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.
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.
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: 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: 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: 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: 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.
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.
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.
Sunday, we went to WGHA’s third Country Pace. It was a new type of ride this year, similar to a hunter pace, but there are no jumps. Also, instead of riding against an (unknown) ideal time, the ride times are averaged according to the division you enter and whomever is closest to the average, wins. It’s an interesting twist because there is no requirement to ride at any particular speed and the average can fall anywhere. In reality, the ride is a fun social gathering with a chance to win some prizes.
The ride went pretty well. Anna did get dumped when Amira spooked a little. It would have been fine if Anna had let go of the reins, but she decided to hold on and got drug a few feet. Luckily, she only lost a little skin on an elbow; her concussion from Maine wasn’t made any worse.
At the end of the ride, we enjoyed lunch until the awards. At the awards, we were pleased to find out the kids got 1st in the Junior division, I got 2nd in the Open division, and Anna got 1st in the Open division.
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.
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.
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.
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!
June 22 was the 2019 NEATO Endurance ride held in Arcadia WMA (Exeter, RI). Since the ride is less than 10 miles from our house, we always plan to attend. This year we had 3 entries for the 50 mile ride and 2 for the 25 mile ride. The weather was a little wet on Friday so I headed over to set up camp around lunch with Alex and Vicki and Anna and Amanda brought the horses a little later in the afternoon. Everyone vetted in just fine and we enjoyed the group dinner and ride brief. Since this ride is close to home, Anna went home for the night to take care of the horses who didn’t attend the ride, plus the dogs, rabbits, and chickens. She joined us again at 5:30 Saturday morning.
This ride has a very gentlemanly start time of 7am for the 50 mile riders which had 27 entries. Anna had Amira and Huey tacked up just in case they got upset when the other 3 left. The temperature at the start was in the 60s and the weather was clear. I was a little concerned about Mojo having race brain and wanting to just run the entire first loop, but he was actually very manageable compared to last year.
The first loop for Alex, Vicki, and I was 20 miles. There was a mandatory 10 minute stop at about the 9 mile point, which we used to give the horses some grain and water (and people got a bathroom break). There was one section of trail that goes down into a low elevation and heavy forest area. As the temperatures were rising and the previous day’s rain was baking off, the humidity spiked. There was also a lot of mountain laurel on the first loop that was in full bloom and very pretty, but I didn’t take a picture. Since it was a first 50 for both kid pairs, Alex on Teddy and Vicki on Duchess, we were riding conservatively to try and get completions for everyone. Unfortunately, as we were trotting along about mile 15, I noticed Duchess was a little off on her right hind. We have been working on the kids continuously eating in order to avoid meltdowns from lack of fuel. Each kid has figured out what fuels work for them and things went well on the first 20 miles.
Meanwhile, Amanda and Anna started their 25 mile ride at 7:45 with a 15 mile loop. Everything went well and both horses got along fine without the rest of the herd. Amira has really gotten strong as a leader on the trail and doesn’t rely on the other horses for confidence. Amanda kept asking to canter in order to pick up the pace (and apparently the cantering sections were the best part). Throughout the ride, Amira didn’t balk at any bridge crossing or trail entrances. Both Huey and Amira did a great job of eating consistently and drinking at the water stops. Anna and Amanda made it back to the vet check and 45 minute hold about 20 minutes before those of us on the other loop.
Unfortunately, the lameness we noticed on the trails caused Duchess to get pulled from the ride after the first 20 miles. Vicki was disappointed but took it well. She took care of Duchess at our camping area while the rest of us were out for our next loop. Anna and Amanda had 10 miles to go while Alex and I had 2 more 15 mile loops to do. I’m proud of the fact that we have kids who know enough about their horses that they can take care of them in ride camp even if Anna and I are not available. Of course, there are plenty of other adults around that will help out if needed, but Vicki had everything under control with her pony.
The second (and last loop) for Anna and Amanda went well. Amanda did start to run out of steam towards the end and they spent some time walking because her legs “felt like Jello.” They made it back to camp and passed the final vet check. Their ride time of 4:52 was good enough for a 12th place tie and got the Turtle award. In endurance, the Turtle is the last finisher who still gets a completion. It’s important to manage your horse so they pass the final vet check as “fit to continue”. If you fail the final vet check, you are disqualified and don’t get credit for the miles. In the end, only 1 horse in the 25 mile ride was pulled, 13 of 14 completed.
The second and third loops for Alex and I were fairly uneventful. We knew a number of riders had been pulled at the first vet check (including Vicki) and we were bringing up the rear of the ride. That didn’t bother us in the least. Alex in particular doesn’t have a competitive drive and just loves to spend time on the trails with Teddy. Mojo started to lose some steam around 40 miles, so Teddy would take the lead. At mile 45, Teddy picked up a strong canter like he was fresh out of the barn. Throughout the day, Teddy did great and I love to watch Alex with him. We made our way back into camp only about 5 minutes behind the next rider ahead of us. Both horses passed their vet check and we got our Turtle awards for the 50 miles with a ride time of 9:39. 20 of 27 riders completed the 50 mile ride. At this point, I can’t imagine doing a 100 mile ride, because I was wiped out after about 10 hours in the saddle. We took a break to eat some food and then packed up camp to head home.
Do you know how to tell if the kids are legitimately enjoying the rides and endurance events? After riding all day, with some chaffing, sore muscles, and just plain exhaustion, the ride home still includes discussions (prompted by the kids) about the next event on the schedule. Not only that, there were conversations about altering training plans and what needs to improve for the next ride. To finish is to win.
Some of you who read about our adventure in NH last weekend may have noticed we only had 4 horses with us. This is the story of why Amira didn’t make the trip.
In early April, our good friend Vikki Fortier shared a post for a 7yo, 14.2hh, QH/Arab mare that was available for sale. Of course, Anna commented and Vikki and Anna agreed what a great horse this would be for our girls. So you see, this is at least partially Vikki’s fault, after all, she is an enabler. We called and talked to the owner. Gem was very green and in Vermont. We didn’t really need another horse. So we decided to pass.
3 weeks later, Vikki gave us a call that the owner was desperate and needed to rehome Gem right away. So, the next day at 6am I found myself starting a 500 mile round trip to pick up a little mare in VT. When I got there, Gem was in worse condition than expected; I got her loaded and headed home. She attacked the hay in the trailer. Whenever she ran out, she would start kicking and I would know it was time to stop and give her some more. She was underweight at a body condition of about 3, her hooves hadn’t been trimmed in probably 4-5 months, and she had clay/mud caked on her legs and belly.
Gem was even more of a project than we expected. Her behavior was semi-feral in nature. While she clearly didn’t trust people, she also doesn’t fully understand herd dynamics. Anna made the decision to put Gem out with the other mares (how did we end up with 3 mares?) in order to provide her some companionship. She gets nervous when her friends are out of sight. As a result of her already higher stress level from the move, we decided to leave Amira at home with Gem for last weekend.
Gem has been with us for 2.5 weeks. She is gaining weight steadily, her hooves have been trimmed (and will get trimmed every 4 weeks for rehab), and she is getting better about being handled regularly. Tonight, Vicki rode her for the first time. They did some walking and a little trotting. When asked to walk over ground poles, Gem lay down. Throughout the summer, Vicki will be working with Gem to improve her saddle work and introducing her to trails.
By the way, yesterday Vicki had her hair dyed purple.
Last weekend was the opening of our distance riding competitions for the season. This year we tried out the VERDA Brown Bag and Bare Bones events held at the Cornish, NH fairgrounds. Brown Bag is a Competitive Trail competition and Bare Bones is an Endurance Ride. The rules vary a little between the two. Competitive trail events have an ideal time and there is more emphasis placed on the before/after comparison for vet evaluations. On the other hand, endurance rides are a true race where the horse has to be fit to continue and pass a vet exam. This particular ride has a reputation as being low-cost, low perks.
On Friday, we picked the kids up from school a little early so we could get to the ride camp. We only took 4 horses: Mojo, Teddy, Duchess, and Huey. Anna drove the horse trailer and I took the travel trailer. The drive was only about 3.5 hours and we arrived in camp before 5:00. When we got there, the only other riders already there were also from CT. We joined our local friends and set up camp with electric fence paddocks for the horses. Once camp was set, the horses were vetted in for the Saturday ride.
On Saturday morning, the ride didn’t start until about 9:00, so it would have been a very casual start to the day, however, at 5, there was a knock on the trailer door with the message “Rob, your horses are loose!” It appeared that Duchess knocked down some fencing for some reason and the herd, minus Mojo, decided to get some early morning grass. Luckily, they were not hard to catch, but we were up and the day was started.
It was in the low 30s Friday night and temps on Saturday only made it to about 54F. Anna saddled up Mojo, Alex saddled up Teddy, and Vicki saddled up Duchess as they got ready to head out for a 15 mile ride.
While they were out on trail, Amanda and I took turns hanging out with Huey who wasn’t exactly happy that all his friends left without him.
It turns out the horses are in pretty good shape for a 2.5 hr/15 mile ride. Competitive trail rides are scored out of 100 points and penalties are assessed for things like missing the ideal time (30 minute window), loss of impulsion from start to finish, injuries/tack galls, dehydration, elevated heart rate, etc. At the end of the ride, Mojo had 97.5 pts and got 4th place with Anna, Teddy had 98 pts and got 2nd place in the Jr division, and Duchess had 98.5 pts for the win in the Jr Division.
Saturday afternoon was pretty easy going hanging around camp. Amanda was a social butterfly visiting with friends (new and old). Her friend Autumn brought over some hoof paint and they gave Huey some twinkly toes.
Saturday evening was a ride briefing for Sunday and big dinner in the town hall building, also located on the fairgrounds.
Sunday morning also started at 5 to get the horses and family fed. We were riding a 30 mile ride that started at 8 with Rob on Mojo, Alex on Teddy, Vicki on Duchess, and Amanda on Huey. Temps were in the 40s at the start and peaked around 50F. It was great weather for a distance riding competition. Our 30 mile ride consisted of two looped on a 15 mile course (the same one Anna and the kids did the day before). It was mostly a dirt/gravel road with some trails mixed in. My GPS came up with about 1500′ of elevation per loop, so 3000′ of elevation for the day. There was a covered bridge we went through twice and a stream to water the horses (along with some troughs and buckets along the course).
Overall, the ride went very well. There was one issue with Huey constantly bucking and he eventually threw Amanda. Once we removed Huey’s crupper, he stopped complaining and Amanda didn’t have any more problems. All 4 horses did great on the ride. Mojo’s CRIs (cardiac recovery index) for the day were 40/40 and Teddy’s were 44/44. None of the horses had anything other than A’s and +’s on their vet cards and we completed in a 4-way tie for 8th place.
Alex and Vicki did 15 miles on Saturday and 30 on Sunday with their mounts. It was a stepping stone to get ready for their first 50 miler planned for June. Both riders and both horses passed the test. While we didn’t get home until about 9:30 on Sunday night, the whole family had a great weekend. One of the reasons we enjoy distance riding is everyone has fun (even if everything isn’t perfect). At dinner tonight, there was talk of sore muscles and what went right/wrong. But there was also talk about the next ride. You are doing it right when the completion of one event leaves riders looking forward to the next.
Daylight until 7:30ish each evening means dinner after 8 at our house because we are probably in the barn.
Last week was spring break for the kids. They rode horses basically every day it didn’t rain (or in between rain showers). They also got in a lesson with Ann Bowie. On Friday, Vicki rode Mojo and Alex rode Teddy as they went out together for a 6.5 mile ride in the forest. Living next to the trails has some significant advantages when you like to do distance riding.
All the rain is causing the grass to turn green and creating plenty of puddles for the peepers to start growing tadpoles.
Easter Sunday was no different. I went for a good 2 hour run in the morning to get ready for the Seven Sisters trail race coming up in 2 weeks. There were some lingering showers, so we delayed the family trail ride until the evening. Anna got a new (to her) Reactor Panel saddle for Amira for her birthday, so we have been making some adjustments to the tack. We didn’t start riding at Arcadia until 5pm. 2 hours of trails put us back home around 8 to do evening chores, eat dinner, and crash for the school week.
This evening, the weather was awesome. I went for a nice run after work and when I got home, Vicki was riding Duchess and Alex was tacking up Teddy. They both worked in the arena with Anna coaching from the side while I was doing some work around the house. Amanda saw that I had been running, so she changed clothes and laced up her sneakers. I saw her resetting Anna’s Garmin watch as she started running laps around the front pasture. It’s a 1/8 mile perimeter and she did her 8 laps to get in a mile. When I asked why she went running, she replied “I want to stay fit and I like running. It’s just something I find fun.”