Monday, March 28, 2016

Bunny Hop CTR 2016

Quest and I made our official debut as a distance riding team this past weekend.

Photo credit: Mike Turner
Going into the ride, I knew we were ready. Quest was ready. My biggest worry was the trail conditions though- the infamous and notorious flat, deep Pine Barrens sand. We train on packed dirt and gravel so Quest has never worked in sand. The original plan was to haul down for a training ride to get the horses used to the more challenging footing but unfortunately J and B had just gotten back from FITS endurance ride in Florida and so the haul down didn't happen. The forecast had called for rain though so fingers were crossed for firmer footing.

I woke up at 2:45am to get to the barn early enough to finish packing and load up at 4:45am. Quest hopped up on the trailer like an old pro and we hit the road. I expected her to be completely lathered in sweat after the 2.5hr haul down to the ride but she hopped off at ride camp totally dry. I was thrilled- this is a HUGE improvement compared to being entirely soaked from the 1.5hr haul to the hunter pace back in October. I walked Quest for a bit after unloading and then hooked her up on the high-tie that J set up for us to use. To my knowledge this was the first time mareface has ever been high tied and she did great, very quickly settling down with one foot cocked at rest.

We had arrived a little behind schedule so it was a hurry to get checked in, pound on the Gloves, vet in, set up the hold, and attend the ride meeting. The vet in went well and Quest was feeling good. We did the trot out in hoof boots but then decided not to use them for the ride when J told me folks who did the Rabbit Run endurance ride the day before had some boot rub issues with the sand. While walking over to vet in, I was dismayed to see that the footing was pretty much totally dry and loose deep sand. I groaned internally, really hoping that the trails were going to be better.

Ride meeting was short and to the point. Two loops of 15 miles and 10 miles, 30 minute hold for the 25 milers, 4 hours and 40 minutes max time. I was going to be riding with B and two new faces, M and K, both very accomplished CTR competitors with years of experience and championship awards. It was certainly a very high caliber group to be riding with all day.

I headed back to the trailer to tack up and mounted up about 10 minutes before our start time. Quest was perfectly calm the moment I got on. No silly antics, no whirling, no rearing. I was totally expecting some fireworks but nope, there was nothing at all. Color me very impressed. Even J was surprised. We walked and kept moving to warm her up while waiting for everyone else to mount up. With our group of four assembled, we hit the trail once our time was called.

We walked the first mile or so. Quest was totally calm from the start, so calm that I felt it safe enough to get my phone out for pictures.

Once the trail opened up a bit more, we moved out- everyone was feeling fresh and good. The first loop flew by in a blur. We took turns in the front, middle and back, sometimes side-by-side. We passed a couple of other groups on the trail. Quest had no problems with all of that and she was feeling strong and moving easy the entire way. We stopped at each of the water and hay stops the ride set up along the trail; Quest started to drink about half way through the first loop and took bites of hay every chance she had. I was thrilled.

About 4-5 miles before the half way hold, a lady riding in a group on trail ahead of us came off of her horse when he spooked. We were close enough to see the whole thing happen and able to safely stop and wait for the rider to get back to her feet. It took awhile though and created quite a traffic jam. Everyone was trying to finish the last couple miles of trail at a sedate walk with horses feeding off of each other's energy trying to rush back to camp. That was our biggest mental challenge of the day when Quest tried to canter-jig to keep up with all the horses passing her however each time I was able to get her back down to sane walk or trot. So glad to see the training at home was paying off.

Coming into the hold, Quest did fantastic- pulse was 60 after 10 minutes, beautiful trot out, gut sounds were all As; we got a big thumbs up from the vet. Mare wasn't interested in grain but she tucked right into the hay and ate every carrot she was offered. After some water, she got elyted and I let her eat and drink as much as she wanted before it was time to head out again. I had a big smile on my face leaving the hold. We had just done 15 miles in deep sand and Quest was rocking it like a seasoned pro.

Quest and K's gelding Spot were feeling good heading out and paced each other well so K and I decided to take our horses ahead and ride them together, splitting our group into two. K and I got to talk a lot on this second loop and she didn't mind me pestering her with my newbie questions. For such an accomplished rider, she is so humble and it was an honor to ride with her.

The last 10 miles flew by with good company though I began to feel a bit of soreness on my part. Belatedly I realized that probably should have taken an ibuprofen because my back/mild scoliosis tends to act up after about 15-20 miles. Despite how I felt though, I continued to make sure that I changed my diagonals often and keep riding well to keep everything balanced. We did great on time and walked back into camp with quiet horses. Back at the hold, K was willing to share everything she had at her hold with me and Quest so we could keep our horses' pulses dropping for final P&R. I was so incredibly grateful for that.

After 20 minutes, we both went up for final P&R. Quest was very excited during the morning vet in and was still amped up at the end. She needed to be calm though. One of the volunteers told me to rub the back of her ear to get her relaxed but Quest wasn't having any of it. I ended up putting my head on her forehead and just held her quietly. Deep breaths in and out, and like that we pulsed in with a solid 40/20. Vetted through with no metabolic issues, no back soreness, no tack rubs. However when we got to the trot out though, Quest was sore on her left front and that put us out of the running for decent placings.

The walk back to the trailer felt like an eternity and I was in a daze trying to search my memory for anything that could have caused the problem. She had really felt amazing the whole day. I had J and B look at Quest before we loaded up for home; they checked her feet and legs, looked her up and down and saw nothing physically wrong- no swelling, filling, cuts, bruises, or splints. When we got home and turned out the horses for the night, Quest took off at a gallop along with the rest of her pasture mates. It did my heart good to see her move out so freely like that but it didn't stop me from  wondering what had happened.

Quest gave me 110% and to my knowledge, I did everything I could on my part to guide us through this safely. Overall ride pace was well within what we consistently worked at, her fitness recovery was fine, eating/drinking was all fine. I know distance riding has a lot to do with hard work, preparation, and always that elusive element of luck. When your athletic partner is a 800+ pound animal, there's no avoiding the huge X unknown factor.

I shared my thoughts with J and she was quick to remind me that it takes hours of practice and years of work to become an expert in anything. She herself turtled for years when starting a new horse. Quest is complex and still new to me; we are both still new to the sport and only just starting our journey together. I'm thankful that J took the time to talk to me because it was really just what I needed to hear; I am and have always been my worse enemy.

Despite the outcome, the ride was a resounding answer to the many worries that I had about whether Quest could mentally handle a ride setting in a sane way. I don't think there is much doubt about that right now. She's not angelic perfect yet but she didn't do anything stupid dangerous that put her, myself, or others in harm's way. Quest was good in ride camp, she took amazing care of herself on the trail and was a game partner for the longer distance with plenty of go left at the end. What we do need to work on is adjusting our pace based on the terrain. We did our longest ride ever together in very challenging footing, and the sand got the better of us.

I'm not going to let a setback intimidate me though. My goal is to ride for longevity- I don't care if we turtle at every single event, I want sound and happy. Unpredictable things will happen, but we will learn from each new experience and we will get better every time. It'll just fuel us to work harder and come back even stronger.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tack Sale Season

Spring means spring cleaning and tack sales aplenty!

With our first event right around the corner, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for things that I still need for rides. J was kind enough to share her packing list with me a couple weeks ago and there is…a lot of stuff. Granted she did warn me it was extensive and meant for packing a 4-horse slant LQ trailer camping overnight. Using her list as a starting point though, I’ve narrowed things down to the minimum of must-haves.

There was a tack sale advertised on the local NJ FB group for a few weeks and at fellow boarder M’s suggestion, we hit up the sale early before heading to the barn this past weekend. A good thing we did, because I pretty much did all my shopping in the first 10 minutes.

I started talking with the lady running the first table I stopped at and found out that her and her daughter did some LDs in the past but weren’t competing anymore. They priced things to sell so I had to oblige. I snagged a Stowaway cantle bag (which happened to be purple and was only $5!!!!), two purple buckets, and a sponge on a string. They gave me a stethoscope for free, which was super nice of them. I walked the rest of the tables at the sale looking for blankets, coolers, bits, and anything else that caught my eye.  The only other thing I ended up buying was a full-cheek snaffle bit with a leather headstall- I only wanted the bit but I haggled and managed to get the whole thing for $7.  J and B also went to the sale and bought a tack box of brushes from the LD lady. The box also included a random elyte syringe which J was kind enough to give me since I was looking for one of those!

After the tack sale, I headed to the barn to unload the trunk and organize my new things. After M, J, and B arrived we all got our horses out from the field and tacked up for a short trail ride. I wanted to test the full cheek snaffle and the pair of new Easyboot Gloves that I ordered. The new Gloves are definitely much harder to put on than the used ones were. Fortunately Quest got her feet done the day before so I was working with a fresh trim. It was still a struggle, and I had to take a quick break in between so I didn’t get too lightheaded but I got them both on.

We did an easy 5 miles and some leapfrogging. Quest motored right along in the lead and was quite sane. She actually felt comparatively sluggish when we first hit the trails which really surprised me. When I commented on that, J mentioned that she adjusted her feed which might attribute Quest behaving a bit less nutty.  Asides from getting quick at one point, mareface did well. New bit worked fine and the hoof boots fared with zero issues. Easyboot Gloves either work very well or they don’t…keeping fingers crossed, but so far we are still in the category of “working very well”. Goal next ride is fitting and testing boots for the hinds.

When we got back to the barn J had a heart rate monitor so we tried it on all the horses; Quest was the lowest at 40, yay :) T-minus less than one week until our first ride...See you on the other side!

Monday, March 7, 2016


I’m a little stressed right now, but let’s start with the good things first.

Work sent me to Denver, Colorado last week for a training conference so it was nice to visit a different state for the first time. I had a couple of close friends living in Colorado Springs so I flew out early and spent the weekend with them before heading back north for work things.

Highlight of the trip was the hiking in Garden of the Gods in beautiful mid 60-degree weather and being the tourist scrambling over rocks to get pictures of everything. It turns out there were guided trail rides through the park but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time...

Travel time to from NJ and CO was about 12 hours door-to-door so I was wiped out when I got home Thursday afternoon and dead tired when I rolled into work on Friday morning. My introverted side was begging for respite so I was really looking forward to solitude and trail time with the mareface this weekend.

We had a fantastic 12 mile solo ride at race pace. Quest had zero problems at the "sticky" sections that she sometimes balks/gives hairy eyeball at. She was feeling good and ready for more at the end. Ride went super well, so well that I don't have much to say about it asides from this mare is awesome and so very forgiving when her newbie owner makes dumb mistakes.

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What do I do want to talk about is what happened before our ride. J and B showed up right after me when I arrived at the barn so I let Quest have her breakfast before tacking up.  We chatted about tentative ride schedule first and then J brought up the topic of insurance as something to consider since Quest and I would be actively competing in an inherently dangerous activity with a lot of risks involved.

When I first got Quest, I entered into ownership knowing I wouldn’t put her through serious colic surgery and was also well aware of the costs in putting a horse down when the time arose. I have funds set aside for emergencies and a good line of credit so I feel set for the most part.

I haven’t yet needed to think about insuring my horse for risk until now.

My work benefits package included personal/family insurance so I admit to being unversed in this topic. I need to do some reading first to answer the basic questions like “Should I get insurance?” and “What should I be looking for in an insurance package?” I know there is always the risk of something happening at an endurance ride but I don't know what the best plan for me would be.  J gave me Blue Bridle as an option to consider so my next step after doing some self-study would be to call up someone at the company to have them talk me through what it entails.

Maybe if I just leave Quest in a field, she'll stay out of trouble....haha, yeah right. She is trying to prove me wrong with her latest escapade by somehow scraping an entire layer of skin (the size and width of my hand) off her leg while out in pasture…She is totally sound, but still ugh. Why do you do this, mare?

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Cute mareface modeling her new cooler is just clever distraction.
Anyways, I'm very interested in hearing what other people have decided to do...If you actively compete with your horses, what do you do? Do you have insurance? If so, with what company and what has worked/not worked?