A few weeks ago, I was moving a load of manure to a family in Lisbon. When I dumped the load, I saw a soft shelled egg sitting on top of the manure pile. I did a little digging and discovered 9 snake eggs (the size of a small chicken egg). I collected them and brought them back home to show the family. A little investigating around the edge of our manure pile revealed another 8 eggs, for a total of 17 snake eggs. Earlier this year, we had a black rat snake that was about 5′ long hanging around the manure pile. Apparently, she decided the edges of our pile were a good place to lay eggs. I thought I took some pictures at the time, but I guess I didn’t get any. Since Anna wouldn’t let us keep them in the house, we buried them back into the manure pile.
Today, Amanda went to investigate where we buried the eggs, and we found 3 juvenile rat snakes. We stopped digging to prevent disturbing any unhatched eggs. Anna still won’t let the kids keep one as a pet, but all 3 kids took turns holding the baby snakes.
“It’s called Northeast Challenge, not Northeast Walk-in-the-park” -Dr. Art King, as quoted by Sue Niedoroda
First, I want to say a huge thank you to Sarah Jack for stepping up and being the ride manager this year. Without her willingness to volunteer to take over from her parents, we wouldn’t have had a ride to attend. That said, Sarah outdid herself with emphasizing the “Challenge” portion of the ride legacy.
Riding endurance with a whole family is all about the logistics. I took Thursday off work to load the horse trailer and the travel trailer so we could leave on time. In this case, we were taking 2 tow vehicles and 2 trailers for 4 horses and 4 riders. Since Teddy is still recovering from EPM, he wasn’t attending the ride. Alex stayed home with him to take his SAT test, but that was cancelled due to COVID, so Alex had the weekend to just hang out at home with Teddy and the dogs.
Northeast Challenge is held in Buckfield, Maine, which is only about 235 miles from our house. The Jack family generously hosts this event in their hay fields and marks the trails on surrounding public and private land.
On Friday, 8/28, we hit the road about 9:00 and headed towards Maine. Our lunch stop at a rest area took longer than desired, but we were on track to make the trip with only 1 stop and about 5 hours of travel time. Unfortunately, about an hour from the ride, we got a flat tire on the horse trailer. We use a Doran 360RV tire pressure monitoring system for our horse trailer. Coming home from our first endurance ride in 2015 we got a flat tire due to a broken valve stem. It turns out you need to have solid valve stems if using a TPMS on the end of the valve stem. We had that corrected, however, when we bought new trailer tires 2 years ago, the tire shop changed out one valve stem to a rubber one and I never noticed…. until we got a flat in Maine. I figured out a long time ago it pays to be ready for flat tires. We travel with a Jiffy Jack in each trailer. I also invested in a Ridgid impact wrench and set of impact sockets that travel with us. So, when Anna got the alert on the TPMS that a tire was losing presssure, she was able to pull off the road before it went fully flat and ruptured. We had the flat off and spare on in about 12 minutes. We dropped the flat at a tire shop that was 20 minutes from ride camp to get a new, SOLID valve stem, and then continued on to camp.
When we arrived at ride camp, we discovered there were only 21 entries for the ride (10 for the 50 miler and 11 for the 30 miler) including our family of 4. Needless to say, there was plenty of room to set up camp. We chose a site next to our CT friend Mary Palumbo and Stacey Stearns. We set up the hard panels for Eli and Amira to share since they don’t respect electric and electric pens for Mojo and Huey.
We went to the vet-in and all horses were just fine to start the ride. I took a trip back into town to pick up the repaired trailer tire. We attended the short question period (not a ride meeting), had dinner, and started tucking into bed a little after 8pm. Reveille was held at 0430 because the ride started at 0630.
Now would be a good time to discuss the weather. All week we had been watching the forecast, as Hurricane Laura made her way up towards New England. The predictions had ranged from 50% to 80% chance of rain for Saturday. As of the ride meeting Friday evening, the estimate was rain showers in the morning with about 0.5″ throughout the day. Since temperatures Friday night were close to 50F, we decided to put light blankets on the horses because they hadn’t been gettting that cool at night. We were pleased to wake up to about 52F and cloudy skies, but no rain.
Tacking up for the start was uneventful. We had eggs and bacon with plenty of coffee for breakfast and were ready to head out when the trail opened at 0630. We walked the horses for about the first mile to make sure we didn’t have any issues since it was Eli’s first ride and the trail started with a climb uphill. The whole day was basically spent going up or down; there were very few flat areas.
The 50 mile riders and 30 mile riders were all riding the same first loop, but since the field was so small, everyone spread out pretty quickly. Our family of 4 was basically alone for most of the loop. The horses were all moving well, however, we were struggling to maintain speed. The area we live in doesn’t have significant hills for climbing. While we can average around 100′ of elevation per mile, Northeast Challenge had multiple climbs of 300-500′ at a time and totaled over 4100′ of elevation. Overall, we weren’t too worried (yet) because we only had a completion as our goal for the day. The horses enjoyed the stops for grass and the cool weather was very pleasant.
Then it started to rain. We had less than 4 miles to go on our first loop when the rain started. It wasn’t very heavy at first, but the temperature immediately dropped back below 60F and visibility was reduced. Right about this time, we started riding around a corn field and we lost the trail. In the end, we rode over a mile back and forth trying to figure out where the trail was supposed to exit the field. The problem was a turn marker had blown away and a ribbon had tangled in some brush making it hard to see. As we were riding back and forth, Amira spooked as some other riders came around a corner in the field and Anna had an unplanned dismount, landing on her left hip. She was dirty, but able to continue the ride. We eventually called the ride manager and found the exit from the field and headed back to ride camp for the vet check.
We don’t have any pictures that we took after this point, because it rained the entire rest of the ride, which was about 5 more hours including the hold. Less than a mile from camp, there was a creek bed to pass through. This had been discussed at the pre-ride meeting and there were 2 options. 1. Go through the mud and rocks. 2.Cross a wooden foot bridge. Anna took Amira through the creekbed. I took Mojo across the bridge. Vicki and Amanda followed me. Eli spooked on the bridge and slid off the left side of the bridge. It didn’t seem significant at the time, however, when we arrived at the vet check, Eli was quite lame on his right front. My theory is when he slipped, his right hoof actually slid to the outside and stressed his shoulder. There were no visible injuries to his leg and no swelling. Unfortunately, even with some icing, Eli was too lame to continue and he was pulled.
We had an hour for the hold after the horses met the 64 beat per minute pulse criteria. It was pouring rain. We put fleece coolers and blankets on the horses to keep them warm. They all ate mash and hay. We grabbed some food and hot coffee (prepped at breakfast and stored in a thermos). Some of us changed into dry clothes, but that only lasted a few minutes. Mojo had a sore back (got a B from the vet) at the vet check. This was my first competition using the Ghost treeless saddle and I had brought an extra saddle just in case. I made the risky decision to change the whole saddle and saddle pad for the second loop. I put a Skito pad with Big Horn endurance saddle on him as we tacked up to leave.
Due to temperatures (now in the mid-upper 50s) and constant rain, we put rump rugs on Mojo, Amira, and Huey to keep their upper leg muscles warmer for the second loop. As we headed out of camp, it was miserable. The rain was creating constant runoff and the mud was making it slow going. Our pace suffered and after an hour of riding, we had barely covered 4 miles. Anna and I were getting quite concerned about the ability to finish within the allowed time (7:15 total elapsed time, including the 1 hour vet hold). There was nothing to do but keep pushing and make up time where we could.
Eventually, we hit a relatively flat area and were able to pick up some cantering and consistent trotting. Gradually, our average speed picked up and we became more confident in the ability to get a completion. The loop was lasting longer than we hoped and around 2.5 hours, we had to convince Amanda to eat some extra food and keep the calories going into her. I personally felt the impact of the fatigue and decided to consume about 300 calories in short order though a combination of Sport Beans, gels, and Honey Stinger chews. The calorie boost worked for everyone and suddenly we found ourselves rounding the last corner and back at ride camp! We made it with a total elapsed time of 6:53. Almost exactly as we crossed the finish, the rain stopped (much to the relief of the 50 mile riders who were still competing).
Mojo, Amira, and Huey all passed the final vet check without issue! Huey had a great cardiac recovery index (CRI) of 52/48, which means his pulse dropped by 4 beats per minute from the initial check to after a trot-out, which is awesome. Additionally, Mojo got an A for his back score after the second loop and didn’t had any of the soreness he exhibited at the first vet check.
We spent the rest of the evening drying out, resting, eating, and hanging out (at least 6′ apart) with endurance riding friends. We camped over and headed home on Sunday morning. The drive home was uneventful (except for the extra 45 minute detour when Anna got on 95N instead of 95S). On Monday, the front brakes on the F350 failed at our house. If our drive had been 40 miles further, we would have broken down with the horses in the trailer (I got the brakes replaced without any issues). Count your blessings!
Wanda Clowater was at the ride taking photos and got some good pics of us. We will be buying some of her images. You can check out her photos here. Check out pages 3, 4, 6, 11, 13-15, and 18 for pics of our family.
This weekend we were planning to finally get in an endurance ride in PA, but we recently suffered some bad news. Teddy has EPM. Due to the cost of treating Teddy and general stress levels, we decided to stay home and take it easy. Teddy is off the riding list for now, so we have been time-sharing the 4 horses that are still healthy.
I took time off on Friday and Amanda and I went fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but she loves to go out.
Saturday was spent working on some projects and grilling burgers. Vicki made the holiday themed cake and we did some sparklers once it got dark. Anna made a short video. We also watched Hamilton, at Vicki’s request.
Sunday was more relaxing with a late afternoon ride and drive. We originally planned to go to Arcadia, but an accident closed the road so we went back to Pachaug. Anna rode Amira, Alex rode Mojo, Vicki rode Eli, and Amanda and I drove Huey. It was a short outing of only 5 miles and 1 hour, but it was significant because this was the first time we drove Huey with the other horses and it was the highest speed we have maintained with Huey. It seems maybe Huey prefers driving. Here’s a short video from our drive.
If you go back up, you will notice Huey has a nice new ear net on, that Anna made. It’s purple and pink and matches his riding tack. Happy Independence Day!
I’ve been at endurance rides where I see parents putting their young kids on these full size horses and hitting the trail. We have always stepped the kids up through various size ponies until they graduated to full horses as teenagers. Until Amanda. She is the 3rd child, so rules tend to go out the window. Amanda has been spending time riding Mojo on short 2-3 mile trail rides with Anna. She rides Mojo in the arena at the walk, trot, and canter. But she wanted to give Teddy a try. So, this evening, I was planning to go out for a training ride with Mojo and I decided to let Amanda join me on Teddy. Of course, Rusty went too. It was her first time riding Teddy on the trails and she loved it. Teddy was a rock star.
We did 11 miles with lots of trotting. Of course, when we hit the nice open flat road, Amanda was begging to let them run, so we did. At one point, I looked down at my Garmin to see Mojo and I were moving 17.8 mph and Amanda and Teddy were passing me. Post workout analysis reveals we exceeded 24 mph this afternoon. Not bad for a 10 year old girl on an Arab.
As we rode, I kept thinking “So this is what it’s like to trust a horse.” Teddy isn’t perfect, but he takes care of Alex and now it seems he takes care of Amanda. Maybe Teddy will be Amanda’s next endurance mount (Huey isn’t done yet). They grow up so fast; the kids do too.
We have used NibbleNet brand hay feeders since the Fall of 2012. Over the years, we have hung them in stalls, hung them on trees, and used them on the ground. When the horses were barefoot, it was fine to fill a NibbleNet and put it on the ground for the horses to eat out of, however, if your horse is shod, it’s a really bad idea; the shoes can get the webbing under the heel and cause an injury or at least a pulled shoe. I want to emphasize that I think NibbleNets are the best slow-feed hay net out there. We have nets that have been in continuous, use for 7.5 years and are not worn out. Our favorite is the Double Nibble 12″ with 1.5″ openings on both sides, as it holds a lot of hay and is versatile in usage options. There are other options available that hold even more hay.
Why do we like the slow feeders? First, they actually make the horses take longer to eat the hay. Second, (and more importantly) the horses waste MUCH less hay when eating out of the slow feeders. The one problem we have had with feeding from the NibbleNets is topline. The topline on the horses has been deteriorating and I am convinced it has a lot to do with the horses eating hay from a mid-height hanging position. There is a chance it is also related to the fact that I don’t like to do dressage work in the arena. If you watch a horse standing in the pasture eating grass, you will clearly see the back muscles (i.e. topline) raise up and level out as the horse lowers his head to eat. When the horse eats from a mid-height, such as in a hanging hay bag, the back doesn’t stretch in the same manner. Over time, this results in a hollow back and less topline muscling. Additionally, the motion of a horse pulling hay out of a slow feeding net is generally a sideways motion that results in building up the underside of the neck muscles, which further contributes to the hollow back. If you look at this picture of Mojo’s back, you can see the muscles in his back are slightly atrophied inside the yellow outline.
So, to combat the deteriorating topline, we decided to take all the hay nets out of the stalls and off the trees. The horses went back to eating all hay off the ground. It didn’t take very long of raking up wasted hay to realize we wanted to find a new solution. So, after a little consideration, Anna decided we would make hay feeders that used the NibbleNets at ground level. We posted on Facebook looking for damaged water troughs, as they would be the base for the hay feeder. We already had 1 damaged 100 gallon Rubbermaid trough and in very short order, we had 4 more to add to the collection and it was time to build the feeders.
Step 1: drainage holes. Drill a lot of 1/2″ drain holes in the bottom of the trough to prevent rain water from collecting in the trough.
Step 2: install D-rings. These surface mount d-rings are available as a 4 pack from Lowe’s for about $6. We have installed these d-rings in the tack room of the horse trailer to add ratchet and tie down points for holding bins in place. In this case, 1 package per hay feeder was just right. I elected to install them with 3/16″, 1/2″ long rivets. 1 d-ring was put in each of the “corners” of the trough, about 8″ off the bottom (you can see all 4 installed in the previous picture).
It’s important if you use rivets to attach the D-rings that you make sure the rivet shafts are snapping off clean and smooth. Part way through the assembly, I opened a new package of rivets (from a different manufacturer) and the rivets started leaving a pointy “thorn” sticking out. That’s a recipe for a cut horse nose and a vet bill, so I used a file to smooth down all the rivets that didn’t break off smooth.
Step 3: add NibbleNet. When you purchase a NibbleNet, you have the option of buying it with straps or with double snaps. I always buy them with straps because you can buy a 6-pack of double snaps at Tractor Supply for $13. Simply use the double snaps to close the hay feeder and attack all 4 corners of the bag to the 4 d-rings.
Within minutes of finishing the project, Amira was completely comfortable with the new arrangement. There is almost no wasted hay and the horses are eating in a more natural position with their heads down low.
Life has changed for everyone. Anna and the kids stay home all day. We are fairly confident the kids will be schooling from home for the rest of the academic year. Since Anna used to home school the kids, it isn’t really that different except there are no group activities with other home schoolers. We are really enjoying the direct access to Pachaug State Forest. The kids walk the trails almost every day and the dogs are happy to have the extra attention. I’m still working, but I telework some. Since I have to go out anyways, I am the one who goes to the store for groceries or anything else we may need. Like everyone, pretty much everything in our life has been cancelled for now. No 4-H meetings. No swim banquet. No play dates. No horse club rides. No endurance rides. Saturday, Alex learned how to do an oil change on my truck. We had plenty of time, so he did the whole thing.
All the horses are getting worked about 4 days a week. It’s very helpful to have the horses at home when something like this happens. Today, we took advantage of the direct access to trails and did a 15 mile ride that took 3.5 hours. While it is nice to have the access to the forest, the trails in Pachaug are pretty rough. The roads are in bad shape with lots of big rocks. The trails have so many rocks that a lot of time is spent walking. The net effect is we can’t ride as fast in Pachaug as we would in a competition, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good training. The longer time in the saddle is helpful for forcing the kids to figure out fueling strategies and encouraging the horses to eat and drink on the trail. With temps in the 50s, it was a great day in the woods. Rusty easily logged over 20 miles and is sleeping quite well this evening.
We are all hoping to stay healthy and weather the storm. Hopefully, when this is over all the horses will be in great shape and we can resume the endurance rides with whatever is left of the season.
It’s easy to get into a routine of regular trail riding, which can be fun and is good for conditioning, but doesn’t always serve a purpose to fill a specific training gap. Recently, Anna and I decided to make some goals for a specific outing. Today, we took the horses to Arcadia WMA in RI for an 11 mile ride.
Trailer the new herd all at the same time. We have a 4 horse trailer. To transport 5 horses, we collapse the rear tack and put 2 in the last spot. Historically, we put 2 ponies in that spot, but we no longer have 2 ponies. So today, Huey and Teddy shared that spot. Everything went fine.
Expose Eli to more environments. Since we got Eli last fall, all of his trail miles have been directly from our house in Pachaug. Taking Eli to Arcadia lest us see if he was different elsewhere. We saw vehicles, people, dogs, and bikes. Eli was a little more cautious than on his home turf, but he was fine. Vicki is getting more and more confident with him.
Check out Teddy’s movement following hock injections. Two weeks ago Teddy had his hocks and 1 fetlock injected. He has been gradually returning to work, so today’s ride was a test run to see how he looked. Teddy was moving very well, so it appears to be money well spent.
Work on Eli’s water skills. Vicki has successfully ridden Eli into the water before, however, he has a tendency to jump into the water when we cross into creeks. I figured a boat ramp on a larger body of water would be a good place to work on it. So, after 6 miles of riding, Eli was a little thirsty and quite willing to walk right into the water without any drama. Training successful.
Evaluate Amira’s new shoeing protocal. Amira has shown some tenderness, even in shoes. So earlier this week, I put her in shoes with leather rim pads. Anna reported that Amira didn’t feel tender or hesitant at any time, so we will keep with that protocol for a while.
We covered 11 miles at a 4.5 mph average. It was a good training ride and met all the goals that we laid out of the day. Since the temperature was 45F and dropping when we got back to the trailer, we put coolers on all the horses and let them eat some hay before loading up and heading home.
One of Huey’s many talents is driving. He was trained to drive before we bought him, but we still started from the basics. We made him ground drive, pull a tire, and hitch to false shafts before he was hooked to a cart. We have driven him around the farm and down the road in front of our house once, but we had never taken him off property to do some driving.
A few weeks ago, our friend Melissa posted that she was looking for someone to do some driving with her and her miniature horse, Ellie. I decided it would be a great chance to take Huey out to do a driving meetup.
So, today we met in Arcadia for 4 miles along the the roads in Arcadia. Anna took Rusty for a walk while Amanda and I drove Huey. Amanda got bored and decided to hop out and walk with Anna. Both Ellie and Huey did great with their driving and I’m sure we will do it again.
1 month ago, we posted about refocusing and getting back to riding being the “The Mane Thing“. Since then, I have been struggling with distractions. I was registered for the Traprock 50k race in April and spending every Sunday morning running to train. The problem was, I wasn’t really running as much as I needed and I wasn’t riding Mojo as much as I should to get him ready for our first ride in May. Last weekend, I raced the Colchester half marathon and the training issues caught up to me. It’s a hilly course (about 1000′ of elevation) and I ran a 1:55, which I was happy with, but I had a lot more fatigue in my legs than I should have and the tightness in my hamstrings lingered all week.
The reality was, I had fallen back into the same trap from last year. I was splitting my limited training time between two different sports that require a lot of commitment and training. I was doing just enough to (barely) get by in each and not enough to do well in either. Physically, the 2 days a week of long runs was catching up to me and I couldn’t keep it up.
So, today, I made the tough decision. I withdrew from the 50k. I do love to run, and I will still run trails. But my runs will be closer to 1 hr instead of 2-3 hrs. And I’ll do more runs with the kids, instead of running with others training for 50k races. And I’ll put more time into my training with Mojo to get us ready for our races together. Maybe I’ll take him running with me if I can teach him to stop stepping on my heels.
Now if we can just make a post every week like we wanted…
Hydration during a distance ride is important for both the horse and rider. There are a lot of ways to carry water for the rider and we have tried many of them. Let’s consider some of the choices.
In the picture above, Vicki has a cantle pack on the back of her saddle with Duchess. The pack allows for 2 water bottles and a storage in the middle for snacks. Vicki liked this setup because she could have 1 bottle of water and 1 bottle with Hammer Nutrition Caffe Latte in the other. The downside of a cantle pack is you have to swing your leg over it every time you mount. Additionally, if the water bottle bounces out, you may not notice until it’s long gone. Yes, it’s convenient to have that extra storage, but getting into a zipper pocket directly behind you can be troublesome and sometimes these packs result in rubs on the horse’s back.
In the same picture, Alex is riding Teddy with a pommel pack. Pommel packs offer the same arrangement as a cantle pack, but in front of the saddle, and frequently with more pockets and storage than the cantle pack options. This is actually one of the few pictures of Teddy in a pommel pack. One of the downsides of a pommel pack is they can flap against the horse. Depending on the horse, this can be problematic. In Teddy’s case, the flapping causes him to go faster, which causes more flapping, which causes him to go faster. As you can guess, this is not a good thing with an Arabian hyped up to ride long and hard. To be clear, some horses can be trained out of this type of behavior, but since Alex was 14 at the time, we elected to change the way Alex carried his water.
When it was time to try a new option for Alex, he tried on my Nathan hydration pack for running and has never given it back. The pack has a water bladder that holds 1.75L and has small pockets on the front for snacks. The pack has enough adjustment to allow him to wear it in summer or winter, over a heavy coat. To be honest, I didn’t have a problem giving up that pack to Alex. While it has some nice adjustment options, I didn’t really like how low it sat on my back and I couldn’t quite carry as much as I wanted for my phone, snacks, etc.
Amanda rides with a kid’s Camelback. While Camelback is known for producing hiking packs vs running packs, they are one of the few companies that makes a kid version. The gives her 1L of water, but all the storage is on the back. Therefore, she has a very small pommel pack on her saddle to hold the snacks.
A few years ago, I came across the Orange Mud packs. The first one I started with was the Gear Vest. It holds 1L of water and has some pockets on the front for phone, snacks, etc. What I really liked about it was it sits a lot higher on my back and doesn’t hold in the heat on my lower back. Unfortunately, Anna decided she liked it too and claimed it as her own. The main things she likes are the pack is lightweight, it sits up high on her back, and the straps don’t rub her boobs. Heavier packs put too much weight on her shoulders after hours of trotting.
Anna’s theft of my first Orange Mud pack resulted in the purchase of an Orange Mud Endurance pack that holds 2L, which I use regularly for both running and riding. Today, Vicki decided to try it out and “didn’t hate it.” The reason Vicki decided to shift to a hydration pack instead of cantle pack was because she didn’t want to take a chance on how Eli would react to a flapping pack against his side. It may be time to buy another Orange Mud pack. (If you are considering getting an Orange Mud pack, email me for a discount code – I’m on their Ambassador team, the Dirt Unit).
I have another hydration pack that I use for running and for riding. This one is an UltrAspire Alpha 4.0. This pack holds 2L of water and is more form-fitting than any of the other packs I have used. I alternate back and forth between the UltrAspire and Orange Mud pack. I love how the UltrAspire fits and distributes the weight. I also really like how the storage pockets are distributed, but it does sit lower on my back and holds heat that the Orange Mud pack eliminates.
There are 3 reasons I prefer the hydration packs to cantle or pommel packs. The first, I am convinced riders drink better (more frequent, small sips) when there is a hydration bladder hose to drink from vs a water bottle to pull out of a saddle mounted pack and it doesn’t require slowing the horse to a walk for even new users of a pack. Second, carrying the weight on the rider instead of the horse makes you more attentive to what you are carrying, and less likely to carry unneeded supplies. Finally, by carrying the water in a pack, the rider can hydrate at holds and vet checks. If you are looking for a hydration pack, start by checking out local running stores or an REI.