January 29, 2015

Please Send Prayers, Thoughts, Hope, Love....Whatever You Can

It is 1995 in an affluent PA suburban middle school. A lot of the kids are wearing the latest in fashion, have mature hair cuts from fancy salons and an attitude to match. If you don't have their type of money and live in the big houses, you are either completely ignored or picked on.

Fortunately for me I stayed in the latter group: I had a few friends here and there and got along with most people, but I was quiet and kept my head buried in a book. I was overlooked by them and was happy with it. I sported my matching sweatshirt/sweat pants outfits from Kmart comfortably and was neither hated nor popular.

As I began my 8th grade year, a new girl moved into the district. She was in my gym class and showed up sporting a cast on her arm (huh...maybe it was her leg...crap where did my memory go?). She really couldn't do much in the way of participating and so when it came time to pick our teams for the gymnastics portion (by 1995 the area was already spiraling down the sue happy tunnel and so gymnastics went from a fun few weeks of balance beams and rings and learning real stuff, to messing about with ribbons and dancing) of the class we ended up together. And that my friends is the best day of my 8th grade year and beyond.

We became fast friends. She didn't care what anyone wore, or did with their hair or where they lived. She was fun, absolutely hysterically funny and had the biggest heart of anyone I had ever met. She was goofy and a lot of people made fun of her, but I didn't care. I had found my best friend.

We stayed thick as thieves all through high school. She became the school mascot (wore the whole Tiger outfit and everything) and tagged along with the band and I got involved in the outdoors group and learned how to whitewater canoe and camp and hike. Yet we still hung out all the time. Her birthday is in September so she could drive first and even though my house was the complete opposite direction, she came and picked me up and took me home from school a lot of the days. We hung out before class and joined track together where she did the jumping and I the sprinting.

It was one of those amazing friendships that didn't rely on being in all the same classes, sports teams and groups. We each did our own thing and still found time to be with each other and always had solid familiar ground.

She went off to college and I stayed home to commute. We lost touch for a couple years and then when she left school and moved back home we hooked up again. That summer was amazing. We did everything together. She was always ready to have a good time and laugh and just be silly. She worked hard and always had at least one full time job. She turned 21 first and we drifted away a bit again as she hit the bars and such that 21 year olds do and I couldn't. Then I went off the Rome for a semester abroad and turned 21 myself.

I remember filling out one of those stupid email questionnaires about yourself pre-Facebook era. You know, the ones that ask a hundred questions like favorite color, pets, band etc...? Well, one asked my favorite band. She must have read the whole thing and when I landed back Stateside, she was waiting with tickets to my favorite band to celebrate my 21st birthday that she missed cuz I was gone. Even though we hadn't talked in months. She was that type of friend.

Anyway...I could go on and on and on about Christy. We floated in and out of each others lives a good bit over the years. I got married and moved to school then residency then work. She got married and made a wonderful life.

Except for one thing.

At the age of 26 instead of working towards a fancy career or building a family or traveling or climbing the highest mountains in the world and all the other things people do in their late 20s, Christy was diagnosed with colon cancer.

She kept up her signature smile, bright eyes and undaunting capacity to love, be loved and find joy in everything even through surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer didn't stand a chance. She won.

A few years later it came back in her liver. She won again.

A couple years later and it returned with friends. In her lungs. Everywhere.

Christy is now 33 and has spent the last 7 years fighting. While she has fought she has participated in raising awareness for Colon Cancer and became a model for the Colonder. She ran in 5ks, became a Beach Body trainer and filled everyone's life with love and happiness. She also has travelled with her husband and seen places she always wanted to, like Ireland. She really is that special.

She has spent too much time fighting and she is very sick right now. She is in the fight for her life and there are only minimal things that can be done to help. Radiation and surgery are out. Only chemotherapy is left.

So please....everyone out there say a prayer if that is your thing. Or send hope and love. Keep her in your thoughts.

And don't take a single second for granted. Don't focus on a tiny, insignificant negative thought and let it ruin a great day. Enjoy your horse. Enjoy your freedom. Enjoy your health.

January 18, 2015

Last Long Conditioning Ride

With only 3 weekends to go I wanted to get one final 20 mile ride in. I received the new Thinline Endurance pad in record shipping time (especially for free shipping) and was anxious to try it out. Would it work? Or would it just slide around or cause pain like all the others have?

Dusty worked Saturday morning and my mom was awesome to agree to come play with Wyatt from 10-12 so I could go ride. When I arrived at the barn around 10:30am I saw a sight that I very rarely get to see:

Not only did I get to see her doing one of the things in life I think is the cutest (a horse curled up sleeping is on my top list of favorite adorable things), but for the first time in 5 years, she stayed laying down and let me rub her all over. It was a big, major, wonderful deal to me and started everything out on a super fantastic note.

Ok...moving past over use of adjectives....

I drove out to my typical trail system because I know them very well and if I got hurt or something happened there would likely be a lot of people around on such a beautiful Saturday. Plus, Dusty  knows them even better than I do, so if I had to call in a SOS he would be able to help me.

I planned to repeat my summer 20 there: the green 6.5 mile loop to the red 9 mile loop then back to the green again. I decided to go with the Thinline to start hoping that if it was an issue she would let me know early on so I could back track and switch it out.

It was a little stiff coming out of the box, but the wool underside was soft and thick. I was a little worried that my saddle would slip on it. The Thinline tech material that rests against the saddle was slick to my hand and she has such a bad history with this. I tacked her up and liked how it sat on her and under the saddle.

When I attempted to mount the first time, the entire saddle slipped. A part of me worried it was because the pad was so thick and the undersurface slick, but it turned out to just be a too loose girth. Off we went a second time.

I love the trails because they are a good mix of technical single track, steep and curving hills and wide open lanes. It is a really good test for new tack. I watched it like a hawk and was very happy to see that my saddle didn't budge even a millimeter from where I placed it on the pad. Since this has been an issue before, I was very relieved.

When we came to the first big downhill, I was disappointed that the entire saddle/pad combo slid over the shoulders and on her neck. Crap. I got off and noticed that the girth was very loose. Gem is a grade A bloater when the girth gets tightened, but I also think the pad softened and settled to her contour as she heated up and got moving. I cinched it up hoping it was the last time and off we went again.

Over the next 18 miles I wouldn't have to get off for tack issues again and the saddle and pad stayed put. I was very, very happy.

Overall the ride went very well. I had my old Gemmie back. Maybe she needed the ride with others last weekend. Or maybe I did. Or maybe it was the new pad making her more comfortable. Or maybe she just was having a bad day before. Whatever it was, I was glad it made a difference. Gem will always be hesitant and a little ping pong-ish on trails alone. I'm fine with that and have gotten so used to it I don't know what I'd do on a horse that went straight on down the trail. I wasn't fine with the big spooks, turns and bolts she was doing every other step before. There wasn't a single one on this outing and while we were slower than I had hoped, we still kept up a good pace for the terrain and mushy footing. I was extremely proud of her.

There were only a couple instances worth writing about.

The first was about a mile into the red trail. We were moving along an open lane at a nice canter and popped up onto a ridge line. Below I heard a massive pack of hunting dogs and looked in time to see about two dozen of them come crashing out of the woods and surround two other riders down the hill from me. The riders stayed calmer than I believe I could, but it was a cluster. No hunter was to be seen either which is annoying. Anyway... Gem had been such a good mare to that point and I saw no need to crash her frail mental calm with heading towards that mess. I turned her around and had to rethink my plans. I decided to head back towards the trailer area, but then make a sharp right onto the grey trail that I took for the first time a few weeks ago and pick up miles there.

On the way back we bumped into a friend of mine and chit chatted for a bit. Gem moved back out afterward without a single complaint. I told you she was amazing on this ride!

There were a few other spots where we ended up taking a short cut instead of going the long way around and I had to turn her back around. We weaved along making the route up as we went and she never once threw a hissy about turning back away from camp. One time we were about 1/4 mile away when I realized where we were heading and I turned her around one last time to get the remaining 4 miles in and she just sighed and went along with it.

Rides like this make me love my mare even more.

So all in all it was pretty uneventful. Back at the trailer, she dug into her mash and I nervously pulled her saddle to look at what the pad had done.

I was very pleased with the sweat pattern on the left side pictured above. It was even and she wasn't sore at all. The right side was very similar except for a dry spot on the side. It was wet where my calf rests and under the actual seat, but a small space between her withers and my calf was dry. I'm hoping it was my fault and maybe I was riding off balance and didn't know it. The good thing is that the pad is shimmable and I already know her left shoulder is smaller although this has improved a ton in the last year. I may need to add a small shim to the left shoulder to help bolster that side and let it sit more flush. Another ride or two should show if this is a real problem or not.

Here is the track from today. I finally figured out how take a screen shot, so I can do this now :)

It was a lot of fiddling around trying to back track as little as possible while still laying down the miles. I'm glad I got in the miles though as I feel we are about as ready as we can be for Pow Wow. Next weekend I was going to do 10 miles, but I feel like it would be too much. She has done a lot in the last two weekends. I will just hang around the tracks at the barn and do some shorter, but fast miles. It will be a nice test on the pad to go faster as well. Then it is off until Feb 6th!!

January 17, 2015

What Does "Endurance" Riding Mean Anyway?

I've been thinking about this what with all the babble that fills my news feed everyday. There is a lot of negativity and ego when talking about what defines if someone has done an endurance ride or for that matter a limited distance ride. Personally, I think it is all a bunch of crap. What one person does or says they did or feels like they did does not in any way, shape or form distract from what another person has done.

I went for a final 20 mile conditioning ride today and there were multiple times during the day that I could have, and a few where I really wanted to, called it quits early and just went home. Who was holding me accountable anyway? It wasn't an event. Nobody was riding it with me. Gemmie would have been glad to eat her mash and go home. So why continue on?

Around mile 8, when I needed to get creative with my route yet again, I realized something. I finally know what "endurance" riding is and what sets it apart from "trail riding".

It isn't the distance. Plenty of "trail riders" go as far or farther than "endurance" riders. They just do it privately.

It isn't the speed. Not all "trail riders" are slow.

It isn't the type of horse, or saddle or bridle being used.

Do you want to know what separates the two?

It is the commitment. It is the conditioning.

The actual event itself is fun. Yes, it is trying and hard and you have to deal with a ton of things you otherwise don't (like race brain for Gemmie), but there are a ton of others out there helping you along the way. There is water, hay, volunteers to hold your horse, a crew at times and a ton of adrenaline and excitement that you can use to carry you through a lot of it. There is a lot at stake because you are setting out to cover x number of miles in a very public manner. If you fail, people will know. There is incentive to keep getting back on that horse after the holds because there is a camp full of people, and for many a lot of those are friends, expecting you to do just that. When your own ambition and motivation starts to run dry, there is somewhere there to snap you out of it whether that is the ride vet, a volunteer or a fellow rider that lets you drag toff them for a few miles.

I'm not down playing or knocking the race itself. Lord knows I haven't done enough (go ahead and look up my record as is the fashion lately - I have a whopping 75 AERC miles to my name) to feel even remotely capable and I am already nervous about our next outing. It is hard and anyone who crosses that finish line with a sound horse deserves all the accolades and congratulations they can stand.

However, I don't honestly believe that the race itself is what makes you an endurance rider.

What makes you an endurance rider are the times that you hit the trails at 6 am to beat the summer heat. And the times you are out again at 7 pm squeaking in as many miles as you can before the sun goes down. It is the ride in 90% humidity with swarms of mosquitos and a lost trail. It is the ride in 10 degrees and a foot of snow. It is all those times when nobody knew you were out there. When the only person holding you accountable for the miles you wanted that day is you. When you are all alone and have to pee and there isn't a volunteer to feed your horse as you duck into a port john. It is the time you really, really wanted to stay home and watch TV but instead found yourself behind the wheel of your truck heading out to lay some tracks.

Those are the times when an endurance rider shows their stuff. When it isn't public. When the only reason you get on that horse is because you make yourself. When you know you could take the short cut, but point your horse's nose the opposite direction even though nobody else but you would ever know the difference. When the footing is mush or ice and you pick your way slowly along because gosh darnit you need these miles and you need them now. When you end up at your trailer 15 miles later knowing there is no pretty t-shirt, warm dinner or photo waiting for you.

To make this personal: I'm not good at conditioning. My brain doesn't function on charts and tables of miles completed. When I was running half marathons, it was a thousand fold harder for me to convince myself to get out at 6pm in the middle of a WI winter with a head lamp on and go run. There were a million excuses I could make to not do it and who would care anyway? Nobody was holding me to anything. Those miles were harder than any step I took on any half marathon race day. During an actual race, I let my excitement and the crowd drag me along. I let the knowledge that I could pass the person in front of me push me along. And when my energy ran low - look there was an aide station with water and oranges and people! All I had to do was get there. And I loved it because it was fun. Yes, I hurt. Yes, going 13 miles when I had never gone beyond 4 in the past was physically much, much harder than any training run I did, but mentally it was much, much easier.

And that is how I view endurance. Physically it is more challenging to participate in and complete an actual scheduled race. There is no questioning that in my mind. But mentally, I'm not enduring anything. I'm having fun. I am out there to test myself, my preparation, my luck, my tack, my food, my horse on that day on that trail. I get stressed. I get frustrated. I get scared. I get tired. But I'm still having fun because it is race day. On a conditioning ride, where nobody knows or cares if I put in the 20 miles I prescribed for myself or cut it short and head home at 11 miles, that's where it is at. That is where your fortitude, your passion, your commitment come into play. To me, that is where matters.

January 14, 2015

Saddle Pads...Oh Me Oh My

You know the saying about only asking for advice when you already know the answer, but wish you didn't? It is one of my favorites and I think it pretty much applies to this post. I would honestly like opinions though, so please share your thoughts at the end!

I've been riding Gem in the Advantage saddle with a Reinsman Tacky Too pad for the last year. It came with the demo saddle and worked great, so I bought it.  It is light weight, thin and worked through many miles of conditioning and both the 25 LD and 50 endurance rides we did in 2014. The only problem I have with it is that it is too short for the length of the saddle. It never causes an issue, but I don't think it is ideal for your saddle to hang off the back of the pad. Plus it is some indeterminate number of years old and the felt feels bottomed out in some high use places.

Reinsman Tacky Too Pad

Flash forward to Christmas and my parents noted that I shared a page on FB to win a Professionals Choice Air Ride. I knew nothing about the pad and did no research, but figured if I won the thing I could at least resell it. Well, in true mom fashion she figured I would never win it and bought me one for Christmas. I was really, really hoping it would work to avoid returning a wonderful gift, but unfortunately the thing was 3"of thick, hard wool batting and when I put it on her short back it went past her hips and over her butt. That definitely wouldn't work as it would either cause massive irritation or push the saddle forward with every step she took. So I apologized to mum and returned it.

Prior to returning it, I measured the length and noted that it was 30". Yep, my mare has a very short back. Unfortunately, that meant that the new Tacky Too pad pictured above, also 30", would be way too long on her. Darn.

Ok...I'm nearly getting to the point...just one more piece of background information to share.

On Saturday, I tacked up as usual and found it odd that the Advantage seemed tilted slightly forward. Almost like it was a little too wide. Last time I rode was 2 weeks ago and it looked near perfect on her and had the most even sweat pattern possible.  I rode and she moved out like usual, but at the end I wasn't all that happy with the sweat pattern. Now, she wasn't particularly sweaty anyway (odd in itself given the exertion and the other horses were covered in it) but the sweat pattern was only present under the front 2/3rds of the saddle with the back 1/3rd being completely dry. In the last year I have never seen this pattern on her before. Hmmm...

Last night I went to the barn and measured my saddle and the current pad. The pad measures 22" across the spine and the saddle 24". The pad is 2" shorter than my saddle. Looking at her back, the way this pad fits and the way the 30" fit, I believe a 26" pad would be perfect but could go up to 28" in a pinch. That would rest just in front of her hips.

I came back home and began a several hour internet search on saddle pad options. I knew a few facts:

  1. I wanted something shimmable so that I can add to the front to tilt the saddle back a bit if it has somehow gotten too wide in the last 2 weeks.
  2. Has to be at least 24" at bare minimum, no more than 28"
  3. She absolutely hated the Toklat Coolback pad
  4. Pure wool (on both sides without any other material) doesn't work for her either
With all those in mind, I drove the hubby absolutely insane with potential candidates as he tried to focus on yet another post-Apocalypse movie (which was actually pretty good for the genre) and tune me out.

In the end I decided on this beauty:

Thin Line Sheepskin Endurance Pad

Why this one?

It fit pretty much everything I wanted. It is shimmable at the front, middle or rear or any combination you decide to spend money buying. The underside is 100% merino wool while the top is their high tech material. Thin Line is known for great shock absorption while maintaining a close contact feel and light weight. Plus they claim it is non slip. Oh! It has a 30 day money back return policy.

The only downside is that it comes in at 25" which just barely makes the cut off. They also failed to mention on the website the actual thickness of the pad. Her Advantage generally works better with a thinner pad, so we will see.

Dusty talked me out of buying the shims for the front like I wanted. I'm not 100% sure why I didn't anyway since it was free shipping due to the pad and only $23 for the pair. I think he really doesn't believe the pad will work for her, so the less investment the better. He also thinks I'm a little nutty for trying to re-invent the wheel after only one ride where it seemed a little off.

Ok......given all of that......

My next 50 is in 4 weeks. My plan is to do one last 20 mile ride this weekend, then a 6-10 mile ride the following and let her rest after that.

The pad has shipped and should hopefully arrive prior to my 20.

This is where I need advice.

Do I try the pad on her during the 20 miles with the risk that it won't work out and I won't get my miles in? When I tried to Coolback it was so bad that she refused to move and just kept trying to bite at it to remove it while glaring at my stupidity. This ended the ride very quickly with me hand walking her back several miles.

Do I wait and hold off until the following weekend's shorter and less critical ride? But then I worry that it won't be a good enough test of whether the pad will work or not.

Then the bigger question:

If I do try it out on either of the next two weekends (or I guess both if it goes well), do I tempt fate to use it during the 50?

I know the general rule is nothing new on race day, so if I don't try it out at all I would never throw it on her for the 50, but is a 20 mile ride enough of a test? Is a 10 mile ride? Where do you draw the line?

My current thought is this: if it comes in time for the weekend give it a try. In the past, when things don't work out on her it is pretty obvious from the start, so if I'm a few miles in I can always turn around and walk her out and change out for the current pad and go again.

If it produces a comfortable ride for us both with a nice sweat pattern, try it again the following weekend.

I think I would still lean towards starting the 50 in the Reinsman just to be safe, but then if she is showing anything weird in the sweat pattern or is sore at all I can toss the Thin Line on her and potentially be able to finish.

I just don't know!!!

January 13, 2015

I Rode An LD Saturday

Not intentionally and not in any sanctioned or competitive event. It just turned out that way and man was it a ton of fun!!

To start at the end: Gemmiecakes was an absolute power house and I am so proud of her. She not only brought it physically, but mentally she grew up a lot on this ride too.

Back to the beginning....

It's Saturday morning and the day is starting off cold and brisk, but there isn't time to focus on that. 20 miles are on the docket for the day. To make my butt move even faster, after a convoluted series of events, I have a plan to meet up with some friends at a new-to-me trail system about an hour and a half away. I need to get moving!

The night before I had scoured the internet to find some sort of directions to the trail head. Along the way I noticed that the official website had said something about a 25 mile loop, but discounted it since those I was joining had trained here many a time and were very experienced endurance folks. If they say it is 20, then I believe them.

I am the first to arrive and head over to pay my entrance fee to the park. I pick up a map and note that it says it is a 26.7 mile loop. Huh...thats strange. Every time I hear about this loop it keeps getting longer and longer.

The other two arrive and much to my chagrin he brings along his top endurance mount who is heading to his 4th 100 attempt at the end of the month. I've never me this gelding before, but have heard lots of stories about this 2000 mile horse. Mainly that he is fast! Better hold onto your britches Gemmie!! It's gonna be one heck of a ride :)

We mount up and head off to see what this day will bring.

The gelding/husband start off in the lead and his wife asks me to keep him honest on pace. He forgets that not every horse can move like that!! We head off and pick up a solid pace right from the start. Gem follows like she always does - keeping pace, but also keeping about a horse or horse and a half length behind. I smile as she settles in remembering how it took me about 20 miles of our first LD together to get her off the butt in front of us. This is one trait I am very, very glad she has learned.

The trail proves to be my absolute favorite and is just heaven to ride. Single track through the woods with so many twists and turns you can't possibly know which direction you are facing at any given point. It is a good thing that it is just one gigantic loop. As we move out with the boys picking a fast, but steady pace Gem starts to choose to canter to keep up. Once the pace moves much beyond 10mph, Gem almost always prefers to canter and I let her. So long as she stays balanced and steady I'm game.

The trail makes for perfect training in adaptability and listening. She is going great on a loose rein, but I maintain some level of contact throughout to balance her in the turns. I've been meaning to train her to do flying lead changes and this ride reminds me of why. As we sail over the trail, I pull her back into a trot when she isn't on the proper lead to canter the turns. She respond quickly and remains light in the bridle and drops back to a trot readily. I ask her to stay in the trot when the turns start coming faster than I can keep track of.

Eventually, and right about the time I start to think this was a very bad idea indeed and that my mare is going to die out here, the wife calls it quits and forces her way in the lead. We had gone about 3 miles covering it at a steady 12 mph pace. The wife gets the lead on her absolutely gorgeous grey mare and settle into a more sustainable (for us anyway!) 7-8 mph pace. Her mare is fairly green and the start and stop as she spooks early on in the ride gives us time to regroup.

She leads for a good chunk and then we come up on a road. They ask Gem to take her turn at leading and at first she completely freezes. I ask her to go forward down the trail and she attempts to turn and run. I ask again. She refuses again. I apologize but they are super nice about it and don't mind at all. I love riding with them!!!

Eventually she realizes it is in fact her turn to lead and off she goes. We settle into a more sedate 5 mph pace with a bunch of spooks, but we move forward. I apologize for the slow pace, but being as awesome as they are they say that they don't mind at all and that it is a nice enough pace. We hang onto the lead for a while and then she finally has had enough and I let her pull over to be passed.

We settle back in and I laugh at Gem. She blew her chance to breathe as the gelding takes the lead once more and off we go again!! I tell her that she better learn to lead next time or she will have her legs worn off :)

As we are moving along I keep an eye on my GPS. I know my Garmin extremely well and it drops 1 mile every 5 in the woods. This is the most twisty trail I have ever used it on (seriously, in the first 10 miles we didn't take more than 5 strides going straight at one time) and so I figure it has to be dropping even more. At the most we should pull back in at 16 miles, but I figure it will be more like 14.

We get to a certain spot on the trail and the husband yells out "We are half way done!" I look at my watch. It reads 10 miles. Ummm...??? I ask how they figure this is a 20 mile loop and mention how online it said it was 25 and the map says 26.7 They respond that each time they have ridden it, the GPS always reads 20 miles. I cock my head to the side and ask if they have ever wheeled it. Nope. Oh. I thought everyone understood that GPS watches are never, ever, ever accurate unless maybe you are on a straight line in the open without any trees at all. Even then I would question the accuracy. On a heavily wooded, super twisting trail with elevation? You are lucky if it only drops 1 out of every 5 miles.

But that doesn't matter now. We are in this thing until the end which is now seeming way more likely to be 25 or more miles. Gemmie was in for it!

We move back along and eventually we get to a very long and steep paved uphill road. They absolutely take off! I mean full on gallop racing up the hill. I panic a little. This is pavement and their horses are shod. Mine is bare and I wouldn't even ask her to slowly jog up this thing let only full on gallop up it. I try to hold her back, but know it is a slightly losing battle as the other two carry on up ahead of us. Fortunately, she is either tired enough to not be really into it or finally decided to listen because she at least maintains a controlled canter after them. Unfortuantely, this is the time I note my saddle is very loose and begin to very much fear an annoyed Gemmie buck because that pavement looks awfully hard.

We make it to the top and they stop to allow me to fix my tack and then we settle into a nice pace once again.

Eventually, and I can't remember the mile marker but I think it was around mile 16 on my watch, Gemmie takes the lead again. This time she is absolutely amazing!! She picks up a wonderful 9 mph trot and just floats along the trail with ears pricked forward. It is the first time, ever, that I have seen her do this and it makes my heart absolutely sing!!!

We maintain it for about 2 or 3 miles before we come to a wide lane and we all carry on down it at a canter side by side. When we tuck back into the trails once more, Gem finds herself in the back.

The last 2 miles Gem really starts to drag a bit and I'm egging her on more than before. The husband worries her feet are sore given that she is barefoot and if they are I blame that darn gallop up the paved road. I don't feel her being off though and think it is more her being tired from keeping up one heck of a pace over extremely technical and challenging terrain. About 1 mile to go she pulls over and has to pee. Ah!! The mare really doesn't like to have to pee under saddle.

We finish with 3 tired horses, well 2 tired mares and 1 gelding who looked like he could go for about 4 more trips around that course. Gem looked amazing at the end of it too. Her heart rate was already down and we trotted off that trail and she dug into her wet mash like it wasn't anyone's business. We stood around chatting letting them all graze on the winter fescue and I look at my watch one last time. 19 miles. Theirs read 20.02. Yeah, that loop is waaaay over 20 miles.

Basically, Gemmie and I did an LD without any stops and what was our time? 3 hours. She was a rock star!!!

If that doesn't help prepare for our next outing, I don't know what will. I'm glad to have ridden it with them to really push the envelope with Gem and knowing that the trails at Pow Wow are pretty easy compared to these, I think we should be able to do just fine.

Bring it on!!

January 7, 2015

Baby Its Cold Outside

Last week I received the new Dover catalogue with a big sale on blankets. The only clothing I own for Gem is a fleece cooler and while that got me through last winter I was worried about attending a February ride without anything to block the wind and rain if it turns into a crappy weather weekend. She will be in her small electric pen without much in the way of shelter although I am thinking about setting up the not-so-EZ up inside the pen for cover if it comes down to it and it is raining all weekend.

I thumbed through the catalogue and saw two Amigos that were nearly 50% off: a light weight waterproof shell and a medium. If I ever need a heavy weight blanket down here, I'm moving farther south :) I hemmed and hawed about which to get. I even called and annoyed Dusty at work about it. Being the awesome husband that he is, or maybe he was just super annoyed at my lengthy indecision, he told me just to get both :) I refrained though because there are some other new tack items I want to get and didn't want to be greedy. 

Eventually I settled on the light weight. Mainly because it came in red and black and the other didn't, but on a more logical front I figured I could always throw the cooler on her and cover with the light weight blanket during the ride if warmth is needed or just use the light weight if I just need to keep her dry and out of some wind. It is more adaptable. Next year I will pick up a medium weight to add to her wardrobe. 

The interesting part of this story is that Gem actually went up a blanket size. The last 4 years she has always comfortably worn a 70" with a little room to spare. When I threw the cooler (also 70") on her at Barefoot I noticed that it was actually tight. Not tight enough that she couldn't wear it, but tight enough that I wouldn't want her to spend much unsupervised time in it. When I went to order the blanket, I jumped up to a 72".

Anyway...in true life fashion, the Universe made sure to show me the error of my ways and dropped the temperatures down to 10F with a raging wind. Where is that medium blanket now??? I shoulda bought them both.

Gem is usually completely naked and does just fine. I know, 10F isn't anything to complain about when compared to you northerners and believe me I feel bad for you all. I lived in Wisconsin for 3 years in a state of constant near freezing to death and don't miss those winters one bit. I do miss my friends though. Up north my rule of thumb was to blanket when it got below 10 and that was with a typically slow build up to those temperatures for Gem to get used to it. 

It was 60 on Saturday and is now 10 tonight. Thats a pretty big jump and it makes me worried that maybe she won't be so ready to not freeze over night. I was worried enough to drive over to the barn at 7pm and fight the wind to put her blanket on her. 

She was surprised to see me after night fall in the cold thats for sure! As I was trying to figure out how to put it on her (yes, I am really a blanket idiot. My tactic is to just throw the thing on her and move it around until it is relatively horse shaped and work from the chest back) she even strained to put her nose on me with the cutest look of "Whatchya doing back there? I think I really like it!" It made me smile and made my freezing fingers not hurt so bad. I gave her some loving and scratches and snapped a quick photo. The 72" fits really well with enough room to walk comfortably. I guess all the conditioning paid off!!!

The problem with putting the blanket on is when to take it back off. The BO won't do it, so I need to either do it tomorrow morning before work when the temperature is still in the low teens, tomorrow night when it drops back to the teens again or Friday. I think I am just going to leave it be until Friday afternoon. Tomorrow's temps are only in the mid 20s (still very cold for down here), but Friday gets back up into the low 40s. She should be fine in it until then.

January 6, 2015

Random And Probably Meaningless Musings

So I've been thinking a lot lately about Gem and myself. Being stuck on the ground in the slop tends to do that.

I've been wondering why we have been having the issues we have lately. I don't ever imagine her to be a beginner friendly, easy ride, but a lot of the recently brought back spooky behavior is just plain annoying and unnecessary. It isn't like I am asking her to do anything new here.

Or am I?

When I first got her it was a massive win to just not die.  My one and only goal for pretty much the entire first 6 months of owning her was to get her to just freaking walk. While I enjoy speed, I don't particularly enjoy going at Mach 10 around an indoor arena barely making the corners without sliding on our sides. Walking was a big deal. It meant being calm. It meant listening.

Slowly as time went on, I would feel more comfortable to add a new skill into it: trotting, cantering, transitions, ground rails, small jumps etc...

Each time I added something it just felt like the right thing to do at the right time. I never planned on it, but at some point in a ride I felt like we could move on without having a complete mental break down. Usually it didn't go so hot the first time, but once I introduced it I would then add it in at small intervals to all our rides until it became a non issue. Gem isn't a stupid horse, but she isn't very willing to learn new things either and her gut reaction is to just shut down and bolt.

I remember the first time I looked outside the large jumping arena at the barn in WI and thought "Why not cool her out on the lane between the fields?" It was the first time I ever was brave enough to ride her alone out of a fenced arena. It took us 45 minutes to go the maybe 0.25 miles down to the dressage arena. And about 3 seconds to get back to the barn. From then on each ride ended with a cool out along the lane until she was acting like a perfect lady at the walk. At which point I began to ask her to trot down it. Then we moved so I never got to the point of cantering it.

My point? Well, if I have one it is that maybe I am trying to move faster than what has proven good with Gem in the past.

Last January 1st was my first real solo outing on Gem and it went ok. We did a ton of walking and I only went out 30 minutes then turned around and came back. I didn't care about the pace, I just wanted her to get used to going out alone.

Ever since the Barefoot 50, my perspective has changed significantly with regards to Gem's abilities. While I was always concerned that she wasn't fast enough or in good enough shape to do a 50 at all, nevertheless in under 12 hours, when we pulled in at 8 hours I realized I was not giving her enough credit. Now I know that she is capable of laying down that type of pace for that many miles and looking good at the end of it.

Each time we have hit the trails since then I've been pushing hard to get her to replicate that. I know she can and so I haven't been as forgiving as in the past putting it down to laziness. However, I am wondering if maybe she just isn't really ready (will she ever be??) for that sort of thing right now. Instead of waiting for my signal from her to let me know that it is time to add in something new (like more speed on a solo trail ride) I am just pushing her for it and I think it may be the cause to all our recent issues.

Of course, there is a fine line between letting her get away with stupid behavior and giving her the time she needs to adjust to the new skill, but we didn't ride all 50 miles alone. We only did the last 10 alone and by that point she was too tired to give a darn about any limbs or stumps along the way and yet she still put in some pretty good spooks.

I think I may need to take a small step back and rethink our solo conditioning. There are so many different ways to tackle a ride, be it conditioning or competing, but I tend to prefer a consistent pace saving the slow times for eating and drinking breaks or to tackle a particularly difficult hill. Meaning, I like to trot the entire time and only walk when the trail dictates and have more time to let her eat or drink along the way. However, when going solo this only seems to equate to me constantly nagging her and her blowing a fuse creating a not so great ride.

Sooooo....with all that blabbering on I think I may tackle next weekend's 20 mile conditioning ride a bit differently. I think I am going to focus on short bursts of speed and longer walk breaks for her mental stability while still trying to maintain a generally decent overall pace in the end. For example, instead of picking up a solid trot from the get go and forcing her to maintain at all costs, I will let her walk and then ask for a faster trot and/or canter for a bit then allow her to settle back down into a walk then pick it up a bit. Hopefully that speed work will help with her cardiovascular system while pushing the mental envelope just enough to get something done while the walk breaks allow her to slow down and put her mind at ease.

We will see if this approach changes things at all or not.

January 5, 2015

A Soggy Sunday

What better to do on yet another rainy day than to grab your rain boots and splash in the puddles?

By Sunday afternoon I was dead sick of the rain. It started Friday morning and had yet to let up. The ground down here doesn't freeze in the winter like in the north, so when it rains like this it just becomes a big sloppy and slick mess. Gem is blanket free and I was a little concerned about her being soaked to the core and really wanted to get to say hello. Riding was off the menu. Not only because I am a self proclaimed fair weather rider (I'll go in cold, cloudy, sunny, hot but no active rain) but the trail conditions are just down right dangerous at any pace other than a crawl and at this point in Gem's life I view countless miles of slick walking as more detrimental than beneficial.

The three of us pulled on our rain boots and climbed into our rain coats to go visit the horses. The other mares out with Gem were all looking pretty darn cranky under the shelter (of course all crammed under the one while the other was just a few feet away and perfectly empty) while Gem was happily picking at remaining strands of hay and tiny shoots of winter grass. Her mane was a dred locked mess, but I was happy to see that she was only wet on the very surface. Even after 3 solid days of non stop rain, her under coat, skin and areas under the mane were 100% dry. She was warm and content. In fact the only part of her that was way wet were her hooves as you can see by the very white coronary band, but there just isn't much I can do about that other than bringing her inside which I won't do unless she becomes sore or has an abscess.

While I was loving up on the mare Wyatt was having his own adventure along the riding track beside the mare pasture. I had been tempted at the thought of just hopping on her and going around the tracks a bit, but once I saw how wet they were I thought no way. Not only was it not worth it, but I really think it is rude to ride on the trails when they are this sloppy. All it does it create ruts and erosion and wear down the trail faster.

You can see how the tracks have become a mini river of white water rapids. Wyatt had a blast running and stomping and splashing along. I guess the boots don't help much when you go above the knees though :)

I gave Gem a last pat and told her not to get too comfy with her down time. It is supposed to dry out this week and be dry through next weekend. There are 3 good weekends between now and the Pow Wow 50 and I would be much happier if I could get a 20 mile ride in on two of those. Hopefully the weather holds out for me!

After the trip to the barn we stopped at home to pick up the dogs and head to the park. We figured it would be pretty empty, but didn't expect it to be completely underwater.

Flooded river
This isn't our first go around with a flooded trail and our dogs love the water, so we (illegally) let them off leash and splashed along with Wyatt.

I seem to only capture Einstein looking like an idiot

We made it a fair distance until the river itself took out the trail and made it impossible to pass without Einstein and Wyatt having to actually swim. Since it was only 60F with very cold water and we weren't in complete dry suits, we just turned around and went home.

When the day was done I think we had changed Wyatt 3 times from playing in the rain. Earlier that morning he had been playing outside at his Grandmas house then took a bath to warm up and got changed, then played at the barn and got changed and last at the park.

I think it was a pretty great way to spend a soaking wet Sunday.

January 4, 2015

Where There Is A Will

There is a way. Or so they say.

I had gotten a new pair of running shoes since mine had been delegated to double duty as riding shoes and are 4 years old. Technically you are supposed to change running shoes every 500 miles or 2 years whichever comes first. Its not the tread that goes bad, it is the midsole (the part squished between the insole, part foot touches, and outsole, part ground touches) that dries out on you.  Prior to the last 5 years, you needed new shoes every year regardless of milage because the midsoles were junk and prone to dry rot. Recent technology improvements bumped that up.

Brooks Glycerins have been my go to running shoe for years and years and I have always loved them. I need a neutral shoe with loads of cushion to help give my lower legs shock absorption. I have high arched, rigid feet and this type of foot just can't absorb the shock it needs to, so it vibrates up the calfs. You can actually see it in people if you know what to look for. I always try to get the previous years model for the price break and did the same this time. I laced them up with anticipation of the cloud like cushion I've known for years. And then my feet hit the pavement and I was immensely disappointed. They had changed. Enough to be very noticeable and actually by 1.5 miles I had medial knee pain and sub 1st MPJ pain, neither of which I ever had before. As I ran I could feel how the shoe was effecting my foot motion.

Needless to say they got sent back, but this put me on the prowl for a new shoe. Fortunately, I have the vast knowledge of my hubby and his running pals to dig into and all suggested I try the Asics Nimbus. I did and they felt like a true neutral running shoe with cushion to help with shock absorption and I was very happy.  Asics seem to run really small though. My feet measure a 5.5 and I always wear a 6 unless in running shoes. Always go up a half size in running shoes. Pretty much always. So my Brooks are 6.5 but the Asics were jamming my big toe just standing there so I jumped to a 7. Now I look like I have clown feet. But they are pretty, shiny, pink and blue clown feet, so I'll take them :)

With shoes that finally work I wanted to hit the pavement, but it has been raining all crappy week. I don't mind running at night in the dark and I don't really mind running in a light rain (as long as it is 40 and above out), but I do mind running in the dark and rain of safety reasons. As luck would have it, my parents were looking to ditch their old treadmill.  They just moved here from the Arctic North and have been enjoying the ability to run outside during the day all year round. They don't like the fact that I run at night and so when they decided they didn't want it anymore, they offered it up to me. The thing is close to 20 years old, but works (or so I thought) just fine. This is great addition because a) I am weird and don't mind running on the mill and b) now I can run inside while Dusty gets to run outside so we can both get runs in. Before this it was one of us runs while the other stays inside with Wyatt as he sleeps. This frees up a bunch of running time.

I plugged it in and was all ready to go when the console refused to light up. The belt worked just fine and you could change the speed, but nothing registered on the console. No time, distance or speed. My dad came over to see if he could fix it, but nothing worked so I was left with either not running due to it being super rainy out or running on the thing anyway. I chose to run anyway.

I turned my phone to Pandora, found a stop watch function and let it rip. I picked a pace typical for me based on my foot falls and breathing and went for 30 minutes. I just listened to the music while I ran in the garage with nothing but as of yet unpacked boxes to look at and focused on tuning the world out. Its why I actually like the treadmill. I can tune out the world much easier than running outside with scenery to look at.

I loved the new Asics and think I found my new shoe. Unless they change these as well.

Since we now have more freedom, I sent Dusty out for his own run. He is just getting back from an injury and is taking things slower/shorter than normal. Typically he goes out and runs 10-15 miles multiple times a week at a pace I can't even keep for 2 miles. He went around 4 miles tonight at a moderate pace. Before he left I strapped the Bia to his wrist while he had his Garmin on the other wrist. Here are his screen shots:

First up the new Bia. It stinks. Sorry, Bia but it does. Apparently, it just really doesn't like tracking you on the road and instead would prefer to show that you went right through people's houses. I apologize to all our neighbors for Dusty's rudeness as he went crashing through your living rooms. On the plus side, the lines are smooth finally and not so jumpy. The Bia read 3.81 miles.

 Here is his Garmin read out from the exact same run (had it on his right wrist). See, he did stay on the road. He also runs with a Garmin Forerunner 410 and got it the same time I got mine. This read 4.00 miles. I think I trust the Garmin a lot more.
Garmin Forerunner 410
With these two read outs in conjunction with mine from before, I'm sending the unit back for a refund. I just don't trust it at all and don't like the fact that they are saying that this is a good reading. If they had responded that this was crappy and that they were working to improve it, I would hang in there. I am al for supporting a new company as long as it seems like they are being realistic.

It is a shame too because the darn watch is so easy to use. I love the interface, the fit, the extremely fast GPS connection and uploading data. I just can't use a watch that I don't trust at all. Hopefully they fix this in the future and I can try again later, but for the high price point I don't see enough benefits to tie up that money in it.

January 3, 2015

Gemmie's New Job

At the River Valley Pace a wonderfully nice lady came riding up to us as we were playing around in the field. She asked if we wanted her to take a pic and snapped one with her cell phone. She emailed this to me and I love it. It is a little blurry and Wyatt isn't looking at the camera, but it captures our new shenanigans well: Me holding Wyatt on a not so sure Gemmie while Dusty holds the reins and runs around.

I really hope Wyatt continues to love to ride and once he is big enough he will be getting himself a nice little horse of his own. I'm thinking of a 14.2h Arab or something of the sort around 20+ years of age with enough world experience to not be a freak (like Gem) but with enough health left to carry him on his first Pace and LD same day. I don't want a pony because I have no intentions of ever riding one and whatever horse Wyatt gets will be getting conditioning and tune ups by yours truly (for what it is worth anyway).

If Wyatt decides he hates to ride, well then we will just find something that he does like and hopefully he will still enjoy camping enough to come along with me to endurance rides.