Friday, September 26, 2008

And We're Off!

It's a pleasure to be on our way with your well-wishes ringing in our ears. See you after Canyonlands, my friends!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Details, Details

Looking for the actual ride story? Click here!

The 2008 Owyhee Canyonlands Pioneer started yesterday. Alas, I spent the day in front of a crowded meeting room, trussed up in a suit and heels, earning a living while all those other riders were out there living! Ah well, Saturday will come...and next year, between Aaruba and Consolation, I'll do some multi-day rides myself.

This year, I'll ride on Saturday, then stick around to volunteer on Sunday. The ever-organized folks in Oreana have posted trail maps for each day's ride at, giving me plenty of opportunity to examine the Day 4 map. It seems that Aaruba's and my 55-mile race will consist of a 17-mile loop, then 22, then 16. All holds will be in camp, which is a blessing because I'll be riding crewless unless some generous soul steps in. (Somebody? Anybody??)

Aaruba will have company this time, in the form of Consolation. I hope her presence will help him settle instead of pacing and banging around in his pen like he usually does, but my primary motivation for bringing Consolation is that she's on her way to becoming my next endurance mount. This will be an excellent opportunity for her to experience ridecamp without the stress of competition. I might even be bold enough to ride her around a bit.

For weather, we're looking at classic Idaho autumn: sunny days with highs in the low 80's, and nights in the mid-40's. This is good news for those of us without the luxery of living quarters in our horse trailers! I don't fancy waking up with frost on my sleeping bag like I did the second morning at Old Selam. As a bonus, we're almost down to a new moon; the stars should be spectacular.

Is it Saturday yet?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shot in the Dark: Solitude

By all means use sometimes to be alone.
Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear.

~ George Herbert

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Speed and Special Delivery: Stonewall Saddle Pads are Here!

Eight or ten miles, I thought after yesterday's storm. We'll shoot for 7.5 miles per hour. Just a nice, easy ride on a cloudy afternoon.

Aaruba, however, had other ideas. He was so fresh and frisky after 9 miles that instead of turning left toward home, we went straight across the road with the intention of adding another 3 miles.

At mile 10, I decided to turn right instead of left, adding an additional 4 miles.

At mile 16, we finished several miles of uphill trotting with energy to spare, so we blew through another intersection and hand galloped to the crest of the hill before trotting the rest of the way home. All told, our intended easy ride turned into a 19 miler at nearly 9 miles per hour, with no breaks -- and not until the last 2 miles did Aaruba's energy level decrease enough that I felt like riding one-handed.

Delighted with his Aaruba's fitness and pleased to have our last long ride before Owyhee Canyonlands out of the way, I was even more thrilled discover a package from Stonewall Saddle Company awaiting my return. Inside were a pair of the new Stonewall saddle pads I've been eager to try.

You may recall that Aaruba suffered a bit of skin soreness near his loin during his first 50 mile race at Old Selam last month. This seemed to have resulted from the motion of his 5-Star wool saddle pad (the red one in the photo above), which at 1 inch is considerably thicker than Stonewall recommends.

The felted wool Stonewall pads are a mere 3/8 inch thick (they'll also be available in 1/2 inch) and are shaped specifically for Stonewall endurance saddles, leaving most of the horse uncovered to aid in heat dissipation during distance work. The saddle's conformal foam lining provides the microfitting that renders a pad all but unnecessary for anything beyond keeping the saddle clean. Jackie Fenaroli at Stonewall suggests that I start endurance races with two, thin pads, then remove one during a hold. This will not only put dry wool against Aaruba's skin, but it will change the angle of the saddle very slightly, reducing fatigue during the second half of the ride.

Note: The pads in these photos are prototypes, so they're not trimmed out like they'll be when they're actually on the market. I already love the unique, minimalist style!

In experimenting with the Stonewall pads on both Aaruba and Consolation, I discovered that not only did my saddle fit better with the thinner pad(s), but I was able to adjust the rigging to further reduce "saddle wagging" at the loin, even when trotting downhill. Oh, and Stonewall is working on a option for attaching a pad to the saddle. I'm all for having one fewer thing to carry!

One more thing: Be sure to check out Stonewall's new website for photo-illustrated details of their saddles' history and construction!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

September Storm

I woke to the drum of rain on skylights, bursting thunder, a gust of wind through windows thrown wide to the tang of sage in a desert deluge. The old count-the-seconds method indicated that the storm was still a few miles away. By the time I got outside to feed, however, lightning and thunder crashed one upon the other, loud and bright as explosions in the gray dawn.

The Barbs, calm and hardy as always, dug into their meal with gusto, seemingly oblivious to the storm but for their ears held low to repel the rain. Aaruba, however, skittered away from his hay and back again, shivering with cold and nerves. Rivulets of water streamed from his soaked coat and down his legs. I decided that, wet though he was, he'd be better off with a blanket than without one.

I rarely blanket my horses, preferring instead to let nature prepare them for the seasons as they come. Occasionally, however, a storm like this demands more protection than Aaruba can manage alone. I fetched his breathable, waterproof rain sheet and strapped it on. Ideally, a layer of fleece underneath would have helped him dry, but Aaruba dislikes blankets at the best of times and I wasn't keen to distress him further. Besides, the ambient temperature was a comfortable 60 degrees, and the rain was pounding down so hard that I figured the fleece would be soaked before it touched his back.

Aaruba was sufficiently chilled that I knew I'd need to warm him up a bit under the blanket before leaving him to his breakfast. So, we amazed the neighbors by going for a walk in the raging storm, up and down the nearest hill until Aaruba could stand and graze without shivering so hard his knees trembled. Already soaked to the skin, I stayed with him for another ten minutes of grazing (there's nothing like wet grass to keep a horse hydrated and colic-free when he's tense) before returning him to his pen, still blanketed, with plenty of hay to get his intestines busy producing heat as they processed and fermented the roughage.

Five hours later, the rain has stopped and the clouds have broken enough to let an occasional wash of sunshine draw water from the horses' coats as steam. Aaruba is warm and content, glad to have his blanket removed and hung in the shower to dry, pleased for an excuse to get alfalfa in addition to his usual hay.

Perhaps we'll even get a ride in later.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Stocking Trick (Or, Aaruba Dresses in Drag)

Kim over at Enlightened Horsemanship recently asked for details about using stockings to prevent pastern rubs from Easyboot gaiters. I owe her one for her recent post about using TTouch to assist a colicking horse, so here it is: The Stocking Trick.

If you call EasyCare Inc's wonderful customer service department to ask advice about gaiter rubs, the first thing they'll ask is whether you've tightened the gaiters as much as possible. This, according to the instruction booklet, should prevent rubs. I assume that is true for most horses, but it doesn't work for Aaruba. I have eliminated most of his gaiter rubbing problems by simply riding with looser-than-recommended gaiters.

The inside of Aaruba's right front pastern, however, insists upon suffering frequent gaiter rubs. So, I've moved to the second line of defense recommended by EasyCare: nylon stockings. The idea is simply to put a thin, slippery layer between the gaiter and the horse's skin, allowing the gaiter to slide over the nylon instead of rubbing the skin raw.

Start by cleaning the hoof. Then, slip a nylon stocking over the hoof and up the cannon just as if you were putting it on your own foot. Then, put the hoof boot on as usual. For really long rides, I sometimes use two stockings per hoof; however, the extra width makes the hoof boots harder to get on, whereas a single layer of nylon makes it easier.

Fasten the gaiter as usual, then fold the stocking down over the gaiter so it can't slip down the horse's pastern. (And so your horse isn't embarassed.)

Note for the guys: Nylon stockings are usually sold near womens shoes and socks. At a large grocery store, you might find some on the toiletry aisle. They're sometimes called "knee-highs," and they're usually one-size-fits-all. Some come with a reinforced toe, which is helpful but not necessary. If you can stomach a trip to Walmart, you can pick up a baggie of 10 stockings for about $2.00. Anywhere else, expect to pay at least $5.00 for 8 or 10 stockings.

Though a single use will completely demolish a stocking, I've been pleasantly surprised by how well the things hold up in rugged terrain. The only problem I've had is sand, particulary when combined with water. Sand can go over the top of the gaiter and get trapped in the nylon. If your hoof boot is properly fitted, this won't be a problem for the hoof, but you may need to dig sand out of the stockings occasionally. Don't worry about this overmuch; Aaruba and I made a lot of sandy water crossings at Old Selam, and the sand around his pasterns didn't chafe even over fifty miles of trail.

And there you have it -- one of the few problems in life that can be solved quickly, simply, and cheaply. Don't get used to it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Connecting the Dots: Breakthroughs in Horse Training

Those of you who have followed The Barb Wire for some time know that Consolation has been a challenge to train -- not because she's stupid or spooky; on the contrary, Consolation is quite the self-possessed lady. As such, it's been hard to convince her that between the two of us, I'm in charge.

Our latest (and longest) struggle has been over her reluctance to leave the farm. Months ago, we conquered the associated fear. What has lingered is an abiding desire to be home rather than away, presiding over her herd instead of exploring with me. This has led to many a tedious lesson in which we walk down the road, then back past the driveway and a few hundred feet in the opposite direction, back and forth, up and down, dragging her feet away from home, turning back only when directed, finally ending with ten or twenty minutes of trotting and lateral work in the round corral. Lessons like this, though critical for some horses, are not what makes me get up on the morning.

Yesterday, I spent half an hour commiserating with a friend who is struggling with the very same issue in her green mare. We considered forming a club -- the Recalcitrant Mare Owners of America -- for support. It was, at least, comforting to know that other competent trainers don't have perfect horses, either.

Besides, distantly regal or downright rebellious as she can sometimes be, Consolation and I have our moments of intimacy. Just yesterday morning, I found her caught in the fence when I went outside to feed at daybreak. She stood calmly, surveying me with her lovely, liquid eyes, as I evaluated the situation. Though unhurt, she was tangled sufficiently that wire clipping seemed the easiest way to get her loose. As Travis snipped the wire, she flinched but held steady with my hand upon her neck. Moments later, she stepped free, stiff enough to let me know she'd waited several hours for help.

Times like that tell me I've done a good job with a horse. Consolation didn't panic, but gave to pressure. She stood calmly while I, by all appearances a predator, examined her entangled legs. Once free, she waited to move until given permission, and she did so with her wits about her. All those hours of trust-building, those surges of admiration for the lovely way she moves, lesson after tedious lesson when all I could offer her was quiet firmness and consistency...all these things in the hope that one day, our many points of contact would meld into a miracle, like connecting the dots in a children's activity book to discover a hidden picture.

Yesterday, I saddled Consolation by the golden glow of late afternoon and directed her once more out the driveway. And it happened: She offered to trot.

I was so surprised that I pulled her back to a walk immediately, which was in any case the right thing to do. Energy is always welcome, but gait changes should happen only on command. As soon as my brain caught up with events, however, I asked for a trot and Consolation sprang forward. This was no hustle-forward-under-duress, but a full-on, honest-to-goodness, let's-go-see-the-world trot!

Almost a mile later, we were still going. Sure, we'd stalled to eye a few new sights, weaved a bit like drunken sailors as she explored the possibility of turning back, but we were moving forward! Happily! For the first time on a trail ride with Consolation, I was actually having fun!

If there's one thing I've learned about training horses, it's this: Don't press your luck. Get done while the getting's good. Quit while you're ahead.

And so, during a particularly joyous stretch of eager trotting, I slowed Consolation and turned her toward home. We walked a bit but trotted more, so well under control that I was free to revel in the smoothest trot I've ever had the pleasure to sit.

You know, I could deal with fifty miles of that.

Related Posts

Breaking Free: Training the Herdbound Horse

Where To, Ma'am: First Trail Ride on a Green Horse

Thinking it Through: Training Horses as Individuals

Moving Out: Increasing Speed and Confidence on the Trail


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Monday, September 15, 2008

Back in Business

Time flies when you have the flu!

Already we're just two weeks away from the Owyhee Canyonlands ride in Oreana, which will be Aaruba's and my last for the year. After a ten-day rest following our first 50-mile race at Old Selam, which coincided most convinently with my flu-induced down time, Aaruba is back on the conditioning trail. Now that his gastric ulcers have resolved, he's gained both weight and energy. Yesterday, he covered 14 hilly miles with such exuberence that I was quite glad to have worked him for 20 minutes in the round corral before saddling up!

I've returned to under saddle work with Consolation as well. Truth be told, I'm a bit alarmed by the amount of work I have yet to do with her this year, and already her coat is thickening for chilly autumn nights. One thing after another has delayed her training so that I'm not much further along now than I was a month ago. On the other hand, Aaruba was at a similar stage this time last year. We'll just keep at it...

Meanwhile, I'm ground driving Acey to build her confidence before getting serious about riding her. Sandstorm and Tuetano await further gentling. Insider could use some handling, if for nothing more than to engage his mind. The two year olds' primary job at the moment is to simply eat and grow up, but they too require periodic tune-ups. It's a bit overwhelming, truth be told.

And, on top of it all, another of my passions has surfaced. I try not to think about writing fiction during horse training season because writing, like training, is time consuming and mentally exhausting. But as others who are compelled to write will understand, a novel sometimes demands to be written. It grabs an author by the shoulders and shakes him senseless. He must comply.

I'm going to start a petition for the establishment of 36-hour days. Would you care to sign?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Cute Couple

Insider is having a good day.

In fact, he's in for a good few months. He and Sandstorm will be sharing a paddock for the foreseeable future.

For the foreseeable future? Certainly! It may not be the usual practice these days, but I can't think of a way to keep a stallion happier than to let him have a companion. Some, like Tuetano, get along with certain geldings -- in fact, our Tuetano and Crackerjack co-exist quite nicely. Many, including Insider, are quite civil and content in the presence of a bred mare.

Like many breeders, we at In the Night Farm are taking care to avoid a surplus of unwanted foals in these tight economic times. Luckily for Insider, an individual commissioned this breeding, which will lead to our only 2009 foal. We're expecting a winner!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shot in the Dark: Friendship

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it's the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


Related Posts
Countdown to Old Selam
Once Upon a Horse: The Story of Old Selam
Off to the Races
It's Official: We Do Endurance!
The First of Many! 50 Miles at Old Selam

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The First of Many!: 50 Miles at Old Selam

I slept well, considering it was the eve of the race I'd waited years to ride. My first 50!

Still, when my alarm went off at 5:30 Sunday morning, I was already lying awake on my cot inside the horse trailer, listening to distant thunder and Aaruba's growing restlessness as raindrops dappled his blanket and neck. I pulled my riding clothes -- which felt at least as cold as the 34 degree air -- into the warm confines of my sleeping bag and struggled into them. My boots were colder still, but I was far too busy ticking off my pre-ride to-do list to care.

First: Feed Aaruba. He wasn't interested in hay, but that didn't worry me as I'd heard him munching consistently throughout the night. He deigned to consume a couple pounds of Equine Senior before resuming the nervous pacing of his pen.

Second: Feed self. I munched half a bagal with peanut butter while trying unsuccessfully to discourage Aaruba's pacing.

Third: Apply Easyboots. Normally, Travis does this for me, but he was home with the flu. I grabbed a hoof pick, a handful of nylon stockings, and a boot. Slipping two stockings over Aaruba's off hind hoof to help prevent gaiter rubbing, I went to work.

It was a bit like trying to stuff a very squirmy anvil into one of those plastic Easter eggs, but by the time my friend Jennifer arrived at 6:30, I'd progressed to the second hind boot. I panted a greeting and resumed my wresting match with Aaruba's foot. By the time I continued to the more-cooperative front boots, I'd shed four layers of clothing, all the way down to a tank top in the dawn twilight. On the bright side, the rain had stopped.
At 7:00, both ridecamp and Aaruba were wide awake, and I was immensely grateful to have Jennifer handy to mix electrolytes, then hold Aaruba while I finished tacking up for the 7:30 start. She also got out her camera and started snapping.

As usual, Aaruba calmed down the moment I swung astride. We checked in with the ride officials, then paced up and down with the other riders, warming up and waiting for the trail to open. Knowing Aaruba's tendency to be competitive, I made sure he and I were headed away from the starting line when 7:30 arrived and most of the horses took off. No racing today -- he'd need that energy later.

We set off once the leaders were well out of sight, but alas, my plan was thwarted by a U-turn at the very beginning of the loop. The moment Aaruba saw the herd ahead, his race brain kicked into high gear and I had a battle on my hands. He snorted fire when I refused to let him trot like a maniac over the rocky terrain, and as a few more riders came up from behind as we circled, he became so agitated that I dismounted and led him almost a mile up the trail before he quieted.

Finally, he settled enough to stand while I tied my jacket behind the saddle and re-mounted. Now quite alone, we tackled the trail at a brisk trot, climbing gradually up the mountain on old logging roads with excellent footing, slowing to conserve energy on the steepest parts. When we reached a long downhill, we let loose a bit to make up some time. An excellent downhill trotter, Aaruba flew along so quickly I feared we'd catch up with the horses ahead, but the only soul we happened upon was the ride photographer. Steve Bradley had set up shop in a meadow bathed in yellow sunlight. He snapped our picture and waved us along with a cheerful, "Have a good ride!" (You can see proofs of his shots on his website; we're number OS82057 and OS82058 on Day 2.)

We carried on, alternating walking and trotting, stopping for an occasional mouthful of grass as we climbed up a long hill, then down again to a narrow creek where Aaruba drank deeply.
Just over the creek was the section of trail we'd been warned of at the ride meeting: A couple hundred feet of rather narrow, very steep uphill made slick by the passage of many ATV tires. The sides of the trail offered more crumbly footing, but also tangled shrubs that I feared would catch an Easyboot. I pointed Aaruba up the center of the trail and grabbed mane. He plunged upward in a series of powerful leaps.
Halfway up, he drifted to the right as if to ask, "Are you sure, Mom?" (Or maybe it was, "Lady, are you nuts??") A touch of the rein set him straight, and he motored on, bumping my heels with his stifles as I crouched in two-point to free his back as much as possible.

We crested the hill in a surge of adrenaline that powered him along yet another logging road, this one freshly scarred by heavy machinery, then through a long and scenic stretch that I thought must be leading us back toward camp. I estimated we'd averaged 6.5 or 7 mph, and a glance at my watch told me we should finish the 20-mile loop at about 10:30. Sure enough, it was 10:25 when we finally caught up with another rider as she crossed the paved road that told us we were less than half a mile from camp. We rode in together, and Aaruba pulsed down exactly 180 minutes from the start. "Number 510, in at 10:30, out at 11:15!"

We vetted through with all A's except for an A- on gut sounds, which seems to be typical for Aaruba, then headed to the trailer. I removed his bridle and interference boots and left him in his pen with a pan of soaked beet pulp, a flake of alfalfa, and Jennifer (to keep him from rolling with his saddle on) while I ate a banana and mixed another dose of electrolytes. By the time I'd checked Aaruba's pasterns for gaiter rubs -- none! -- and emptied out the sand that had collected in his stockings, it was time to tighten the girth and go.

We were a couple minutes late out of the hold, but no matter. I figured we were already in last place, and besides, we had nothing to prove. All I wanted was to complete the race with a healthy, happy horse.
Aaruba loved the early part of the 18-mile loop, a bit of technical singletrack that bounded up and over a series of short, sharp hills as it swooped down to the creek and up again, finally spilling us onto a wide road of decomposed granite that led up, up, up toward the clouds that billowed dark on the jagged horizon.

A chilly wind swept us along the trail and I wondered if I shouldn't have abandoned my jacket at the trailer after all. But as we kept climbing, mostly up and a little down, the exercise of riding kept me warm. About halfway through the loop, Aaruba's energy seemed to flag. No wonder -- we'd already covered more miles than he'd ever done before! Still, I knew were were just over halfway, so I dismounted to run with Aaruba. By taking the lead for a while, I hoped to give him a mental break as much as a physical one.

We'd been on Loop 2 for almost two hours when I heard female voices drifting on the wind. Several more minutes passed before Aaruba and I rounded a bend just in time to glimpse a pair of horses on the trail ahead. Aaruba perked up at once. He clearly had plenty of gas left in the tank, and we caught up with the other riders in short order. They were taking it easy because their horses had completed the Day 1 50 as well, so rode with them only briefly before trotting on ahead.

Soon, a sign on a paper plate informed us we were one mile from camp. Only a mile? We were ahead of schedule! Aaruba seemed to sense my excitement. He hustled down the last bit of trail, paused for a long drink at the first water tank he saw, then walked on to the pulse down area. In at 1:43, out at 2:28, and all A's from the vet -- even gut sounds.

More hay and electrolytes for Aaruba and a plateful of barley salad for me, then it was back on the trail for the final 12 miles. A few horses were finishing the third loop as we started out, and their presence seemed to rekindle Aaruba's enthusiasm. Though we soon found ourselves quite alone again, he plowed along almost as though we were just starting the race. I found myself working to pace him, lest he burn himself out before the end.

Still, we tore through eight miles or so before the day's work seemed to catch up with him. I noticed that although he remained quite sound, he'd grown reluctant to trot downhill -- Tired muscles? Sore shoulders where the points of the saddle tree slid forward against them? -- so I either dismounted to jog down, or held him to a walk while descending slopes. I later discovered that his skin was a little sore from the motion of his saddle pad in the lumber region, a problem both quick to disappear and easy to remedy.
At 4:10, I promised Aaruba we'd be done in half an hour or less. Sure enough, it was 4:28 when we broke out into the rocky wash, crossed the creek once more, and headed for home. Jennifer was waiting with her camera as we approached the finish line, and the ride officials who knew it was our first 50 cheered as we trotted across. I didn't catch our exact finish time, but I think it was about 4:35, giving us a total ride time of 7:35 at an average speed of 6.7 mph. Perfect.

Even better, Dr. Washington (who, incidentally, was one of the vets involved with Aaruba's near-fatal impaction colic last October) marked all A's on Aaruba's completion exam. I couldn't have been prouder of my boy.

"So," Jennifer asked as we meandered back to the trailer. "How was it?"

"Easier than I expected," I said. "Guess I'll have to try for 100!"

And someday, I will.

Related Posts
Countdown to Old Selam
Once Upon a Horse: The Story of Old Selam
Off to the Races
It's Official: We Do Endurance!
Shot in the Dark: Friendship

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

It's Official: We Do Endurance!

Do we look happy? That's Aaruba and me approaching the finishing line at the 2008 Old Selam Endurance Ride for our first 50-mile completion. We did it! Stay tuned for the full story.

Related Posts
Countdown to Old Selam
Once Upon a Horse: The Story of Old Selam
Off to the Races
The First of Many! 50 Miles at Old Selam
Shot in the Dark: Friendship

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Subscribe to The Barb Wire

Photo by East End Portrait Photography.