March 31, 2016

Stupidity Strikes Again

You would think that after spending over 30 years on this planet that I would learn some basic life skills. Namely: IF IT ISN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT!

I ride in an Advantage Saddle which is a western based endurance saddle. I like it. Gem likes it. It is the first saddle that has ever truly fit the mare. She has gotten an A for back score at every ride. A normal person would just roll with it. Keep on keeping on and all that.

Not me. You see I suffer from something coined "Destination Addiction". Its the feeling that the next thing will be the perfect thing. The next job, the next saddle, the next house. Seriously, its the reason I've moved a dozen times and still keep looking for that "perfect" place. (Most recently it was asking the hubby if maybe we should move to New Mexico, yeah...I'm that crazy)

So I begin to tinker. Yes, this saddle is good...but what if I can find great?

For some reason my heart is set on a dressage saddle despite the fact that some of the highest mileage endurance people say not to. There are all sorts of reasons for this: the saddles have too small of a surface area, they are meant for flat work and cause odd pressure areas with hills, they are built for uphill horses etc....

I don't care. I want a dressage saddle. Two things have prevented me from jumping off the deep end: 1) I have no money at all and 2) I have yet to find a dressage saddle that fits the mare.

When thwarted by simple common sense and a hard to fit mare, the next best thing to do is ride in your current saddle as if it was a dressage saddle. Makes a lot of sense, no?

The Advantage saddle doesn't really force a chair seat, but it doesn't put you in a dressage position either because, well, it isn't a dressage saddle. I've never been sore in this saddle even after a 50, but that didn't stop me on Saturday from cranking my legs back and riding in a more classic dressage position. It felt good at the moment. My legs draped better around my mare and they hugged her sides. She didn't seem to notice either way.

We finished the ride and I patted myself on the back.

And then Sunday morning I couldn't move. I had a knife like pain in my IT band up in my left hip. I hobbled around and tried stretching it throughout the day to no avail. Dusty laughed at me and shook his head wondering if I will ever learn to just leave well enough alone.

Monday I was a bit better, but still super tight. I went to the barn for Gem's farrier appointment and went into a panic when I went to curry her back and she scooted away from me in pain. She was back sore. For the first time in 6 years. Even in the most awful fitting saddles, she was never back sore.

I flipped out. I texted Dusty that the 100 would have to be cancelled. That I would have to sell my saddle and go on a saddle hunt. That all was lost.

He then reminded me of my hair brain idea to ride in my saddle completely different for no apparent reason and that I was sore myself in a place I had never been sore before. He recommened massage. At least one of us is sane.

I massaged her loins where she was sore and she relaxed and began to chew. I rubbed and rubbed and when I was done she was fine.

I, on the other hand, am still incredibly tight at my left hip and all the stretching isn't doing much good. I am going to call my PT friend and ask them for some advice.

Lesson learned though. For now anyway. Don't fix something that isn't broken. Don't change just for the sake of change. At least not a month prior to a 100.


March 30, 2016

Conditioning Plan Check In (Weeks 7 and 6)

The first part of a conditioning plan is making one. Putting it in writing and figuring out what to do and when keeping in mind the desired outcome. The second part, equally as important, is keeping to it. I have decided to do biweekly checks on my plan to see what I have been able to do in real life. This will help me stay on track, realize what was actually doable and what wasn't, and will serve to help me look back after the ride to see if what we did worked.

Week 7: Weeknight: hill sets. Weekend: 20 miles, moderate pace with hills. Run Wed and Friday. Begin acclimating Gem to salt water. SUCCESS. 

I did hill sets at the barn and worked in the arena on Tuesday evening. Gem did great and put in a good effort even with the dreaded sandy footing.

I got my runs in as planned.

Sunday was a 15 mile ride at Kings Mountain at a great pace for the conditions. It was 5 miles short because the trail wasn't as long as it claimed to be and I was in no mood to turn around and back track 2.5 miles to just turn around again. Gem wasn't either and the 5 miles shy isn't a big deal.

I totally forgot the salt to add to the water bucket. It was a cool day (high got to be around 45 during the ride and cloudy) and she barely broke a sweat so she didn't really need it anyway.

Week 6:  Weeknight: arena work. Weekend: 20 miles with hills, moderate pace. Run Wed and Friday. Get shoes on Gem. Hope they work out. PARTIAL SUCCESS.

Tuesday night we did work in the grass jump field working on staying soft and fluid. We did serpentines, figure 8s and circles with canter work thrown in as well. Gem was on her A game and we had a lovely ride as the sun set.

I ran as scheduled.

Shoes were put off until the following Monday due to the farrier's schedule, so only a day off from the week's plan.

The weekend was fantastic and left me grinning all weekend, but yo already read all about that. 20 great miles at a great pace.

March 29, 2016

Gemmie's New Kicks

One thing I adore about endurance is the constant learning curve that comes with it. I fully believe that you have to have a 100% open mind when it comes to this sport plus the ability to understand that there are about 1000 different ways to achieve the same thing and no one way is better than another or written in stone. What works today might not work tomorrow. What works for one horse, might not work for another. What works for one rider, might be detrimental to another. Constant learning, constant changes, constant challenges. 

What has worked for us thus far has been going barefoot. At a back of the pack pace for LD type distances, I still think barefoot is fine. When I jumped to 50s though, I began to get a bit iffy on the whole barefoot idea. To be clear, by barefoot I mean 100% barefoot. Not booted.  Gem did fine on her 50s barefoot, but the rocky one made my stomach turn a bit and the sandy one wore her hooves down so much that I worried she wouldn't have any left.

The biggest issue I have with barefoot isn't lameness or hoof wear though. It is all about ride strategy. The best thing I was ever told regarding endurance was the following which came from a 10,000 mile plus rider:

"Never tarry, never hurry"

It is a quote that runs through my head every time I ride. Look at the trail and make speed when you can and slow down when you need to for safety and longevity.

When going barefoot this doesn't always work out. Most trails I have ridden, whether for conditioning or in a ride, have been fairly technical with some flatter, easy gravel roads thrown in. Those flat, gravel roads are perfect for making up time and allowing you to slow down over the harder portions of the trail. Except, when I am riding barefoot I need to slow down on the gravel and then make up time on the hills or twisting forest trails. Not the best strategy.

I tried boots and loved how they reduced my stress regarding the trail. I could let Gem boogie on down the trail knowing that her hoofsies were protected and then let her slow down to pick her way around the tougher sections. Of course the boots didn't work out and added their own level of stress trying to make sure they were on, getting off to fix them and in general causing strife, but the feeling of freedom to move down the trail didn't leave me and made me ache to have it once again. If you don't already follow Liz over at In Omnia Paratus, please read her last post. She articulates the frustrations boots can bring and the decision to go with shoes very well.

So that meant shoes. But what type of shoes? I spent countless hours researching this, reading websites, looking up sources, talking to professionals and picking the brains of long time, high mileage endurance folks. Steel, aluminum, composite, ground control, epona, easycare, Razor, some fancy British racing shoes I can't recall the name many shoes. So many promises of greatness. So much baloney.

In the end I decided to go with the Easycare Performance NG shoe. It fits in well with my own beliefs and functions as I would want a shoe to function. I had talked to my farrier in February about them and it turned out they were also his favorite shoe as well. I 100% trust my farrier. Not only is he the ride farrier at Biltmore (a huge plus), but has been the USA endurance team farrier in the past and was asked to be the team farrier this season as well. I think I can trust his opinion when it comes to shoeing the endurance horse.

Yesterday was shoe day. He pulled in 20 minutes early. I was shocked. Happy shocked. He had an apprentice with him who got busy trimming Pete while main farrier talked to me about what I wanted, my plans and why what I wanted wouldn't work. Wait...what?

I asked for NGs all around and he laughed. The NG is a round shoe. They are made for front hooves and while he will put them on hinds when made to, he thinks it is an expensive waste of a shoe. Gem's hinds are very narrow and long (the reason the boots wouldn't work) and he said they would be too wide for her which would not only make them function improperly, but would have a high risk of her stepping on them and ripping them off. I was thankful that he was honest and didn't waste my money. She ended up getting hot shod with steel on the hinds. I asked a dozen times if it would throw her off having two different types of shoes on and he said no about a dozen times.

He did like the idea of NGs on her fronts though. She got trimmed and I was happy to see that after about 8 months she has a brand new hoof capsule to the floor. All the weird flaring is now gone and the vertical line from the injury in the medial hoof wall is remaining superficial. The scar tissue has made her heel bulbs contract pretty significantly which was a known potential complication, but there isn't much to do about it but trim and work her. Main Farrier did say that he has yet to see a horse not increase the heel width in these shoes after two cycles. We will see.

I watched the process like a hawk and annoyed the snot out of him with a million questions. I wanted to learn all I could about the application process. He began with the trim and then scuffed up her hoof wall with the rasp. He did not use any flame to dry the hoof wall as I have seen on the Easycare videos and in his experience has not had any lost shoes.

He placed Adhere glue to the medial and lateral cuff , but did not use any on the sole of the hoof. He then slapped it on and nailed two nails per side. Borium nails were mentioned to me by two different people and so I asked him his thoughts. He stocks the nails, but in his opinion they are too much for normal conditions and he only uses them is really wet weather. He said that he would have them available at Biltmore and if it was wet to stop by and he would add them.

Once the glue dried, he added more to the outer cuff to seal the hoof wall to it. It wasn't the prettiest job since he didn't have latex gloves, but it was functional. After both shoes were on, he went back and added Equipak soft packing material to the center of each sole. He only filled it to the foam dam to prevent any sole pressure, but he said that leaving it open was just asking for a stone bruise. It dried quickly, he rasped the glue on the hoof wall to make it smoother and we were nearly done.

The last step was to rasp the sole at the toe to make a better break over point. He does this on every horse to reduce the torque.

Throughout the process he kept telling me that I should just apply them myself. He could come trim if I wanted, but that I was wasting money getting him to apply them. I am very much uncomfortable with the idea of nailing anything to my horse, but he was adamant that I should at least try it next time with his supervision. I may. We will see.

Gem looked great and moved off well afterward. I am giving her a couple days in the pasture to get used to them before working her. It is supposed to be very wet Thursday and Friday, so we will see what all I can get in.

Farrier will come out the week before the ride to put new shoes on her. If it was a 50, he would just have me run her in these, but for a 100 he likes shoes being a week out. The plan is to see how she does with conditioning in them and throw the next set on before the 100 and then pull them afterward. I don't have another ride on my calendar, regardless of how we do in the 100, until the fall due to a jam packed summer so there is no need to keep her shod.

Checking all these items off my to do list is feeling really good and making me super excited for the ride!!!

March 28, 2016

Clemson...How I Miss Thee

The last time I rode at Clemson was last fall when I RO out of the Equathon after a major boot failure. Prior to moving on this side of town, Clemson was the only place I rode due to the close proximity. Now it is 90 minutes away and that just isn't all that doable that often.

Saturday though, I made it happen. I wanted a solid 20 miles and I knew that if I went back there and did my favorite green (6.5 mile) loop to red (9 mile) loop and back to green (6.5 mile) loop that it would be just right. 

I took Karen's advice from my Kings Mountain post and fed Gem pre ride. I fed her at the barn before loading her and hauling the 90  minutes. She ate like a pig, licking the bucket clean and then munched on her hay the entire ride. I offered her some water to start, but she declined. While I waited at the trail head, I let her hand graze on the grass as well as have at her hay net.

My friend Sheree has been bringing her mare back from Lymes disease and met me at the trail head. The day was overcast, cool and threatened to rain, all of which were perfect conditions for a long ride. Gem rides super well with her mare and we hit the ground running.

I didn't take pictures because I was having too much fun and I already have about a thousand pictures of these same trails. The forest floor was a bright green that nearly hurt the eyes after a long colorless winter. The wild wisteria, dogwoods and apple trees were all in bloom overhead creating a dazzling array of colors throughout. We passed several other riders, hikers and mountain bikers along the way.

Once we were on the green loop I remembered why I adore these trails. They are probably my favorite trails I have ever ridden. It is pretty much all single track super technical trail with some stretches of access roads to move out on. The footing is near perfect with some roots and rocks here and there, but is mainly hard pack forest dirt and clay. The best is that the trail is rarely ever flat. It is almost always going up or down. It is the perfect place to condition.

The miles flew by under the mares' hooves and Gem was a saint the entire time. I rode in the side pull again and she seems to have really taken to it now. I'm not sure I trust her enough at race start, but I believe that eventually we will get there.

Green is a nice warm up with less steep climbs and better views of the lake. Once you hit red, you are in for it. The trail never goes straight for more than a few feet and a lot of turns are 90 degree or more. I was grinning as we flew through them and at times even held my arms out like an airplane and said "zoom!" I think Sheree thought I had lost my mind.

Ok...I'm not a cartographer or an artist, so this map kinda sucks but it gives you a general idea of how the loops are set up:

Green takes off going counterclockwise from parking and then about 5.5 miles later you get to a road crossing (the double black lines) and can cross the road and head back to camp a mile later or make a right turn and start on red. Red then loops around and comes back to itself and you can turn right and head back to parking or make a left and follow green the opposite direction to do it backwards.

Once we hit the end of red, Sheree headed back to parking and I pointed Gem left to go do green backwards to get the rest of our miles in.

She wasn't too thrilled with the idea and was pretty pokey and annoyed about parting ways with her friend. It took about a half a mile or so to make her focus again, but once she did she was on fire. She moved out beautifully after already having gone so far over really hard trail and by the time we reached the 20th mile she laid down a 7 mph mile and I was thrilled.

Back at the trailer, I gave her a wet mash (I keep playing around with the consistency of it making it more and less wet and think I have finally found the consistency that she likes) which she ate, but not as ravenously as before so I think feeding her prior to loading her up was a great idea. Thanks Karen!!

She looked awesome at the end. Wasn't tired and could have gone back out and done more.  We finished the 20 miles in 3 hours and had just shy of 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

March 23, 2016

The Effect of Boarding Far Away

Gem has now lived at two barns in OH, two barns in WI, two barns when we lived an hour from where we do now, and three barns over this way. That's nine different barns. We left each one for very different reasons (moving, barn foreclosed, BO issues, feed issues, etc..) and each had its pros and cons.

With all the moves Gem has lived as close as being in my back yard to as far away as an hour down the turnpike with a toll every time I went to see her. By far my favorite location was the second barn in WI when she was only 10 minutes away, but right smack on my way home from work so it was super easy to bring clothes with me and stop after work. My least favorite location was an hour up the turnpike because not only was it super far away, but paying a toll each way was really annoying.

The last barn was seven minutes from the house and now she has been moved to just about forty minutes away (thankfully no tolls though). This has produced some interesting effects.

I would have thought that moving her further away would be a royal pain in my butt. I would have guessed that I would have seen her less, rode less often and not wanted to go see her due to the long drive. Lets face it, an eighty minute round trip drive basically means that a ride at the barn takes up at least half a day even when I only ride for an hour.

Now, after her being up there for nearly three months, I can honestly say that I am surprised with the reality of it.

I have found myself being at the barn more regularly, but wanting to trailer to trails less and less.

The second is easy to explain. After driving forty minutes there and knowing that I will have a forty minute drive back home afterward, my desire to then add an hour trailer ride on top of that is severely diminished. I do it because I need to for proper conditioning, but I believe that if the endurance ride wasn't looming in the distance, that I would instead choose to do more arena work versus trail riding. Hopefully, once I get a pass to the local FETA system the ten minute haul to the trail head will resolve this new found malaise.

The first part is more intriguing. When Gem was so close, it was easy to say "I will go later today" and then later becomes even later and next thing I knew I hadn't gone at all. With a longer drive, planning my visits is more important and I find myself looking at the weather, scanning my work schedule, and plotting with Dusty for Wyatt's pick up from school well in advance so as to get to the barn and enjoy the time there. This forces me to go at a scheduled time rather than just playing it by ear which usually resulted in not going at all.

In addition, I adore the location of the farm, the semi private nature of the barn, the happy nature of my beast and the ability to use an arena or jump field for training. Last night, I left work in a funky mood and yet still needed to get to the barn as it was my scheduled day. I arrived debating on not even riding, but saddled up and had the most beautiful sunset ride. Gem was responsive, moved fluidly and lightly, and was an overwhelming pleasure to be with. I ended the ride a bit early to snatch the last bit of daylight to hand graze her in the upper field.

There are some downsides to having her so far away. A quick stop isn't in the cards. An afternoon at the barn is truly an all afternoon affair. I liked being able to just drive by randomly and see her out in the pasture, but the BO is great at sending me text updates and pictures randomly which helps.

All in all this move has been a wonderful change for the Dynamic Duo and has helped keep me on track with my riding and the care they are getting is top notch.

March 21, 2016

King's Mountain Ride

I apologize right off the bat for no pictures. My hands were warmly tucked into my gloves which are apparently not touch screen compatible. 

The hunter pace got cancelled again last weekend. I don't know what is gong on with the season. On the plus side, it saves me some money so there is that. Saturday was a gorgeous sunny day with a mild breeze and we spent the afternoon at the barn so Dusty could get Pete out. He has lost a good bit of weight since moving him and now he just needs exercise to tone up. We are really hoping to lease him out this summer to a friend of the BO which would help us with board costs and help Pete get some exercise.

The BO was busy mending fences and I mentioned to her that I would be trailering out the next day to ride if she wanted to come with. She was game and so Sunday morning Gem and Tristan found themselves heading to King's Mountain for a 20 mile ride.

Gem was hilarious. BO has opened up a new section for them which abuts her geldings' pasture so that they can talk over the fence and it gives them access to a small shelter as well. Most of the time, all four horses are chilling near each other. I pulled in, screamed my typical hello and then proceeded to go behind the barn to hook up the trailer. Gem watched me like a hawk and as I was hooking everything up, I heard thundering hooves as she took off snorting to the other end of her pasture. The BO laughed and asked if I wanted some treats to get her.

I never bribe my horse to come to me mostly because it doesn't work but also because I don't want Gem coming to me just because I have food. In fact, I rarely give her treats at all these days. After I loaded the trailer up with my tack and made room for BO I went to get Gem. She was hiding behind a small strand of trees. I called for her and she went screaming past me snorting and farting and carrying on. I turned and stood still watching her as she pranced, tail flagged. About a minute or so later, without me moving a muscle, she came trotting over to me and stood as I patted her head and put the bridle on her. She just always needs to have her opinion heard.

Bonus with having to make room in my extremely messy trailer (hey, it happens when you live out of it for all riding needs and have no access to a tack room for over a year): I found my red mohair girth!! I thought I had lost it back at the Clemson Equathon debacle last fall, but it apparently just fell into the dark recesses of the trailer and then got covered in hay. Yay!!

King's Mountain is a great little trail system. It only has one trail for horse use which online states is 20 miles in one description and 15 miles in another, both written by the State Park Foundation. The trail head is beautiful with a generous area for parking, a bathroom and a handicap accessible mounting block. There were several other trailers already parked when we arrived around 9:30 am. I decided to forgo the bit and just use the side pull since we had company along.

The trail is like a lollipop with about a 1.5 mile section of "stick" common trail leading away and back to the trail head and then a long "sucker" circle portion. The only other time I had been there, I rode out about 5 miles to a picnic area and then headed back, so I was excited to see the entire thing this time.

The trail began with bowling ball sized rocks which the horses picked around carefully. From there it narrowed down to a single track trail with mostly hard packed dirt footing with areas of large rocks mixed in. We covered the ground in a steady trot for mile after mile. The trail is nice in that it is rarely ever flat. While there are some steeper climbs/descents the trail is mostly rolling hills up or down the entire way. The BO, an eventer, was getting tired of posting and endless trot work when we came upon a lovely double wide section with no rocks and she looked back to ask if we could open it up a bit. I was more than game and we headed off at a nice little hand gallop.

From there we crossed several streams and continued to chat as the miles went by. At one point Tristan put on the breaks and snorted. Coming towards us was a whole pack of hikers, probably boy scouts, and he was none too sure about the back packs they were lugging. A big bonus of having a toddler is that Gem is pretty much accustomed to all sorts of weird gear including kid carrying back packs, strollers and wagons and she barely batted an eye.

Once those monsters were passed us, we carried on like before walking where the trail became super rocky, trotting most of it, and cantering where able.

It wasn't long before we reached the picnic area I had turned around at before and I knew we were about 5 miles out.

Gem was still going strong at the end although she was getting a bit snarky about 2 miles from the end. I was getting a little worried about her thinking maybe all the rocks had caused her to be sore or worse a stone bruise, but then she peeled off the trail and emptied her bladder with the most melodramatic moan of all time. Mareface hates to pee under saddle and will typically go in her pasture when she sees me coming, but didn't take the time to do so that morning.

The last two miles were back along the bowling ball sized rocks and we picked our way back. Both horses were barely sweaty at all and neither looked overly tired at the end. Gem was starving though. She had started to look for anything edible along the trail around mile 7 or 8 and once back at the trailer she devoured her hay bag in record time. Tristan barely touched his and she was greedily eying it up when I unloaded her back home.

My Garmin read about 13 miles, which given the history of using it means it was more likely 15 miles. We finished it in just over 2 1/2 hours which I was pleased with given the need to walk a good bit and the stops for the backpackers.

I typically don't feed Gem right before a ride. The feed won't be usable energy by the time we are finished riding and we leave early enough in the morning that she generally had breakfast within a couple of hours of loading up. She always gets feed at the end, but if she continues to get hungry while out on trail, I may begin to give her a smidge before we head out.

I forgot to take some salt with me to make a salt water bucket for after the ride. It wasn't really needed anyway given the weather and the tiny bit of sweat she produced under the saddle, so I am not sure she would have even drank it. I want to start getting her used to it before the May ride though.

It was a fantastic day out on the trails with good company, both horse and rider and I know Gem always appreciates the mental break that having another horse brings.


March 18, 2016

Organization. 7 weeks left!

I'm obsessed. Seriously. It isn't healthy.

All day long my thoughts drift off to the first weekend in May. I've read the website for the ride about a  hundred times. I could probably re write it by now. I've made plans in my head of when to head up, then changed them and then changed them back again.

I think I may need some intervention.

Last night I realized it is only 7 weeks away. Somehow that sounds shorter than saying 2 months. EEK!!

With so many thoughts banging around in my head at all times, stuffed between work and home life concerns, I think I need a single place to organize things. The plan below includes Gem's conditioning, my own conditioning and all the thiings that need to get done before the ride. I am back dating it to when her official conditioining began for the April ride since those  miles all count towards her fitness entering the 100.

Week 11: Weeknight: 12 miles. Weekend: 10 miles, fast pace.

Week 10: Weeknight: hill sets. Weekend: 10 miles, fast pace.

Week 9: Weeknight arena work. Weekend : 10-15 miles, moderate pace. Run Wed and Friday.

Week 8: Weeknight: arena work. Weekend: 10-15 miles, moderate pace with hills. Run Wed and Friday.

Week 7: Weeknight: hill sets. Weekend: 20 miles, moderate pace with hills. Run Wed and Friday. Begin acclimating Gem to salt water.

Week 6:  Weekight: arena work. Weekend: 20 miles with hills, moderate pace. Run Wed and Friday. Get shoes on Gem. Hope they work out.

Week 5: Weeknight: hill sets. Weekend: 10-12 miles, fast pace (hunter pace scheduled). Run Wed and Friday. Double check all gear for any signs of wear or weakness. Go over portable corral for missing parts and functioning charger. Order anything that requires replacing. Have dental work on Gem. Spring vaccines and new coggins.

Week 4: Weeknight: arena work. Weekend: 10-12 miles, fast pace (hunter pace scheduled). Run Wed and Friday.

Week 3: Weeknight: last hill sets. Weekend: 20 miles, moderate pace. Run Wed and Friday. Check supply of Grand Vite and alfalfa cubes. Wash and organize trailer. Turn 34 and hope hubby purchased the saddle pad I asked for.

Week 2: Weeknight: work in grass field to keep muscles loose and moving. Run Wed and Friday. Weekend: 10 - 12 miles, moderate to fast pace (hunter pace scheduled). Purchase compressed alfalfa. Confirm grass hay requirements with BO. Make sure all grain is fully stocked. Go over camping gear and portable corral to make sure everything is in working order. Order electrolye syringes from Running Bear to confirm they will be there upon arrival in camp. Figure out where to get some dry ice. Confirm plans with Liz about arrival.

Week 1: Rest for both of us. Wash all riding gear: pad, saddle, girth and bridle. Make sure headlamp has new batteries. Make sure Garmin is fully charged. Shop for human food and drink.  Pack up all camping gear and ride gear. Label buckets and tubs for ease of crewing. Get new set of shoes on Gem. Begin daily Grand Vite/alfalfa cube slurry. Don't forget to breathe.

And then we will be off!!!

Anything glaring I am missing from all of this??

March 17, 2016

The Changes in Gem Amaze Me

Two years ago, I began to get re interested in endurance. We had just moved to SC and I thought that it might be possible given my improved work schedule to try another LD. Wyatt was 7 months old and we were blessed with a kid who went to bed at 6:30 pm every night without a single fuss. Yes he got up at 5:30 am but I had been getting up that early, or earlier, the last 3 years in residency and that was after being up all night with pages or not even getting home until 2 am from an emergency surgery. I worked close to 90 hours every week for three years, so being cut down to 45 hours with no call and no emergencies was like working part time.

I gave her the summer off with only light arena riding to adjust to the new hot and humid climate. The poor mare would be covered in sweat just standing in the pasture and I had no need to rush her into anything. That January (2014) I went to Clemson and rode her solo exploring the trails.

We literally went a max of 3 mph and that was with us trotting a good portion of it.

Who me? Go slow?? Never!
By the time spring rolled around I was convinced we would never make it in endurance. Gem barely got above 3 mph at any point in our conditioning and I was doing my all to push her forward (except use the confidence stick which I didn't even own at the time). I then hooked up with some local riding friends and Gem was much better when tagging along with others.

We completed the Biltmore LD that summer and I entered our first 50 that October. All through our conditioning leading up to that we barely broke 4 mph. The one 20 mile conditioning ride I did solo took us over 5 hours to do. When I heard that the first two loops on the 50 were each 20 miles long, I figured we were in for it. At our current pace we would take 10 hours to do the first two loops without taking the hold into consideration. It was the main stressor I had going into the ride.

Wine and Shine 50 
Fast forward a bit through that 50 and the next in February where we rode mostly by ourselves. Last spring saw pretty much no conditioning and then she got hurt and was out of the entire summer. Come late summer/early fall I decided to enter the hunter pace series competitively with Gem.

That has turned out to be the best decision I have ever made with Gem. At the start of the pace season, I had barely ridden Gem much at all since the 50 the preceding February and was still fighting a slow and unsure Gem when out alone. The first few paces were off a bit due to me trying to maintain some level of easing back into exercise for her, but once she was fully cleared for work it was game on.
Her opinion of conditioning
From the 3rd one on, she was forward, willing and strong. We have finished all the remaining paces with an average of around 6 mph with the stop in the middle and my own fiddling around. While this is not scorching by any means, it is enough to place us in the top 5 consistently unless I second guess myself and decide to do the trail twice for no real reason. Ahem.

During the paces we are riding alone. I go early to beat the rush and get back for Wyatt, so while we do get passed and pass others we are always on our own. And she is putting down 8 mph miles at times. 8 mph when solo on unfamiliar trails. 

That is amazing. I can't even come up with enough words to describe how amazing it is that my mare, who would barely break 3 mph when out alone, is now offering up perfectly beautiful and sustainable 8 mph trots out alone.

At first I was worried it wouldn't hold true for boring conditioning rides. Gem knows when it is a race and when we are out to lay down the miles and she isn't the biggest fan of the latter. She loves the competition though and locks on to the job readily. Except it is carrying over. The last few conditioning rides, she has been on fire. Not in a bad , hot mess, over fed carbs kind of way. In a great, ready to move, lets get this done and have some fun kind of way.

The way I prefer her mane for rides

She is still annoyingly spooky about the wood thing. She still zig zags down the trail and acts like monsters are everywhere, but the thing is that now she is doing that at 6 mph instead of 3 mph. It is a huge difference!

She has also learned a few of my idiosyncrasies out on trail. The biggest one that I noticed last Friday was that she has learned my voice command "be careful". Gem has always been good at voice commands and I worked on those early on when she was extremely sensitive to any pressure on her sides. Instead of stressing her out, I just taught her walk, trot and canter by the words and slowly added some leg and eventually dropped the voice to get her moving off my leg better, so it isn't surprising that she listens to my voice.

I hate micromanaging my horse on trail. She has one job: move down the trail at the pace I request. She is responsible for her footing choices and I don't move her around stumps or rocks. She does that herself and I have gotten compliments from those riding behind us (once they learn to keep back a ways because my mare weaves like a drunken sailor) about how careful she is about where she goes. I do watch out for big things like holes or very tricky sections.

When we come up to a spot that looks tricky, a bunch of close together roots or rocks or a steep dip in the trail, I have the habit of collecting her up and saying "be careful Gemmie". Well, on the last ride, I hadn't collected her up at all yet and saw a tricky spot so I said "be careful Gemmie" and she slowed down and collected herself all on her own until she picked her way through the obstacle and then went back to her extended all day trot on her own. The next spot, I made sure to use the voice command alone and she repeated the same thing.

It was really cool to feel.

So there it is...without me trying to do it, beating it into her brain with repetition or even focusing on it, Gem has changed dramatically this fall and winter with her work out on the trails. I am just itching to see how this translates out at an endurance with regards to her abilities. Going into our last two rides, I put the miles on her legs, but it was slow...very very slow... This year the miles will be about the same but they will be at a much faster pace.

I still plan to ride uber conservatively and not push her, but I am so excited to start it!!!!

March 16, 2016

Friday..Well...That Was A Different Story

Wunderground is my favorite app and I check it multiple times a day. When you get two days a week to ride, it is really important to plan ahead in regards to weather to get the most out of it.

Unfortunately, the weekend was looking bleak for a ride and I really needed to get some good double digit trail miles in. I wanted to get 20 miles on the books, but the more I looked at it the more depressing it became. Sunday was calling for rain all day (which in fact did happen) and while Saturday was looking great, Dusty worked in the morning and I wouldn't get out of the house until after 1 pm which meant hitting the trail at around 3 pm, so very limited time to ride. When Friday rolled around it was looking like a short ride Saturday late afternoon.

I had two surgeries planned for Friday morning, but then one got canceled. I was always trained to arrive at least an hour before start time and I work in a lovely operating room where the staff is more than happy to get things rolling as quickly as possible. My Friday surgery ended up going early and I finished before my start time even rolled around. I was happily walking out of the hospital at 9 am. 

I should have gone back to the office, but instead the brilliant idea of stealing off to the woods on my mare snuck into my brain and took hold. I ran home, changed clothes and headed to the barn in the truck.

Gem was not too pleased to see me two days in a row and showed it by galloping and bucking all around her pasture. I just stood still holding her halter and waited for her to stop being an idiot. About 5 minutes later she came walking up to me breathing hard and covered in a film of sweat. I just shook my head, slid the halter over her head and led her to the trailer.

After a quick text to the hubby to let him know where I was going and what trail I planned to ride, I headed off to Croft. I feel much more at ease when going out alone knowing that at least someone has some vague idea of where to look should I go missing. 

I was surprised to find the parking lot nearly full mid morning on a Friday and saddled up without an issue. I was putting my hydration pack on when a lady came riding up to the trailer on her horse. I poked my head around and she jumped out of her saddle a bit in shock. She said she wanted to look at the trailer as she really liked it and didn't realize I was there. I actually get this quite often, so I just laughed and told her about the trailer. Seriously, I think I get asked about it about every other time I take it out somewhere. 

As I started off, the temperatures were already in the upper 70s and climbing. I decided to do the ride I did last time backwards because the only on trail water was the river crossing on the outer loop that was 4 miles in when I went the other way. Going backwards would put it near the end. 

We started off on the familiar Forest Mill Loop and Gem was game and ready. Not anxious or jiggy, but ready to move out when asked and didn't try to stop or screw around. The first couple of miles flew by and then the breaks came on. Gem began to walk a lot and really slowly. My own head was feeling a bit dizzy even with using the hydration pack to drink frequently.

We reached the picnic tables at mile 3.5 and I got off her to look her over. 

An extremely hot mare

Absolutely lathered and dripping with sweat even over the areas that were clipped.  
She was breathing harder than she should have been given the effort and I knew she needed a cool down. I took the bit out and sat with her debating on what to do. The trail that led to the water was a 6 mile loop back to the trail head and I guessed the river to be about 2 miles from where we were. The way back also led to water at parking, but would be a mile farther and had more hills to climb. 

It seemed best to proceed forward, but I walked it in hand to give her a chance to cool down. I walked her the entire 2 miles to the river, but it only took about a half a mile for her breathing to return to normal although she was still lathered and dripping. A quick look at my weather app showed temperatures had soared to 85, near record breaking highs, and the sun was blazing hot. 

Once in the river, I cursed not bringing my sponge along and instead stood ankle deep in the refreshingly cold water to splash water onto her chest and legs.

Feels so good!

Don't even think about asking me to leave this river
I continued to splash her until I felt her skin was cool and she was looking refreshed and then forced her big hairy butt to move on. 

Once we reached the bank, I got back on board. She was spunky underneath me once again and I let her trot the flat and down hill sections, but walk the up hills on the 4 mile trip back. She kept asking to trot the uphills and she was cool enough to do so, but I didn't want to risk anything happening to her and made her walk.

By the time we made it back to the trailer, we had done around 10 miles in just around 2 hours and she was cool and calm. That was with the time I spent hand walking her and stood in the river. She had been really moving out when asked.

I gave her a full body hose done at the water spigot and loaded her bucket up with water to cover the feed. She gobbled down her entire soupy mash and happily walked back to the trailer with a spring in her step. 

Honestly, looking back I think she would have been just fine on the ride had she not spent 5 minutes working herself into a lathered mess back at the barn. When I tacked up, she was dry and breathing normal, but I don't think she was fully recovered internally. Record breaking highs and a partial winter coat didn't help matters at all either. I should have hosed her down once we got there to get her cool before I even rode which is a trick I learned from local riders when I first moved south. It works super well to get them started off cool, but she had been dry and looking fine when I tacked her up. Lesson learned for sure. 

She drank deeply once she got back home and quickly started devouring her amazing hay. I don't know where the BO found it, but it is the best looking hay I have seen since moving to SC. By the time I parked the trailer (all by myself too!!!) she was rolling in the grass and starting to graze. 

March 15, 2016

First Ride on TC Complete

Princess Gem ready to rock and roll
Before I get into this story I want to add a caveat to the post from yesterday which caused some consternation amongst readers. That is never my intention. Blogging is an outlet for me to write, collect stories and pictures as well as bounce ideas around in my own head and against others. I do in fact pre load Gem with vitamins and minerals the week up to and including the ride. I use a product called Grand Vite from Smartpak which is a full vitamin and mineral supplement containing the entire profile that a horse needs. I give this to her every day starting a week out of the ride and I mix it in a slurry of crushed up Alfalfa cubes and sometimes applesauce. She gets two full scoops a day which is the highest recommended dose. I then continue to provide this in her mashes during the ride. During the ride I then use Perfect Balance electrolyte paste the night before, morning of and at every hold and give her a full dose each time. This product does not contain a full vitamin and mineral profile and is mainly sodium and potassium. I do not consider giving this type of product every day a pre load as it is not giving the actual full profile to the horse. My whole point of the pre loading portion was to discuss the oftentimes recommended use of the sodium and potassium syringes before a ride to tank the horse up on water. I believe that that point was somehow lost.

Anyway...moving on to today's less controversial post about my ride last Thursday.

A week ago Sunday I switched Gem from The Triple Crown Senior to the Complete. I wanted the oats, a higher fat level than the Senior offered and didn't mind the protein level in it although I wouldn't want to go any higher. Pete was changed to the Lite food. Gem is currently getting 5 lbs per day. Recommended is 6 lbs for 1000 pounds and she weighs in at around 900 when in perfect fighting condition. Pete is getting 2 lbs per day. Both will be monitored for weight gain or loss and the amount of feed given will change as needed specially now with the grass growing once again. I would venture to bet that both will be scaled back once they begin eating the grass which is fine since they will be getting a bunch of nutrients from the grass anyway.

Oats have a bad reputation of making horses hot due to the high carb count. Gem has almost always had some form of either corn or oats in her feed, so I wasn't terribly concerned about her mental status when on the Complete.

Thursday night was the first chance I had to ride last week and I was barely making it out there before the sun began to bed down for the night. I quickly grabbed her, tacked her and headed up to the arena to get some work in. I like the deep sandy footing as a change terrain from our typical hard pack trails as it works her tendons much differently. When we wandered to the top of the property though I saw this:

BO is playing around with the footing. The base is river sand, but it doesn't compact down well enough due to a large particle size. She had black sand brought in to mix with the river sand to allow for more compaction and better resistance. 
With the entire arena either covered in piles of sand or cut up from tractor wheels, I knew it wouldn't be a great time to get any decent work in. Instead we headed over to the jump field.

The horror! So much dead wood piled everywhere!!
I had worked her in this field one other time and she was a hot mess between her typical hatred of arena type work and all the bare wood everywhere. I do enjoy working in a field with jumps set up though because I have a better ability to plan movements and paths around them instead of getting lost in a big open space and not holding Gem to anything specific.

I started by asking of a nice working trot, one that is slow enough to be reposing and not rushy or inverted, and she responded by throwing her head around and basically acting like my toddler. I learned a long time ago that in this situation it is best to completely ignore her and ride as if she had responded properly. The lack of a reaction takes all the fun out of it and she eventually gets down to business.

It took two circles in the upper portion of the field to get her to adjust to the thought of working. After that she was amazing. Light in the bridle, even paced steady trot, and would turn just from the shift of my weight in the saddle.

I fully believe in Anna Blakey's blog and if you haven't been following it, you really should. Anyway...from the very first ride with Gem I have always had a plan in mind and when she performs the task nicely and softly I dismount. It doesn't matter if I was only on her for 5 minutes or for 5 hours. Once she does what I wanted her to do, we quit.

After about 30 minutes of trotting around the field in circles, serpentines, figure eights and the like I asked her to halt and got off. She had done super well and deserved the release. I gave her a big hug and we walked back down to the barn together in peace.

A beautiful sunset on the farm
I stopped and let her munch on the early spring grass that she was greedily eye balling and just hung out with her as the sun set lower and lower thereby ending the brilliant spring day.

Back in the barn I took a second to really look at her condition. Her BCS is just about perfect now. It took about 2 months to gain back what she had lost at the last barn and she is really looking better than ever right now. I love her top line and her butt muscles are starting to become chiseled again. She has the Arab head and neck, but her butt is very solidly from her QH lineage and I love it.

Just about where I like her to be when amping up the conditioning. Her butt could use a but more definition, but that will come with more hills. I couldn't get completely square to her due to the barn wall being at my back, so this is a slightly angled shot. I swear she is not this butt high!
Her neck is a bit scrawny but that is mostly due to the fact that I am fairly clueless when it comes to any real contact and use of the behind in a true dressage sense which I hope to fix this summer once I begin lessons. Also, this is an angled shot so it makes it look even worse.

All in all I believe that we are finally back to a comfortable place and I am really happy with my decision to back off the April ride and go in May instead. Oh, and I needn't have worried about any ill effects from the feed switch. She was fully engaged and perfectly manageable.

March 14, 2016

Electrolyte Usage in Endurance

With the decision to do a 100 mile ride, I have been doing a whole lot of serious thinking, planning and research on all aspects of endurance riding and care in order to find some unknown holes in our regimen and make changes as soon as possible.

One topic that comes up pretty often is that of electrolytes.

The dosage of electrolytes comes up in two forms and my brain tends to work in a fairly common sense, simplistic manner when looking at these things. 

Type 1: replacement during exertion. This makes 100% perfect physiologic sense to my brain. As the horse is working they produce sweat and in that sweat is water and electrolytes. Since you are continuing to ask for exertion without allowing adequate time to refuel and reload to a state of balance once again, dosing electrolytes throughout the race becomes very important. Some horses require more than others and this will vary with weather and the amount of exertion.

For this I use a syringe versus loose in her feed because then I know for sure that she got it and how much. I have made my own recipe to mix in with mashed carrots or applesauce as well as purchased them and both seemed to have worked the same. I dose the night before, the morning of and during the holds.

I am horrible at doing it during conditioning rides which needs to improve.

Type 2: pre loading during periods of rest. This makes zero physiologic sense to my brain. When the horse is at rest, most often the week leading up to a ride, dosing with electrolytes to enhance drinking and therefore hydration. There is a big contingent of riders who advocate this and I am really scratching my head over it.

Looking at it from a physiologic perspective, the body maintains a state of balance/homeostasis. When this is thrown off kilter in either direction, loss or excess, the body uses its many pathways to correct this and return to a balanced state.

So there is Gem hanging out in her pasture the week up to the ride. She is eating her free choice hay at will, munching on some spring grass, getting her Triple Crown fortified feed and has access to good, clean water at all times. In theory, she should be in a state of balance since animals aren't like us humans and tend to remain hydrated as long as water is available. They don't skip the water for a sugary beverage of pure sweet tea filled delight.

So anyway...I head out there and dose her with a big syringe of electrolytes. My goal in this is to enhance her hydration based on the recommendations of the masses so that she starts the ride in perfect hydrated status. She takes it reluctantly because man is it a gross goop and then I stand back and watch her. She heads to the water tub and drinks deeply. She continues to drink more than the previous day and I leave the barn satisfied that I am improving her hydration status.

Meanwhile, Gem's body has stepped out of homeostasis and is now in a state of imbalance with excess electrolytes flowing through her blood stream. It kicks into overdrive to use the pathways to return once again to its natural balanced state. She intakes more water to help flush the electrolytes out and her kidneys begin pumping away. Eventually, she begins to urinate more and more and she flushes this out of her system and finally returns to a state of balance.

I suppose that if she was mildly depleted of electrolytes, she would absorb and use some of what I gave her, but most of it will have ended up in the pasture soil.

The next day I head back out and see her again. I notice how much water she drank and pat myself on the back for increasing her hydration status so well. I then redose her with more electrolytes and the process begins anew.

In the end she will have drank more water the week leading up to the ride, but it was all excreted promptly along with the excess electrolytes. I also just increased her likelihood of having ulcers from the goop and taxed her system with having to work more to excrete the useless electrolytes that I just pumped into her body needlessly.

Or at least that is how my understanding of physiology understands it.

I do think doing some electrolytes the day before the ride makes a bit of sense just in case she is depleted a bit sitting in her pasture. I wouldn't do it to increase her thirst, but instead to actually replenish any needed electrolytes. What has worked for me is to start her on a slurry of Grand Vite and alfalfa every day the week before a ride to help replenish anything she is needing and to get her body used to alfalfa again. I only ever feed alfalfa during a ride, so I like to give her some leading up to it.

I think I will just continue doing that until someone can better explain why on earth I need to shove salt in my mare for an entire week up to the ride hoping to get her to drink more. I can only imagine how her stomach would be nauseated and how bloated she would feel after doing that.

March 9, 2016

Change In...Plans??? Thought Process??? Goals???

The Florida ride in April is out.

There are a ton of reasons for making this decision, but the main reason is that I just feel too rushed. With only 3 weekends left to condition and put shoes on and get another pad and get her feed switched and get her used to alfalfa and start her back on electrolytes and clip her for the warmer weather down there and check over all my human camping gear and repack the trailer and check over her portable fencing and about a dozen more things I can't even remember that I need to do, I just don't feel ready

There is another reason. I was sitting at a red light after work Thursday evening, watching the wintry slush hit my windshield, when something dawned on me. I was prepared to ask Gem to go 100 miles in 2 days.

The immensity of this task hit me hard and I began to wonder if I was approaching this with the right perspective. If I was going to ask Gem to go 100 miles, is the best way to do this following a 6.5 hour trailer ride down to unfamiliar trails in unfamiliar terrain in unconditioned for heat? If I were to do a one day 100, would I be attacking it in the same fashion or would I be stacking the deck in our favor in the best way possible?

The light bulb came on.

This was stupid. This was asking for trouble. This was stacking the deck against us in almost every possible manner and this was not fair to Gem.

It took only a millisecond to jump from that conclusion to the next one: I should enter the one day 100 at Biltmore in May.

It makes sense: a 1 hour trailer ride, trails we have ridden a bunch before, familiar camping area, weather the same as at home, and the possibility to maybe have time to find some crew. Plus an extra month to condition and the farrier I am now using is the ride farrier at Biltmore.

I don't know how better to enter a one day 100.

So there it is. A whole new plan of attack. It is odd because instead of feeling nervous about entering my first one day 100, I am feeling very relieved to not be rushing into the FL ride and feeling under prepared.

There is just one big thing I need to do: find crew. I feel totally fine doing a 50 alone. I have done it before and can manage just fine. A one day 100 is different and Biltmore is even more challenging due to the fact that camp is a good hike from vetting. It wastes too much time to go back and forth, but if I have no crew I wont be able to do anything but hold on to Gems lead rope. is my plea.

Anyone want to come crew for me at Biltmore in May???

Fellow blogger Liz will be there crewing for another friend and has offered her services as able. I have a couple people that I plan to ask locally, but they generally ride the ride themselves in some form or another which would mean no crew for a big chunk of time or at all of something went wrong for them. I would love the safety blanket of knowing someone was waiting for me at every hold.

Anyway. I don't need a whole gaggle of people hanging out watching me ride. I'd just like one lead person who is in charge of us at all times and then someone to help them and keep them company.

Crewing would basically entail showing up the day before to get to know Gem and what is what regarding tack, feed and electrolytes. I haven't decided when I will arrive in camp yet. At least Friday morning (it is a Saturday ride) but I may go up Thirsday to snag a better camping spot. We will go over a basic game plan. Ride day you will need to keep me from throwing up all over everything that morning, remind me that I do this for fun and that I do in fact love my mare. Basically just keep reminding me of that for 24 hours. Dusty and Wyatt will probably be camping with me but will be useless when it comes to holds and such.

If you would like to come crew for me, let me know and we can talk particulars. I'll make it as enjoyable as possible and Biltmore is a great place. It is FEI as well and there will be vendors set up to shop at. Running Bear is always around at our SE rides and I believe I saw that Taylored Tack and Distance Depot will be there too. Lots to do!!

March 8, 2016

Gemmie is Glamorous Thanks to Karen

A while back I sent a message to fellow blogger Karen, of Trails to Lead Old Cowboys Home Again, asking about her brow bands. She makes gorgeous beaded brow bands and I always loved the designs she showed on her website.

She responded quickly that she was happy to make one and asked what I had in mind. I am not a crafty DIY type person and so I drew a blank at first. I thought about it a bit and responded back that I would love something that included a dog paw print, having just lost Bones. Karen already knew I loved red and black and after asking a few other questions, she got to work making a masterpiece.

My new bridle showed up at last and I was asked to measure the length of the brow band so she would know what size to make it. I promptly either forgot to take a measuring tape to the barn with me or forgot to use it once there on multiple occasions, so I eventually just called the Distance Depot and asked them what length it was on the Arab sized bridle I just purchased.

With the information in hand, she quickly finished the piece and mailed it out to me. With the intricacy involved, it would have taken me a year to even figure out how to do the design let alone execute it and here it was in my hands in a really short time. I was so excited to rip open the box!!

When at last I opened it up I was speechless. It was gorgeous. Far prettier than anything I could have thought up. She not only incorporated the paw print, but did it inside a heart. The gold accents glittered in the sun and the geometric and symmetrical design was flawless.

She also included a bridle charm in Gem's colors.

It took a bit if fiddling to get it on the bridle mainly because I didn't pay enough attention to how it all worked when I gave Karen the measurements. She made it exactly as I described except what I described wasn't accurate.

Finally, this weekend I got it all put together and on her and there are not enough adjectives to describe it.

It suits her so perfectly. The colors are lovely. The design is symmetric beauty. The paw prints are a reminder of my other beloved 4 legged family memebers. She looks like the princess she knows she is.

I can't thank Karen enough for this and will treasure it.

March 7, 2016

The Pad That Will Not Dry

Grungy. That was the state of my Thin Line Endurance wool saddle pad. I got it this time last year, put tons of conditioning miles and two 50s on it and had never washed it. Ugh.

With same heavy rides on the schedule and an endurance ride coming up, I thought it was time to wash the swamp monster out of it. Wednesday night, after Wyatt went to bed, I sat on the side of the bath tub and hand washed the wool pad.

It came surprisingly clean and looked just about new again and that was with no detergent. Just my hands and luke warm water. At the end I wished I had used some detergent because the thing smelled awful, but I didn't have any fancy detergent and the website clearly stated that using anything but what they recommended would void the warranty.

The pad also now weighted about 100 pounds. I gently rolled it up and smushed it with my hands to get water out and then hung it up in the bathroom. The weather was not nice then end of last week, so putting it outside was not an option.

Friday night, I checked on it and it was still wet. Dripping wet to be exact. Crap. I couldn't ride in it like that the next day, which turned out to not be a problem since the pace was cancelled anyway. Saturday was the first sunny day all week and so I put it out on the front porch rail to dry.

Saturday night it was less drippy, but still wet.

Sunday morning I went to the barn to ride and used an old cotton pad which didn't fit the best, but since I was doing just arena work and not hitting the trails it wasn't such a big deal. We worked on canter and trot and I even put down some ground poles which eventually turned into a small jump. Gem worked hard in the deep, soft sandy footing.

Sunday night, the pad was still damp. No longer dripping, but definitely still wet.

What the hell pad? Why won't you just dry!

I posted my frustration to AERC FB and some suggested I tumble dry it without the air on or spin it in the washer. I'm not fond of those ideas. I can just picture my pad being spun to pieces and it was too pricey for my to tempt fate like that.

Instead, I put it on the railing of the stairs and put a fan on high in front of it. If it is still wet when I get home, I may just throw it in the fire place. Maybe that will dry it out!


March 4, 2016

Top 10 Best Ride

Tuesday night I got out of work a half an hour early and rushed up to the barn to chase daylight while mounted. A storm was blowing in, but wasn't supposed to hit until 8 pm, so while it was still sunny the winds were gusting for all they were worth.

Gem was a bit surprised to see me and at first wouldn't take her nose out of the delicious pile of green hay in front of her. After a bit of persuasion she left the pasture and stood to be tacked up.

With the wind flinging her mane and tail around and the sun setting faster than I had hoped, we took to the trail that leads through the woods behind the pasture and ends at the big hill leading up to the arena. I forgot my watch and for some reason my phone wouldn't open the App store to let me download Endomondo, so I can't tell you how much vertical gain or how long the hill is. I will just say that it is steep and most likely a quarter to a third of a mile in length.

Gem was UP UP UP. The wind was goosing her butt and she was looking at everything. I didn't mind though. She needed the extra drive for the evilness I had planned.

We exited the woods (maybe a half mile total of trail?) and hit the base of the hill. There was a pile of sticks to the left that she took a long look at, but I dug my heels in and moved into a half seat position. At first she trotted, but soon realized what I wanted and charged like a war horse up the hill. I was grinning from ear to ear.

At the top, we entered the arena and she was blowing hard. I kept her in a trot twice around and then we cantered once around before I slowed her to a walk and we went back down the hill. I wanted to use this as her recovery and she was told to walk. She jigged. She was told to walk. She trotted. She was told to walk.

At the bottom she tried to bolt through my aides and rush back into the woods, but instead I turned her around and pointed her back up the hill. She protested, but as soon as she felt me get into my half seat and squeeze, she once again charged up the hill.

Blowing hard, we entered the arena and went the opposite direction trotting twice and then cantering once around before I asked her to walk back down the hill.

Again she jigged and tried to duck into the woods at the bottom, but I halted her and made her turn to face the hill. She locked on. She now understood the game and as soon as I gave her slack and went into half seat she leaped from a stand still into a gallop and charged up that hill. I laughed and tried to remain as much out of her way as possible.

After the third set I let her walk to cool down completely. She was breathing hard. I also noticed that even in 50 degree weather with the cold wind howling around us, she was stating to get sweaty.

We walked around for 5 minutes until I felt her breathing return to normal and then she walked like a lady back down the hill, turned around on her own accord and stopped with her ears back at me just waiting for the signal. She was enjoying this game.

Up we went three more times until the daylight was fading too much. She was breathing hard and was lathered, so I felt a little bad for her. I thought maybe I had pushed her too hard, but once we reached the bottom of the hill and I let her know we were heading into the woods and back to the barn she just took off on me. The trail is super narrow and twisting and is not safe to take at speed. I kept reminding her that we were no longer galloping and any feelings of pity I had for my poor tired pony went out the window. She had plenty of energy to spare!

Back in the barn, I threw her cooler on her to let her dry out without becoming chilled. I was so thankful for the clip job and I am sure she felt much cooler because of it. About 20 minutes later she was good and ready to go back outside and I left feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

This was easily one of the most fun and top 10 rides I have ever put in with Gem. We were both in harmony with each other and the plan for the day. Feeling her rippling muscles go from a halt to full blown gallop up the hill was amazing. She worked hard and I believe that these hill work outs are going to really help her butt, abdominals and cardiovascular system a ton.

March 3, 2016

My Head Found Its Soul Mate

Monday evening I ran out of work to get Wyatt and make it to the tack shop in town before it closed at 6 pm. Tack shopping with a 3 year old is no laughing matter. It was a good thing that the shop had a resident friendly dog to keep Wyatt company as I tried on helmets or else who knows what I would have been forced to purchase. Well....actually....maybe he should have put his stinky fingers on a nice riding shirt or dressage saddle or summer riding boots...I need to teach that kid a thing or two about keeping his hands to himself. Sorry honey, but Wyatt put a small scratch in it so I was forced to buy this wonderful piece of tack. Nothing I could do!

After doing some research online, I had narrowed it down to the Ovation Extreme and the Tipperary Sportage as helmets in my price range. Thankfully, this shop had both so that I could try them on and see which fit my head right.

My old helmet was a Troxel and it never fit me. The tack shop in WI was extremely useless and you couldn't beg for help in fitting any piece of tack or clothing. I don't think the employees even knew what a horse was. They also only stocked Troxel and so I just grabbed one I liked, shoved it on my head and went with it.

It was always slightly too big, sat like a mushroom and would rotate from side to side, but man was it comfortable! It was like I didn't even have it on which technically is about how well it would have worked in a major accident anyway.

This shop was a whole different experience. They measured my head, asked what I was looking for and let me try on things as many times as possible while also trying to convince me that the vice like grip these had against my head was actually the way a helmet should fit. Apparently, when you move the front of the helmet up and down, your eyebrows should move with it or it isn't tight enough.

We began with the Tipperary Sportage. This helmet comes in a static size: no dial a fit like my Troxel had. There are two sizes of pads you can add to the back (a thick and a thin. Heads up to the company - add a medium one too) to adjust the fit, but that is about all the adjusting you can do. Features I wasn't really fond of from the get go included: the static fit - what if I chopped all my hair off or wanted to shove it under the helmet or where a liner in the winter; the lack of a liner - can't wash the grunge out of it, and it really did feel pretty tight. Features that I liked from the start included: the low cut back of the helmet for better coverage for the back of my head, the massive vents, and it didn't rock from side to side on my head.

The shop lady seemed to think it was a perfect fit and likes this helmet as a nice everyday helmet. The safety ratings are good as well. It also come in black which is sufficient for me.

Next up was the Ovation Extreme. This was a two toned brown and black low profile helmet. She shoved it on my head and I had flashbacks to my Troxel. Then she turned the dial in the back and there was that new vice grip feeling I had missed. I actually really loved this helmet. It had the adjustable dial in the back so I could snug it up and have it fit no matter if I decided to go with a pony tail or long hair or chop it all off. It had a cool max removable liner claiming to keep you 5 degrees cooler which is a big deal here in the summer. The lower profile was nice for my small face and it was comfortable. I found myself missing the added security of the lower back from the Tipperary, but in general I liked this helmet a lot.

Except it didn't fit.

My head is apparently oval in shape where the helmet sits. This is why the Troxel, a very round helmet, always rocked side to side regardless of how tight I made it front to back. The Ovation is also a round helmet and when it was properly snugged so that my eyebrows moved with the helmet, I could still get a whole finger between the sides of my head and the helmet. Not good. Darn.

They also had a few IRH helmets and one even came in a "long oval" shape (yeah that doesn't make me feel awkwardly shaped at all) that fit well but I didn't really like the helmet much and it already felt hot and heavy and I was just standing inside a store.

So it was back to the Tipperary. I tried it on again. And again. And again. Eventually I reconciled with my oval shaped head and then looked past the minor cons I had (although I still think any helmet without a liner is just ridicuouls and shouldn't even exist) and decided to purchase this one before my child knocked everything useless off the shelves.

And then I saw it. The Samshield Shawdow Matte helmet in all its glory. The sales lady saw my glance and reached a hand out. She grabbed my size and offered it over to me. She remarked about all the customization options as I slid it over my long oval shaped head.

My head breathed a sigh of relief. I saw stars. I heard angels singing.

Ok...that is an exaggeration, but holy crap was that thing amazing. Light on my head, a perfect fit without feeling overly tight, lovely features and above all I could add red highlights!!! I was already picturing myself crossing the finish line at my first 100 with this baby on my head when I heard her say the worst words ever..."$430".

Ah...crap :( I don't have $430.

The lovely Samshield went back in its box and I grabbed my lowly Tipperary and walked to the register like a child pulled away from the candy store.

Truth is, even if I did have $430 to spend on a horse item, a helmet is so very low on my list of priorities that it isn't even registering. The big ticket item that I do actually need right now is a second pad for Gem when we do the two days in April so she will have a dry, clean pad for the second day. That is $300.  That is way more important than upselling myself with a helmet. So for now, the soul mate to my head will have to remain on the shelf until such a time that I win the lottery, remarry a sugar daddy or someone famous dies and randomly wills me all their cash.

March 2, 2016

Time For a Hair Cut

Gem is a yak and still piles on the amount of fur needed to survive winter in WI. It has been 3 winters now here in the South and I doubt she will ever grow in a thinner winter coat.

In general I am fine with that since she lives outside and I have zero interest in playing the blanket game. What worried me was traveling down to Florida in April for a ride. If she didn't start shedding her coat out soon, she might be too warm down there. The thought of clipping her briefly flitted through my mind, but I don't own any clippers and have zero interest investing that much into something I would probably use once or twice ever.

After seeing how incredibly hot Gem got during the Sunday ride, when the temperatures didn't even reach peak for the day, I knew something had to be done. I couldn't possibly ask her to go 20 miles at any decent pace when the weather looked to only warm up over the next week.  So, I formulated a plan to talk to the BO about using her clippers or having her clip Gem at some point soon.

Sometimes the Universe really does listen because as I led Gem into the barn to brush her out, there was the BO clipping her gelding in the wash rack. I asked her if there was any way she would be willing to clip Gem for me. I informed her that Gem had never been clipped in the 6 years I have owned her and that, knowing her prior situation, I doubted she had been clipped the 2 years preceding those. Her reaction to the clippers was completely up in the air, although in general, if it isn't bare wood staring her down, she is reasonable about things.

This was a great time to do it since a) she was tired from the ride and b) she was just about as clean as she was going to get.

The BO somewhat hesitantly agreed and we discussed what type of clip. The temperatures are still dropping into the 40s at night, so I didn't want her too bald. BO recommended an Irish clip, but after looking at what that all entailed I was concerned about stripping her girth area. Gem isn't the most sensitive horse out there, but she can rub if I don't lube her up and I would hate to cause a girth gall due to clipping her. In the end we just sort of made up our own plan to remove the hair from her jugular and chest, but then come up and include the shoulders as well for extra heat dissipation.

Dusty was at his clinic picking up supplies to pull for her Coggins, so I called and asked him to grab some Ace just in case. We were standing around waiting, when a student came for her lesson. I'm not sure what changed the BOs mind about waiting on the Ace, but she suggested we go ahead and try it out.

She ran the clippers on low and I gave Gem crack molasses cookies and rubbed her. She was a bit nervous at first, but soon relaxed into the rubs and allowed the BO to start on her shoulder. Once the clippers were on her, she really relaxed and we quickly upped the speed and got to work.

The more hair that fell off, the more Gem relaxed and by the time she was finished Gem was looking like she really enjoyed the process. I was so proud of her that I forgot my annoyance at her riding behavior and gave her a million pats, rubs and kisses.

She looks a little odd with the clip job, but I know she will be way more comfortable riding. Some hair will grow back before the ride, but it shouldn't be enough to create a problem. I was also super pleased with how shiny she was under all that winter dust. She really is coming back into her own on this new feed. I can't wait until her summer coat is in!!!

She was nearly falling asleep when she was being clipped. 

The right side. A little unusual clip job, but it removes the hair from the areas she retains heat and still gives her protection from all her tack. 

Look how shiny she is!!!! 

I knew how shitty the nutrition at the old barn was, but I couldn't do anything about it. Seeing the change in her on the TC Senior makes me want to go back in time and move her sooner but what can you do? Live and learn.