Friday, May 30, 2008

In the Wake of our First LD: Scattered Observations

Looking for the actual ride story? Click here to read about the Owyhee Fandango!

For several years now, I've been reading everything I could find about endurance riding. Web pages, forums, books, blogs, articles -- you name it, I've read it. This background served me well at the Owyhee Fandango last Sunday. I understood more of the procedures and equipment than I would have without this research, and I knew the answers to many questions I overhead from other riders -- though, as a newbie myself, I kept my mouth shut!

Overall, I felt well prepared...and yet, there's still plenty to learn, things that can be gathered only through experience at actual rides. Below are miscellaneous observations from the Fandango:

1) Attitudes about Limited Distance (LD)

Many times over the weekend, people asked what distance Aaruba and I were there to ride. The answer that jumped repeatedly to my lips was, "Oh, just the 25." After all, compared to 50's or longer on each of three days, or the 75 or 100 mile races, 25 miles seems paltry indeed! However, several times I was told to "Never say 'just' 25." One person went on to note that most horsepeople will never ride a horse that far in their lives.

Another rider expressed approval for the concept of LD's as training rides in preparation for longer distances, but said he felt there should be no top-ten rankings given. I got the feeling that he didn't appreciate those riders who choose to stick with the shorter rides and turn them into races rather than moving up to real endurance distances of 50 miles or more. Also, he noted that the lure of top-tenning often results in less training and more racing taking place on the LD trail. I see his point -- and even agree, to some extent -- but I must admit that the memory of this conversation made me a bit uncomfortable with my 5th place finish the next day. I wanted to shout to the crowd at the awards dinner, "I swear I just rode my training pace! I wasn't trying to top-ten!"

2) Ride Camp Organization and Atmosphere

The Oreana rides are extremely well managed and organized. Travis and I had no difficulty finding and following instructions...after the first ten minutes, that is. Upon arrival in camp, we experienced some frustration and even mild embarassment as a result of not knowing our way around. To those who kindly pointed us toward parking areas -- thank you. To those who shot us annoyed glances when we paused to study the layout -- hey, maybe it's been a while, but you were new once, too.

Being the shy type that never wants to intrude upon others, Travis and I hung back a bit during the ride meeting. The people who did speak to us were friendly, but their conversations naturally drifted back into the circles of people they already knew. I don't blame them -- it's human nature to tend toward the familiar. Being an outsider for a while is a natural part of integrating into a new community. Still, I hope I always remember how much I appreciated those who made a real effort to include us (Monika Steller and Melanie Shirilla in particular), so I can "pay it forward" someday.

Another thing I noticed about ride camp was that while almost everyone is friendly and interested in one another's horses, the atmosphere is decidedly non-judgemental. I didn't see anyone giving unsolicited advice or scoffing at another rider's choice of feed or tack. On the whole, it seemed that people with two-horse bumper pulls and tents were as welcome as those with air-conditioned, 6-horse vans with living quarters and custom details.

Were there cliques and unfriendly sorts? Sure, a few. When Aaruba and I caught up with a group of riders on Sunday and stayed with them for a mile or two, I got the distinct feeling that, despite my attempts at casual conversation, they were just waiting for me to go away. Oh, well. No group is perfect -- and overall, the endurance crowd seems closer than most.

3) The Importance of Crew

Okay, so it was just 25 miles. (Sorry. I mean, it was 25 miles!) Aaruba and I may have participated in the shortest race of the day, with just one vet check and hold, but I still learned how wonderful it is to have a good crew. Our hold would have been much more stressful without Travis there to hand me the stethoscope, hold Aaruba, fetch a sponge, carry hay, keep track of my rider card, watch the clock, run to the trailer for vetwrap, replace a hoofboot, take pictures, offer moral support, and clean up our mess once we were back on the trail. I'll let you guess which one is Travis...

Monday, May 26, 2008

We Came, We Saw, We Top-Tenned: 2008 Owyhee Fandango, Part Two

Did you miss Part One? Click here to catch up.

Promptly at noon, a ride official signaled the start. Bob Steller took off aboard Markoss, but the rest of us hung around, clearly waiting to avoid the often-chaotic rush. After a minute or so, several more riders headed up the trail. I followed on Aaruba, first walking, then trotting past a few riders who opted to walk a bit longer.

Eager and obviously feeling good, Aaruba settled into a medium trot up the road. About the time we reached our first turn onto a sandy track into the hills, he'd loosened up and wanted to move out. Holding him in took a bit of work, but I wasn't about to let him go faster than our training pace, especially in sand. All I wanted was to finish within the 6-hour time limit, with a sound and healthy horse.

The trail climbed up a steep hill, then led across the top of a ridge where low tangles of sagebrush, battered by many passing hooves, hunkered along the trail. Somewhere along that ridge, Aaruba stumbled a bit and I thought I saw something fly into the bushes. A hoof boot? I glanced down to check. One, two, three, four boots, all present and accounted for. We cruised on.

Not until we slowed to walk through some deep sand did I realize that what I'd seen on Aaruba's off front hoof (yes, the one with the injured heel) was not the boot itself, but the back of the gaiter spun around to the front of his hoof. The boot was gone.

When we broke out onto a gravel road minutes later, I thanked my lucky stars for all those hours of barefoot conditioning. Aaruba picked up speed, quite sound despite the missing boot, and we briefly joined the group of riders we'd been tailing. One of them let me know that Aaruba seemed to have interfered in back and was bleeding, so I hopped off at the nearby water stop to have a look. Fortunately, it was just a scratch, but as this is the second time his hind boots have caused such a wound, I'll be buying a pair of interference boots soon.

We crossed the creek with no problems, despite it being Aaruba's first attempt at a real water crossing, and continued on through the hills. There were a few short, steep uphills that we walked to conserve energy, but for the most part we trotted along. Being unfamiliar with the trail, and having forgotten to punch my stopwatch at the start, I was glad to come across a view of ridecamp in the valley below. A look at the map told me we were about two-thirds through the loop.

Having had the pleasure of chatting earlier with Shana (of Sinwaan) and Lara, riders from Washington who did the Saturday LD, I expected a steep downhill before the end of the loop. Sure enough, the riders ahead of me slowed, then seemed to disappear over the edge of a cliff. I arrived shortly thereafter to see the trail drop sharply to the creekbed far below. The trail looked safe enough, but as Aaruba was still inclined to rush, I elected to lead him down just in case.

We reached the creek just as the other riders were leaving. The water was faster here and Aaruba wouldn't settle to drink, so we carried on after wading up and down to ease any stinging in his interference wounds. He never took a sore step, even on the rocky sections of road with one bare forehoof, and again we caught up with the trio ahead. To see if Aaruba would settle down if he was in the lead, I guided him past them at a wide spot. It made no difference -- he still wanted to power along faster than I would allow.

Quite suddenly, we were back at camp. I hopped off, loosened the girth, and led him in to pick up our yellow slip on which our in-time, pulse-down time, and out-time would be recorded. Aaruba drank and ate some hay while we waited a couple minutes to pulse down to 60. He vetted through with all A's except for gut sounds, which earned him a C and instructions to come back for a re-check at the end of the hold.

So, forty minutes of eating, drinking, and boot-replacing later, we returned and were cleared to depart, now with gut sounds at B+. We were delayed several minutes by heeding the vet's advice to remove some tape we'd used to secure vetwrap over Aaruba's interference wounds lest it be too restrictive and cause a bandage bow, but I wasn't worried about it. This was a training ride for us, not a competition.

I was pleased to take off quite alone, as our bandage-removal delay had given the trio ahead of us get a longer lead. As expected, Aaruba was more settled now and we relaxed into our usual long, cheat-rein for the remaining 9 miles. Most of the loop retraced the same trail as the first loop, so pacing was easier. This time I stayed aboard for the steep downgrade, which Aaruba handled admirably. Once again, however, he refused to drink from the fast-moving creek even though I dismounted to give him plenty of opportunity. Just as I swung back into the saddle, a couple riders appeared at the top of the ridge behind us.

We trotted on until I saw the finish line. I dismounted to lead Aaruba in again, loosening his girth and noseband as we walked. The finish line steward said he thought we were the 5th or 6th horse in. Talk about Surprise #3!

Back at the recovery area, Travis and I pulled Aaruba's tack, then had his pulse checked to get his official finish time. We had half an hour before we needed to present for his final vet check, so we let him eat and drink to be sure he'd pass on gut sounds. Sure enough, he finished with mostly A's.

Though I figured we weren't really in the running for it considering my weight, our placing at 5th, and Aaruba's interference wounds, we presented an hour later for Best Condition. I weighed in at 134 lbs including tack (hmmm...maybe I should eat more!) and our BC score totaled exactly 600 -- acceptable, but not enough to win.

During the awards, we got a nice T-shirt for completing, a scarf from Malaysia for top-tenning, and a Malaysian fan and a kind round of applause for our first-ever LD.

So, what's next?

I'm thinking LD's on both days of the Pink Flamingo in July. After that, perhaps we'll start talking 50's.

Ride on!

We Came, We Saw, We Top-Tenned: 2008 Owyhee Fandango, Part One

...quite by accident.

Top-tenning at our first LD (Owyhee Fandango 2008) was the last in a series of surprises. But we'll get to that. Let's begin on Saturday.

Travis and I rose early Saturday morning, took time for a leisurely pot of coffee while the horses ate breakfast, then finished packing freshly-laundered riding clothes and loading our mountain of supplies into the truck and trailer. We triple-checked the packing list I've been making over the course of months as I read articles, books, ride stories, and blog posts by experienced riders, and I'm pleased to say that we got to the ride with everything we needed. I love lists.

Aaruba loaded nicely (for him) and we pulled out of the driveway at 12:12, just a few minutes later than planned. He rode more calmly than usual as we wound through a few tiny, Idaho towns and one thunderstorm, then turned onto Oreana Loop Road at around 2:00. Some of the ride loops included sections of the road, and my excitement grew as we crept over gravel and cattle guards, trail markers and a few riders.

Finally, we pulled into ridecamp and stopped to study the signs, which indicated we could take any of three driveways to find parking. As it turned out, we misinterpreted the sign and found ourselves down by the hold area. The volunteers there re-directed us to the top of the hill behind the ranch house. This put us in an area with just two other trailers, several hundred yards from, and just over the hill and out of sight of, the main parking section. We only stopped at the top of the hill because we didn't know our way around -- and it seems we were just about the only ones, as nearly everyone else had been to rides at the Teeter ranch before. But, there has to be a first time sometime.

Surprise #1 came at the pre-ride meeting just after dinner. The ride manager, Steph Teeter, described the trails and hold times. Then, she announced the start times. 100's and 75's at 6:00 a.m. 50's and 7:30. 25's at...noon. NOON? Who ever heard of an LD starting at noon? As a ripple of amusement ran around the crowd, Travis pointed to my wine glass and said, "Well, drink up!"

Steph went on to explain that the late start was due to the necessity of shuttling vets to and from the out vet checks for the longer rides. During the awards for the Saturday ride, I pondered what impact the late start would have on us. Heat wouldn't be a big issue, as predicted highs were only in the 70's. I would get to drink more coffee in the morning. Aaruba would be a mental wreck.

After being laid up since Wednesday due to his overreach injury, then trailered to a strange and exciting location, Aaruba was strung as high as a horse thief in the old West. Despite many handwalks around camp throughout the afternoon, he was already fed up with being tied to the trailer. Waiting for a noon start might put him right over the edge.

More storm clouds billowed on the horizon as we headed back to our trailer in the falling dusk. I was ready to crawl into the tent, but the thunder and wind whipped Aaruba into a frenzy. He paced and even reared while tied to the trailer. Not good. Aaruba respects his halter and never once tightened the rope, but there was no calming him. He wasn't scared, but I could see he was well beyond his limit for the day. He needed some freedom from halter restraint, and soon.

At nearly any other ride, we'd have had a real problem on our hands. But, thankfully, the Teeters offer the option of renting a panel pen for your horse, and I'd seen earlier in the day that many of the pens remained unused. Feeling guilty because we hadn't reserved a pen, but deeply relieved to have something to do with Aaruba, we led him through the dark and deserted camp to a vacant pen. Sure enough, he quieted immediately and settled to his hay.

It was nearly midnight when Travis and I finally crawled into our sleeping bags with Wyrsa at our feet. The night wasn't terribly cold, but sleep was hard to come by. I wasn't nervous, precisely, but my mind was too busy to rest. I must have slept a little, but I was already awake when the dinner bell rang to signal the start for the earliest riders. I poked my head out of the tent to see the 100 milers trotting by. I'll do that some day!

I'd just crawled back into the tent to get dressed when I heard a horse spook and its rider hit the ground, then voices asking, "Are you okay?" Hoofbeats clattered on the gravel in that distinctive, short-strided, brisk canter of a confused and frightened horse. Before long, however, someone announced, "She's coming back." As far as I know, the mare and her rider continued with the race.

Incidentally, Aaruba spooked at the same spot as we started our ride along the same section of road later that day, as did several of the horses around us. A small cluster of logs had been stacked there, I think to hold a trail marker, and horses tend to spook at things that don't look or behave quite as the horse thinks they should.

I headed to the registration office as soon as I'd checked Aaruba, who was happy as could be in his borrowed pen, and fed him his beet pulp mash. I explained our situation to the ride secretary and offered to pay for the pen, but she very graciously said not to worry about it. Thank goodness for that extra pen -- I think it was a major factor in restoring Aaruba's sanity before the ride.

As noon ticked closer, Travis and I boiled water for coffee and ate the health-nut muffins and fruit I'd brought along. We put Aaruba's hoof boots on, checked for minimal rubbing on his injured heel, which we decided not to wrap for fear the wraps would bunch up and cause worse rubs than the boot, and got a number (and a smiley face!) on his butt.

I observed that he was consistently agitated when asked to stand around our section of ridecamp, regardless of the presence or absence of other horses, but he calmed immediately once returned to the hustle and bustle of the main camp. So, two lessons learned: 1) Aaruba needs a panel pen instead of a tie system, and 2) we should camp nearer the center of activity.

Surprise #2 came when I learned that Aaruba's pen neighbor was 2003 MRER Hall of Famer Markoss, now 20 years old. Markoss belongs to Monika and Bob Steller -- winner of the 2008 AERC National Championship (55-mile middleweight) with Majestic Star, who was in a portable pen just across the road. We couldn't have had better neighbors. Monika was an absolute pleasure, as utterly kind and welcoming as you can possibly imagine, an exemplary ambassador for this unusually friendly sport.

At 11:30, both Aaruba and I were quite calm as we tacked up and headed for the start. As we warmed up with a few circles at the walk and trot, Bob Steller commented that he'd give me points for having the best riding posture in the field. I told him that, coming from him, that means a lot! *blush*


Okay, I need to go get some dinner on the stove. At least you know now that we did go to the ride, and we did finish. Details coming soon in Part Two.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Let's Dance, Baby!

Aaruba looks great this morning, so we're off the the Owyhee Fandango!

Even better, today is Travis' and my wedding anniversary. Five years and happy as the day we got married.

Thanks so much to all who sent words of advice and encouragement over the past few days since Aaruba's injury. Keep those fingers crossed!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Watching, Waiting, Wondering

What to do? What to do?

Last night, as we soaked Aaruba's wounded heel, I was sure we'd need to withdraw from Sunday's LD. Here's how his 24-hour-old injury looked:

This morning, I showed this photo to an experienced endurance rider. She listened to my description: No lameness (though Aaruba didn't seem to have quite his usual bounce last night -- possibly just stiffness or irritation at the ceaseless wind). No swelling. A tiny bit of heat last night, but none this morning. No oozing. A bit of blood when I pressed on the wound. No exceptional tenderness in the area, and no resistance to handling.

Her opinion was that Aaruba would be fine, and that the pre-ride vet evaluation wouldn't be an obsticle as long as the wound wasn't swollen, oozing, or causing lameness. She recommended using Flexus to keep a wrap on the wound even in water.

Perhaps we'll go if:

1) There's still no lameness, swelling, or oozing tomorrow morning,
2) Aaruba seems to be acting like his usual self, and
3) It looks like his hoof boots aren't going to interfere with the wrapped wound.

What to do? What to do?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pangs and Premonitions

One morning nearly four years ago, as Travis dropped me off at work, I had the feeling I should tell him to be extra careful on the way to his own office. I brushed the feeling away and didn't say anything. Five minutes later, he called my cell phone to tell me he'd been in an accident.

Two years ago, on New Years Eve, I sensed something was going to go wrong with the horses. All evening, as Travis and I sipped wine and played Trivial Pursuit, I paced back and forth from kitchen table to window, though nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Finally, just before midnight, I looked out again to see a dark shape moving beyond the mare paddock. I grabbed our big flashlight and beamed it at the beast. It was Insider. He'd mysteriously escaped from his stallion pen and was wandering loose amid a minefield of freshly-dug postholes.

For several days now, I've fought back the inkling that something was going to interfere with my and Aaruba's plans for the Owyhee Fandango. Just nerves, I told myself. Nothing to worry about.

Well. Last night, I joined Aaruba in the round corral for twenty minutes of liberty work. He trotted out like his usual, eager self, all snort and whipping tail in the 30 mph winds that haven't let up for days.

When I halted him and walked to his side, I was horrified to discover a bloody patch on his offside, front heel bulb above the hairline. His hind cannons were spattered with blood. I hadn't seen a single misstep during his workout, but the angle of the cut indicated he'd caught his off heel with his near hind. This was most surprising, as he's never had an over-reach or interference problem before. The bleeding had all but stopped already, so I tied him to a post and ran to the house to collect Travis and some first aid supplies.

A long rinse with the hose loostened the dried blood and revealed a crescent-shaped slice into Aaruba's skin (just skin, thankfully!) above the coronet. It wasn't particularly tender and didn't seem to have any impact on his freedom of movement. We soaked the foot in epsom salts, disinfected the wound, then let Aaruba go have dinner while I went inside to dwell miserably on a host of questions:

Will we be able to ride in the Fandango? (Maybe.) Will his hoof boot irritate the wound? (Maybe.) Will it get infected or cause pain over the miles? (Maybe.) Should we pull? (Not yet.) Is it worth the fuel and effort to drive to the ride only to quit before we start? (I don't know, is it?) Should we risk our entry fee only to pull or be pulled? (Gah!) Could we do the ride barefoot if the boots are a problem? (Doubtful. Old ride photos indicate that some sections are rockier than I want to risk at this stage, though we do most of our conditioning barefoot.) Is there another ride nearby within the next two months? (No.)

Frustration and tears ensued.

This morning, I braved the the pre-dawn wind to soak Aaruba's foot again while he chowed down on beet pulp mash. It was too dark to tell for sure, but the wound didn't seem swollen or painful. Still no sign of lameness.

This evening, we'll boot his other front hoof and try to evaluate what effect an Easyboot Bare is likely to have on the injured heel. No rigid part of the boot should touch it, but the neoprene gaiter might be irritating. A protective coat of vetwrap might be just the ticket, but I worry about it causing rubs after it gets wet in the creek crossings.

So many questions. Here's another one: Why, oh why, can't I get a good premonition for a change?

Cross your fingers for us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh, Horsefeathers!: Unpleasant Weather and a Pleasant Surprise

Winter, summer, spring...

Wait a minute, here. Did someone change the order of the seasons and forget to send me the memo?

After a very long, snowy winter and a bone-dry April, we have just been deluged by the wettest thunderstorm in recent memory. 50 mph gusts ripped up our hill, setting the hay shelters billowing and flinging the lid of my Rubbermaid tack truck into a ditch. I donned an oilskin coat four sizes too big and staggered out into the blinding rain to retrieve the lid. Wind blew the coat up around my waist, mascara stung my eyes, water poured in rivulets through my hair, and I returned to the house in desperate need of a dry change of clothes.

An hour later, the storm abated enough to tempt me outside to feed. The horses, heads low and ears pinned, crab-walked over to their feed tubs, obviously unwilling to change angles against the wind. As usual, they knew what they were talking about. I'd only been outside five minutes when another wave of rain blew in. Lovely.

Several of the horses' summer-coated flanks were quivering with cold, so I threw them extra hay and added a scoop of Senior feed to Aaruba's beet pulp mash. Thank goodness for that soaked beet pulp -- it'll help keep Aaruba hydrated even though, in this chill, he won't be terribly interested in drinking.

Neither will I, come to that, unless the beverage in question happens to be hot, buttered rum. Perhaps I'll make some. After I find more dry clothes.

So ended my horse training plans for the evening. Tomorrow night is shot, too, as we need to pick up a load of (bloody expensive) hay. All the farmers I saw out swathing their first cuttings this morning now have scattered stems instead of windrows, which doesn't bode well for this year's prices.

*sigh* Sometimes, I hate spring. Summer. Whatever this is supposed to be.

On the bright side, Shannon (aka Mrs. Mom) at Oh HorseFeathers has bestowed upon The Barb Wire a gift that lifted my day from utter despair: The Horse Care Tips award (originally created by Callie of MidWestHorse.) Thanks, Shannon! Drop by anytime --I'll share my rum with you.

Stay tuned for links to the next Horse Care Tips award recipients!

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Monday, May 19, 2008

That's All, Folks!: Final Conditioning for Our First LD

Aaruba and I are done conditioning for his first LD, which will take place next Sunday. After his usual Monday and Tuesday off work, we'll go for a few short (4-6 mile) jogs to keep him sane and loose, but I won't make any attempt to whip him into better shape before the race. Doing so would be useless at best and damaging at worst.

As I understand it, equine bodies respond more slowly to conditioning efforts than human bodies do; that is, it takes about a week for the effects of a workout to impact a horse's performance, whereas humans demonstrate physiological change in just a few days. So, any last-ditch attempts at additional conditioning would be pointless and possibly counterproductive.

Thanks to a misunderstanding with Google Earth, my intended 15-mile Sunday ride turned into a 20-miler. My plan was to ride 6 miles to the BLM land access. Then, I'd follow a gravel road into BLM land, around a short loop, and back out for the 6 miles home. It was a nice plan. Too bad it didn't work.

By the time I'd driven a bucket of water out to the BLM land and hidden it behind a clump of sagebrush, tacked up, and decked Aaruba out with four Easyboot Bares, it was 11:00 and temperatures were climbing toward the 90 degree high for the day. Fortunately, Aaruba is mostly shed out for the season, but our average highs at this time of year are around 75 degrees, and this was to be only his third ride in any kind of heat.

All the same, it was apparent by the end of our second mile that Aaruba was in full-on rocketship mode (I've increased his feed lately, still working to get a few more pounds on him) and ready to roll. He trotted out strong and sure in his hoof boots, and it was nice not to have to worry about stray gravel when we crossed pavement.

Our first five miles were pretty flat, but as we approached the BLM land, we hit the hills. Aaruba trotted up happily and would have loved to trot down the other sides as well. He's a fantastic downhill horse, and his smoothness and balance will come in handy for making time at future races, but downhill trotting is too hard on his joints to be allowed in daily conditioning. So, despite his protests, I reined him in.

We stopped at our hidden water bucket half a mile up the BLM road, but Aaruba wasn't interested. Three minutes later, I was back aboard as he powered up a hill that went on...and on...and on. You know the kind of hill -- it makes you think you're nearly at the top, but when you get there, you find only a brief, slight downhill followed by another upgrade. Several times, I demanded that Aaruba walk a short stretch, but whenever I offered to let him trot again, he bounded along like the Energizer bunny.

Covered in dust and sweat, we passed a few hunters, families, and rednecks out for a day's target practice or varmint shooting. Basque shepherds, with their living-quarter trailers and Great Pyranees, stood among vast flocks. A gentleman with a strong, Eastern European accent that I couldn't identify slowed his Jeep to ask whether I'd seen a loose paint horse. The sun, now past its zenith, sizzled overhead.

Half an hour later, we were still climbing The Hill That Never Ends, with no sign of the loop I'd seen on Google Earth. I decided we'd crest one more hill, just to see what we could see. Guess what we found... Another hill!

So, we turned around. I was surprised to find that The Hill That Never Ends is also The Hill That's Uphill Both Ways. Okay, there was a bit more downgrade on the return trip, so I spent some time running at Aaruba's side. Despite the heat and hills, he was still all pricked ears, arched neck, and flagging tail.

Back at our hidden water bucket, he drank a few swallows and consented to crop a few mouthfuls of drying grass while circling impatiently at the end of his lead rope. He was already pulsed down to 60 when I checked him shortly after dismounting, and obviously wasn't keen to hang around, so after a 10-minute break, we carried on toward home. (I took these photos while hoping he'd settle down and drink more.)

Posting along, I tried to estimate our total distance. I knew we'd been trotting out more and faster than usual on a long ride, but those downhill walks and occasional uphill walk-breaks would have slowed us down. Maybe 18 miles?

We trotted most of the last mile toward home, then walked up the steep hill to our driveway and punched a total time of 3:16 including our 15 minutes of rest breaks. Aaruba's heart rate was at 78, so I gave him a big drink, untacked him, and hosed him down while waiting for it to drop. Thirteen minutes after stopping exercise, he'd pulsed down to 60.

Given the unseasonably hot weather and trot/climb toward home, I was satisfied with his recovery. However, the same pulse-down time at an actual LD would have disqualified us, as we'd be require to pulse down within 10 minutes (though not necessarily to 60 bpm). Of course, I'd have come in more slowly at an actual ride, but all the same, this experience of failing to pulse-down in time will serve as a good lesson for me.

Aaruba trotted out sound and passed his CRI at 60/58. However, upon removing his hind hoof boots, I found a miniscule rub at the back of one, hind heel bulb. It's an insignificant wound at this point, but certainly has the potential to become an issue. (I have hope that the rubbing can be eliminated by trimming the heel strap, which Easycare, Inc. declares will not damage the structural integrity of the boot.)

I checked his pulse once more -- still dropping -- then released him in the grassy compound to roll and graze while Travis and I drove out to collect our water bucket. We clocked the total ride distance at 19.75 miles. That makes for an overall average speed 6.1 mph. Take out the rest stops, and we averaged 6.7 mph. Not bad for nearly 20 miles on a hot day, with no real holds.

Unless the terrain is quite flat, we're unlikey to go quite that fast at next weekend's competition. We're just going for the experience, not to race, and I'll be happy with a 5-6 mph pace. I don't think I over-rode Aaruba yesterday, but this early in his conditioning, there's no need for him to go too far, too fast, too often. All the same, it's nice to know he can.

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I wrote in this post about suspending training in strong winds...but sometimes, the conditioning must go on. Here's what Aaruba thought of last night's weather:

To reach a port we must sail,

sometimes with the wind,

and sometimes against it.

But we must not drift or lie at anchor.

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Heart in My Hands: Gentling the Unhandled Horse

If you've read back to my early posts on The Barb Wire blog, you know the story of how our Barb horses came to In the Night Farm. You may remember that most of our original Barbs came to us as two or three year olds that had never been touched by human hands.

By now, many of our Barbs are in various stages of training -- one is started under saddle, and another is only weeks away. But Sandstorm, the lovely mare whose photo graces our banner, remains in the early stages of gentling.

Back in the Quien Sabe days, when Sandstorm was just two (the age at which this photo was taken), her short back, long legs, and astonishing trot caught my eye. Sired by Lancelot, a small but tough and tractable stallion recovered from the wild in his early teens, Sandstorm is by far the most timid of our Barbs. Early on, I nearly despaired of ever succeeding with her because she was so reactive to even the smallest threat.

I knew, however, that we'd need to get her at least to the point of accepting hoof trimming and deworming while restrained in a squeeze chute. A week's work on touching her from a distance, using a lunge whip to scratch her withers and stroke down her legs, led to calm sessions in the squeeze chute. Travis and I rubbed her neck and sides until her trembling ceased, then desensitized her to the tug of ropes around her legs.

Two days later, still in the squeeze chute but no longer terrified, she was offering her hooves for trimming at slightest cue. It was then that I realized I had a treasure on my hands -- an intelligent and extremely sensitive horse whose trust would be hard to win, but who would do anything for me once we crossed that invisible line.

Unfortunately, a move and related lack of training facilities, followed by a year of time-consuming work with other horses, delayed Sandstorm's continued gentling until this spring. Yesterday evening, with Aaruba, Consolation, and Acey all taking the day off, I opened Sandstorm's paddock gate and drove her into the round corral. (The training compound here at In the Night Farm is set up for working with unhandled horses; that is, each paddock opens into a square compound with the round corral at its center. This arrangement enables us to run any horse into the round corral with no need for halter and lead.)

I moved Sandstorm off around the corral, admiring her gaits and dreaming of the day I'll take her down the endurance trail. Her attention riveted on me almost immediately. She obviously remembered previous training sessions in which she discovered that the easiest place to be is beside me, being touched.

I drew her in to halt facing me, then approached her slowly, shoulders relaxed and gaze soft. She quivered when I touched her shoulder, but stood her ground. Then, I lifted my other hand to stroke her neck. She leaped away, snorting and tucking her hindquarters as if chased by a dominant mare. Poor Sandstorm -- I'd been working with my more advanced horses so long that I neglected to move with the fluidity necessary to an ungentled horse, each action flowing into the next, never lifting hand from hide, stepping close, breathing deep, centered and weightless as though the two of us floated together in water or space.

I circled her back and started again, touching her first with one hand, then sliding the other palm down my own arm and under her mane. I stroked and scratched, speaking with body instead of voice, good girl, brave girl, baby girl, my girl. She stood, first trembling, then still, then calm.

But I wanted more than acceptance of my presence. I wanted Sandstorm to find real benefit in staying at my side -- not merely cessation of work, but genuine pleasure. So I searched, exploring with fingertips from chest to tailhead. At last I found it -- the itchy spot just down from her poll, the one that made her twist her neck and grimace and release the shuddering sigh of a prey animal that is safe in the will of a benevolent leader, cradled by mutual kindness and respect.

I hope to work with Sandstorm more in the coming weeks, hope my schedule allows. The mare behind those eyes is special, and I can see she's waiting, waiting for me to carry her to the place that she can begin to carry me.

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Monday, May 12, 2008

25 Miles and All's Well

Yesterday, Aaruba and I completed our first 25-mile ride.

It wasn't a sanctioned ride, but rather a conditioning effort recommended by the Southeast Endurance Rider's Association. The SERA conditioning article, which you can also find via a link from the AERC website, suggests doing at least one 25-mile ride in the third month of conditioning, before participating in an LD. As the Owyhee Fandango is coming up on May 25, the time had come for me and Aaruba to give it a try.

I used Google Earth to plot our course. Our first lap took us 13.5 miles, up and down some long, moderate hills, and past a feedlot. Though the feedlot residents were not carniverous cows from Planet Horseflesh (those are black), Aaruba still suspected their troughs were full of blood and tail hair. So, I jogged him that quarter mile in hand.

I miscalculated as we circled back toward home for a 45-minute hold, cantering a little too near the end. As a result, I had to wait 3 minutes for Aaruba's heart rate to drop to 60 bpm so we could "time in." I tied him to the trailer with water and hay, untacked him, then headed inside for a much-needed potty break and a handful of peanuts. Aaruba drank a little, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. So, I hand-grazed him on fresh, young grass to get some moisture and forage into him.

Before tacking back up, we did a CRI, which Aaruba passed easily. I was glad to have done it, too, because he was so pokey for the first few miles of our second loop that I would have worried, had I not double-checked his recovery. I had to really work to keep him trotting for the first few miles. (I don't think this will be a problem at real rides, when we're in a new and exciting place, but we'll see.) He sped up after about 4 miles, though I could tell he was getting a little weary and let him snatch bites of grass as we rode.

By mile 20, water had become a real need. Aaruba, who normally trots unless I ask him to walk, now needed me to actually request a trot. We were surrounded by the form of irrigation canals and ditches, which could be contaminated with agricultural chemicals. (What's the expression? Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink?) Finally, we came to a ditch full of what I judged to be the cleanest water around. Aaruba tanked up so much that I could feel his ribcage expand between my knees. Ten minutes later, his energy was back in full measure and we timed in immeditely, right on 60 bpm.

We finished in 5 hours, 10 minutes including our 45 minute hold, and I calculated our average speed over the ride (which actually totaled 25.4 miles) at 5.7 mph. This was fast enough to earn us a completion at a real LD, for which the maximum time limit is 6 hours, but slow enough to make me worry that we wouldn't complete if rough terrain slowed us down much more.

We certainly didn't hurry on this ride -- I was being conservative since we're only in Aaruba's third month of conditioning -- but I don't think he could have gone faster on the second lap without more opportunity to drink. In the future, I'll set out buckets at strategic locations on our route; at real rides, this will be done for us.

After a final trot out, during which Aaruba demonstrated that he had plenty of bounce to spare, and a positive CRI, I released Aaruba in his paddock to roll, eat, and nap. A couple times since then, I've seen him rest his near forehoof on its toe for a moment before moving off, but he shows no sign of lameness at the walk or trot. Perhaps he's just muscle sore; I'll keep an eye on it over the next few days, which he'll have off work.

Next weekend, our long ride will drop back down to 15 miles, and workouts later that week will taper off in anticipation of our first real ride. I can't decide whether I'm more nervous or excited!
Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Travel and Triumph

I couldn't be more pleased.

We hauled Aaruba to the Eagle Extreme endurance ride today. The 50-mile and LD entrants were well into their rides by the time we arrived around 9:30, having started from home a few minutes late because, despite hours of practice, Aaruba remains very suspicious of the horse trailer. Our arrival time didn't matter, of course, since we'd only signed up for the 10-mile trail ride.

We chose a parking spot off to one side of the ride camp, which nestled in a valley among the Boise foothills. Aaruba hopped out of the trailer all eyes and ears, but well under control as I walked him around for a few minutes, then tied him to the trailer and saddled up.

We weren't three miles into the ride before I knew for sure that he likes this sport as much as I do. Forward and full of air, he could hardly wait to see what was around the next corner or atop the next hill. And steep hills they were, too! The combination of dirt roads and single-track trails wound us up and down amid the sand and sagebrush. Overhead, raptors sailed like kites on the wind, and blue ribbons marking our trail fluttered in the brush.

We passed several other riders, most of them doing endurance or LD and going in the opposite direction. Aaruba carried on eagerly, showing no dismay at leaving the other horses, drinking at each galvanized trough along the way.

We walked the sharper grades and trotted level spots and less daunting hills for a total time of 1:53, which equals 11.3 minutes per mile and 5.3 miles per hour. I was aiming for 5-6 mph because that's the pace I have in mind for our first LD on May 25. Considering the hilly terrain, I'm happy with today's time.

Travis met us by the vet check area as we came in. "Aaruba thought that was the best thing ever," I told him.

Aaruba wasn't the only one.

We hung out near the vet check for a while, letting Aaruba take in the new sights. He was quite undisturbed by the proceedings. During an idle moment, one of the ride vets did a practice cardiac recovery index (CRI) for us. He calculated Aaruba's heart rate at 42 bpm, then we trotted a hundred feet away and back. One minute after stopping, Aaruba's heart rate was once again at 42 bpm, indicating that he was neither tired nor in pain.

Though officially fit to continue, we were at the end of our ride for the day. Back at the trailer, we ate a quinoa salad and chatted with a rider from Oregon who had pulled because her 18 year old, veteran endurance horse wasn't doing quite right. Aaruba stood peaceably by the trailer, snacking on hay.

Nothing could have iced the cake better than having Aaruba load quietly for the trip home. He was still a bit nervous, but our ride seemed to have taken the worst of the tension out of him and he rode home peaceably.

Did I mention that I couldn't be more pleased?

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ride Camp for Dummies

This Saturday, the Eagle Extreme endurance ride is being held less than an hour's drive from In the Night Farm. In addition to the usual 50-mile endurance ride and 25-mile LD, they're offering a 10-mile pleasure ride. A lot of ride managers around here include these trail rides because they're a good way to introduce more people to our sport. In my case, the trail ride is a perfect opportunity to introduce Aaruba to the hustle and bustle of ride camp without the pressure of being an official LD entrant.

Trail riders can't start until after 9:00 a.m., when the endurance and LD riders are long gone, so we'll haul Aaruba over Saturday morning rather than spending the night. He hates trailering despite many hours of loading and unloading practice, so that could be an adventure all by itself. Upon arrival, we'll take our time introducing him to the camp atmosphere, then tack up and do the 10 miles like any other training ride.


Aaruba is smart, but he can also be very emotional. I have no idea how he'll react to the unfamiliar surroundings, strange horses, and miscellaneous noisemakers like generators and 4-wheelers. It would be like him to take these things in stride. It would also be like him to jump out of his skin and zip around naked on the end of his lead rope, eyes dancing on springs three inches out of his skull...especially if there are any carnivorous cows from Planet Horseflesh in the vicinity.

So, you can see why I want to do a trial run. Travis and I are bound to learn a few things so we can better prepare for the Owyhee Fandango LD, which is only a few weeks away. Wish us luck!

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Monday, May 5, 2008

And Miles to Go Before I Sleep

I spent the last day of my twenties exactly as I hope the spend the last day of my next decade, and the one after that, and the one after that...and, God willing, even more. I rode twenty miles, put the sixth ride on a green mare, and took an even greener mare for her first long walk across the countryside.

Aaruba and I covered our 20 miles in two sections. After the first, 12-mile loop, we stopped by In the Night Farm for a mock hold. Our first Limited Distance race is coming up on May 25, so I'm taking every opportunity to get him accustomed to spending time tied to the trailer, eating and drinking from strange vessels and staying tacked up when he'd rather have a nice roll.

He's also learning that coming home doesn't always mean we're done for the day. Aaruba protested only a little as we started our second loop, and he finished the last 8 miles in good form. His pulse was down to 56 bpm when I dis- mounted, even though our last quarter mile took us up a rather steep hill.

The afternoon was warm -- approaching hot! -- so I hosed him off while he grazed, then turned him loose in the sandy round corral for a roll. Hopefully, he'll have cleaned himself up before our next workout on Wednesday!

After a quick lunch, I headed back outside to work with Consolation and Acey. Consolation and I took a peaceful, 2-mile walk around the nearby fields, where she is rapidly becoming a horse I'm willing to ride.

Back in the round corral, I climbed aboard for her sixth ride. She's gaining confidence now, walking out better and learning to go forward, straight and steady. We even trotted...and wow, is she smooth! I'm looking forward to my first 20-miler on that mare.

After putting Consolation away, I talked my aching feet into another 2-mile walk, this time with Acey. It was, by far, the longest trip she's ever taken from the farm. I'm proud to say that she stuck right with me, calm and confident, her bay coat lovely in the evening sun.

Travis and I are taking today off for my birthday. I'm not sure what "day off" means, exactly, but it sounds nice when he describes it. We'll go to town and poke around garden nurseries and tack shops, maybe pick up another couple Aracaunas and a new toy for Wyrsa. A plate of Mexican food seems to be in order, and I stayed up late last night making Ruby Rapid Rhubarb in lieu of a cake.

Life is good.

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Break out the Caramel Corn

May 1 is carnival day! Trot on over to Hoofbeats to check out Carnival of the Horses, where you can enjoy posts submitted by a variety of equestrian bloggers, including yours truly.

Your daily vote for The Barb Wire is appreciated! Please click the button below to vote: