All posts by Rob

They Grow Up So Fast

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.

Homemade Hay Feeders

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.

Living in Isolation

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.

Out and About

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Driving Huey

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.

Tough Decisions

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.

The Mane Thing.

Now if we can just make a post every week like we wanted…

Hydration While Riding

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.

The Mane Thing

It’s time to get some focus back around the farm and make the “mane thing” the main thing. Anna and I have decided to commit to making at least 1 blog post per week through the rest of 2020 and instead of random family happenings, we are putting a common theme to our posts: endurance riding.

Why do we think people may be interested in subscribing to our blog (using the link on the front of our website)? As a family of 5 endurance riders, with 5 horses, we have a different perspective to offer. We accumulate experience with training at 5 times the rate of a person working with only 1 horse, including 3 youth riders (16 yo son, 14 yo daughter, 9 yo daughter). This will be our 6th season in distance riding. As a family, we have 38 AERC completions in 41 starts, on 8 different horses and 3 for 3 rides in ECTRA (competitive trail rides).

Our goal will be to talk about what goes well and when things don’t go well. We will post about the challenges of managing 5 horses, with 5 different riders, and the decisions we face along the way. What about logistics? How do you get 5 horses to a ride with all the required gear? How do you train as a family with horses at different levels of experience? What about hoof care choices? As the barn farrier, Rob is constantly assessing the hoof condition of each horse and modifying according to the needs of each horse. This season, we will have horses training and competing in Easy Boot Gloves, Easy Boot Epics, Scoot Boots, metal shoes, and synthetic shoes (and that’s just what we know about in February).

So, for newcomers to our blog, how about a quick introduction to the family.

Rain on the horizon

Rob: 13 of 13 completions for 390 miles, including 2 50s. Retired from the Navy in 2019 and works as a project manager 40+ hrs a week. Spends Saturdays working as a farrier. Completed 2 trail marathons in the Fall 2019 and has a trail 50k in April 2020. Rob is starting his 5th season and rides Mojo (aka Money Shot), a 14 yo Arabian/Dutch Harness gelding; Mojo has 15 completions (of 15 rides) for 440 total miles.

Anna and Amira

Anna: 6 of 6 completions for 155 miles, plus 1 15 mile CDR. Anna has hip problems that make it hard for her to spend extended hours in the saddle, and therefore is happier riding LDs. Anna is starting her 6th season (although 1 year didn’t include any competitions) and rides Amira, a 9 yo Mustang mare; Amira has 5 completions (of 5 rides) for 125 total miles.

Alex and Teddy at the vet check

Alex: 4 of 6 completions for 135 miles, including 1 50, plus 1 15 mile CDR . Alex is 16 years old and a junior in high school. Alex is starting his 4th season riding Teddy, a 13 yo Arabian gelding; Teddy has 5 completions (of 7 rides) for 160 total miles. Teddy had 2 pulls with Alex: 1 in 2018 due to an injury when Teddy slid off a wooden bridge and 1 in 2019 due to suspected hock issues. Teddy will be getting a vet exam and likely hock injections before the start of the competition season.

Vicki and Eli

Vicki: 9 of 10 completions for 235 miles on 4 different horses , plus 1 15 mile CDR . Vicki is 14 years old and a freshman in high school. Vicki is starting her 5th season and has a new horse, Eli who is a 8 yo Arabian gelding; Eli has never competed in distance riding.

Amanda does her own trot-outs with Huey

Amanda: 6 of 6 completions for 155 miles. Amanda is 9 years old and in 4th grade. Amanda is starting her 3rd season riding Huey (aka Hedgehog Hollow’s American Eagle), a 19 yo Dartmoor gelding; Huey has 6 completions (of 6 rides) for 155 total miles, including 1 high vet score at his debut competition. Huey and Amanda were featured in an April 2019 Endurance News article. Huey is the only Dartmoor ever registered with AERC.

2020 endurance riding goals:

Goal #1 – Compete at 5 separate events. The most we have ever attempted in a season is 3. The list currently includes VERDA Bare Bones (May), NEATO (June), Horses Across Maine (July), Pine Tree (August – family favorite with 5 days of competition), and we aren’t sure yet about the late season choices.

Goal #2 – Amira’s 1st 50. This is her 3rd season in competition.

Goal #3 – Vicki’s 1st 50. Last year, Vicki got pulled on Duchess in their 1st 50 attempt. This year, Vicki is itching to ride a 50. Since Eli is going to be limited to LDs until we see how that goes, it will likely be on Amira, Teddy, or Mojo.

Goal #4 – Place in the top 10 of the AERC Bill Thornburgh Family Award.

Where does the time go?

It’s hard to believe we haven’t made a blog entry in over 7 weeks. Things have been busy, so I guess we should do a catch up post.

We have 2 kids in high school: Alex is a junior and Vicki is a freshman and Amanda is in 4th grade! All the kids are doing great in school. Alex and Vicki are participating with the Mystic YMCA Hammerheads swim team again this year and Alex is in driver’s ed class 2 nights a week.

In August, Eli came to the farm on trial. Vicki rode him at home, on trails, and in a lesson at Horse Power Farm. He did great in each endeavor, and after a pre-purchase exam, we bought him.
Alex loves Teddy and is committed to riding Teddy in endurance, but he takes some lessons on Mojo because Mojo is awesome as a teacher for Alex.

We went the West Greenwich Horseman’s Association (WGHA) Fall Fest. The kids won the junior division year end award for the country pace series and all got new jackets. Rob won the Open division and also got a jacket (tied with our friend LuAnn). We (Rob and Anna) were not on a team this year because Anna was injured at the first ride so we completed the series as individuals.

Life has been busy. We are still working on barn repairs (and probably will be until the snow sets in). We have been without a kitchen floor for 6 weeks. We hope to have a floor back before Thanksgiving.

I’ve been doing some trail running this year. Amanda loves to join me on the trails and has done runs of 2-3 miles without a problem. As usual, I jumped in by signing up for a race without training first. I had to back off some of my expectations and drop down some distances, but I have enjoyed the adventures. I ran the Macedonia 25k in Kent, CT. It was a 15.5 mile race with 3900′ of elevation. A few weeks later, I ran the Nipmuck Trail Marathon in Ashford, CT. That race didn’t go quite as planned due to some serious IT band pain, but I did finish the race (with a lot of hiking).

Alex rode Mojo in the final jumping derby at Horse Power Farm and got second in the derby and reserve champion for the year in the pre-elementary division.

This morning was the first day of bird hunting for the fall (we hunted chukar today). Amanda loves to go take Rusty out for a hunt and she was in my room at 6 this morning to make sure we weren’t late. Rusty did great finding birds and pointing.

Despite the busy schedules, we still try to carve out some time to ride as a family. So, this afternoon we went out with all five horses for a 6.5 mile ride in Pachaug. The weather was perfect (temps in the 60s) and the fall colors were spectacular.

Sometimes, when things are going just right, you have to kiss the one you love. Even if you happen to be riding on a horse at the time.

And the day ends, with another colorful sunset.

Farewell Duchess, Welcome Eli

Earlier this week, we said goodbye to Duchess as she went back to her previous owner. We had her with us for 2 years and 5 months. During that time, Vicki grew as a rider (and physically). Duchess and Vicki were a great team as they did jumping, dressage, mounted games, 4-H horse shows, and hundreds of miles on the trails; we will always appreciate the time Duchess spent with us. Vicki has a strong passion for distance riding and came to terms with the fact that Duchess wasn’t the horse that would achieve her goals. So, it was time for Duchess to move on, and we were happy to know that her previous owner was interested in welcoming her back.

Recently, we posted about the fact that we were looking for a new distance horse for Vicki. We were bombarded with all kinds of horses from all over the country (and Canada). Some even met our criteria. We wanted to stick to our list of priorities and we also didn’t want to just choose the first thing that came along. That’s why the second horse Vicki test rode came home on a trial! Introducing Eli!

Eli is a 7yo, 15hh, bay Arabian gelding. We found him through an endurance rider we met at Pine Tree. When the word got back to her that we were in the market, she contacted us. We went to Massachusetts on Monday and did a 1 hr trail ride with me on Mojo and Vicki on Eli. About 20 minutes into the ride, it was clear that Vicki really liked Eli as she became a complete chatter box talking about endurance riding and her plans; she was very comfortable on Eli. We have him on a trial period, but so far, everything is going well. We really like the fact that Eli was started properly (100 hours of walking) and hasn’t been raced at a young age. He is confident on the trails, has a powerful walk, and moves at the trot. We will give it a few more weeks to make a final decision, but Vicki really likes him.