Category Archives: endurance

Northeast Challenge Endurance Ride

“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.

Happy 4th!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pine Tree 2019

All year, we knew the Pine Tree endurance ride in Fryeburg, Maine would be our big summer vacation. After all the problems around our kitchen fire in July, we needed a getaway. The week before we left was spent putting new shoes on all the horses and packing. In addition, Gem, the palomino 1/2 Arabian we got in April was sold because she wasn’t working out in our herd. My parents left from Alabama on Friday evening and were meeting us in Maine on Sunday. So, on Sunday, 8/4, we left for Maine with 5 horses (Mojo, Amira, Teddy, Duchess, and Huey) on the trailer, 3 dogs in the trucks, and the travel trailer loaded for a week of camping and riding.

Pine Tree is a special ride. It has 5 consecutive days of competition at the Fryeburg fairgrounds. There are stalls available for horses, electric and water hookups for trailers, a dump station on-site, showers and even a laundromat. This was our 3rd time at Pine Tree in the past 4 years, and it is a family favorite. The people are great (especially Sue, the ride manager) and there are plenty of things to do outside riding for the week.

When we arrive around 3:30 Sunday afternoon, you could tell it was going to be a busy week. Ride camp already was filling up fast and the first rides weren’t until Tuesday! We blocked out our area next to our CT friends, Rob and Mary Palumbo, and 2 down from the Coffey family. Everyone got to work setting up camp. I’m sure most of the people knew we had arrived, because 5 people configuring electric fences doesn’t always go smoothly and it’s possible, there was some yelling. A mere 3 hours later, the horses were settled into their pens happily munching on hay.

Monday morning we had a leisurely time around camp and went out to Walmart to pick up a few things for the week. Amanda got to find a friend for the week; Laney was another 9 yo who had driven up with her Dad, Jesse, from North Carolina. Laney and Jesse were in first place for the AERC family award with over 1100 miles already ridden this year. In the first 3 days, Laney rode 2 50 mile rides and 1 25 mile ride. It definitely inspired Amanda to step up her game and train Huey for more riding next season.

Amanda and Laney hanging out

Monday afternoon, we saddled up the horses for a tack ride (a short test ride to make sure all the tack was set and ready for competition) and to check the river crossing. This is when things started to go awry. During the tack ride, Amira was HOT and giving Anna lots of attitude. All the horses were spunky and ready to run. There may have been some more elevated volume conversations (aka yelling) as we disagreed on how to handle the situation. Crossing back through the river, Vicki decided to work on sponging Duchess with a sponge on a rope. When the sponge floated in front of Duchess with a line trailing, I’m pretty sure Duchess thought it was a snake and promptly ditched Vicki in the river. She didn’t run off, and other than getting a little wet, Vicki was fine.

Coming up out of the river back to the trail, Amira decided to jump a log instead of going around it like the rest of the herd. Anna wasn’t expecting this and lost her balance in the fray. She got dumped and I’m pretty sure she hit her head on the log. This resulted in a minor concussion that ended Anna’s riding for the week. As we all jumped off our horses to help Anna and grab Amira, Teddy got scared from the commotion and threw Alex into the brush. We recovered all the horses headed back to camp. Needless to say, it wasn’t the successful ride we hoped for the day before competition.

That evening, we decided that we would not send 5 horses out on the trail together for competition. We have consistently attempted to obtain the goal of all 5 riding together, and it just hasn’t worked. There are too many demands of individual riders and horses to manage 5 in a competition. It does work if the 5 are split into separate distances, but we didn’t plan to ride any 50 milers during our week.

So, on Tuesday morning at 7:30, we started the 25 mile ride with me on Mojo, Alex on Teddy, and Vicki on Duchess.

The 25 mile course at Pine Tree goes out to a covered bridge that is about 11 miles from camp. The riders then go through a loop into what is known as “Fern Gully” before returning the to the covered bridge for the 45 minute hold and vet check. We did some cantering on the first loop as all the horses were feeling good. Here is a short video.

All 3 horses, Mojo, Teddy, and Duchess, made the 64 bpm pulse criteria with no problems and then we headed back on the return 11 miles. When we arrived back a base camp, Duchess was in 5th place and Mojo was 6th. Unfortunately, Teddy was lame on his right hind and didn’t get a completion. Teddy has been having problems on his right hind for a number of rides. This time, an extended discussion with one of the ride vets who assessed Teddy’s issue to be a hock problem. It looks like some hock radiographs and injections are in his future, because Alex and Teddy are a great team.

Once the ride ended, things went South for Duchess. We got her back to camp and she wouldn’t drink any water or eat any food. We offered her grain, carrots, and apples. She wanted to drop and roll. She wouldn’t eat fresh grass. It was clear we were dealing with a colic, likely from being dehydrated. During the hold we gave Duchess more senior feed and beet pulp than she normally gets. Our theory is, we didn’t have the feed wet enough and it sucked the water out of her gut, leading to dehydration, despite the fact that she kept drinking during the ride. So, 5 hours after completing, Duchess was checked in to an equine hospital and hour and a half from ride camp where she got a full colic exam to check for impaction or other problems, and 10L of fluid overnight.

Duchess at the equine hospital

Anna and I got back to camp about 9:30 pm, showered, took care of horses, and climbed into bed. Hauling Duchess to the vet wrecked our plan to do anything on Wednesday. Around 11:30 pm, as we were just climbing into bed, we heard a commotion outside followed by the sounds of a herd running – not what you want to hear in ride camp. It turns out, a stallion camping 2 spots down broke out, went running through some of our electric fence and into the next one over. That resulted in at least 3 more loose horses which then went back through our fencing and took down 4 of our 5 pens. In the end, Teddy and Mojo were still in camp and too scared to leave their electric fence (despite it being on the ground). Amira and Huey were running loose in camp with at least 3 other horses. Needless to say, many people were awakened by the commotion and lots jumped into action to help catch the loose horses. A little after 1 am, we had the fencing back into place and horses back in bed. At this point, I was definitely not having fun.

On Wednesday, Duchess got the all-clear at the equine hospital, so I made the drive back to get her. My Dad joined me for the ride and we had the chance to spend some quality time talking. When we got to the clinic, Duchess pinned her ears at me and spun her butt towards me. I could tell she was feeling much better. Vicki was happy to have her back in camp.

Vicki happy to have Duchess back in camp

So, by Wednesday evening, Anna had a concussion, Teddy had been pulled for lameness and wasn’t going to ride again, and Duchess had spent the night in an equine hospital. We strongly considered packing it up and heading home. After a family conversation about the options, we decided to stay a little longer and hope that things got better.

On Thursday morning, there were heavy thunderstorms which delayed the ride start to 8 am. Alex, Amanda, and I went to the hold to help crew for Jesse and Laney. When we got back, we had a quick lunch and then headed out to go tubing on the Saco River. Each year, we think we will go tubing, but it never seems to work out so we made it happen. It turns out, tubing down the river is exactly what the family needed to relax. We got back to camp and vetted in the horses for Friday’s ride.

Since Anna had finally come to terms with a minor concussion, Vicki rode Amira, Amanda rode Huey, and I rode Mojo on Friday morning when we started the 25 miles at 6:30 am.

The first 15 miles of the ride went well. Vicki really enjoyed riding Amira and it brought her to terms with the fact that Duchess isn’t her long term endurance mount. When we rolled into the hold and vet check, Amira and Huey passed just fine. However, Mojo had some back soreness, which has been another recurring problem. We gave him some massage work and food and he cleared the vet, but I was concerned about him passing at the end of the ride. I made the quick decision to ditch my tack and do the 11 miles back to camp on foot.

It turns out, running in Ariat Terrain boots and long pants is challenging. The footing in the fields was deep soil with a wet top layer, which is hard to run on. Additionally, Mojo likes to invade my personal space when we run; he managed to step on my heel once and the side of my foot twice. It was hot and I consumed 2L of water in the first 10 miles. Before the hold, we were in last place and only had 2.5 hours to cover the 11 miles back to camp, which basically meant I needed to maintain at least 13:00 min/mile.

We made it back to camp with 7 minutes to spare and all 3 horses passed the final vet check. The vets agreed that Mojo’s back was better at the finish than the mid-ride vet check.

Friday evening was the traditional Pine Tree lobster dinner. We decided to head home on Saturday and give us a day to recover before starting the work week.

One of the reasons we switched to endurance was after a ride, the family was always excited about the next event. Even after our rough week, at dinner on Sunday the whole family was talking about what we learned during our week at Pine Tree 2019. We talked about what we learned about our horses and what we needed to changed before the next ride. We talked about modifying our training for future rides. But in general, we talked about the next rides. You know you are doing something the family loves when everyone is looking forward to the next event, even if that last one wasn’t perfect.

So, thank you to the ride management (especially you Sue) and all the volunteers at Pine Tree. We look forward to next year!