December 31, 2014

Bia GPS Watch: A Review, Part 2

With a lot of excitement I put the Bia on my wrist. To give it the fairest shot, I decided to try it out on my 2 mile neighborhood run. This is on paved roads in suburbia with pretty much no tree coverage.

I had read numerous blog entries about the accuracy prior to purchasing. They all raved about it and one even showed how it was used on an actual track which is historically difficult for GPS units. The Bia had picked up which lane they ran in and it was all very exciting.

I laced up my shoes and headed out.

This route is precisely 2 horrendous miles pre measured with my car. I live in a small neighborhood with many cul-de-sacs and in order to get the miles in I have to go down pretty much all of them. It really isn't very enjoyable, but it is safe at night which is the only time I have to run these days.

I paid attention to the watch to see how the fit would be. At first I was super concerned that it would jam into my hand, but it didn't. In fact it was way more comfortable than my Garmin and was light weight enough to forget it was there. The Go Stick was clipped where instructed: on the same hip as the watch and white side facing out. They connected to each other very quickly and the GPS signal was picked up in about half the time of the old Garmin. A great start!

As I was running, I kept looking down at it and I will admit that the jaunty angle was super easy to read. I had my head lamp on, so didn't need a back light and the black on white display showed up just fine. The screen showed my pace, time and distance easily enough, but I did miss the lack of beeping at the mile markers.

I was happy with it when I finished. Comfortable, light weight and extremely easy to use. It automatically uploaded and by the time I entered my front door and logged in my data was waiting for me. 

So two thumbs up for ease of use, comfort and both acquiring GPS and uploading data quickly. I was tempted to try the SOS feature, but refrained because Wyatt was sleeping and I didn't know how loud it would be and knew Dusty couldn't come find me anyway. 

When I logged in though, I was disappointed. The Bia read 2.25 miles which on a suburban route with no clouds and no trees was odd. How could it be that off when everyone else showed screen shots of an almost unbelievable accuracy?

Well, here is my screenshot.  You can easily see the areas where those extra miles came into play. I don't have sidewalks where I live, so I run along the actual road. While I hoped it would, I did not actually expect it to pick up exactly where on the road I was, but I did expect it to show that I was actually on the road and not running through people's houses. It also apparently thought that I ran past the cul-de-sacs and into yards.

A big two thumbs down on accuracy :(

To compare here is the Garmin:

While also not perfect, you will notice that the lines are smooth and it looks like I actually did run this route.

I emailed my screenshot to the company and they responded very quickly. One big bonus to an upstart company. The customer service rep said the route looked jumpier than normal and sent it along to the tech team.

Well, not to let a good purchase go sour after only one try, I took it out to the woods on Saturday. Unfortunately, I was stupid and took a whole new trail. That meant that I wouldn't have any old Garmin files to compare to. Not smart on my end, but the ride meant more to me than the actual watch.

We headed out and I was skeptical of the readings the entire time. I missed my Garmin and knowing how off to plan on. Who knows if it was adding or subtracting miles?

Here is the read out from that ride:

For the trails that I know, this looks pretty good. It shows pretty much all the creek crossings and roads accurately and I only see a few spots that make me question it. It is at least smooth and not all jumpy and weird. Maybe it just needed a warm up? 

Given the two test runs, I'm not sure what to think. The tech guys responded that the first run looks just fine to them and that the additional mileage can be attributed to the cul-de-sacs. Basically they claimed that if I ran to the center and turned around that the miles would be less than had I run around the entire circle. No crap? Really?  They say the watch figured I did the circle and I must have only ran to the center and turned around. But they are wrong because I always make sure to run along the outside edge of the circle for the added miles. Sorry, boys but the GPS signal just sucked that night.

The rep was really nice and explained that I can use it until the end of the month before returning it for full money back. An upgrade to the software should be out prior to that and may make the data better. She also thinks an update rolled out between my run and ride which may be why the run looked crappy and the ride pretty.

I am going to use it out on the neighborhood again tonight to see how it compares to the first run. Hopefully it looks similar to the Garmin read out and all my concerns can go away. Otherwise, if it remains sketchy I will just return it. The only reason to shell out the cash was for an upgrade to what I already have. If it isn't going to be much better, than it isn't worth the money.

December 30, 2014

Bia GPS Watch: A Review, Part 1

For the past two years or so a Garmin Forerunner 410 has donned my left wrist almost every time I run or hit the trails. It has done a decent job at tracking my miles and pace and has a ton of features I have no clue how to use, so I ignore. I've used it enough to know that it drops 1 mile out of every 5 in the woods which is fine by me and can be accounted for. So why change it? Well, it doesn't fit me very well, is annoying to get things to upload off of and the battery life is only 8 hours requiring me to shut it off at every hold if I want a watch at the end.

Dusty scoured the internet for me looking for a suitable replacement and came up with a brand new product. A new product is both exciting as you go into uncharted waters hoping to strike gold (or catch a white whale or whatever analogy works well here), but it is also nerve wracking because well, it just might not work.

We found a product that seemed very promising...the Bia GPS watch. 

Having never heard of it before, I delved into the internet to read all about it, find reviews and any small piece of information that might lead me to either by passing it or purchasing it. In the end I got one and have now tried it out twice.

What is Bia?

Its a GPS watch that does what all good watches of the sort do: tracks time, pace, mileage. It has modes for swim, run and bike, but unless Gem dumps me in a lake or I need to "borrow" someones mountain bike to catch her, I won't use anything besides the run feature. It happens to be made specifically for women, which isn't a particular draw for me, but it does mean things like shiny colors and a size that actually fits my 5" wrist. The company wants potential users to know that this is not a fancy schamncy watch with millions of features nobody knows how to use. It does the basics and claims to do them very well. 

The watch itself come in two pieces. There is the typical wrist watch that displays all your data. It is set at a jaunty angle that supposedly makes it easier to read. This has non rechargeable battery with an 18month life span. When it dies, you replace it.
The watch. See the odd angle?
The second piece holds the technology and is called the Go Stick. This clips onto your belt and actually finds the satellites and transmits data. Without it you get nothing but a time piece. This has a 17 hour battery life and does need charged.

Go Stick
Ok... that is the basics, but what drew me to it and what was I worried about going in?
Lets start with the fun stuff...the PROS:
  1. Light weight and came in a  size that fit my small wrist
  2. No more of the Garmin touch crap that I can't ever work. One button starts, pauses and stops everything. The large touch screen does the rest. 
  3. Automatically uploads your workout using a cell signal. As soon as you are done and a signal is found, it is online. No more annoying Garming stick.
  4. Automatically uploads upgrades to the watch which apparently roll out frequently
Those are all nice, but you want to know the real reasons I chose it?
  1. SOS
  2. Live Tracking
Yep, those are what sold me. SOS is a great feature that is free. If you are lost like me or feel in danger, you hold down the button and a single goes out to any cell number you pre set up online to receive it. It goes out every 5 minutes or something like that until you turn it back off. Not only does it send your help message, but also a location and if on a smart phone it even includes a google map. And it is scary accurate.

Live tracking is not free, but isn't super expensive either. A month is $5, quarter $9 and year $36. You can allow people access at all times or just for certain events. I would love it if Dusty could watch my progress during a ride while he is at home with Wyatt.

The downside to these two features is that they don't run off the GPS, but on a  2G cell signal. For those of you who ride in areas without any cell signal at all, these won't work. I have yet to ride anywhere without a signal, so for me these were a big draw.

The not so fun stuff...the CONS:
  1. The two pieces thing. Ick. More to break, more to forget and even more to not work when one doesn't see the other. 
  2. No back light. Its a little thing, but something they should fix. I don't ever go out at night without a head lamp, so I do have light to read it with, but why not just add a back light?
  3. The actual Go Stick doesn't have a read out for battery life. It isn't until you hook it up with your watch that you can see the battery life on it. This means you either have to remember to check it the night before by setting the system up or hope that when you climb on up Gem and hit go that it actually works. 
  4. No beep for mile markers. Again, a small thing but it is really nice to hear the beep to tell you. I didn't realize I liked it so much until I went without and I miss it.
  5. I also worried about the fit. The angle looked like it could jam into the top of my hand with wrist bent.
Pretty much all of the cons are livable (except #5, I don't need to add more pain to my body on a 50!!)  as long as the benefits are there and the thing can accurately (as much as any GPS device can) tell me the information I need when I need it. 

Next test spin....

December 29, 2014

Let The Conditioning Begin!

At 10 am I pull into the trail head to see about a half dozen others already there. I generally don't see many people beat me to the trails, but then again it is much later than I normally arrive as well. People are all milling around talking and looking about. Something is off here.

I park and turn off the radio and immediately hear it: the woods are reverberating with the echo of packs of hunting dogs. It is extremely loud and I can see why the others are concerned. As I get out of the truck and unload Gem I find out that it is rabbit season. I sure hope some of the furry little, nearly meatless, critters survive this ambush. It sounds like a war zone out there!

The drive was an hour long and I am not turning around before we even start. I haven't had a great ride on Gem in weeks and I need this to be a good one. 10-12 miles is on the docket and I am hoping to keep a good pace. These are my favorite trails and are not only single track and twisting but very hilly with bridges, roads and creeks to cross. Perfect for getting a good work out in.

We head off in a new direction to explore a trail I had hiked with the pups. It begins with a steep mile long hill which is great if Gem decides to be a lunatic. She can run herself ragged up that hill if that's the case! We make our way up and she is being very good, but once we hit the woods she loses it.

She starts to spook at every stinking stump, rock, stick etc.. and I am getting frustrated very quickly. What is up with her? Yes, she has always been a moron about bare wood in piles, but we had worked so hard to get past that. Surely a month and a half off wouldn't have caused this much mental decay?

The woods are slick with the past weeks rain, so we take lots of walk breaks, but I try my best to get her moving out once it is clear again. Problem is she just wont go beyond her annoying shuffle and stare and spook and shuffle and stare and spook. A little over and hour in and we have made it 3 miles. 3 miles!!! Shoot me! I could get off and walk her at that pace.

At about this point I begin to lose my temper and take a moment to figure out a plan. I want 10 miles minimum, but can't possible take all day to do them and at this pace it will take all freaking day. Not going to happen. I could call it a day, but that won't solve anything and if I want to make good use of my Xmas gift, we need to condition. I know of a short cut back to the trailers about a mile away and decide to cut back and grab my dressage whip. Maybe a few rides with that will make her move her big brown butt. She isn't breathing hard at all and hasn't even made a drop of sweat so I know she isn't tired. It is all mental. And she needs to get over it.

Just as we near the cut off, two ladies come toward me on bay Arabs. I pull over to make room for them to pass and as the second one comes up I hear "Sara? Is that you?"

It is none other than my new friend I rode with for the Barefoot ride! She is out with her daughter in law on two of her young geldings (a 5 and a 6 year old). She asks if I would like to join them and I breathe a sigh of relief "Yes I would!!!"

She asks if I want to lead and I decline to give Gem a mental break from the last hour and we cut in behind them going back the way we came. Gem doesn't fuss at all and happily moves out after them. About 100 yards later we came across a big flat rock lying over the trail with a trickle of water running over it. Their youngens balk at the obstacle, but Gem is great at this stuff and besides we had just crosse fit going the other way, so I offer to lead. They accept and off we go.

I expect Gem to be slow, pokey and hesitant to lead given her previous behavior the last hour we spent together. Instead she trots off at a lovely 7 mph pace with a spring in her step and her ears alert but soft. Huh? Some times I just don't get her.

We spend the next hour playing leap frog as we head down the trail covering some old territory and being introduced to some trails I didn't know existed. Apparently there used to be over 60 miles of cut trails there, but they have been reduced to just over 30 miles. Still, I didn't know there were even that many and have been riding there for a year and a half now.

The trails we took were even steeper, but this side of the system was a lot drier as it was farther from the lake. The two ladies were amazing to ride with and we chatted and laughed the miles away.

A little over an hour later we wind up back at the trailer and I look at my watch to see how far we went. We covered just shy of 12 miles per the GPS with only 3 of them occurring in the first hour while we rode solo. That means we travelled over super hilly terrain at 9 mph :)

Gemmie is sweaty at the end, but I palpate her all over and she doesn't react to anything. I offer her a wet mash which she greedily gulps down as I talk saddles, rides, and horses with my new friends.

It is such a relief to ride with somebody and I hope to catch up with them again. It was such a stresses hour going from in the back to front to middle and just moving along. This is the Gem I love and the one I have been searching for these last few weeks. Maybe she just was tired of always being out alone and needed a mental reprieve. I know that not all horses are leaders.

It also turns out that she will be attending Pow Wow as well and asked if we could ride together again since it worked out so well last time. I am all too happy to agree and can't wait to see her there!!!

December 28, 2014

Happy Gotcha Day!

Have I told the story of how I got Gem? I don't think I have or at least not recently so here is a semi condensed version to celebrate our 5th Anniversary. I can't believe we have been together for 5 years now!

On December 28, 2009 I came home with this:

A shaggy, dirty, underweight pony with a belly full of worms, hooves grown over her front shoes that had been in place for almost 2 years, and a piss poor attitude.

She had no topline, no butt muscles, and no hair on her rump due to rubbing it all off on the fence posts. She could care less who I was or what I wanted.

My horse search was pretty mundane. Looking online, I reduced the horrific number of sales ads by including only picture ads for mares over 15H and between 10-15 years of age. I didn't even know endurance existed or that there were horses being sold for the sport. A few horses peaked my interest enough to contact the sellers, but I never took it any farther. Nothing seemed right.

Then one day in the middle of December I saw a no picture ad that read:

10 year old Arab mare, bay, 15H $800.

That's it. No description of her personality, training history or current status. For the life of me I don't know why I emailed the seller, why I convinced the hubby to drive 2 hours to see her, or why I gave a 16 year old boy a check for $800 and drove off to find a suitable boarding facility.

When I went to look at her she was standing in a shed in the front yard all alone. She nickered out at us, but it was a call for food, not attention. She was filthy, about 150 pounds underweight, horrid feet and so full of worms you could almost hear them in her belly. I didn't ride her. I didn't care what her training was or where she came from.

The boy dropped her off at her new barn and I got to work brushing out her filthy coat. Only then did I fully realize how underweight she was under all that hair. She hated the attention. She tried to rear in the cross ties. She tried to bolt away. She was uncatchable in the paddock. She wasn't mean. She wasn't violent. She just saw no value in making friends with some strange human who was probably going to ditch her or not feed her or ignore her anyway.

We had the vet out and she was healthy otherwise. The farrier came and took an hour to get a single shoe off. Her feet were angry. No, I didn't do a pre purchase exam on an $800 pony that I had no clue what I was even going to do with. We made a nutrition plan and I signed up with a trainer at the barn to figure some things out.

The beginning posts of this blog are a retrospective account of our first few years together, so I won't rehash it all here, but I will say that she was emotionally distant, stubborn and would oscillate between refusing to move at all and bolting wildly around the arena looking for an escape. She had no respect for me or anyone else and in general seemed upset with life.

After many hours, days, weeks, months and years of working with her this is what I now have:

It doesn't even look like the same mare, does it?

Emotionally and mentally she has changed a ton too. While Gem isn't an "in your pocket" type of horse, she does come greet me or at the least stands still and watches me walk over to her with ears towards me and a light in her eyes. She gets angry when I go too long without visiting. She has her moments where she reverts back to bad manners and behaviors, but I can forgive those when I remember how she used to be. She is the prettiest horse in the world to me and I am forever thankful that I looked at the single line ad with no picture. I couldn't imagine tackling the trails upon any other animal and hope to see many, many more years with her.

She will forever have a home with me.

Happy 5 years Gemmie!!!

December 26, 2014

Endurance People Are The Best

Why do endurance people rule?? Sit down and I will tell you a tale....

There once was a man who was in a great strife
For he didn't know what present to get for his wife.
A new bridle, a bit, how about a new pad?
But if it didn't work out, she would be so sad.

Then one day it hit him
How could he have been so dim?
A ride entry it would be
That would fill her heart with glee.

He looked at the schedule and chose with great care
Which ride and which distance would she dare?
A 25? No way he thought with a scow
A 50 it would be at the Camp Osborn Pow Wow.

He emailed the manager who was in charge
Could he task her with something so very large?
The entry and packet had to be hidden
So she wouldn't know what was to be ridden.

The woman was game
The envelope would get a new name!
In he upper left corner the State Attorney would appear
So that prying hands wouldn't go near!

Inside she would find a very special flyer
Hand typed by the manager, her eyes need to be drier!
A surprise indeed, they pulled it off
Gemmie better tank up at the water trough.

For in 6 short weeks, they will be
Towing the line at the start of their second fifty!!

December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
to all of you out there, two legged and four!!!

December 23, 2014

2014: A Year In Review

Another year has just flown by! Looking back is always an interesting experience, but it is one of the best reasons to blog in the first place. It really helps to put things into perspective when you read back and realize where you were a year ago.

So, without further ado:

It is a new year and I look forward into the days yet to come. My soul is aching for that 50 mile completion, so I put in writing three goals: get a saddle that fits, get Gem in shape, and claim that 50 mile completion. The first order is getting a saddle that fits and doesn't ride up her neck. I've been trialing an Advantage saddle for a few weeks and on January 6th, with glee in my heart and only a vague concept of how I will eventually pay for it, I place my order for a new one to call my own. I plan on 6-8 weeks for delivery and with a heavy heart place my beloved WISE saddle on numerous websites for sale. I also place my Wintec and a few extra girths online.
But on New Year's day itself, I load up Gem and head out to a brand new trail system to brave the wilderness alone. This trail system will quickly become a second home to us, but on this day it is all new and we are both horribly out of shape. Luckily, the day is bright and I manage to follow the trail markings without getting lost. I do run into this display of brilliant human common sense which causes a brief moment of introspection as I figure out what to do:
Who on earth places a trail marker on a NO TRESSPASSING sign? Sigh.
The month continues to move forward and I keep getting the same scam over and over again and I question why people don't just get a real job? Things are looking bleak for a safe and secure sale and to brighten things up Dusty and I hit the trails together on the first date in a long time. We travel the trails at Clemson under a brilliantly blue winter sky.

It is now February and I find that I am growing anxious with each passing day that my new saddle will arrive before the old one is gone. The Universe has it's eye on me though and I read a great blog post about how to sell high end saddles safely and effectively. What perfect timing!! I decide to ship it off to the Maryland Tack Exchange and see what they can come up with. Of course, the Universe has a cruel sense of humor and an impeccable sense of irony as well, and, just one short week later, I receive an email from the company that they have heard talk of WISE closing shop. This will, of course, make my saddle less desirable and therefore the already too low price should be dropped even more. 

In non horse related news, I have finally reached my breaking point in my job. While it is a stable and well paying job, it is also highly stressful and no fun whatsoever. Staring down 30 years of this nonsense makes me want to hurl, so I join the numerous members of my past and current family in becoming my own boss and announce to the world that I will be starting my own private practice. I also think that starting the Insanity work out is a great idea, so I drag poor Dusty down with me and at 7 pm each night we are squatting and jumping our way to better bodies.

I quickly realize that I do in fact despise squatting and jumping more than I thought was possible and so early in March, not even half way through the program, I happily quit a routine that was improbable in the first place.While the sun is beginning to stay up later and the weather is becoming more glorious by the day, Gem decides that she needs to unmistakably show the world how bad of a horse owner I really am.

I panic. Are these bite wounds? Fungus? A weird prelude to certain death? It turns out it is none of the above and instead is simple seasonal alopecia. It appears as though Gem is trying to ditch her arctic winter coat for a more subdued Southern belle summer style, but the summer hair is not able to keep up and come in fast enough. I keep the areas lathered with the best horse product around, Belly Balm, and soon enough the small new shiny summer hairs fill in the gaps and hide my neglect.

A most remarkable thing happens mid month:  my WISE saddle sells for full asking price against all odds. I am elated for about 20 minutes until it is brought to my attention that I made an expensive blunder while forming my new business and guess how much the fix is going to cost? Exactly! One WISE saddle. Bummer, but at least I can afford to fix it and now will just have to come up with the funds for the saddle some other way. Speaking of saddles... shouldn't my new one be arriving any day now? It has been 2 months.

I manage to squeak in a short trail ride on Gem solo and after a brief encounter with a speed boat that makes me question my life expectancy, I place a plea online for a riding buddy. S is kind enough to respond and so with March quickly fading into the past, we meet at Clemson and have a wonderful 9 mile ride together thus starting a new friendship. Unfortunately, the ride ends with a two hour battle to get Gem back on the trailer. S is wonderful and offers to trailer her to my barn in her rig which Gem complies with and I embarrassingly accept.

This sets Gem up for a tough start to April. One sunny Saturday afternoon I set the trailer up, grab my lunge line and dressage whip and settle in for a day of trailer loading 101. It takes a while, but soon Gem learns that this is one fight she will not win and eventually decides to give up this battle (I'm certain she still plans to win the war though).

To celebrate my 32nd birthday, S offers to trailer up for the Biltmore Hunter Pace on the 13th. This is amazing since the hubby has tried everything to ruin the day: no gift, forgets to pick up the cake before bakery closes and then writes happy 34th on my 32nd birthday card. The day is simply amazing with a bright blue sky, sparkling green grass on rolling country hills and the pop of pink spring flowers. Gem gets hot and tired, but otherwise holds her own on a hilly 11 mile ride.

May. What a great month you are! Having finally made some riding friends in the area (seriously, it is insanely hard to make friends in a new town as an adult), I am beginning to be exposed to new experiences. T (I met her shortly after meeting S) sends me a text wondering if Dusty would possibly be interested in vetting a Ride and Tie at Clemson. He laughs and says why not and I quickly text S to convince her to be my partner in the 8 mile event. We find a sitter for Wyatt and then find ourselves bright and early at the familiar Clemson trail head getting ready to start.

The Ride and Tie goes off without a hitch and S and I make our way down the trail, swapping off riding and running, on what turns out to be more like a 9 mile trail. We are having fun and keeping up a decent pace until about 1/4 mile from the finish when I make a wrong turn on foot and start the race all over again. Luckily, I have a fully charged cell phone on me and S calls wondering how on earth she beat me to the finish line when I was on foot well ahead of her. Ooops! I figure out my error, with her help, and turn around after making the 8 mile race a 10 mile one. It was still a blast and gets me jazzed to do more.

Completion award

After the excitement of this ride and Gemmie looking fantastic and like she barely did anything at all, S and I head to Sumter for my first experience at the Brick House trail system. We get lost, which is becoming an unfortunate habit, but the trails are nice and the company is even better. We manage about 15 miles before calling it a day back at the trailer and heading home.

I begin to wonder if that new saddle I ordered back in January will ever arrive.

I am a fairly low key horse owner. I don't spend loads on supplements, expensive food or tack. I basically keep it to the bare essentials which is great until you find yourself riding in a pair of disintegrating chaps and driving around a disorganized and slightly dangerously packed trailer. To fix these two things, in early June, I order a pair of black Just Chaps half chaps and a groom organizer. I fall in love with the organizer, but the chaps fall short of their Ovation predecessors. I am beginning to feel more and more like a real endurance rider and less like a complete fraud. Always a good thing.

But June is a terrible month that I won't ever be able to forget or think about without tears. The absolute, hands down best dog to ever walk this planet, Hero, is lost to us and joins his friends of days gone by in the meadows and wooded trails in Heaven. You can read my farewell to him here. I still think of him often and while most times it brings a smile to my face my heart is still broken and I find tears stinging my eyes.

This month is a month for changes and after saying a heart breaking farewell to my best friend for 14.5 years, we pack up our home and move across town to be nearer our jobs. This puts me a crappy hour away from Gem though, so I begin the hunt for a new farm.

The end of the month promises better things to come and I sign up with the most excitement I've felt in weeks for a 25 mile LD at Biltmore in July. I make plans for her last minute conditioning and as usual the Universe laughs in my face and throws curves that I learn to navigate around.

With 4 weeks to go until the event, Gem and I hit the trails for what turns out to be the most miserable, hot and humid conditioning ride to date. Just look at how crabby Gem looks!

We only manage 4 miles before we are both so sick of each other, the weather and being dehydrated that we call it quits and plan to fight another day. The following weekend Dusty runs in his first 24 hour race and puts in a respectable 62 miles before shock brings him down around midnight. I am very proud of him!!! With only 2 weeks to go, I sneak in a 10 mile ride at Clemson and then prepare to let her rest until the big day.

After the sadness and changes that June brought, July has to be better and it doesn't disappoint! The 12th finds us standing at the start line of the Biltmore 25 mile LD ride waiting anxiously to begin the adventure. The trails are beautiful and the weather is perfect. Gem comes off the first loop looking like she hasn't done anything and I get yelled at by the ride vet that I am riding too slow. I am riding with S and her junior and we are all having a great time. Dusty and Wyatt show up at the hold and help where they can and before I know it we are off once again. A short time later we are pulling back into camp for our first 25 mile completion in 3 years!! It is a wonderful weekend and confirms in my own head what others have been telling me all along: Gem can easily do a 50.

Having successfully completed 25 miles with no back soreness or tack issues I start to wonder if I should just buy the demo saddle I have been riding in since December. It has been 6 months since I excitedly placed my order for a brand new saddle from Advantage and no saddle is in sight. What is the enemy of good? Better. With that in mind, I inform them that I will just purchase the demo saddle and call it a day.

The hour long drive to see Gemmiecakes is starting to drag on me by the end of the month and after an extensive and exhaustive search, I settle on New Life Farm. It isn't perfect, but it cuts my drive in half and lets the Dynamic Duo remain together.

Shortly after this Einstein joins our family. He is a 7 week old Boykin Spaniel and I have high hopes that he will some day become a great trail riding partner. He is playful, snuggly and puts up with Wyatt exceptionally well. Welcome to the family!

August is now here and summer is in full swing in the South. While I will ride in temperatures as low as -5 Fahrenheit, I can't seem to force my leg over her back when it is above 90. By default Gem is ending up with a great mini vacation. I make plans to go to Jubilee in VA, but bail at the last minute due to logistics and lack of conditioning. I also finally realize that there is no way I am going to make the September 50 I have had my sights on since the beginning of the year. Bummer :( 
Dusty and I manage to squeak in a quick date  and the first Dynamic Duo trail ride since January and head off to Croft State Park.

I must admit, come September, I am feeling a little sorry for myself having had to bail on both Jubilee and now the 50 at Biltmore. I finally find a suitable, and doable, replacement in the Barefoot Shine and Wine in TN in October and the fire is relit! Poor gem doesn't know what hit her as I up the ante on our conditioning program once again. Early on I have a heart attack inducing incident with a massive spider late at night. Those things are creepy!
By the middle of the month, the 35 minute drive to the barn starts to get old and I am once again on the look out for new digs for the Dynamic Duo. The outlook is bleak having just scoured the area a few months ago for a suitable barn, but hope springs eternal and I look anyway.

One perfectly harmless Sunday morning I load her up and head off to Sumter to get a 20 mile conditioning ride on the books. It is the worst conditioning ride ever, but we manage a solid 18-20 miles and in retrospect this is the best thing I could have ever done. The ride takes 5 hours to do and while it isn't hot and I am not pushing the pace, it is still a long time without food or water. Afterward Gemmie gulps down her water and eats every morsel she is offered. From this point forward she no longer turns her nose up to any food offered before, during or after a ride. I also learn the importance of carrying water and a granola bar with me as well as eating breakfast before heading out.
Towards the end of the month, Dusty heads off to run 50 miles at Biltmore for Run for the Horses and Wyatt and I join up near the end to welcome him across the finish line. He finishes in a great time with a huge smile on his face.
At the end of the month I move the Dynamic Duo into what will hopefully be the last boarding barn they ever see. It is a wonderfully laid back barn with a 40 acre gelding pasture and a 35 acre mare pasture filled with grass, an outdoor arena and manicured grassy tracks surrounding the pastures for riding. The weekend following the move, I take Gem on one final 20 mile conditioning ride at Clemson and then let her sit until our big day.
One overcast day in October I find my stress addled brain attempting to function as I pack, load and head off to Barefoot Wine and Shine 50 mile ride. Unfortunately I let my stress levels peak and I ruin what could have been a glorious start to a wonderful ride, but I quickly find some new friends and everything turns around 10 miles into the ride. We finish in 8 hours 8 minutes with a great CRI and some concerns over her hydration status. Otherwise, she looks fit, sound and happy at the end and I couldn't be prouder of her.
Soon November rolls around and brings delicious fall weather with it. Gem gets a major holiday as I lose my riding focus and motivation. Wyatt learns the joys of riding as we play around the farm and Gem gets regulated to ponying duty for the month. Since daylight savings time has ended and killed off my week day riding ability, I start running again. Just 2 miles around my hilly neighborhood in the evenings a few days a week. It is a good start and hopefully by the time our next 50 rolls around I will be in better shape.
As time continues to pass December is upon us and I finalize my ideas for 2015. A spring 50 attempt and a fall question mark depending upon my spring completion. Gem's condition goes back online and we hit two wonderful hunter paces during the month. It begins with the Clemson Pace on my favorite trail system. We push hard and come up in 7th place which is respectable. This is followed a couple weeks later by the River Valley Pace where her brain shuts down and we spend the time re learning how to be a trail horse.
And that folks is a long version of how 2014 went for team Gem. I can't wait to read everyone else's reports.

December 22, 2014

Meet Gem's Evil Twin Sister

Sunday was kinda icky out. Still damp from the previous days rain, grey and chilly with a brisk wind. I wanted to get Gem out and about, but had no motivation to trailer anywhere knowing how mucky the trails would be. Luckily, we have the tracks at the barn and while they are not technical at all, they have perfect footing and are great for speed work. I figured an hour at the barn at speed would be fairly equal to 2 hours at a slow pace picking through the mud.

I sneaked out while Wyatt was finishing up his nap and found Gem with her head buried in a delicious pile of hay. She wasn't too thrilled to see me, but came along without complaint and stood like a lady to be groomed and tacked.

Once I got on her I was pleasantly surprised with the horse I had underneath me. She was forward and willing and power walked to the tracks. I was cautiously optimistic that perhaps my tactic last week at the Pace was paying off. She picked up a lovely sweeping trot and none of her silly antics showed up. She went past log piles, a fallen branch, the geldings and along the woods where I could here the scurry of furry creatures all without a single sideways glance or step. When we came up to a sharp curve or a spot that looked slick, she easily came back to me and collected to go over the obstacle safely. I was in heaven.

The first 15 minutes went by in a blaze as we clocked a solid 10 mph pace that ate up the ground. I was thrilled and grinning from ear to ear and praised the crap out of her.

Wyatt and Dusty showed up at this point and I let Gem have a break to tow Wyatt around a little. We walked, trotted and even cantered up a hill with Dusty sprinted alongside and Wyatt's laughter ringing in the trees. All was right with the world.

When we got back to the trailer, we had been out for a total of 32 minutes and I had planned on an hour, so I let Dusty grab a screaming Wyatt from me and turned Gemmie back out to go some more. I don't know who was more unhappy: Wyatt that his ride was over or Gem that hers was not.

She changed from a happy, forward and moldable mare to a demon in the blink of an eye. She refused to go back out and started spinning and turning trying to rush back to her field.  Eventually I got her turned around and off we went along the road to tackle the long track around the gelding pasture.
Barn layout. Not perfect, but the bright green shows the available tracks around the two pastures. Up in the right is the location of the mounds. I usually start by going all the way around the entire perimeter then make figure 8s between the two tracks and vary it up.

As we rounded the bend to hit the longest straight stretch of grass (about 1/3rd of a mile, maybe a bit longer) she became tense and tried to tune me out. It was very reminiscent of the start of Barefoot. I asked for a collected trot and she responded with a tense attempt to bolt. I kept her in check, but I knew she was a ticking time bomb. But I needed this win. I don't often fight her, but now that this behavior had reared its ugly head (quite literally in a few moments) twice I wanted to put a stop to it here and now.

We fought each other the entire long stretch and I should have just turned her around and forced her to walk. As we neared the end I could see the writing on the wall. At the back corner are two mounds in the earth. They are perfect speed bumps and on a good day they are great to canter over. On a bad day, they just stink.

As we crested the first one (and by crested I mean take the one or two strides up it, they are very small mounds) she used the momentum to fling her butt in the air. Not a true buck, but also not nice either. Again, it reminded me of how she dumped me at Barefoot in October and I was very unhappy with her attempt to ditch me yet again. I stayed put, but couldn't get my seat right in the 3 strides it took to reach the second mound. Over she went and she popped me forward out of the saddle. Just as I was sitting back down, she flung her head up and cracked me in the mouth.

I was livid.

I very, very, very rarely lose my temper with her. But I did on Sunday.

I whacked her on the neck which was silly since it did no good except to let my frustration out. I know it didn't hurt her, but at least it reminded her I was still there. As she tried to bolt away I turned her in a super sharp circle with my heel dug into her side and her nose as close to her butt as possible. We went around and around until she settled and then I asked her to walk. She tried to bolt. So we circled some more. Once she stood still I turned her back to the long side and made that mare walk slowly all the way back to the road. Once there we turned back around and I made her trot nicely, collected and listening down the long stretch. She tried to break to a canter once and it got her an emergency stop, backed up and taken to the spot of her last trot steps and started over. Once we reached the mounds I made her walk over them.

Along the backside I worked on transitions. 5 steps trot, 5 steps walk. I didn't let her canter again until we finished the geldings and worked over to the mares. There is a steep hill on the mare side and I made her gallop up that thing and worked her butt hard.

After an hour was up I let her walk it out and she was breathing hard, but was fine otherwise. I patted her and let her know it was ok, but that I wouldn't take that crap. She was a tad sweaty, but nothing major even with the pace we kept. With the break for Wyatt and the schooling along the long side, we still kept an overall 10 mph pace and I just know at times we were flying. I don't mind letting her stretch her legs and believe that speed work is vital, but only when it is safe and she comes back down when requested.

Fortunately, she didn't hit my nose at all so no bleeding or broken cartilage there. My lip didn't even get split, but did get a small cut which is looking like it may ulcerate. The left upper lip is big and swollen and when I woke up this morning the underside is a brilliant shade of purple, red and blue. Oddly enough it really doesn't hurt much.

I know the main problem here is her lack of work. It is pitch dark before I can even leave for the barn weeknights and there aren't any lights, so riding Mon-Fri is out. I can only devote one weekend day to riding, so that's what she gets until March when daylight savings time comes back and my evenings get longer.

Anyway....first half of the ride was spectacular and then her evil twin showed up and left me bruised.

December 17, 2014

River Valley Hunter Pace Results

Actually, not as bad as anticipated.

Remember my initial goal of finishing in under 1 hour 30 minutes?

Well, it turns out we finished in 1 hour 34 minutes. Even with her spooky attitude and stumbling gait we only came in 4 minutes over my goal time. Not too shabby!!

We ended up in 16th place out of 42 and were 22 minutes slow. Yup, the optimal time was just over 1 hour 12 minutes. Fast, fast, fast.

I really wish they would publish the distance, but then maybe they don't actually measure it so they don't know. I had forgotten the Garmin, so I have no clue but given how she was going and the time it took, I bet it was around 8 miles.

Where did we lose 22 minutes? I can almost account for all of that time.
  • 4 minutes lost just trying to get her out on trail
  • 2 minutes lost trying to get her to go on some red clay footing in the first 2 miles or so
  • 3 minutes lost trying to get her to walk past a Christmas horse decoration
  • 5 minutes lost trying to get her to walk over a bridge
  • 2 minutes lost trying to cross a creek
That is 16 minutes right there. All trying to go by obstacles that she knows how to do and does consistently.  Well, except for the horse statue. That I allowed for because it was half in the shade and half in the sun and had a big old wreath around it.

The other 6 minutes was just a slower pace on some of the open fields that we trotted instead of cantered. So really, had she mentally been present on Sunday we  would have easily met the optimal time.

I hope the spring date fits in well with our conditioning and endurance rides so that we can go back and kick some serious butt!!!

December 16, 2014

River Valley Hunter Pace 11/14/14

The setting was spectacular: a brilliant blue sky without a cloud in sight, gorgeous rolling fields with early winter grass, picturesque farm houses with matching barns and wooden fence lines, faint mountains in the distance and temperatures starting in the 50s and rising to 68 by afternoon. A wonderful day to be out exploring new trails.

The start
The communities along the NC/SC border have put together semi private trail systems. Basically they are all neighboring farms who allow you to ride in their woods, along their fence lines, into their pastures and even sometimes use their cross country fields. The only rule is that you have to live on a property included in the system. Each owner has to right to close their section of trail due to footing conditions and some require that you walk only to preserve the footing or prevent rousing their own animals. Outsiders are not permitted to ride on the trails, so the only chance I get to ride on them is during a Pace and this one was held on the CETA trails in Columbus, NC.

Wyatt wanted to ride before I left

We pulled into a gorgeous large field surrounded by beautiful houses and happy looking horses. I registered in the Hunter division and tacked up to head out. The start began down the hill and went between a gap in a black fence line and into the woods.

I won't ruin such a beautiful day by belaboring how horrid Gem was behaving. It took me a solid 4 minutes to get her through the gap in the fence (something she has done countless times before without issue although granted not at this exact spot) and from there she just stayed spooky. I will skip over a lot of those details to instead spend time painting the picture of the area.

Once through the gate we headed through some woods and then popped out into a pasture that I would die for. The first half of the ride carried us along picture perfect fence lines, into pastures and along driveways. Some spots requested us to walk which we did and others were just screaming for a long gallop in the late morning sunshine.

Even on a bad day I love those black tipped ears
A perfect place for a canter
Who wouldn't want to live here?

The terrain was rolling hills and the footing was mostly excellent. There were some spots that were still mucky from the recent rains, but all in all the first half was just perfect for a romp. I did ask Gem to open up and canter on the longer grassy sections where there wasn't anything looming ahead to cause her to freak out. She was happy to oblige and we rolled along those pastures with a big grin on my face.
There were spots that drifted back into the trees that dotted the sides of the fields and we zig zagged our way along the trail thankful for the ability to be out and enjoying the day.

Another gorgeous farm
Matching house and barn
I found myself in a nice little pocket early on. I had passed a group that had left 3 minutes ahead of pretty quickly and either nobody had gone before them for a while or I was just going at the perfect pace to be spread out because I didn't seen anyone else for a long time. It was just me and my mare for the first hour and I felt neither rushed nor slowed.

Look how on alert those ears are. She was convinced things were hiding everywhere

We headed straight down this towards that trees at the back. I was dying for a gallop, but instead we trotted along

Look! She is actually noticing me!

We eventually made our way into a very large field behind a monstrous farm house and two people came up behind us. I knew we wouldn't ever be able to stay ahead, so I let Gem graze as they came up along the fence and into our field. They were both on older Arabs and asked Gem's breeding remarking how beautiful she was. I have her papers tucked away in our safe at home, but haven't looked a them for years. Perhaps I should. Anyway, I let them go on by and then asked Gem to move her butt. I was looking forward to the chance to school her on not racing to keep up with others. We were in a very large and safe pasture. I could circle her or turn her around or pretty much do anything with minimal risk which is rare when out on the narrow single track trails around home. She just watched them go and actually picked up a working trot, but stayed calm and didn't try to rush to catch up. Good mare!

On the other side of the pasture was the half way point where we caught back up to the two others and ate oreos and sipped lemonade. 3 minutes is a blink of the eye and soon we were back off.

The second half was mostly on the woods and the footing was still good, but Gem was not fond of it. Most of it was covered in about 6-8 inches of leaves and she had a really hard time judging rocks and roots. It would have helped had she been actually trotting and not just shuffling along (my biggest Gemmie pet peeve) but we managed just fine. The terrain got a lot steeper too with long, steep up hills and twisting down hills.

One thing I love about the Paces is that I never get lost. I think it is impossible. They use ribbons, but also large directional arrows on plastic boards at every turn. By about the 3rd or 4th mile Gem began to recognize the arrow signs and would turn as needed on her own. There were a lot of off shoot trails we ignored and after a while I tested her by not encouraging any turn, but she impressed me by turning correctly at each sign. Smart mare!
Second half was mostly woods
A little more relaxed

Super alert ears

Beautiful blue sky

It doesn't seem to matter what the distance is that I am going, be it 10, 5 or 50 miles, by about 2 miles out I get antsy for it to be done. I had forgotten my Garmin and didn't know these trails at all, so by the time we had been out about 1 hour and 20 minutes or so I started to get ready to be done. I knew we had to be close, but we just kept winding our way through the trees. The ground was so covered with leaves that I couldn't see the trail and just had to go ribbon to ribbon.

Eventually we popped out of the woods and at the back of the parking lot field. We had to go along the entire field hugging the tree to end where we began. Gem had no interest and just kept trying to dodge back to her trailer. The photographer was a the finish and I tried to smile and get a good picture, but by that point I was fighting Gem to just go straight and had had enough.

We finished and met Dusty and Wyatt for a pasta/salad/lemonade lunch.
Pasta lunch in the bed of the truck

Wyatt and Dusty had enjoyed the time out hiking the trails and playing in the trailer/truck. I am so glad they get to come so I don't miss out too much on my time with Wyatt. These Paces will be a great way to introduce Wyatt to trail riding and endurance some day.

Gemmie was sweaty but not nearly as much as she probably should have been had we moved out on the trail like the others. She propped her back leg and rested while we ate.

She stood with her tail in the air the entire time at the trailer. It made me think she was in heat and that was why she was being extra spooky on trail. I always brush her out fully, pick her hooves and go over each leg prior to loading at the barn to make sure there is nothing off. She wasn't in pain and was moving fine. With her tail being raised and all the horses around us, I am ok with blaming it on her being in heat this time.

After I ate I offered her some water, which she refused, then sloshed it over her back to rub out the little sweat she had. I then made up her lunch with her vitamins and after she munch about half of it, I created her first ever mash out of the rest. I was worried she wouldn't eat it and wanted her to get some food before I ruined the rest.

Well, I needn't have worried because she gulped that mash down!! Phew! One less endurance worry off my list.

A mash covered nose

My new favorite Gem picture!