paid attention yesterday to how long it took us. I know I have a mile of down hill into camp from the very top. I'm wanting to reach the finish line no later than 2 pm, to give me a full 15 minutes to pulse down if needed. So in the sun we continue our march up, and up, and up the hill. Finally, there's the dirt turn off from the road! It's 1:35, another 5 minutes of climbing maybe to reach the actual summit. Up, up, up - you can do it Dig! I'm so proud of you! We finally crest the top and I let him walk a bit to catch his breath. Then I ask, "Can you trot?" and he says, "Sure! It's downhill!" and off we go, down off the mountain. I got a little teary-eyed - so overwhelmed by what we had accomplished this weekend. We trotted down the hill and walked into camp around 1:45 or so. I took him over to the water trough and scooped him, and sure enough, in just about 5 minutes he was pulsed down and we had our official finish time (I think it was 1:49 - so total ride time would be 5:49). We went back to the trailer and pulled tack and Diego happily dove into his food and ate and ate. They told me at the finish that I only had a 1/2 hour to vet out (??? It's been so long since I rode a LD I had no idea) so I let him rest and eat for about 20 minutes before heading over to get our official completion. He did it!!!! 80 miles in two days on a tough, tough course. So impressed with my horse! I honestly cannot say if I am more proud of our mid-pack finish in the 50 on Day 1, or the fact that he went out there and conquered the Day 2 30 totally solo and a bit tired, riding our own ride, in such a relaxed and impressive manner.

I'm still blissed out and in awe of what we did. =)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cooley Ranch - Day 1

Wow!!! Where to even begin?  I mentioned my initial drama with even getting to this ride. A huge THANK YOU to Easycare for the ride entry, I found out only TWO people had entered to win, so odds were very good!  ;)  I'm SO SO Glad I got the chance to attend this ride! It was a wonderfully run and beautiful event and if it wasn't such a damn long drive I would for sure be back every year.

I ended up not leaving Reno until nearly noon on Friday, and then, due to not consulting an actual MAP or PEOPLE and relying on computer directions, took the route through Napa and up the 128 to get to the ride.  We encoutered quite a bit of traffic in Napa, and the 128 was a windy road, but it was a very scenic and beautiful drive through the vineyards (My son - T: "All they have is GRAPES!! It's like grapes forever!"), arriving in ridecamp around 6:30 pm or so. Diego doesn't eat, drink, or pee in the trailer =( Got him out and gave him a few minutes to look around and then kind of grazed our way up to the vetting area (vetting was to end around 7). Got checked in and filled out my paperwork, Diego peed a small lake in front of the vet secretaries trailer, and vetted through with Lindsay Graham. She had me trot twice, "he has a little sashay in his butt", and gave him a B+ in gut sounds. Went back to camp and got Diego installed with his food, water, and a mash, just in time to hurry over for the ride meeting and to get my map for the next day. My dad and step mom arrived during the ride meeting, walked over to where I could see them and wave, then went back to get their camp set up. RM had made a few minor changes to "Ruthie's Classic" but most of the trail was the same. Chatted with a few people at the table about what the trails were like, and then went back to get the people portion of camp set up before it got dark. I had elected to bring the truck tent and air bed instead of the camper, since the camper is so big that would have easily been another 1+ tanks of gas and just more of a hassle to drive. T decided to just sleep in the back seat of the truck in the cab - which worked out well for both of us since he's a talker, mover, kicker in his sleep. As it ended up, Diego must be too because I hardly slept at all that first night. There was "something" out there in the dark because several horses, including Dig, kept doing that loud trumpet snort. I kept waiting to feel him set back and pull or something, but he never did. I got up with him at one point, and he just kept staring in the blackness over toward the vetting area/main camp. Some people the next day mentioned they think it was a mountain lion or other cat due to sounds people heard.

Saturday morning got up and got saddled. I rode in the borrowed Freeform Classic with a borrowed (from someone else) smaller seat. Dig was UP in the morning. He dumped the saddle off once before I could get it girthed on and was in general being a pain in the ass. Thankfully I had put his Easyboot Gloves on Friday before we left Reno, and injected some Goober Glue to create pads in the bottoms of the boots. All I had to do was tighten up the straps and we were good to go. I walked him around in camp for about 10 minutes before the actual start, and at about 5 minutes after started off on foot in that direction. Cynthia (RM) had warned that "this is the most difficult start of any ride I've ever done", so I wasn't exactly thrilled to be hiking my butt up the hill with a pony flotation device in tow. At least he has enough manners to not pull me, although he does push with his shoulder. I stepped off the trail in a couple of spots to run him around at the end of my reins, and then continued walking up on foot.

Somehow, magically, he has this little good behavior reminder that seems to click in right at about 1 mile. So after hiking to the TOP of the first hill, we hit that mark, he sighed, shook, put his head down, and I knew I would be okay to get on. I pulled off the trail and had just gotten mounted and on my way when a group of three ladies came by. I tucked in behind them and followed them down the top of the hill, across the paved road from camp, and up into the next set of hills. They were setting a nice pace, trotting some but walking anything overly steep (which was quite a bit at this point). We started chatting a bit, I asked if it was okay if I stayed with them for a while, explained I was from Reno, didn't really know anyone, hadn't done the ride before, Diego likes buddies, yadda yadda and they were totally fine with me riding with them as the little caboose for the group. The first 3-4 miles are a blur of steep climbs followed by short rolling descents. Eventually, we came to a long down hill where everyone got off and we continued down on foot. Very steep, loose scree footing found us all, human and equine alike, slip sliding our way down into the river valley at the bottom. There we remounted and followed a winding trail through the lower portions, crossing the rivers and adjoining creeks off and on, with smaller more rolling terrain (this ride has very little actual FLAT). We came to a large crossing where the photographer was shooting, I got some lovely shots. A couple of miles later, and we arrived at the first vet check which was at around 9 miles.

It seems to generally take Diego about 5 minutes to reach criteria (60 bpm) after arrival and we headed over to the crew spot my dad and Robin had secured for me. We had a 30 minute hold at this point. Diego ate his mash and nibbled some alfalfa, but didn't truly hoover the food down. He ate pretty well for about 5, maybe 10 minutes, then noticed some sheep in the adjoining pasture and became very focused on them. I took him over to be vetted, where we cleared with all A's from Jamie Kerr. Dig was ready to get on with it at this point and spent the rest of the hold looking around or staring at the sheep, only nibbling a few bits when we'd hand feed him. The group of 3 had pulsed down a couple of minutes faster than I had, so left the vet check just as I was getting ready to walk over to the out timers. There were several other people gathered around the out timers, it looked like a group of four or so. I mentioned to one lady, "Oh, I have the same out time as you, can I ride a bit with you guys?" and she said, "No, you don't want to do that." Ummmm... okay. So when it was my time I left and trotted down the road solo and they hung back to wait for a friend or something who was a minute or two behind. Dig knew there were horses ahead and had his little after burners going, power trotting along the road parallel to the river from the vet check. He neighed a few times, but never broke stride or fussed too much, just blasted along. We passed one lady, who we had yo-yo'd with a bit in the first few miles and I knew wanted/needed to ride by herself and her horse was upset when others were too close or nearby. Crossed the river again and powered up the opposite bank and along the rolling road for what seemed like a very, very brief amount of time, until catching the group of three at the next water stop. We rode that bit of trail from the river to the house where the water stop was again the next day, and I was AMAZED at how far it actually was. It was probably at least 3+ miles, and at the time I would have sworn it was hardly anything - I was so blissed out on my horse powering along the trail all by himself so strong and focused.

So we were reunited with our buddies. As I came trotting up, they exclaimed "There's Reno!" and thus I was dubbed for the entire weekend. =) We hadn't bothered to exchange names until this point, so I guess as they were leaving the check, one had asked "Where's Reno?" and it stuck. =) All had ridden the ride before and were planning on going again the next day, and Dig seemed very happy and comfortable with the steady pace they were setting. Plus they didn't mind me tagging along at all, which was appreciated. The second loop (as was true both days) was the most difficult loop. We had several long climbs that resulted with us riding along the ridge tops. You could see for miles, even see the steam plumes for the geysers in surrounding towns (guessing Geyserville). The weather could not have been better. It was definitely humid for us desert rats (Dig & I) but at low 80's and often a breeze, I'll certainly take it. I guess it was around 100 degrees for the ride last year in June. EVERYONE was gushing about how lucky we were with the weather.

This next loop was about 18 miles and I'll just say it was steep and hard. Diego's and my opinion of what was considered a trottable hill was certainly altered. Although we did walk anything that was overly steep, whoever was setting the pace in the front, would often trot the first portion of the hills until the grade increased. Sometimes I would trot behind as well, other times we would start walking sooner and then trot a bit more of the downhill on the opposing side to catch up, or as it just worked out, would catch up very shortly anyways. Diego had settled in well to his job and was very focused and doing great. My only issue was that one of the sheepskin covers on the stirrup leathers kept sliding down, and the top portion would rub my left thigh until I yanked it back up. We got off on foot a couple more times on this loop and at one point I slipped a bit and kind of did the splits, with my left leg extended in front of me while my right leg folded under me as I put my hand down. I think I stretched or pulled something a bit as this is the only place where I'm really sore.

We got in off the 18 mile loop and Diego was HOT. I had scooped out of one of the creeks on the loop (this would be a good ride for a sponge and a sponge-trained horse), and thankfully the vet check had a ton of water, buckets, even hoses. I scooped and scooped about 8 gallons of water on him and at right about 5 minutes, he pulsed down to 60 and we got our in time. Once again the other 3 were a couple of minutes ahead of me, but I was so pleased with how well Diego was doing. We went back over to our crew spot, and he wasn't interested in eating. =( I don't think he was overly stressed, his expression looked good and he wasn't panting, but he just was too busy looking around and gazing off at stuff. I finally got him to take a couple of carrots, then a couple of handfulls of hay, but holding them up against his lips. I told T his job was to keep him eating as I ran over to grab some lunch for myself. RM provided sandwiches, chips, cookies and fruit both days at the away check. I grabbed another handful of carrots from the volunteers, and went back over to Dig. He was nibbling, but wasn't really eating with gusto like I wanted him to. We kept plying him with food stuffs, even a bit of red licorice, and while I was frustrated he wasn't eating that well, just due to how he looked and the vibe he was giving off, I wasn't really concerned about him in general. We went over and vetted around 40 minutes into the 60 minute hold, and he received a mixture of A's and B's. Gut sounds were a B as I recall. I saddled back up, Diego with an expression of SHOCK that I had the NERVE to put the saddle back on him (!!!) and kept an eye on when the others were getting ready to leave.

We had a 20 mile loop back to camp at this point. It worked out that the other 3 vetted a bit late, so we were all able to leave together from the check. This last loop went south and did a big sweeping loop through the hills, climbing to the top of the ridgeline and back down several times, before taking us along the edge of a newly planted vinyard and then dumping us on a fairly exposed and somewhat flat dirt road. You could look down onto a lake (Lake Sonoma?) and it looked so cool and inviting, they were saying how it's pure torture to ride along up there when it's 100+ and the sun in beating down. We eventually came into some of the ranch houses where there was a trough with a hose and all the horses got sprayed and cooled off before leaving. Diego did very well with his drinking at the ride. He's very business like. When he's going to drink, he just gets in there and gulps it down. He doesn't fiddle fart around with it, just chugs until he's done, then he's done and ready to go. He does skip water if he's had a big drink recently. But he did well on this so I don't feel like I need to worry about him too much in this regard.

After leaving the houses we continued along the road for a bit until there was a cattle guard, where we crossed a field and then came out onto the paved road that lead toward ride camp (it's on a private ranch so traffic is very very light). OMG what a climb this road is!!!! Pure torture, just up and up and up and up. A real strong grade that goes on for what's probably about 2 miles or so. Thankfully there's a trough about 1/2 way up, where all the horses drank heartily. Dig had finally realized he was hungry (duh) about 8 miles ago so was grabbing huge mouthfulls of the tall grass clumps and eating as he went along. When we neared the end of the paved bit, the group trotted off and Diego just kept walking. He neighed once or twice, but that was it, still on a loose rein just going along. We turned off from the road and climbed the last of the hill on the dirt trail. The other 3 had gone on ahead at this point, so Dig and I trotted that last mile down off the hill and into camp and the finish all by ourselves (beaming) and crossed the finish line at 3:17 pm for a ride time of 7:47. We ended up finishing 28 out of 50 finishers, with 52 starters. That was the lowest pull rate in the history of the ride, I'm sure the mild weather was a huge factor.

Took Diego back to the trailer, where he decided his hay bag and slurpie mash were the best thing he'd seen all day (um, lesson learned?). Pulled tack and checked the boots, the first time I had touched them all day. With all the water crossings and the dirt, I was scared to mess with the velcro overmuch and have it quit sticking. He had one teeny rub on the lateral heel bulb of his left rear, and that was it. I put a bit of Desitin on it and the backs of his pasterns for good measure and left the gaiters fastened loosely. Nearish the one-hour mark, I took him over to vet out. He did well with all his scores except gut sounds, which Jamie gave a C. I told him I wasn't surprised and why, and explained how well he was eating now. Both Jamie and I weren't too concerned due to the circumstances. I cleaned up a bit, fiddled with some stuff, ate a small snack, visited with people, had an excellent dinner, got a super cute completion T-shirt, packed to go for Day 2 (riding the 30-mile LD), and went to bed around 9:30 or so. It was a much quieter night all around and I was grateful for the extra hour to sleep as we had a 7 am start time on Sunday.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mad Dash to Cooley Ranch

So Monday, in the midst of my quarter-end close haze at work, I get a nice little email to inform me that I won a two-day entry to Cooley Ranch from the contest that Easycare was sponsoring. Yay! Except I had a few obstacles in the way:

  • It's quarter-end close at work. We're all supposed to be under a "black-out" period in regards to taking time off until after our press release (7/21).
  • I just sold my saddle. It's literally boxed up to go to Florida in my truck right now, shipping out today. My new saddle (Freeform DKR) has not arrived yet and won't by Friday.
  • It's my son's "birthday weekend" (his birthday is the coming week).
  • I cut a chunk out of my thumb and have been unable trim hooves, which are now two weeks overdue.
Hhhmm..... So after a bit of talking with my husband, and some scrambling around, the following has resulted:

  • It's quarter-end close at work - Time off was approved this morning pending on me getting my reporting and reconciliations finished by Thursday (doable).
  • I just sold my saddle - I have no less than 3 different saddles that friends have offered up for me to use instead. A too big Freeform Classic (works great for Dig, but not so great for me), the long-term borrowed Bob Marshall, a Bandos, and even a Barefoot. =) I also am going to be able to borrow a smaller seat for the Freeform from another friend, which has resulted in my dad and step-mom deciding to come crew for me!!  Extra Bonus!!!  LOVE all my good friends that come to the rescue!
  • It's my son's "birthday weekend" - He's decided to come camping with me at the ride, since I now have family to watch him while I'm out riding.
  • I cut a chunk out of my thumb and have been unable trim hooves - As of yesterday I have been able to downgrade from full finger wrap to band-aid. I should be able to put a GLOVE (duh!!!) on and do a light trim and clean up his mustang roll. That'll be good enough having learned my lesson about taking too much too soon last time.
So I'm GOING to Cooley Ranch!!! =) Going to just tent it as I don't feel like driving all that way with the camper. The weather should be nice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Secret Trail from Home

When people ask if I ride from home, generally the answer I give is, "No."  Although our house in on a 1.1 ac. plot, Diego only has a small corral out back, and we're pretty much surrounded by other homes and subdivisions

However, I'm not being entirely honest.  While I do trailer out for 95+% of my rides, I DO have a "secret" little trail that I can access from home.  However, I certainly do not consider it green horse friendly.  Thus, while I could trot along merrily with my experienced horse Sinatra, Diego has only been hiked along portions of the trail, and I've never tried to ride him on it.  But we're a one-truck family now, and I don't always want to hitch up the trailer and drive anytime I want to get out, so I've decided it's time to rediscover my little hidden gem.

Please excuse phone-quality crappy pictures.

From my house, I walk down the road past the neighbors and then catch a gravel easement road that runs a couple of blocks up to the main street in and out of our neighborhood.  Dogs go on the lease and we all scamper across the street and over a bit to access another gravel road that runs behind a group for about 6 houses, and has a couple of tight squeezes between fire-access emergency gates, before accessing the lower (southern-most) portion of the Upper Reach for Thomas Creek.

Upper Thomas Creek - At about 9,000 feet, the headwaters of Thomas Creek originate in a lush alpine bowl about two miles north of Mount Rose peak. Flows from fifteen or more springs come together in a large meadow and form a meandering channel. Then the stream flows east down a steep, rocky canyon filled with aspen trees, willows, service berries, choke cherries, wood rose, alder and other woody plants. The area is alive with dense carpets of native grasses, sedges, and rushes.

The upper reach of Thomas Creek is relatively undisturbed with the exception of a dirt road and multiple use trails. The creek emerges from the canyon near Timberline Road and flows down through low density housing developments (this is the bit I've been riding).

When we first arrive at the creek, there's a small shallow crossing where the dogs like to lie in the water and get cooled off and drink.  I then stay on foot for the worst part of the single-track trail, which all occurs in the first 1/2 mile or so after reaching the creek.  Here are some photos:

Mud Puddle in the Aspens

Jess shows the way
Sketchy bit of single-track uphill,
this is steeper than it looks

More narrow bits,
this is dropping off sharply on the right

Along the canyon wall,
views of the golf course

Views of Arrowcreek Golf Course,
I think this is the end of the front 9

From a prior day, Diego trying to figure out
the sound of golfers teeing off

We can follow along the creek for quite a ways, actually all the way to access the main Thomas Creek, Jones Creek, and Whites Creek trail heads near the base of Mt. Rose, all of which go up further into the wilderness area.  For now, we've only been going two miles or so up to where Arrowcreek Pkwy crosses the trail, and heading back home from there.  I've been taking my pruning shears and clipping off the overhanging bits here and there as we go.  For now, I'm probably riding about 1/2 the trail and walking the other 1/2.  Diego obviously isn't very physically challenged by these excursions, they simply don't qualify as conditioning rides, but they're very mentally challenging and stimulating for him.  Last night we had "discussions" regarding which grass clumps he was allowed to stop and munch on.  He thought that ALL grass clumps should be allowed, as soon as his mouth was empty.  I had to kick him and argue a bit to advise him that NO, he could only be stopping when *I* said so!  He's also learning to be brave and be out on his own.  To look before he startles at something, because it's probably just the (stupid - per Diego) dogs yet again, and to watch where he's putting his feet.
We did have one incident last night that caught us both by surprise.  Where we've been stopping to turn around is a more open "meadow" portion of the trail.  I generally let him graze a bit and then we turn around and go back the way we came.  Last night, he made the turn, and then for whatever reason, stepped off the edge of the trail, up the small embankment that was covered in grass - so much you couldn't really see it.  Poor boy, his left front foot slid on the edge, across his body, and we both ended up laying on the ground on the side of the trail!  He simply had collapsed down onto his shoulder and rolled onto his side before I quite realized what was happening!  Thankfully my shoe was tied loose and I pulled my foot out from under him without any effort.  We both got up a bit startled and shaken, but no worse from the wear (although my foot at the time was feeling a bit squashed, and my knees were knocking).  I walked and trotted him down the trail just a bit to access that he was okay, and then mounted back up to continue home. 

I'm hoping to continue these excursions on a more frequent basis.  As we both build up our confidence, we can traverse further in a lesser amount of time.  For now, it's a lovely little "secret" trail that we're able to enjoy, right from home!

Photographic evidence of my poor, abused, starved horse:
Diego gives the restaurant accomodations
4 stars!

Monday, June 6, 2011

NASTR Ride Musings

Well, Diego and I got pulled.  Bummer.  =(  However, we did 36 miles and he's not broken, just footsore, as confirmed by the head vet, Jay Mero.  In looking back, we had several very good things happen at this ride:
  • I mounted up in camp and rode out of camp with a happy horse at a walk.  He was a bit "up" when I first got on, but settled nicely and went on down the road like a big boy.
  • I got to ride with some very fabulous ride partners, Nancy Upham and Gretchen Montgomery.  Both of them are fabulous ladies who I love to share the trail with, so it was a very, very fun ride for the entire time I was out there.
  • It was a tough ride, very technical and rocky terrain, with a lot of climbing.  Diego did all the "hard" parts since the last 14 miles we didn't do was mostly all the downhill back to camp.  =)
  • Since Gretchen and Nan's horses are both seasoned mares, Dig got to work on his big boy endurance trot, i.e. going along at 9 mph rather than 6-7 mph.
  • There was a TON of grass along the trail.  Diego learned the art of "grab-and-go" eating.
  • We both did a great job taking care of ourselves, eating and drinking, both on the trail and in the vetcheck. 
I have a few theories on why Diego came up footsore.  Mainly, he's continuing to land toe first.  With horses, ideally you want a heel first landing.  In looking at the pictures from the ride photographers, you can clearly see him spiking his feet into the ground toe first, and the dirt being kicked up by how he's driving his foot in.  I've been working to bring his toes back each time he's trimmed.  However, I last trimmed him the Thursday before the ride.  And I trimmed way too much off to expect him to do a ride two days later.  I should have been more cognizant of the timing of the trim.  When I had my other horse in shoes, I would ideally have him shod about two weeks before the ride.  That's what I should have done with Dig.  A good balanced, make-them-shorter trim two weeks to a week and a half before the ride, and then just a quick touch up if need be to ensure the boots fit correctly.

Enlarge to see the dirt poofs from his "spiking" his toes

The other item I'm going to look into is the possibility of some deep seated thrush that may be causing heel sensitivitiy.  Things have been pretty wet this year and there's a good chance he could have something brewing in there that isn't overly obvious.  I was dealing with some thrush off and on all winter, so it's possible that it's more deep seated and not being resolved with just some standard over the counter topical treatments.

My other concern for why he's landing toe first is saddle fit.  He has a long laid back shoulder, and I need to ensure that nothing is pinching and causing him to restrict his stride.  I noticed that he was having to take about 1 1/2 steps to the other horses' one stride this weekend.  He's just not truly reaching out and using himself.  He may be doing it because his feet hurt, or because the saddle fit isn't ideal (I'm still playing around with fit and padding).  It may be a combination of all of the above.

At least the cure for sore feet is relatively easy - some time off and easy light riding.  He should be all better in a couple of weeks hopefully. However, getting to the root cause of the issue, and resolving whatever the problem may be, is my main concern now.

Friday, May 13, 2011


So if you were going to take your horse out on his first true solo trail ride, would you:

Option 1:
  • Plan it for a quiet time of day when you have plenty of time
  • Use the same secure saddle you've been using and are comfortable with
  • Do your best to limit the number of distractions
Or Option 2:
  • Rush out after work, which means you'll pretty much be returning to the trailer in the dark
  • Use a different saddle, that's only done a couple of quick arena rides (and isn't as secure)
  • Bring two dogs, one of which hasn't even been on a ride before
Yeah, Option 2 sounded way more fun to me too!  =)  And guess what??  Diego was PERFECT!!!

I took him out to Washoe after work last night (Thursday).  They recently completed their arena, amongst other very nice improvements and additions to the equestrian area.  I turned him loose and let him run around while I searched for an additional article of clothing since it was a bit windy and kind of cool.  After running for a bit, we went back to the trailer and saddled up with my Solstice english saddle.  I rode a TON of miles with this saddle on my other horse Sinatra, but haven't used it much on Diego. The Bob Marshall I've been using is *much, much* more secure, but it's a loaner and, even being treeless, not the perfect fit for either Diego or I.  Thus I need to start giving MY saddle a more through trial so I can decide for sure if I'm going to sell it or not.

I also brought the dogs, Molly and Jess.  Diego's not overly fond of the dogs, but they all hang out in the yard together every day, and frankly - he can just get used to them.  Riding with dogs has helped him be less reactive to stuff.  Molly's been going on rides with us off and on for the past year or so.  Jess (aka Pea Brain or Franks & Beans - to give you an idea of her personality), hasn't been on a ride before.  But she listens well and tends to hang around with me pretty naturally anyways, or she's attached to Molly, so I figured that she could come as well.

Once we were all tacked up, I led him over on foot around and through the gate to the trail.  Debated for a bit on if I wanted to take the fun single track, or just stay on the road, and opted for the road due to time.  You HAVE to go further down on the single track if you want to make a loop, while the road has a few shorter options.  I actually walked on foot way less than normal, only a couple hundred yards before mounting up.  Diego was very relaxed and calm and stayed that way even after mounting.  He just put on his big walk and cruised on down the road.  In only a couple of minutes, we were trotting down the trail, nice and forward on a loose rein.  =)

Other than stopping to look at some of the signage and one sagebrush that looked odd in the falling light, he didn't even balk at anything.  At one point, there were two very large puddles that some ducks where hanging out in next to the trail.  The dogs were having a ton of fun dashing through the puddles sending up sparkles of light.  Diego turned to watch them, and edged closer.  He seemed to be enjoying watching them splash and play.  I actually had to get off here and lead him away, because he kept trying to turn and go back.  =)  So I jogged on foot down the trail for a bit, then mounted up and rode the rest of the way back to the trailer with no issues.  We finished just as it was getting to be truly dark.

It was an awesome ride on an awesome horse.  Love my boy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Incredible Journey - Rides of March 2011

Wow, where to start...  What a ride, and what a ride it's been.

This past Saturday, 3/19, Diego and I completed his very first 50 mile endurance ride.  I find it especially fitting that it happened at Rides of March (ROM), as this ride as had special significance to me over the years.  In 2003, in its debut year, this is where Sinatra and I had our introduction to the sport of endurance and completed in our very first limited distance (30 mile) ride.  In 2008, it was where I (unknowingly) rode Sinatra on his very last completion, a 50 mile finish on their brand new trail and location.  He passed that December from cancer.  Sinatra's ashes are scattered on the trail behind the hunt facility where the ride now passes by.  So it seems extra appropriate that ROM would also become a huge part of the history of Diego and I as well.

The weather forecast leading up to the ride was a bit... um... interesting.  It was supposed to be blowing a gale on Friday, and then snow overnight and into Saturday morning.  On the plus side, the snow and wind were both supposed to stop sometime on Saturday, and the forecast high of the low 40's would be perfect for the horses with their winter coats.  Hubby helped me get the camper all loaded up on Thursday and on Friday, amid gusts up to 50 mph, I loaded Diego in the trailer and SAILED over to Funder's house to pick up Dixie and her.  We crammed everything in and then, as I was leaving her house, I realized it was after 3 pm and I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, so we hopped in and grabbed something to eat at Qdoba, which was MOST EXCELLENT.

Dixie and Diego in camp

Arrived at ridecamp with no issues and got the horses all settled in and camp set-up.  I tested poor Diego by pulling a rookie move with my blanket.  It's a closed front, which means I have to put it on OVER his head; it doesn't have buckles on the chest.  That was fine, except I had it inside out.  Realizing my error, I unclipped his lead rope from his halter in order to pull the blanket back off.  He backed up as I started to pull it off, bumped into the fence behind him and then jumped forward in surprise, taking a few steps around the corner of the trailer, with the blanket still around his neck and now hanging on the ground in front of him.  Bless his heart he just stood there and let me come "rescue" him!  Good boy!  Got everything all figured out and stuffed on correctly. 

Boots On
 Both horses vetted through just fine.  About 15 of us huddled around the campfire for the pre-ride meeting and to hear about the layout of the trail for tomorrow.  Whiteout conditions over I-80 had the interstate closed, so only a few riders from California braved the trip over the mountain.  It was already starting to snow off and on, but wasn't really sticking yet.  Sanne and Diego's BFF Taz showed up during the ride meeting.  After the meeting, Dave Rabe helped me with applying Diego's Easycare Glove hoof boots.  This was to be our first 50 using Gloves.  We've done several long training rides in them, but nothing of this distance so far (obviously).   Since it was supposed to snow (more) overnight, it was best to get the athletic tape and boots on his hooves now, while things were still somewhat dry.  Between Dave and I, the job went very quick and smooth.  I left the gaiters loose, and it was super easy to just tighten them up in the morning.

Sanne, Funder and I had an excellent dinner in the camper and chatted for a while.  After dinner, we took the horses for a quick walk around camp, where I panicked poor Funder by taking Dixie without telling her!  Actually, I thought she was in the camper and yelled out "I'm stealing your horse" as we went by, but it turns out she WASN'T in the camper, and had a mild panic attack when she came back and her horse wasn't tied to the trailer.  =)  Luckily she found us fairly quickly.  SORRY!!!  LOL

I didn't sleep very well overnight.  Part of that is normal for me.  Oh well.  Got up and it had snowed overnight, but was still mostly just a light dusting on the ground.  Put on about 20 layers of clothes, I actually was NEVER cold at all during the day, rather I was too warm at times.  Saddled up and put on my rump rug, a first for Diego.  I tightened up the gaiters on the boots and lunged him for a bit in camp.  Soon I could see the first riders heading off down the trail, so went back over and finished some last minute checking of items, hooked up my heart rate monitor, and we headed over to the start.

Ready to go at the start

Funder got on Dixie and left pretty much right away.  Sanne and I chose to stay on foot and walk the boys for a while down the trail.  Dig was excited and prancing a bit, but was being good and staying out of my space and not pulling on me.  We figured it was easier to just go along on foot than to try to fight with them to stay at a walk at this point, and we knew they needed to WALK to get their heads' on straight for a bit first thing in the morning.  It was probably only a couple of miles until we mounted up.  Both horses actually did well and continued walking down the trail after we were mounted, in fact we didn't trot until we ran across the ride photographer.  Unfortunately, it was snowing a bit too hard at this point and none of my pictures turned out. =(  The camera was confused about where to focus and they're all a bit blurry. 

The first loop was 20 miles, after passing the photographer and a volunteer taking numbers, we went through a gate and continued up a dirt road.  Sanne and I both were watching the ground, looking to see if there were slip marks to indicate how icy it might be.  We both had boots on (I had on Gloves while Sanne had on Glue-ons), and neither of our horses slipped at all, however we decided that a moderate trot was the best gait of choice.  After a mile or two we dropped down into a sandy twisty wash, which was super fun and a great place to let the horses get a little power trot in.  Once out of the wash, we headed up a long road into the foothills, and it started to snow, and snow, and snow.  Soon we had almost a 1/2 inch accumulated in their manes and along the pommels of our saddles and packs.  Since we were both tucked into our jackets, it actually was kind of fun.  Certainly makes other rides seem much easier in comparison.  =)  This loop led us up and around through the foothills, making sort of a counter-clockwise rectangle.  Diego drank at the first main cow tanks.  He was all business all day about drinking.  We'd arrive at water, he'd walk up and drink as much as he wanted, then scratch his head or look around for stuff to nibble on.

Sanne and Taz on the first loop

As we crested the highest part of this loop, we headed back toward the valley and it stopped snowing and the sun even tried to peak out.  It was beautiful out!  We headed down, down, down and back to Bedell Flats.  At this point it was warm enough to peel of a layer, which I managed to wiggle out of as we continued walking down the trail.  Right before we hit the main road on the valley floor, another rider came up behind us!  Diego noticed her first.  Both Sanne and I were surprised that anyone was behind us, but she mentioned that she'd missed a turn and had been off trail.  She was shocked to even catch up to anyone.  Turtles R Us was the motto for the day though!  ;) 

We followed along behind her for a bit, until we turned off the main road and began to climb through the foothills for the final few miles back into camp.  At one point, Diego put his head down really low, like he was sniffing the trail while trotting along.  I figured he was maybe stretching his back and let him cruise along like that for a bit.  Suddenly, BUCK BUCK BUCK!  I don't know what prompted that (I'm thinking the rump rug might have something to do with it, it had been pulled up but was down afterwards).  Thankfully I didn't even lose my seat and he only did a few.  He does NOT buck as well as Sinatra - who could always unload me at will.  And he went right back to trotting on a loose rein.  Dork. 

We came across a gate, and when I hopped off to open the gate, I did my first boot check of the ride (about 15 miles in) and dumped some sand and one small rock out of the gaiters on all 4 boots.  I actually was SHOCKED there were no rubs or any issues, considering the boots had been covered in wet sand throughout the entire ride so far.  Dig has what I term "delicate" legs, so not having any signs of rubbing was most excellent.  After going through the gate, we arrived at a set of cow tanks that all 3 loops would come to.  The first 4 riders for the 50 arrived on their second loop at the same time as us, and all 6 horses shared politely.  We had common trail for about a mile or so, where the front runners turned off to continue on their second loop, while Sanne and I headed the last 3 miles or so back to camp.  One more water stop along the way, and soon we had arrived at 20 miles.  The ride started at 7:00 and we came in off that 20 mile loop and pulsed in at 10:58, so it took us about 4 hours total (including starting late and walking on foot).

Checking in at 20 miles

The hold here was only 15 minutes, but both Sanne and I wanted to give the boys a chance to eat something and grab a bite for ourselves.  Both horses vetted through well, Diego's CRI was a 48(!!!) and he had all A's on his vetcard as I can recall.  I also took the time to get rid of my light jacket for an even lighter windbreaker.  I went to send out a text update as to how things were going with the ride, and realized my iPhone was missing!!!  I wear it in a Cashel ankle safe, and the entire pouch was NOT on my leg!  Ack!  Thankfully Sanne remembered seeing it when we went through the gate right before the common water troughs, so it was somewhere out there on shared trail.  I notified management that if any riders came in with an extra phone, it was mine.  Exchanged my empty water bottle for a full one, and about 30 minutes after our arrival we were all set and headed out on the next loop, which was 15 miles.
Both horses left camp quite cheerfully and we repeated the same trail as the morning up to the point where the photographer had been.  We made MUCH better time on this loop, being able to trot along where in the morning we were walking on foot.  We didn't go through the fence this time, instead turning left through the low foothills, parallel to the fenceline, back to the cow troughs were we saw the front running 50's on the last loop.  I hopped off here to shed another layer on top (now down to 4 instead of 5) ;) and we set off again. Not 200 yards up the trail - THERE'S MY PHONE!!!  Rejoice!!!  I've ridden probably 2,000 miles with an ankle safe and NEVER had it come off before, but I also don't generally have on that many layers.  My guess is the velcro was lined up just right with my stirrup leather that it caused it to pop off.  I put it back on and it stayed where it should the rest of the ride.

This was a new loop for the ride this year, and it was called Scenic for a reason.  Gorgeous views as we climbed up into, over, and through the hills.  After negotiating past a water tower and a horse-eating tanker car of death (how in the HECK did THAT get out here?!?!?), we followed along a side-hill trail on the backside of the mountains.  As we rounded one curve, I realized I had ridden this trail years and years ago on Sinatra, on a training ride with the ride managers, from the opposite direction.  Sinatra was with me in spirit a lot on this ride, but especially on this loop.  Sanne and I talked a lot about Tevis on this loop, since there were some narrow sections of side-hill.  Diego crossed his "farthest to ever be ridden" after the 25 mile point on this loop.  He was cute, he was so happy and perky - just giving off such a "I'm having fun!" vibe that I laughed out loud several times and commented to Sanne on it.  =)  We also did a fair amount of climbing, especially toward the end of the loop where we went down, down, down one canyon, followed a couple miles of trail overlooking some homes and the hunt facility in Red Rock, to then climb back up, and up, and up to a water stop at the top of the climb.  We let the boys have a break for some water and the hay provided at the top, then continued on knowing camp shouldn't be too much farther.  Sure enough, I happened to look over my right shoulder and a bit behind me after we were out of the hills, and could see the trailers about 1/4 mile away.

Arriving at 35 miles

Eating at the trailer

We arrived back in camp, at 35 miles for our 1 hour hold, right around 2:30, again averaging around 5 mph overall pace for the loop.  I was STARVING and I'm sure the horses were too.  We vetted through quickly and headed back to the trailers.  Got the horses going on lunch and ate something ourselves.  Refilled bottles, sent out some Facebook updates on how things were going (got to love the connected electronic age), and suddenly I realized I was TIRED sitting there with nothing to do and at least 10 more minutes before I needed to get ready to head back out.  I gulped down the last of my, now cold, morning coffee and decided to walk over to the vet area to hang out and let Diego eat over there.  Sanne was on board with the same plan so we spent the last few minutes of our hold chatting with everyone.  On a sad note, Funder, who we hadn't seen since that morning, didn't quite like how Dixie was doing, so elected to pull here.  =(  Better luck next time to them and I'm SURE they'll get everything figured out eventually.
So off we went on the last 15 mile loop.  Both boys happily trotted right out of camp and down the trail.  I knew we were going "up and over that mountain in front of us" from doing this same loop back in 2008, but I forgot the exact details.  Needless to say, I firmly believe that this loop should be renamed CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT.  ;)  Ugh!  You start out on a gradual uphill climb, which gets continually steeper, and you climb, and climb, and climb.  Then when you think you're at the top, you go around a corner, down a little bit, and then climb some MORE!  Repeat about 3 times!  We trotted anytime it was flat or a bit downhill and let the boys just continue to climb up at about a 3 mph walk.  Finally, **finally** you crest the top and start down.  And down, and down, and down, and down.  But it's a nice sandy wash and easy to just cruise down at a walk.  We stopped at one point and I fished out some ibuprofen from my saddle packs for Sanne, who choked on water while trying to take them, poor thing.  But we got all situated and finally hit the bottom of the climb.  At the bottom of the climb is a main dirt road, the same one we were on the first loop in the morning, which runs along the valley floor.  You could REALLY make time on this road, especially with a fresh horse.  Instead we had horses (and riders) with 40 miles on them, but who were still game to trot and canter off and on, so onward we went.  We joked off and on that this was the hardest we'd worked the horses all day, here at the end of the ride, and it's probably true - Negative Splits R Us, or at least a consistent average.  We took a few walking breaks as needed (mainly for us RIDERS!) and finally, FINALLY met up with the first loop trail.  Then the mind plays tricks on you.  What went by fairly quickly in the morning was somehow at least twice as long this time around.  We were doing fine on time, right on track, but at this point, I certainly was ready for it to be over!  =)  Eventually we came to the gate, and then the common cow tanks for water.  Both horses were all business.  Diego would drink and as we'd leave, Taz would stay and wait until he was *certain* that Diego was indeed heading down the trail before opting to join us.  He'd started that back at the end of the second loop and it brought some chuckles for sure.  Taz actually prefers to be in front, and lead most of the day, but he wasn't opposed to taking a break and making it for as long as possible.  ;)

Not too much longer now!  Just a bit more off and on trotting, and we hit the "crossroads" water tanks right as John with management was showing up, knowing we were the last riders and he could pick them up after us.  We visited for a while and let the horses eat, then continued on, knowing camp was only about 5 minutes down the trail.


And we finished!!!  Right around 6:30, which had been the plan all along (5 mph).  Both horses did great all day.  Diego vetted out with A's and some B's.  He had a B on gait with a note of a very slight inconsistent something on his right front.  At first I told the vet, "Yeah, if it's any foot, it would be that one," thinking of his LEFT front, which is the only leg he's actually ever had any issues on (including getting it caught in a rope about 8 months ago), but then I realized I was thinking of the wrong leg.  Honestly, I think he was a bit off because he has a STRONG preference to have me on that diagonal, and even though I tried to be very diligent in changing, I *know* I rode WAY more miles on his right front/left rear diagonal than I did on the other side.  So add that to the list of things to practice more, for sure.
Diego was a hungry boy when we finished and happily snarfed up his food in camp and munched hay all the way home.  Funder had done an excellent job getting us mostly ready to leave, so it didn't take long to strip tack, blanket, vet out, remove boots (NO RUBS!), and get the people side of the equation packed up and ready to leave.  Since it was only a little over an hour to get home (including stopping to drop Funder and Dixie off), I didn't feel too guilty about loading up and getting on the road fairly quickly.
The next day, it rained or snowed pretty much all day at home. In the evening things finally let up for a bit and I took Diego on a little walk around the neighborhood.  He was moving very free and forward, out-walking me and looking around with interest.  It's been a long road to get here, but I can hardly wait to see what adventures lie ahead for us!  Just the beginning of my incredible journey with this awesome horse.
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