May 30, 2014

Conditioning Ride at Sumter

Riding with friends has made conditioning so much more enjoyable. I still think it is important to be able to ride out alone and it really has boosted Gem's confidence out on trail, but we both enjoy being with someone else so much better.

I needed another long ride in on Gem and have grown a little tired of the Clemson trails since we go there every single weekend. S was game to show me around her old favorite stomping ground: Sumter National Forest which is only 40 minutes or so from her place. Sunday morning I woke up at 0545 (ick) and headed out to the barn to grab Gem and then meet up at S's house. The hubby had hooked the trailer up Saturday afternoon and I opted to drive his car to the barn to leave him with the minivan in case he took W and the dogs out while I was gone. I remembered to grab my new pack and the Garmin and headed out on time.

10 minutes later I realized I had left my wallet behind (never a good thing) and turned around to go get it putting me back at the barn 10 minutes behind schedule. Thankfully Gemmie walked right up to me in the pasture (although she was none too pleased when I didn't have breakfast ready for her) which saved a bunch of time. Unfortunately, the hubby had taken the truck keys home without telling me and so I was stuck at the barn with Gem and a locked truck. Crap. It is a 40 minute round trip back home which I didn't have time for, so I did what any good wife does: called and woke up the hubby :) He arrived with a tired W and handed me the keys.

30 minutes or so later I arrived at S's. She has a nice 3 horse slant load trailer which is great for her mare, Ria, since she refuses to back off a trailer. Since my center divider swings open S asked if I would mind just plopping Ria in beside Gem and driving to the trail head. Sure!! It would save me from the annoying task of unloading Gem just to immediately reload her onto a different trailer since that turns into a 30 minute battle. This way we could avoid that on both ends. Off we went!!

On the way I found out there are 3 loops to ride on with really no other options so getting lost is pretty much impossible (HA!!) with a 10 mile, 12 mile and 16 mile option. S said she wanted to do the 10 mile and so we chose blue and tacked up and headed off.

There had been a big storm two nights prior and some areas were pretty deep slick clay, but the majority of the trail was still easily doable at a decent pace. My Garmin died 1.5 miles in (apparently you actually have to charge it from time to time for it to function, go figure!) but I wasn't too bummed about it since I knew we were doing a 10 mile ride with minimal chance of getting off track. By the end we were wishing we had that gps :)

We headed off down the trail with Ria in front. She likes to lead and Gem likes to follow so the partnership works out great. Unfortunately, the bugs were out in full force and with Ria up front she was getting the brunt of them. Gem did plow up ahead a few times to give her a break and even then the bugs stayed more on Ria. She just must be a sweeter mare than my Gemmiecakes.

Not too far in we were re routed onto a new trail S had never been on. There had been some changes in the year since she had been out on those trails with logging being done in some places and old, eroded trails given time to recover. We followed along the new trail chit chatting away and continued on the loop.

At one point about half way through the ride I decided it was prudent to check my helmet out for functionality :) There was a large branch at perfect head height spanning the trail. S ducked and continued on. I ducked too early and then S asked me a question and so I looked up thinking I was past it and instead hit it really hard at a trot smack on the head. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet or I probably would have been knocked off Gem and knocked out. But since I always wear a helmet, I was fine and just continued on as if nothing happened.

Eventually we made it to a creek crossing that was awful. There was a small waterfall to the right, a rock ledge to the left creating a dam with a very deep pool of water behind it and these horrid man made netting sheets on the trail leading up to and away from the water. You had a small alley to go down as you went across. S decided to get off and hand walk Ria across, but I knew Gem would be ok if I stayed on. Once S reached the netting she said it was a no go. The netting was slick, hard and pointy and she was worried the horses would get hurt. There was a trail that went off to the left just before the creek and so we decided to try that out and see if it didn't lead to a better crossing.

We went. And went. And went. We started to get a little concerned when we passed the 4 mile marker again. I'm still unclear how the trails are. We had gone on and off the blue trail several times, picked up an orange trail (which she didn't know was even there) and then onto a red trail all while we were supposedly keeping on one of three separate and distinct loops with no interconnection or off shoots. This last year has seen a lot of changes up there with the addition of multiple new trails which for some reason they decided to not mark.

Anyway....we ended up back on the blue loop somehow without having crossed the creek again. And we safely arrived at the trailer again in one piece after a nice ride. Since my watch died we have no clue as to the exact distance travelled, but we went out and back the 4 mile stretch so that was 8 miles. Then we did the larger part of the blue loop which S knows is roughly 6 miles, so we are thinking we did about 14 or 15 total miles. A great conditioning ride!!

Afterward Gemmie looked awesome. Granted we walked quite a bit of it due to the poor footing and not knowing exactly where we were, but she wasn't even sweaty except under her saddle. And given the time it took us to do it, I could easily maintain that same pace and finish a 25 mile ride in the allotted 6 hours. We might be dead last but we could easily do it.

We loaded up and headed back to S's place. Half way back I realized something: Ria won't back off a trailer. When we had gotten to the trail head we unloaded Gem and then swung the divider open so she could turn around and walk off. This wouldn't be possible without unloading Gem. Crap :( So once back to S's I unloaded Gem to get Ria off. Gem of course then refused to get back on the trailer and I had to have words with her. S was laughing. Not at the annoyance of having to argue with Gem, but at the fact that Gem was just doing it to be a snot. S mentioned how once she realized I wasn't caving she just glared at me and walked on all ho hum. Stupid mare!!

Back home I unloaded her and she trotted off happily to meet her herd mates looking as if she hadn't done anything all day. That mare is fit and ready for an LD!

May 29, 2014

I'm Beginning To Feel Like An Endurance Rider

Well...not really. But I am beginning to acquire more endurance-y things which makes me feel closer to belonging, so that counts, right?

We used a cantle bag that S had (in red too which was awesome!) to carry water and such during the RnT. I have not used a pack on Gem before for many reasons and so this was a little new for both of us. She didn't mind it one bit. But I wasn't so keen on it. In theory I have always not liked packs. They are just one more thing to rub on my horse and potentially cause a problem. Plus I just don't like the idea of making Gem lug around my water for me. Logically it doesn't make a bit of difference if the water is on her or me since the overall weight she is carrying is the same, but I am more than capable of wearing a pack as well and she already has a metal bit in her mouth, the bridle, the pad, the saddle, etc... Why should I get to have on my comfy shirt and favorite riding tights and be all light weight and free while she is loaded down with crap?

The bag sat ok on her and didn't cause rubs but it bounced around a ton and I really don't think it would work at all for 50 miles. I know I would be sore if I had a pack banging the small of my back for that long. The other issue was access to the water. Since the pack was behind me, I would have to twist around, unzip and pull out the water bottle and then repeat to replace. How many times do you think I did this from the saddle? None. I drank when I was on the ground preparing to mount back up and that was it.

I had toyed with the idea of using my running water belt, but it just didn't seem like it would be all that comfy while in the saddle.

Enter a camelbak. The perfect solution to easy water access that I could wear myself. The tube provides instant access to water with the use of only one hand while still looking forward to prevent getting lost (ha!!) and no zippers are required. The problem? I didn't have one.

But as happens in life, the stars aligned and REI had a big sale two weeks ago for members. I dragged the hubby and W over and tried on every single camelbak type pack they had to offer. Which amounted to probably 12-15 different packs in 3 different brands.

I had 3 things I was looking for:

1) 2 L minimum bladder
2) Waist belt, preferably wide
3) Extra storage areas so I can carry things myself without loading packs onto Gemmie

After trying on several I finally found the perfect pack that met all my requirements and then some. It is Camelbak brand in black and pink and is meant for cycling. It has a 2 L bladder which is located in the lumbar region leaving the entire top portion open for storage. The waist belt is wide and padded and with the water bladder being located at the waist, it is very comfortable and secure. The arm straps have some pretty wimpy padding, but are felt lined to help prevent chafing of the neck (a common complaint I have run across).  Since it is meant for cycling, it also has a hook on it for a helmet. While I won't use this feature while riding (I like my helmet firmly on my head, thank you) it could be neat to hook it on at a vet check or while running. The big bonus is the addition of two zip pockets along the waist band.

These will come in very handy because while the pack allows me to shove quite a lot of crap into it for use, the actual use part is pretty limited since it will require me removing the entire pack to get to anything unless I somehow manage to grow gorilla arms before my next ride. This pack has two decent sized pockets to hold essentials such as my cell phone, granola bar, e-lyets etc...that may be needed at the spur of the moment while riding. I can then fill the back up with things I could need in an emergency (ex: vet wrap) or at a check (Gemmie treats, rider card etc..).

I have some pictures, but they are crappy so I am avoiding posting them.

I did get to test it out on a nice conditioning ride this past weekend, so review #1 is up next!

May 28, 2014

I'm Running Again

And it feels great!!

Well...not great, but really nice to be out running again. If you remember, I had done 4 half marathons prior to W being born and then once he was here I had limited free time and chose to ditch running and keep riding. Well, life has settled down a little and while time isn't something I have in excess there are always ways to make things work. Doing the RnT really made me realize how much I miss running and the way it makes my body feel.

Two weeks ago I took Gemmie out for a jog along the barn trails. They are really nice and mostly double wide so I am not so concerned about her stepping on me. I think the BO thought I had finally lost it fully when I went jogging passed their house in running clothes with an untacked up Gemmiw trotting along beside me on her rope.

We did the two miles of trails and I was nice to get to see Gem trotting along nicely beside and sometimes in front of me. It is a great way to condition both of us and it lets me work her from the ground. I have two main rules she is never allowed to break when jogging:

1) Never, ever step on me. Gem knows perfectly well where her feet are at all times. When she steps on me it is either her begin nasty or she is s mentally zoned out that she stops paying attention. Neither are allowed and so when we jog along, if she starts to spook or be brain dead, she gets an elbow in the ribs to remind her that I am there and to pay attention. It works really well to get her to remember to focus on me and not the world at large. I have toyed with the idea of bringing a crop along with my on runs, but I don't own one so I never do and my elbow works just fine. In line with this is that she also is not allowed to crowd my space. She can run beside me but is not allowed to push me off the trail.

2) No pulling on the rope. She can run beside me (preferred), behind me ( annoying but allowed) or slight in front of me (better than behind me) but is never allowed to pull on the rope. That means that I choose the pace and she gets to go along with it. If she lags behind and decides to try to walk while I shuffle along the trail and the rope becomes taut she gets kicked right up. If she plows ahead and starts pulling me along, she gets circles and made to go back the way we came and then turned around again.

I love jogging with her. I did decide that running on the trails was pretty hard work and that I should probably build up a little on the road first so that we can move down the trail at a decent pace for her. So I started running in the evenings around my neighborhood which is 1 mile, so I do it twice. The big problem with this is that running time means no riding time. I can't do both in the evening and every evening isn't mine. The hubs needs some evenings to run as well and we also need to cook, clean, etc... new plan which will go into effect this week is to run in the morning before work. I don't typically get up until 6:30 which gives me just enough time to shower, dress, and help get W around for the day. When we move closer to work here I will have even more time in the morning, but for now we need to leave the house by 7 am to get W to daycare and us both to work on time. If I get up at 5:45 (when the hubs does) or even 6, I should have plenty of time to get a quick 2 miles in and still get everything done I need to. It also has the bonus of being nice and cool out in the morning versus hot and sticky in the evening.

Thursday will be my first attempt at this so we will see if I drag my butt out of bed or not.


May 27, 2014

VC Blog Hop: Bit it Up

Well, I am late to the party as always and can't get the link to work properly, but here is my attempt to join a blog hop. Apparently, you should be able to link up with all the other blogs joining in and everyone writes a post on the same topic. This increases awareness of your blog but also provides a way for someone to read lots of different opinions about the same topic.

This one is about bits.

I have only used two different bits on Gem.

The first was a plain old French link D ring snaffle. Very mild. She went as well as Gem goes in it. She never complained about it and with her being as opinionated as she is, she would have quickly and loudly if she didn't approve.

I switched out of it because she was hard to bend and I wanted something with a little more help. So I picked up our current bit which is a full cheek French link snaffle with a copper lozenge. It was hard to find. There are a ton of full cheek snaffles out there, but most that I found had only a single joint and I am not a big fan of a single jointed bit. I think they are a bit too harsh for my tastes and what we do and so I hunted around until I found one I liked. She has been in this bit now for 3 years.

I don't think she actually turns any better in it. In fact I notice really no difference from the D ring to the full cheek. But I like the bit and so I am keeping it. I do like the bit keepers as it holds the bit nicely in her mouth without her needing to fuss at all. Unfortunately my endurance bridle doesn't work with the bit hangers.

I have a s hackamore on my wish list. I just barely ever use the bit at all out on the trail and see very little reason to have the metal in her mouth at this time. A friend was kind enough to lend me hers to try out and I am hoping to do that tonight. If Gem behaves in it, I just may move it up on my wish list. I need a new bridle for her anyway and would like to order it to match if I do get one.

So that's it. Nothing spectacular bit wise. I tend to try to be a minimal as possible with my bit choice, but then again we aren't trying for special dressage moves or anything. She carries herself well with just a plain snaffle and doesn't go running off on me (much anyway) so thts where we willstay for the time being.

May 14, 2014

RnT Wrap Up

I have fallen in love with the sport. I have been thinking about it for a few days and I think I finally figured out why. Bare with me a bit through this.

I love riding in the woods and going fast(ish) is much better than walking the whole thing. I get bored in an arena in about 4 minutes although truth be told that is more a function of not knowing really what to do in an arena besides go around it. I would bet that if I took some real lessons and had homework to work on, the arena would be a lot more interesting. But never as interesting as a nice trail. Which is why I gravitated towards things like hunter pace and endurance.

Endurance to me (or at least to this point in my experience with it) is not really all that physically challenging. Yes, I hurt like the dickens after it and I won't even try to claim that I ride as well towards the end as I do in the beginning, but I'm also not elevating my heart rate at all or pushing my muscles past the point of normal limits. To me endurance is a massive mental and psychological challenge that is rewarding in and of itself.

It is all about my preparation for the event: nutrition, hoof health, hydration, do I need to electrolyte or not, tack fit, Gem's mental preparation etc....

Crossing that finish line has less to do with my physical state than all the little details of horse management. It is the best way I know of to become a great horseperson and not just a rider.

But I got  much better physical/emotional high off of crossing the finish line of a half marathon because it was all on me. It was under my own power that I went 13.1 miles in x amount of time. Nobody was dragging me along. Nobody was compensating for my weaknesses.

Enter RnT. The perfect combination of mental challenge, horsemanship and physical exertion.

It gives me that sense of accomplishment that other horse endeavors have not been able to fulfill. In fact, I think it is an even greater challenge because you have two partners out there with you to not let down. If I decide to wimp out and start to crawl my way through the event, then my partner will end up having to work even harder to make up for me. She will pass me quicker, have to tie sooner and then be on her feet way longer all because I am a snail. So I force my legs to move because they can. I also have to continue to be able to manage my horse well. I have to watch for ribbons, make sure Gem is handling the pace ok and monitor her breathing and footing. All while trying to catch up to my partner to continue making good forward progress.

Not everyone can ride a horse and not everyone can do endurance, but the vast majority of people given the properly behaved and well trained horse can actually fudge their way through a LD. A lot of horses can to. But I would bet that there are far fewer people who can ride a horse at the pace required, jump off and tie said horse to a tree and then happily take off on foot away from that horse hoping that their partner will catch up and pass them before their legs fall off. It is a high that I have not matched as of yet in any other sport.

I've been scouring the RnT calendar and unfortunately there aren't many events in this area. The next one I can get to (meaning less than 5 hours away) is at the end of August in VA. You bet I will be there. The shortest distance is 15 miles, so I better up my running game a bit. I think I've conned S into doing it with me. I'm not sure of all the details yet. There is an endurance ride coinciding with it and she had already planned to do the LD there. It is awfully close to the Biltmore 50, so I think we may go and use her other mare for it on Saturday and she is going to ride her endurance mare on Friday in the LD. I am toying with the idea of doing the LD Friday as well, but need to see where Gem is at. The 15 mile ride Saturday may be nice for her as a last long ride (with lots of breaks) before the 50 in September. Either way I will be there!!!

May 13, 2014

Clemson RnT Lessons Learned

To start with it was an absolute blast and really is a great blend of two fantastic sports. Gem seems suited for the job as well. She not only enjoyed going down the trail, but very quickly got used to being tied and left alone. I even caught her dozing off once! The nice thing about being last is not having to worry about others going past her and this allowed 8+ miles of being tied and left as training before adding in the other horses. Hopefully next time we will be more in the thick of things.

I learned a lot in just one outing and I think there were some things that went great and some others that could use some changing up.

The Start Line:
After talking with S about it, I think we should have had me on the ground to begin with. I was the faster runner and having me on the ground first would have kept us closer to the gang in the beginning. Gem is a good horse and S is a great rider so it would have been just fine having her up on Gem to begin with.

I'm not so sure about timing for the first tie. I went 5 minutes and was the first person to tie off. After that we never saw another horse, so I think it was really too soon. I think next time I would try a set distance of say 1/2 mile to begin with and then tie. After that go back to the 3 minute rule.

 I royally stunk at this. It seemed so easy and common sense, but in reality I took way too long to do it. It was good that I went 5 minutes or else S would have caught me stumbling around trying to figure it out that first time. I did really like the rope though with the clips. Would change the clip on the halter to a locking one and make the rope 2 ft longer. That way we could more comfortably ride with it and still use it to tie without it being too long. I didn't see anyone else's horse tied the entire time to see what they were using. If we wanted to use reins, I would need to come up with a way to attach them to the saddle to allow us to leave them be but not slip over her head. Also, my fear of running past Gem was idiotic. If you can't see a big brown horse fully tacked up then a small strip of bright orange on the rope isn't going to help you. But it was fun to have it.

I wore my old shoes to avoid ruining my good ones on the sloppy trails. I shouldn't have. Good shoes are a must. The shorter distances were nice to allow you to push yourself harder. The whole key is to push yourself hard when you run and then push the horse hard when you ride. But man is that hard to do when you don't ever train! The time worked mentally for me. When S would pass me I knew that she would stop in x minutes. If I went faster then the distance between me and the sweet release from running would be shorter. So it caused me to push myself harder which is great.

Gem was a rock star. She went well for a stranger and stood at the ties resting like a champ.

This is the most important part of it all. Sharing a helmet was awesome because it was 95% humidity and 80 degrees out.. But I forgot to leave it behind a time or two and that makes me a bad partner. I would still share when able. It clipped easily to the saddle and that worked well.

See above regarding the reins/tie rope.

Saddle. If I am going to do more RnT (which I sincerely hope I do), I will be ordering a full sheepskin cover to include the stirrup leathers. That way I could ride in shorts with running socks that go up to the knee and be comfortable both running and riding. The people who did that looked so comfortable.

The water bottles in the cantle bag were a great addition. I was very thirsty out there. But in general I really like the least amount of stuff touching Gem as possible. I think next time I will be using a Camelback that I can drink from while on the horse and while running. It may slosh a bit on me, but I'd rather it slosh on me than on her loins.

Other than that I think the first outing was a success. I'm very glad I took the cell phone and kept it on me. Not only did I get a few pictures, but I also was prevented from running another 8 miles :)

May 12, 2014

Clemson Ride and Tie Story

There are only 2 good reasons to get out of a comfortable bed at 4:30 on a Saturday morning: W needing me and a horseback event. But even so, when the alarm goes off that early you second guess your life choices.

Organization is key in this game. Friday night I had pulled Gemmie into a stall to avoid trying to catch her in the predawn light and even hooked up the trailer and brought it back home with me. All tack was prepared in advance and ready to go. All I had to do was feed Gem her breakfast, load her up and head out. It took 30 minutes total and was well worth the effort Friday night.

Ready to hit the road!

I was the first to arrive at the start and unloaded Gem for her to settle in. Others quickly arrived and we all made our way to the overnight camp for the ride meeting. Apparently you have to be a member of the RnT association to ride, so I am now a proud member!! We were told the 8 mile course is closer to 9 miles (most people were saying it was 8.75 miles as they came into camp at the end) and was marked with red and black striped ribbons. Unfortunately, the ride manager wasn't the one who marked the trail and had never been on them so beyond that she couldn't make much comment. All the markers were supposedly on the right, but once on the trail I quickly realized they were hung on both sides.  3 ribbons together meant a turn was coming up.

Gemmie vetted in at 36 bpm (wahooo!!!) and trotted sound, so we were told to tack up and get ready! S and I chatted on strategy a bit and decided on sharing a helmet, adding a cantle bag to the saddle for human water and keeping the same stirrup length. I would start on Gem and ride out 5 minutes. After that we would go 3 minutes farther once we passed the runner.

It was a shot gun start downhill to the bridge of doom with all runners and riders for the 8 and 15 mile events at once. We headed downhill and I was wishing I was on foot. S was apparently wishing she was on Gem, so next time (yep, there will be a next time :) we will do that. It was crowded as we entered the single track trails through the woods and I was paranoid I would run over some runner, but we passed 2 runners quickly and settled in behind the lead horses. Gemmie was being strong trying to pass everyone, but she was enjoying it.

5 minutes goes by awfully fast and I was soon finding myself looking to tie. We had crossed the road twice and by now I had realized the ribbons were helter skelter a bit, but easily noticed. I jumped off and picked a suitable tree not too far from the trail, but far enough to avoid Gemmie straddling it and getting in the way. I chose wrong. The tree had no branches to prevent the rope from just falling down to the bottom. And apparently it had been involved in a fire because my hands and the rope turned black and sooty quickly. Oops. I switched trees and a runner passed me going down the trail. I unclipped the reins and stuffed them into the cantle bag to prevent them flipping over her head and getting destroyed and I headed off in a mild panic about how Gem would behave. And I had wasted 3 minutes in the process. Not good.

About 1/4 mile down the trail I realized I was the worst partner ever and had kept the helmet on my head. I debated turning around, but worried it would just waste way too much time. I went back and forth on it, but figured S should be closing in on me with all my wasted tie time and I would hand it to her as she passed.

I ended up running 12 minutes that first time. No clue about any other section as I didn't care to keep track. But I was feeling good out there on my feet!! I really didn't realize how much I missed running. S came up behind me and I gave her the helmet. She hadn't realized I stuffed the reins in the cantle bag, so she just rode with the tie rope. It was pretty short, but serviceable so we ended up just doing that for the entire ride. Gem was behaving herself and they went on down the trail. I told her to go 5 minutes more.

I caught up to them as she was getting off to tie, so we just handed off  and I got up and on and headed off. I went 3 minutes and tied and this time I was a little better at it. Not great, but a little better. The time flew by when I was on Gem and always seemed too short. But the longer I was out there the more I was seraching for Gem around every corner and wondering why I was on my feet so much!

The next time S passed me she was getting Gem moving pretty good and I asked for 3 minutes. We communicated pretty good throughout with this and if one of us was working up a steep hill we just asked for a shorter time.

S was much better at tying than I was. She picked great trees with branches and just looped the rope around the branching point. Gem was being a good girl and didn't pull back or fight the rope at all, so we could use smaller trees without concern. We were in dead last, so I stopped caring so much if Gem was too close to the trail. If she ended up in the trail she wouldn't be in anyone's way. She also quickly caught on to the idea of resting during these breaks. I would come up on her and she would be half asleep.

It was always sooo good to see her again!

Eventually we came across another group in our division. Two young girls on a huge Arab gelding who was barely in control. They looked half scared and more than half miserable with the ordeal. They couldn't tie him, so they just stuck together and handed off. But they also couldn't control him to allow someone to pass and so as I came up on them on the ground he swung his butt into me and I was very unhappy. They moved over and I passed and eventually Gem did too. That was the last we passed them and we went the last 3 miles or so without seeing them again.

We handed off instead of tying one more time. S was just passing me on Gem as we came to a horse water stop and it was as good a time as any to change it up. Gem refused to drink which concerned me a tad because she was drenched in sweat and breathing hard. I lingered a while, but didn't want to leave my partner on her feet while we hung out at the water stop, so after a bit I got back on and headed out to catch her.

Unfortunately, my tack was not agreeing with S at all. The stirrup leathers were pinching her right calf and she was getting a wicked bruise. I felt awful about it. Tack is such a personal preference thing, but it never pinched or rubbed me so I didn't think of it. Other than that she was getting along super well with Gemmiecakes and we were making fairly decent time. And we weren't in last place anymore!!

At around mile 6 1/2 or so my legs began to protest. Not too shabby for not having run at all in 18 months. I had been going a bit too fast for my conditioning level, but running on the trail is just too much fun. It was interesting to note though that I felt much better on the ground than on Gem. I was too fatigued to have my normal balance on her. S made a comment in a similar fashion as well around this point.

I think we tied off two more times and we both knew we had to be nearing in on the end. I tied Gemmie one last time and looked at my watch. I knew it was a bit off as it was 1/2 a mile short by the half way point. It was reading 8 miles, so we had to be within a 1/2 mile of the finish. I took off at a speedy hiking pace. My legs wouldn't run too much anymore so I allowed them to speed hike the up hills and forced a slow jog for flats and a run for downs. I came to a Y in the trail. I looked left and saw a bunch of in your face red and black ribbons. And hoof prints. I hadn't seen anything to say a turn was coming up and the trail more naturally went left versus right. I went left.

My brain was still functioning enough to note that the trail was familiar. I crossed the road twice and then saw the 1 mile marker. Hmmm...but my brain wasn't working well enough to stop and think about the trail as I knew it from conditioning. I just kept following the ribbons which were plentiful. After a while I started to worry. S and Gem should have passed me by then. S had been fairly close when I tied and I was moving slowly. She should have come up on me. I didn't have the trail map with me which was a mistake, but I stink at reading maps anyway.

The hubby called my cell phone (I was smart enough to keep it on and with me) and informed me that S and Gem were happily waiting for me at the end. Huh? She never passed me! Oh crap. I tried to get out of him where I went wrong, but he was of no use having not been on the trail. I did manage to figure out I made a left where I should have made a right somewhere close to where I left Gem. But I didn't realize how far I had gone since I left her and he didn't say anything about not crossing the road.

Disheartened and tired I turned back around and forced myself into a run. I knew the girls had been behind us and didn't want my screw up to put us back in last place. As I crossed the road I saw the girls coming my way. They also made the wrong turn (it wasn't just me!!) and I told them we had to go back. At the second road crossing I made a right and the girls followed me but it was pretty clear this was wrong as well. There were no ribbons and no hoof prints. I called the hubby again and told him I was standing directly after the road looking at a Y. Should I go right? But there were no ribbons right and a bunch left. He said he didn't know. I was frustrated. Thankfully S got on the phone and asked me what I saw. I told her. She said to go back across the road. I never should have crossed it. I went back and found my error. Unfortunately, the girls had decided to stay their original course and didn't come back. I had been 1/4 mile from the end when I tied Gem. Darn! :(

But I made it back and had a round of applause from everyone waiting for me to finish :) I had added about 1 1/2 miles on to it too. Ick. The father of one of the girls was worried and asked where they were. I told them where they had gone and he went out after them.

How did I make this mistake?? It is simple and complicated. Obviously S and the others didn't make the same mistake so there were ribbons that I just didn't see off to the right. But I also wasn't the only one to make it either. Here is the best I can do to explain it:

Picture a lollipop. The trail starts at the beginning of the stick and then hits the candy. You travel around the candy and then eventually 8 miles later come back to the stick. When you do you come to an intersection where you can turn right and go back to camp. Or, like me, turn left and begin all over again. You will see hoof prints going in your direction and ribbons because you have already done this section in this direction.

In reality, it wasn't shaped quite so perfectly and I hadn't barely glanced at the map in advance to note this shape.  Even going back and knowing my mistake I didn't see any three clumped ribbons to mark a turn coming up. And the ribbons to the right were not as easily visible as to the left.

Gem looked amazing as always at the end. Like she barely did any work at all. She even cantered off into her pasture when I got her home. We vetted in with a 48 bpm pulse. A little higher than I would have thought given all the time she had to rest while I farted around getting lost. S said she enjoyed it more than she thought she would and I think I may get her to go again :)

Doesn't look like she did anything at all
We collected our completion awards, but they were out of small t-shirts so I will have to wait for it in the mail.

Completion award
It was a ton of fun and very tiring. I would have been happier had I not screwed up, but oh well. Live and learn.

May 9, 2014

Feeling Crafty

In all efforts to be honest I completely stole this entire (well all except one really neat addition) concept from Mel over at Boots and Saddles.  Please go check her out.

I had some errands to run for work and a rental house to check out for us/my brother and happened to be passing by REI. I tend to stay far away from REI because all the awesome gear and tech clothing is so hard to pass up. Ignorance truly is bliss. But I needed a method to tie Gemmie tomorrow and having read Mel's blog post on the subject I knew just what I wanted to do.

 I had my shopping list:

Rope about 10' long and comfortable enough to ride holding onto if we must
2 carabiners

Sounded easy enough.

When I got to REI I asked where on earth the rope selection was and it turned out they didn't have a great one. They had lots of climbing rope, but it was all extremely small in diameter and that wasn't going to work. Too bad because they had the most awesome red and black rope in it too. I debated between regular climbing rope and webbing. Both were rated for equal strength and the webbing came in a great neon yellow for easy visibility, but I just wasn't convinced that the flat webbing was ideal. So I went with the white rope with red and black design.

I looked around while he cut it for me and found this awesome high visibility orange rope wrap. I snatched that up as well. And then went hunting for the carabiners. I really don't know the difference between the types, so I got a quick education and decided on red wire gated ones. I debated for a long time about getting ones that lock or not and ended up not due to the added time factor.

My stash. The orange rope wrap to the left is much, much brighter in real life
While waiting in line I began to think about how little I know about knots and then low and behold my eye fell on this little gem:

A quick, idiot's guide to knots!! I was in business.

Back at the office I got busy making the tie rope. I chose the figure 8 through knot for each end of the rope. the description said it was a strong, non slip knot great for attaching things such as hooks (or carabiners). Great! The instructions were unclear however and after several attempts I was getting nowhere. But never fear! The internet always is handy and I quickly found a better pictorial on how to make it.

Figure 8 through know. One went on each end of the rope.

Having created these I then attached my lovely new red carabiners to each end. In retrospect, I think I really should have gone with one locking and one non locking. But there is no time to replace it now. If I do another one (I hope I do) I will replace it then.

The next step was to create a loop about 1/3rd of the way from one end. I chose the butterfly loop knot and this one I could figure out with just the handy book. It was described as being able to withstand pressure from any direction which is what I need. It went smoothly, but what I had figured was 1/3rd actually ended up being at just about the half way point. I debated undoing it and moving it, but it looked ok where it was.

Butterfly knot
Then it was time to use my nice new bright orange wrap. The package said it is useful to help guard to rope preventing fraying. But I don't really care about fraying. She hopefully won't pull that hard and while bark can be rough, it isn't like a big rock or hunk of ice as was pictured on the package. I wrapped it around the half we will use around the tree. This was the rope is really visible and we won't be easy to miss it. Yes, I know. I fully tacked up Gemmiecakes butt is hard to run past, but we may need to get off of the trail a ways to get a good spot to tie knowing how narrow those trails are. Plus S hasn't been around Gemmie so much and it could be easy to bypass her thinking she was some other brown horse. This was it is in your face that this is indeed Gemmie, so get on and go.

The end result is a 5' ish rope with two loops, two carabiners and a loop in the center with half of it bright orange.

The plan is to connect one end (the non orange end) to the halter ring of Gem's halter/bridle and then either hold the other end while riding (why it has to be semi-comfortable) or if possible clip it to the saddle. It just depends on the length on Gem. I don't want it restricting her neck motion at all.

Then when the rider stops to tie all she has to do is wrap the orange end around a tree until snug then clip it to the middle loop. Quick and easy. And best of all it should be pretty darn secure. No loose knots to worry about. The other option is to loop it around the tree twice and then back to Gem's halter. Either way should work.

I think I should have gone with a 12' rope. By the time I made the three loops, it ate up almost half the length of the rope. You don't want too long of a section for her to avoid her getting tangled, stepping on it, etc... But you need it long enough for her to rest, potentially eat although there isn't much to munch on in the woods and look around. Hopefully this works out.

As I mentioned above, I think I would like to swap the clip on her end to a locking one. That one really shouldn't need to be messed with once it is in place and a locking one would be more secure.

The last time I did one, the hubs and I actually went out beforehand to practice. I am pretty sure I already wrote a post on it (you can look for it in the archives) and she did really well. After the first time or two she began to relax and look backward for the next runner to come up to her instead of just watching the runner leave her and get all tense. We didn't have other horses passing her though. During the event we were the only ones so we just handed off each time and stuck together. This should prove really interesting tomorrow.

The good news is that she knows the trails really well. It is 8 miles so I think we will end up doing a lot of trail we are familiar with. Oh! Off subject, but the ride manage (RM) told the hubs that there is a 19 mile loop up there. Huh? We have got to find that beast!!

I'm not too sure of our strategy. We will meet at the trail head tomorrow at 6:30am to figure it out. The faster runner usually starts on the ground because the first leg is the longest, but that would put me on the ground and S up on Gem to start. I'm thinking that Gem should have me up there to begin with when she is all tense and excited with the commotion. Sometimes she goes out all calm and steady and others she is a freight train. Not the S couldn't handle that. She has her own endurance mare who is way faster than Gemmie. I don't know.

I think we are going to go based on time. Once the rider catches up to the runner, go past 3 minutes and tie. That should give the runner about 5 minutes or so of running to get to Gem and then go. If we find we are catching up while the rider is still tying we can lengthen it. Or is S's foot hurts too much we will make sure I run more than I ride.

I'm soooo excited!!!

May 8, 2014

Life is Crazy

Q: Why was the hubby spending his entire evening reading through a 34 page guide to vetting horses last night?

A: Because life is amazing :)


I hemmed and hawed about reaching out to the horse community around here. For months I delayed doing it. Life is crazy busy as it is and I feared I would be that person who always says no when she is invited to something. Everyone has that friend. The one who complains about never getting invited to stuff and missing out yet every time you invite them they say no. I didn't want to be that person. But reality struck that I had no friends and was bored riding alone and so I put on my big girl panties and put a plea out to the internet and found some friends. I am sure glad I did.

Wednesday morning started like any other morning. I don't start work until 11:30 (I work later to offer evening appointments for after school or after work) and we enjoy a family breakfast at Cracker Barrel every Wednesday morning. The hubs has worked the last two weekends and I was happy that he finally had one off this weekend.

Back into the minivan I looked at my phone and noticed a message from T. From there on out the day got very interesting.

Apparently there is a ride and tie event going on at the local trails Fri and Sat. I knew of this event, but the hubby originally was working this weekend and I had put it out of my mind. Unfortunately, the ride vet had something come up and couldn't be present on Saturday. Calling around to all local horse vets resulted in nothing and they were on the verge of cancelling the event. I'm not sure how T got involved (she probably knows the vet and she is registered for the 15 mile event Saturday) but she remembered that the hubby was a vet and asked if he would be at all interested in doing it.

Now a normal person would say no. He hasn't worked on horses in 10 years. And while he has completed a ride and tie event he knows absolutely nothing about the rules. And the idea of spending you first weekend off in forever at a trail head in the sun watching other people compete for 10 hours isn't all that high on most people's list of fun things to do.

But I've never claimed the hubby was normal and instead of saying no he agreed to talk to the ride vet and figure out some stuff. She called him and he agreed to do it with the understanding that he does not have a horse truck full of medication and such and could not provide treatment. She agreed.

Not wanting to come across as completely ignorant he feigned knowledge of the event and then promptly went online to find a manual. He found one 34 pages long and that is how he ended up spending his Wednesday evening cramming for a practical exam this Saturday.

It will be hysterical as he has to determine the pulse rate, if a horse is fit to continue and even pick the best conditioned horse.

Not to be out done my own brain started turning.

I immediately texted S and asked if she would be up for the ride and tie on Gemmie (remember her mare is out until the farrier comes to visit).

You know you have found an awesome friend when you text them on a Wednesday night asking if they want to do the ride and tie when neither of you have run in forever, she has never participated before and she has never ridden your horse before and her answer is "the most important question is what colors do we wear?"


At first she opted for the 4 mile beginner event. Neither of us are runners and so that would be the smartest plan. Or smartest outside of just not doing it at all. But by the end of the conversation she said she wanted to do the 8 mile! Awesome!!!

So that's the plan. We have entered the 8 mile ride and tie for Saturday. I have only done 1 other one and we were the only participants so we just made it up as we went. This is an official event hosted by the Ride and Tie Association, so I'm sure we will have to figure out the rules a bit.

I will supply the horse. I need to go buy a tie rope, but I know how I want to set it up so I can do that Friday. Fortunately, we have the same size head so we will share my helmet and not have to run with it. She has saddle packs and we will hook that onto my saddle for water for us. Beyond that we will make it up as we go along and hopefully by the end of 8 miles we will figure out what works.

I can't wait!!!!

May 6, 2014

New plans

Making plans is for the optimistic. I'm not an optimist. Nor am I a pessimist. I think I fall more into the realist category. I don't assume everything will be roses, but nor do I assume the worst will happen. I look at what will most likely actually happen and go with that. I don't like making plans. They rarely work out.

But in this game, I think I have to make some sort of game plan to make it to the start line of our first 50 mile ride.

I know the ride I want to do, the location and the date. I rode there on my birthday for a hunter pace and now have a better feeling for the general terrain and footing. It is doable barefoot although there are quite a few access gravel roads. If I don't scrape up the money for boots before then, I will have to either hug the edge or walk more than I would want to especially since the access roads are on the most flat sections where making up lost time in the hills would be nice. So hopefully I get the boots. If not, we will deal with it.

I may even be able to convince S and/or T to come with me and ride a very slow 50 to make sure Gem isn't by herself for 12 hours. I think she would go insane.


I like riding alone because it definitely pushes Gem mentally and has helped build a better relationship between the two of us. But riding with others pushes us physically and I think we need more of that than mental work.

S and I have made hopeful plans to do a "very long" ride at a place I've not been to called the Brick House in 2 weeks after her mare gets her feet done. Apparently the trails are smoother, wider and flatter so we should be able to push the speedometer up a bit. Its what we need. What "very long" translates to exactly will have to be seen. I'm thinking we might do a 12 mile loop, stop and eat lunch then go back out for a 6 mile loop or so. Not sure though. I don't want to push Gem too much, so depending on how she is doing we may stop at the 12 mile mark. The heat will also be another factor. It was 91 today. In the beginning of May. I'm most certainly not used to that.

Then the next stop is a potential 25 mile LD in July. Biltmore had a ride this past weekend that I was neither physically nor financially prepared for. But it was cancelled due to bad weather leading up to it causing flooding in the camping area and a new ride date in July was chosen. I'd love to do it. Early July puts us 2 months out from the 50. It would be a great test to see how she handles ride camp, eating, drinking and camping after being out of the game for 2 years. My only concern is the heat. Even an early start would leave us out in the heat of the afternoon. I don't want to stress her and give her a sour taste when 25 is not my goal. 50 is. So we will wait a bit and see how this ride in 2 weeks goes. If I can get out and work her some in the heat of the day to work on heat conditioning we may be able to safely do the 25 in July.

May 5, 2014


I am fascinated by them. Not in a I-want-to-quit-my-job-and-become-a-farrier way, but in a I like to learn as much as I can way.

Now, I am no expert. I don't claim to be one and I don't want anyone reading this to get their panties in a twist about my opinion on things. Talking about hooves can get really hot and bothered. Silly horse people, I know. But people are passionate and there is great debate on barefoot, boots, shoes. It is not my intention to get into any of that. To be upfront, I like barefoot. I like natural anything better than man manipulated, but I am smart enough to realize that we are in a man manipulated world and some horses in the hands of some people in given situations just can't go without shoes. And that is just fine. There are numerous (actually I think most of the horses) endurance hall of fame horses that were shod and lived great lives with more miles than I will probably do in my lifetime. I'm not knocking it. Who knows? Maybe my next horse will be shod. But for now we are proud to be barefoot and the remainder of this post is about that.

It is amazing what can occur when we just stay the frick out of the equation. A horse's hoof is made to carry them many miles. To do this, there are certain nutritional factors and physiological factors that need to be in balance. I wish I knew a heck of a lot more about horse nutrition, but I don't. So lets leave that to the experts (or at least those with a lot more knowledge than I have) and say that there are certain things that promote healthy hooves (biotin I think is one) and certain things that don't (lots of sugar/starch). But another key factor (and I believe the reason Gem's feet are rocking it so much right now) in all this is blood flow. The body is lazy (both human and horse) and will only work to build things when needed to. The more a horse uses it's feet the more the body will respond by building it up better. The more miles you put on the horse over the more varied terrain you can find, the better. If all you did was ride in the arena, the hoof wouldn't be suitable for work on hard surfaces. It hasn't needed to and so it isn't. And don't expect anything overnight. Only bad things happen overnight. The good things take time. About 1 full year for a whole new hoof to grow out.

Over the last almost year that we have been in the land of sunshine and happiness I have watched Gem's feet change. The toes have become shorter, her heels less steep and thick and her frogs are just now beginning to look fabulous. You know what I think the change is? Not nutrition. I hate the hay and grass down here. It stinks. Give me back my timothy/orchard hay that is grown in a field any day. Not this crap that someone bailed from their front yard. Ick. And her grain is the exact same as it was up north. I added a multivitamin a couple months ago, but she only gets it when I ride so maybe 2 days a week, some times more, sometimes less. Not enough for long enough to be showing up in her hoof capsule just yet.

The one key element that has changed is miles and terrain. Not riding miles really. I think I rode a whole lot more up north pre-W coming into our lives. But the miles I put in up there were on either nice soft arena sand or on nice soft sandy trails. Great for being barefoot, yes. But not enough to stimulate the hoof. Down here the trails are hard. Either clay or rock or roots. That alone has required a stronger hoof capsule, thicker more supportive frog and better shape. But the real difference?? Living outside in a large pasture. That mare walks a lot. She is all over that pasture all day long. Not only is she keeping in better shape because of it, but her hooves are having to do more work.

It is shown in the mere fact that up north she was getting trimmed by the best farrier on the planet every 6-8 weeks. Down here? We do them every 12 weeks and that's only because we feel like they should be done at some point. I've passed on the farrier here the last 3 visits. She just doesn't need done. She is doing a ton of self trimming and her feet look wonderful.

I looked at her feet after Sunday's ride. She has always had great hind feet. The frogs are wide and dense. Her fronts have been iffy. She has not been lame on them, but the frogs have been wimpier than I would want and they just haven't looked the best. But after the ride I noticed her front frogs are beginning to match the hind. Her hoof capsule is strong. Her toe is short and even after 12 weeks she doesn't need a trim.

I am so happy with how they are looking. I plan to keep her barefoot as long as she goes well. I would still like to get some boots for actual rides, but we will see.

May 4, 2014

Riding Naked

Ha! That should get some google search hits :)

We are skipping over last weekend's trail ride. It wasn't a fun one, but not in a way that would make for a great, funny story. It was just annoyingly slow and pokey. I did manage just over 7 miles, but it took over 2 hours to do it in. So lets skip it.

Gem needs more miles to get ready for the future. I had texted S to see if she could do a long ride today, but her mare needs shoes and isn't able to meet with the farrier for another week. Another reason I love being barefoot. So I was on my own. The plan was to try to get about 10 miles in. I don't know a good 10 mile trail up there, but planned on heading out and taking some new off shoot trails and seeing where we ended up.

Upon tacking up at the trail head, my cell phone beeped at me that it was dying. It only had 10% battery life left and so I decided to shut it off incase Gem and I decided it was a good idea to part ways in the middle of woods and trek back to the trailer separately. I was annoyed, but not really all that much since all I use my phone for is taking pictures out on the trail. There are only so many ear shots of the exact same area you can take.

I was deeply annoyed however when my trusty Garmin notified me in a very unfriendly and direct manor that it too was out of battery life and went dead. Darn. There goes the idea of heading out randomly exploring.

I was now officially naked without either phone or watch and no good way to determine how long we were out or how far we had gone.

I had two options. Do the red trail that I did with S and replicated solo last week (which didn't go so hot). This trail is about 8ish miles with lots of hills and a few rocky patches. Doable but shy of my 10 mile mark and I didn't know it all that well. The other was to go back to my good old green trail. At just over 6 miles it wasn't far enough, but I knew it very well and there were plenty of awesome stretches to get moving on. I decided to go for the green but do my utmost best to keep that girl moving. A fast 6 miles would be better than a pokey 8 in my mind.

We headed out doing the green loop technically forward (green markers to my right) and Gem began with a super bad spook and her head up her butt. I ignored her, informed her that we would be moving on down the trail today and she eventually settled in.

The first mile went by fast. Of course without my Garmin or even a watch, I can't say exactly how fast, but we had a lovely trot and were going well. The second mile was a bit more steep and with more ditches/roots/logs so it was slower but not by much. Gem was forward moving with her ears up and happy.

Not much of incident happened. She lost her marbles twice. Once around mile 3 when she was pretty sure her mind was going to explode if she had to lead any more and she just gave up. Instead of getting angry, I hopped off and jogged down the trail with her following to give her a mental break. I don't know how far I went (stupid Garmin, stupid cell phone) but it was a decent distance and once I got back on she was settled down again until mile 4.5 ish. (We had been past the 4 mile marker for quite some time, but didn't get to the 5 mile marker so I guess it was somewhere in the middle) when she did it again. But I just got off and ran a bit and she was fine for the remaining trail.

I had one run in with an idiot. Why are there so many out there??? It was a father/grandfather and young 20ish son/grandson who I had passed on the trail earlier, but now had decided to stop for lunch and tie their horses across the trail. Huh? Who does that? I came up and they asked if I needed through. Yes. The trail does happen to go that way and is single track without room to go around. I thought they were going to move the horse. Nope. He said to go between their two horses which was barely wide enough to fit us. No way was I doing that. So I got off and led her around then got back on. Really?? Wow.

Anyway...we finished the 6 or 6.5 miles in about 90 minutes. Which still isn't super great, but it is a half an hour shorter than ever before. We trotted about 95% of the trail too which is great.

The one thing I definitely noticed on this ride is that I believe Gem is finally understanding her job. She is finally understanding what it is I want from her and while she will never be all that happy being out by herself for long stretches, she is much calmer about things.

On today's ride I really never had to get after her to trot. Sometimes I had to ask her to trot at an actual trotting pace instead of fake walking, but still she knew what I wanted without me having to harass her. After the 2nd mile she began to even start paying more attention to the trail. When I first got her she didn't follow a trail at all. If we were going straight and the trail happened to turn to the right, she just kept going straight. But today she followed the trail and would slow down on her won for really steep ditches/lots of roots/bad rocks or if I asked she did it with me barely touching the reins at all. Once the bad spot was behind us (even if it only took a step or two) she immediately went back to trotting without me having to ask.

This is a big relief. I've always known I could trust Gem to eat and drink out on the trail. The day she stops trying to eat all the leafy greens she can reach or bypasses a water stop when I know she should be thirsty, is the day I rider option in a hurry. But until today I couldn't rely on her to chose her own footing and pace for the trail. She would always just be pokey if I wasn't harassing her into a faster gait. But today. Well today she did it all on her won and I didn't need to micromanage her. Instead I could focus on my position, relaxing my shoulders (for some reason I like to ride with my shoulders up by my ears) and watching for trail markers. It was great!!