It’s been a while since we posted, but that doesn’t mean nothing has been going on. This year, we are participating in the Green Bean Endurance Challenge. We are the only team that is a full family (I think) and our team name is “No Child Left Behind”.
Since we have 7 horses and plan to ride a lot of miles this year, we have been working on getting in slow conditioning miles rides. The weather hasn’t been very cooperative, but today was decent, so we saddled up 5 mounts and headed out. We rode for just under 2 hours and only covered about 7.5 miles. The goal wasn’t speed, but rather restoring fitness that has been lost through the winter.
I rode Mojo, Anna rode Dakota, Alex rode Teddy, Vicki rode Duchess, and Amanda rode Huey. Amira and Devil stayed home for this outing. As I mentioned last fall, we are going to be riding in shoes this year. So far, Mojo and Teddy are both shod all the way around and Devil has front shoes. I’ll be honest, I’m really impressed with how much nicer Teddy moves in shoes over boots. I am working on spreading out the herd’s shoeing schedule so all 7 are not due at the same time. The move to shoes from boots (after 12 years riding without shoes) is a big shift for our family and has come due to a number of reasons.
First, is quality of the boots. I have given my honest feedback to the boot companies. I have seen a decline in the quality of a number of boot products and I’m frustrated with the constant wondering what will fail next.
Second is cost. Yes, I am a dealer for multiple boot companies which means I get boots at a discount. However, I also don’t pay labor for the shoeing. Based on the decline in quality, we are wearing out boots faster than in years past. That coupled with the increased cost of the hoof boots means it is now cheaper for our family to ride shod horses over booted horses. This wouldn’t be the case if we were paying for my labor expense associated with shoeing. For perspective, I recently found a receipt for a pair of Epics we purchased in 2006 for $102. Those same boots today, purchased from the same retailer, would cost $199.82! I’m not sure what all is driving the cost of boots up, but it is driving me away from using the product.
The last factor is convenience. Let’s be honest. Booting gets tedious. It’s really nice to pick out a hoof and ride without having to pound boots on all the hooves.
Due to all the rain, we crossed plenty of water. The creek running near the entrance of Pachaug turned into a water-crossing training site. It was between 2.5-3′ deep and everyone went through it (some a few times). Here’s a short video of the kids crossing the creek. Enjoy the pictures from our ride!
This weekend was spent in Buckfield, Maine at the Northeast Challenge endurance ride. We left on Friday morning with the whole family in the truck, 3 horses (Mojo, Teddy, and Duchess) on the trailer, and plenty of camping gear. After a little over 5 hours of driving, we arrived at a gorgeous base camp in a hay pasture. The sites were all marked off to show clear division of where your area was. Since we brought 3 horses, we were allowed to use 2 sites. We gave the horses a little break to eat some grass and drink water before vetting in. With just under 50 riders, there was no wait at the vet check. This was the first ride for Alex as a rider, Teddy, and Duchess, so we planned to keep it conservative during the ride.
The rider’s brief was at 5 and immediately after was a pig roast for dinner. The ride manager invites all the land owners (over 40) that allow the trails to cross their property to join the camp for dinner. The food was great and we got to meet some new friends around camp. Ride camps get quiet early the night before a ride. By 8pm the sun was setting, the temperatures were dropping, and everyone was headed to bed.
We got up at 5:00 to eat breakfast and watch the 100 mile riders head out at 6:00. The temperatures dropped into the low 40s overnight. The horses were happy to have a layer for warmth. Alex started the morning with a cup of hot water (we forgot to pack tea bags) and Vicki had a cup of coffee to warm up.
There is a note on our endurance camping packing list: “pack clothes warmer than you expect to need”. That was definitely true this time around. We started the ride at 7:00 with layers of clothes on for the first loop of 13.8 miles. The horses were peppy and ready to go. We didn’t take a break until 5 miles in when we stopped for some grass and water.
The trails through the woods were phenomenal. There was a lot of up and down through the mountains, but also plenty of areas that were flat and fast on grass paths through the trees.
We finished our first loop of 13.8 miles with a 4.8 mph average. It was a little slower than we planned, but the goal was to make sure we didn’t over stress Duchess in particular. We also knew the second loop was faster and we could make up a little time if needed.
All 3 horses cleared the vet check within minutes of arriving at base camp. We chose to go back to our trailer, remove tack, and let the horses have free time in their paddocks. The hold is only 45 minutes long, but this also allowed Alex and Vicki to eat food without holding horses. Anna and Amanda were our ride-crew for the weekend and had everything ready for us. We all had to shed layers of clothing for the second loop as the temperatures hit 70F by 10:00. Luckily, that’s about where the mercury stopped for the day making it perfect weather.
We headed out on our second loop which was 17 miles (although we thought it was only going to be 15 miles at the time). We managed to bump up our speed to an average of 5.4 mph on the second loop.
At the end of the day, we finished 30.7 miles in 6:09 (yes, 6 hours of saddle time). There was 3,768 ft of elevation over the ride. All three horses did wonderful and Alex and Vicki both had a great time (although Alex did say he wants to do more conditioning for himself in the future).
We chose to camp for a second night and watch the 50 mile riders finish (the have 12 hours to ride 50 miles, including 2 45 minute holds) and the 100 mile riders (24 hours allowed time including holds). I’ll confess, we didn’t stay up much past dark to watch 100 mile riders do vet checks and holds. This morning, there was a pancake breakfast and awards ceremony for the 100 mile riders. Three of the riders present completed the East Coast Triple Crown this year, which is the same horse/rider team completing these three tough 100-milers: the Old Dominion 100 in June, the Vermont 100 in July and the Northeast Challenge in August.
As the awards were being handed out, Vicki leaned over and whispered, “Dad, I want to ride the Triple Crown one day.”
I want to throw out a huge “Thank You” to Blaine, Sarah, and everyone else who made this a wonderful weekend for our family. The kids were talking about “next year” and who will ride what distance. Amanda is planning to toughen up and put the miles on her pony to be able to join the fun. We look forward to seeing everyone at more rides.
We will be purchasing this photo, along with others from Wanda Clowater. Support your ride photographers!
Pinetree Pioneer Rides were held at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds over 5 days from Tuesday, August 9 through Saturday, August 13. There was a 50-55 mile event and a LD (Limited Distance) 25-30 mile event every day for 5 days. The Pioneer Ride is the three middle days, and totals 155 miles of riding. This was to be Vicki’s first distance ride. Alex was unable to ride; Dakota has been lame and Alex was still dealing with a double ear infection and sinus infection.
The logistics required to travel and camp with your horses for an endurance ride are not to be under estimated. When it is a whole family going to camp and leaving the majority of the herd at home, it takes a few days of prep just to leave the house. We started making our packing lists weeks ago. Leading up to this trip, I printed the lists and kept making updates as we figured out what we needed to add. Sunday and Monday were spent going through the camping gear to make sure everything was there and loading into totes. We also packed the horse trailer with hay, shavings, tack, extra tack, and everything we could imagine needing. Once all the camping gear was loaded into the truck bed (around the gooseneck hitch), clothing and sleeping bags in the horse trailer, and tack in the trailer, we were ready to leave.
We hit the road on Tuesday morning at 0900 and headed to Maine! The first stop was 35 minutes into the drive for a couple of items we needed at Wal-mart. The second stop was only 20 minutes later for a bathroom break. We decided to skip lunch and just finish the drive (with no more stops) to get the horses off the trailer faster. That turned out to be a mistake, because once we got to camp, it took over an hour to get the horses settled and to the point we could unload enough to eat. In the future, we will ensure we have eaten before arriving at camp.
Once things we set in camp, we vetted in the horses for the ride and took a break. Our campsite consisted of an electric fence paddock for the horses, canopy for the horses, canopy for our kitchen area, stove, coffee pot, 2 tents, folding table…. The chuck box we used for storing food and such was built by my Dad in the 60’s when he was in scouting. I would say it has gotten some miles.
The ride camp had a coordinated dinner that you could participate in, so we did. After dinner each night, the awards for the day’s ride were given out and then the ride brief was conducted for the next day. We arrived on Tuesday, so we got to see the first day awards and hear some feedback about the trails.
We have learned from previous rides, the endurance ride camps get quiet early. It seems everyone wants to go to bed early. Of course, since we had just traveled in, our crew wasn’t as tired, so we didn’t fall asleep quite as fast.
Wednesday morning, the 50 mile ride started at 0530. Our camp setup was right next to the vet area and the start/finish. Anna and I were up at 4:45 with Vicki only shortly after. Alex and Amanda slept in a little. We cooked up some eggs and sausage for breakfast. While there is typically muffins or doughnuts available for a ride breakfast, it is important to fuel your body for the ride, especially when 1 of the bodies is an 80lb, 10 year old girl.
Vicki and I were riding the 25 mile, LD ride. We started at 6:30 and 1 mile into the ride, you cross a river. On the other side, you enter some potato fields where you ride on sandy farm roads for the next 5 miles. While the potato fields were pretty, calm, and fast riding in the morning, they were hot and hotter once the sun started baking things. The first hold was 15 miles into the ride, and was away from base camp at a covered bridge. Anna, Alex, and Amanda met us there with snacks for the horses, snacks for us, and to simply help out. We quickly determined that at this age, Vicki can handle the distance, but needs the support of someone to crew at the holds so she can take a break and fuel up herself.
When you arrive at the hold, your hold time doesn’t actually start until your horse has pulsed down below 64 bpm. In anticipation of that, Vicki and I walked in (us off and leading on foot) the horses for about the last 1/4 mile. Mojo can pulse down quickly, but we wanted to make sure Devil was ready to go. It worked great and Devil was below the threshold as soon as we arrived. 40 minutes later, we were back out of the trail for 11 miles back to camp, including the potato fields. We arrived at base camp and Mojo immediately met the finish pulse criteria of 60 bpm. 6 minutes later, Devil had cooled off and also passed a vet check as “fit to continue”. Vicki and Devil had their first completion with a ride time of 4:27 for 26 miles in the saddle.
Once the horses were taken care of, we hiked a mile down to the river and took a swim to cool off since the temps were in the upper 80s (I thought Maine was supposed to be cold?).
Some people at the Pinetree ride actually ride every day. However, many ride a day and then take a day off. Because we did our first ride on the second day, there were only 11 entries in the LD ride for our day. Even though our time wasn’t terribly slow, Vicki was the last finisher, which meant she won the “Turtle Award”. In the endurance world, the motto is “To finish is to win” and we have been teaching that to the kids as we train. Winning the turtle isn’t demeaning, because it is still a completion. There are actually some riders who compete to collect turtle awards. Vicki was all smiles at the awards ceremony as she collected her ride prize, her Jr rider award (a blanket she slept with every night since), and her Turtle.
No one in our family had trouble falling asleep on Wednesday. We took Thursday off, and I was glad we did! I listened to the sound of ~30 riders leaving camp at 0530 (all distances started at 0530 on Thursday and Friday due to the heat) and then I went back to sleep for another hour. After getting up and eating, I broke out the hammock. There were not a lot of trees available, but with the truck parked just so, the hammock fit nicely between the horse trailer ties and the stake pocket ties on the truck. Amanda and I tested it out for a nice hour nap. After, we walked the horses around for some grazing (Vicki decided to ride bareback).
Thursday was HOT! The camp thermometer broke 100F in the shade. We went out to get more ice for our cooler and some ice cream. We also went to a different part of the river for a swim to cool off again. In the late afternoon, Vicki and I rode the horses bareback down to the river. We took them into some deeper areas and Vicki and Devil actually got to swim (it wasn’t deep enough to cause Mojo to swim). Thursday night dinner was lobster night and after the ride brief, we went to bed for a 0400 wake up. While Vicki was very happy to have finished her first ride, she did talk to me about strategy before we fell asleep. She said, “Dad, can we ride a little faster tomorrow. I don’t want to Turtle. I want to Win.” I told her we would ride within our horses’ abilities and the priority was to finish with everyone in good condition, but yes, we could go faster. She was ok with that. On Friday, we were riding the same LD course as Wednesday.
The temperatures on Friday were definitely hotter than Wednesday. While we did ride a faster first loop, we slowed down some on the second loop and ended up finishing within about 5 minutes of our Wednesday time. Again, both horses were in excellent condition and we both had smiles at the finish. As Vicki and I hand walked our horses the last 1/4 mile, she was already talking about her plans for the next ride. To say she is hooked on endurance is an understatement.
While the temperatures were high, we had nothing but an amazing week. Amanda was talking with everyone about her pony Huey and how she planned to ride him at Pinetree next year. Alex didn’t get to ride, but is still interested in trying it out. Pinetree was definitely a top-notch, family friendly event. Our thanks go out to Tom Hutchinson and Sue Niedoroda for managing the ride and to all the volunteers who put it on. We will see you again in 2017!
Having spent a fair amount of time in the saddle, I decided to document what does, and does not, work for me. Disclaimer – I am still only riding LDs, so I can’t ensure what works for me now will still work as I move up to longer distances. But I am sure if it doesn’t work for 25 miles, it won’t work for 50!
Since getting into endurance last year, I have constantly been trying to figure out what is the most comfortable riding attire for me. Let’s start with I am an English rider. I ride in a Bates all-purpose saddle. I do put Easy Ride stirrups on for rides over about 10 miles and ride with Ariat Terrains and half chaps. I’m not thrilled with the Terrains because they have stretched out (like every other pair of Ariats I own). Eventually, I will replace them with Merrell or some other high-end hiking boot with a smooth sole. As for the half chaps, I have the Ariat Terrain Half Chaps. They are fine for now. I won’t spend the money to replace them until they are damaged or worn out, but I will likely try a different brand that has some ventilation for the outside of my leg.
Having spent plenty of time in standard breeches, I knew those were not what I wanted to wear for long periods of time. Last year, I bought a pair of Rackers tights. I also do some triathlons, so I decided to wear my triathlon shorts under the Rackers in order to eliminate cotton underwear. I like the little cell phone pocket on the leg of the tights. They fit nicely and have belt loops which makes it easy to tuck in a shirt and keep it there. However, the tri shorts underneath doesn’t really work. The bottom edge of the shorts ends up right where my thigh contacts the saddle and rubs about a couple of hours of riding.
I finally ordered a pair of Saddlebums Racing Tights and today was my first ride in them. We went 16 miles and I was in the saddle for 3 hours. My first impression was the material is very similar between the Rackers and Saddlebums. The Saddlebums do not have belt loops and the cut of the waist made me feel like I would have plumber’s crack every time I bent over and probably in the saddle too. With the Rackers, I had tried riding in a cycling jersey, but it was uncomfortable with the belt on. So before heading out this morning, I changed out of my shirt and into a cycling jersey. Since the cycling jersey has an elastic waist and comes down lower in the back, it solved my problem! The Saddlebums also have an integrated chamois pad, so they are designed to wear without underwear. As a guy who has spent time in bike shorts and tri shorts, it feels quite normal to me. I put the amount of padding much closer to tri shorts than bike shorts. The optional pocket on the Saddlebums is much larger than the Rackers and actually has a velcro top (which I like).
Overall, I give the nod to Saddlebums for distance riding and will likely be ordering a second pair. That said, I think my Rackers will become my go-to schooling attire for jumping.
I have found that cycling/triathlon tops make great crossover for endurance riding. I have a Pearl Izumi cycling jacket that is my go-to rain top for horses. It is very compact and fits in my cantel bag with all my other stuff. If you are looking for solutions for men’s attire, check out a local bike shop!
Since Anna and the kids are out of town, I went out for a solo ride on Mojo today. WGHA was having a full camping weekend at Escoheag with rides yesterday and today, so Mojo and I went for a day ride. I had plans of getting there early to have lots of time to ride. Those plans didn’t work out. We finally left the house just after 9 and hit the trails at 10.
Today’s ride was all about working on riding without his best friends and trying out some new gear. I ordered some new riding tights from Saddlebums and wore them today. I was very pleased with them overall, however, I did forget my half chaps and my calves paid the price. I have decided that I prefer to do my distance riding with a biking jersey top. The elastic around the sleeves and waist keep the shirt from flapping around and the pockets on the back come in handy for snacks, cell phone, trash, etc. I also got a new hackamore for Mojo and I love it. He isn’t a heavy horse in the first place and the hackamore lets him eat whenever I offer a stop without getting grass all stuck in his bit. We also did some tweaking of existing gear such as how the saddlebag was attached. There are little things that add up to annoyances or actual rubs/problems over longer distances, so it’s important to get it right.
It was hot out there (mid 80s with high humidity). The humidity definitely impacted our speed. In the end, we rode 16 miles at a 5.3 mph average; just a hair over 3 hours of saddle time.
Mojo definitely enjoyed the 3 stops where I let him wade into the water (2 creeks and a lake). I have no doubt this horse will swim with me if I give him the chance. We did a lot of trotting, but I did let him run a couple of times. He gave me a new top end speed of 23.3 mph! Overall, we had a great ride and we are looking forward to our next endurance ride in 10 days.
It’s been a long day. I did some trimming this morning while Anna and the kids did chores. After lunch, we had a swim with some friends, then back home to ride some horses. Vicki spent some time riding Devil bareback, including jumping him to get ready for the show tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow she will likely be using a saddle. Alex and Vicki both rode Nike for a short session. After that, Vicki rode Dakota (her third ride for the day), Amanda rode Huey, and Alexis rode Ace. Anna and I were able to go for a short trail ride to evaluate Teddy on the trails. Teddy is making great progress with he fear of ears being handled. We are able to halter him reliably and bridle him, although it requires disassembling the bridle. He is not ready to have a bridle passed over his ears and it requires patience to put the brow band back across his head. Anna has been working on this with him every day, and he is showing a lot of improvement. I am confident he will continue to get better and we will get past the problems eventually.
On our trail ride, I was on Mojo and Anna was on Teddy. We just did a 5 mile ride because it was late and the deer flies were ridiculously bad. I had a few that made it into my mouth, my ears, and swarmed my eyes. Teddy is definitely an Arab. He has a nice solid trot, but does have that Arab mindset that large rocks and logs could be a hiding place for a mountain lion. Nothing too dramatic, but just enough to keep the ride interesting. We have introduced Teddy to Glove boots. He wasn’t too fond of them on his hind feet, but once we got moving, he didn’t have time to worry about it.
I did manage to take a short video while we trotted through the corn fields. Anna thinks maybe we should invest in a GoPro to mount on my helmet. Teddy walked through water, has a nice ground covering trot, and Anna looks good on him. His first trail ride was an overwhelming success. The only thing he is lacking is conditioning, but we know how to fix that.
This morning, Anna and I rode the NEATO 25 mile Limited Distance Endurance ride at Arcadia in RI. Anna rode Dakota and I rode on Mojo. Since Mojo only arrived on Sunday, this was a bit of a gamble. He has experience in LD rides, but the longest I had previously sat on him was about 45 minutes. We took the horses over yesterday afternoon and vetted them in. We set up some corral panels that were tied to the side of our trailer and the horses shared the space (Dakota and Mojo get along great). Alex hung out with me at horse camp while Anna took Vicki and Amanda to their music concert. The girls stopped by on the way home to drop off a few things forgotten in the barn and to pick up Alex; I really like the 15 minutes from home rides. I camped over with the horses.
This morning, we had a sitter at the house at 6 so Anna could get back to the ride. We tacked up and waited a few minutes to head out after the ride started at 7:15. I had been warned that Mojo tends to be strong and hot for the first few miles. I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t crazy, he just wanted to go. We held back some and worked on patience and listening. After the first 4 miles, we had been averaging a 7 mph pace which was faster than we planned. We slowed the horses and made sure we didn’t overdo it. Anna was concerned that Dakota was not as fit as at the GMHA ride last fall. We also had some technology issues. While we love our Garmin 310XTs for tracking distance and speed, we also use them for watching the heart rates on the horses. Today, we didn’t have good connections and Dakota’s heart rate reading was running about 35-40 bpm higher than it should have. There was a lot of discussion during the ride about whether or not Dakota was in distress. Of course, every time Anna put him in front and let go of the reins, he started trotting at 12+ mph. I voted that he was fine.
When we came in from the first 15 mile loop, Dakota actually pulsed down to under 64 bpm (the required level) faster than Mojo. That ended the concerns about his fitness and proved that technology isn’t always great. I ended up riding the second loop without the heart rate monitor recording on Mojo because of the bad data. It is just a distraction that isn’t needed and I think Anna and I are both going to shift to using heart rate as an occasional training tool, but compete without it. Maybe.
After our 45 minute hold we headed back out. We ended up averaging about 6.2 mph on the first loop which was fine. We took it easy on the second loop of 10 miles. In the end, we completed the 25 miles with a ride time of about 4:15 and averaged just over 6 mph. Both horses cleared the vet check at the end and were deemed fit to continue, which is the criteria to be awarded a completion.
Mojo and I had a good ride together. We have a few things to work on, such as personal space. Mojo likes to be in my space and stood on my feet more than once. He also likes to use me (and Dakota) as a scratching post for his head. Despite these minor things, he moves out very nicely on the trail and has a powerful trot. He had no problem holding a trot up to 12+mph.
I do have a few things I want to change before another distance ride. Anna and I have both been somewhat unhappy with the halter/bridle combos we bought last year. She has recently switched to using a rope halter and adding a basic trail bridle. I think I’ll be making the same change. Also, I got a few rubs from my clothing (like sock tops on my calf where the calf and saddle touch) that require fine tuning before going up to any longer distances.
In the end, it was a good ride, but now we have to get ponies ready for the kids to show tomorrow!
This morning we awoke to just under an inch of snow. This has been one of the weirdest winters (and now springs) since we moved to CT 10 years ago. By the time we went out for morning chores, it was still snowing, but the snow on the ground was melting. By lunch, the wind was blowing enough to drop the wind chill a fair amount and the snow on the trees was turning to ice. So we went for a trail ride.
Amanda came to breakfast in her mermaid wrap that was made for her at Christmas by a family friend.
Today’s trail ride featured 6 miles of an air temperature about 37F, wind chill in the 20s, and ice constantly hitting us (and the horses) as it blew out of the trees. There were only 4 of us on today’s ride: I was on Echo, Alexis on Ace, Vicki on Devil, and Alex on Dakota. The 3 ponies did great. Echo was great for the first half. When we hit the turnaround point, I moved him from lead horse to last horse. He didn’t care for that and it made the second half of the ride more interesting. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t want to trot behind the others. It is definitely an area we will have to keep on working on. I did decide to run him out a little to burn off some of the energy (the ponies were all happy to keep trotting along quietly as we pulled away for a couple of minutes). Echo established a new top end speed today at 25.8 mph. He sustained higher than 20 mph for 1/4 mile, but we had to pull up when 3 of his 4 boots had come off and were holding on by the gaiters. I’m not really convinced the Gloves (hoof boot) are designed for speeds above 20 mph because that seems to be when we consistently have problems. I also rode Echo in an S Hack today for the first time. I was overall satisfied with the control and stopping power. The advantage of riding in a hackamore when doing trail/distance riding is it is easier for the horses to stop and eat/drink at breaks along the way. Next weekend we will do a longer conditioning ride with at least Dakota, Devil, and Echo as we continue to prepare for our first 25 miler of the season in May.
Not every boot fits every horse. While we use a lot of Easy Care products on our own horses, they fall short for horses that tend to over reach with the hind feet. There is nothing quite as frustrating as a ripped gaiter right before a competition. Dakota really taught us a lot about this issue last year when training for our endurance ride.
Renegade hoof boots have a molded plastic cage design that captures the heel bulb of the hoof. It is particularly effective for horses that tend to over reach. Additionally, Renegade boots are easier to put on and remove than the Easy Care products. I am now offering fitting and sales of Renegade boots.
Yesterday Anna and I officially entered the endurance world with the completion of our first Limited Distance (LD) 30 mile ride at the Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA) in South Woodstock, VT. Back in June, I first posted about our plans do the ride and the start to our training (read the original plans here). It has been a very educational 4 months of training; we learned a more about conditioning our horses, tack selection, and conditioning ourselves. All rubs, on horse and rider, are magnified by 5+ hours in the saddle, so you have to pay attention to the details. As some of you may know, Misti basically had 2 weeks off due to a shoulder cut that required staples; the lack of work definitely gave her an excessive amount of spunk.
On Friday morning, we did the chores and then loaded up the trailer to head out. Some good friends with daughters a little older than our kids came over to do the farm/babysitting while Anna and I were out-of-town. Our drive to GMHA was about 3:30 plus a lunch stop at Cracker Barrel; we arrived about 3, unloaded our gear, and got the horses settled in to their stalls. One advantage of GMHA is all horses are required to be stalled overnight, so there is no concern about tying to the trailer or portable pens. GMHA is in the mountains and there was no cell service. They did have wifi in some buildings, so we sent a message back home that we would be out of contact for the next day and a half.
At endurance rides, there is a lot of focus on the health and condition of the horse. I think there were 4 vets on site for a little over 50 riders. Prior to the ride, everyone must “vet in”. You are given a “rider card” as part of your check in packet and that is your ticket for the ride. Everything about the horse is recorded on the card: name, age, breed, description, temperature, muscle tone, injuries, cardiac recovery (a 1 min test where they check pulse, trot out 125′ and back, check pulse again), gut sounds, etc.
Misti was not cooperative for the vetting in. Specifically, she was threatening kicking when her back leg muscles were probed and none of the vets were able to take her temperature. Clearly we have to work on that. She got a note on her card to reminder the vets to be careful throughout the event.
After vetting in, we set up our trailer for the night and went to dinner with all the other riders. Dinner was good (pasta and salad) and the “pre-ride briefing” started right after dinner. As soon as that ended, riders tucked in their horses and headed to bed. The 50 mile riders had a 7:00 start time, which meant most of them would be up by 5:00 getting horses fed and ready to go. Our 30 mile ride started at 8:30, so we didn’t get up until 6:00. That night, we were in bed by about 8:45. We slept in the horse trailer; Anna on an air mattress in the gooseneck, me on a cot in the back. It was cold. It was 37F when we got up the next morning and only peaked in the low 40s for the day. Next time, we will do something different. We will either rent a room at a local B&B or if we have a second tow vehicle, take our travel trailer.
We knew it was going to be a cold ride, which was quite a change from the training. During most of training, we were concerned about cooling the horses and sponging with water when we had the chance. Now, it was about keeping the horses, and us, warm. We had rump rugs to help keep their hind end muscles from getting too cold. Anna and I had layers on our tops to keep warm and block the wind.
Once we were saddled up, we warmed up for a couple of minutes while waiting for the start. Misti was explosive. She had been awful while I was putting her hoof boots on (both Misti and Dakota were ridden in Easy Care Gloves on all 4 hooves). Although we had practiced with it at home, I took the rump rug off Misti within 3 minutes and left it in base camp to reduce the number of stimulants. The time off gave her way too much energy. Once we were on the trail, she was ready to go and settled in quickly.
It was gorgeous. A number of times on the ride, Anna and I stopped to snap some pictures. The fall colors were just past their peak and we had leaves falling on us throughout the day.
The ride consisted of 2 loops, about 15 miles each. On the first loop, we didn’t want to push too hard because of the mountains. We only missed 1 turn when we were too busy looking at a maple syrup operation. We realized the error in about 1/4 mile, so it wasn’t a big deal. About 1.5 miles before the end of the first loop, the precipitation began. It was a constantly changing mix of light rain, sleet, and snow. It didn’t last long, but got us just damp enough to add a chill to our 45 minute stop.
We averaged about a 5.5 mph speed on the first loop and then arrived at base camp for the vet check and hold time. When you come in for the vet check, your arrival time is noted, but then your horse has to meet a “pulse down” criteria before your hold starts. In this case, the horses had to be under 64 bpm. We went from the arrival timer to the pulse checkers with only a 2 minute delay. Misti was already at 48 bpm (which is excellent and even confused the pulse check a little because it was so low already) while Dakota was still at 66 bpm. 4 minutes later and Dakota was under the threshold, so our 45 minute hold was in progress. We saw the vets and there were no issues to cause much concern (Misti’s attitude about getting poked and prodded was unchanged by 15 miles of effort).
Once vetting was done, we had about 35 minutes to get the horses a snack, get us a snack, use the bathroom, etc. By the time we left, I was shivering a little and needed to get going to warm up.
The second loop included a lot of unpaved roads. The roads were a compacted gravel dust and easy for the horses to move out on. We got passed at our 20 mile point by the leaders of the 50 mile ride. They had covered 40 miles in about 4 hours of saddle time and came flying by! The second loop was just as scenic, but since it was more roads and not quite as aggressive, we took it at about a 6 mph average speed.
For LD rides, your time doesn’t stop until your horse pulses down to the required level. For the finish, it was 60 bpm. Since we knew Misti pulses down quickly and Dakota doesn’t really get nervous about her being gone, we decided to split up when we arrived at the finish. We got our arrival time recorded, and I took Misti straight to the pulse check. She was at 52 bpm within a minute of our arrival in camp. I then had to go pull her tack off for the final vet check. Anna had already pulled Dakota’s tack and put a cooler on him to keep him warm. She hand grazed Dakota for a while and then went to the pulse check. Dakota was cleared with a 56 bpm pulse and we went to see the vets.
Dakota’s gut sounds were a little weak, so the vet cautioned to keep an eye on him, but it wasn’t a disqualifying issue. the vet also noted he was a little weak on his right hind, which was something we had noted before. That said, Dakota was moving better during the ride than we had seen in a while. Anna had given him a taper, so it looks like maybe he needs a little less volume. He definitely has the power and speed and mentality to be a good mount for the kids to do limited distance rides.
Misti’s vetting didn’t go quite as well. She was lame on her front right, with a grade 2 lameness. It wasn’t anything I had noticed under saddle and definitely caught me off guard. You have 30 minutes from arrival to pass the vet check, so I took her back to wash her leg and walk her around for a few minutes. Upon representing, the vet still felt she was off, however, to disqualify a horse, it requires 2 vets to agree. When the second vet checked (without any prompting from the first about what to look for) she didn’t see any issues. Therefore, the lameness is, by definition, a grade 1 (2 vets don’t always agree it is even present for a grade 1), and Misti was signed off for completion.
I think maybe we rode a little too aggressively on the downhills and that is what bothered her. I did remove her hoof boots before the final check, so maybe a boot was bothering her. Either way, it quickly resolved and she wasn’t showing signs of soreness as we moved her around.
My gps tracked our distance at 29.7 miles, with 4,630 feet of elevation gain and loss and an average moving speed of 5.8 mph. It took us 6 hours, including the mid-ride 45 minute hold. By comparison, our 20 mile training ride at home included only 1,050 feet of elevation change and an average moving speed of 5.3 mph. So overall, we did great! Many of the experienced 50 mile riders told us the GMHA rides are some of the toughest on the east coast, and I believe it.
Once the ride was done and the horses back in their stalls, we got some warm food and packed up. There was no big pomp and circumstance of awards, just a few announcements over the loudspeaker. As we loaded up and headed out, 50 mile riders were still riding. We drove home (with only 1 flat trailer tire on the way from another broken valve stem) and got in about 9:30.
It was a fun ride, and on the way home, Anna and I both agreed we would like to do more. So it looks like we will plan our next ride to be in May, at the endurance event only 15 minutes from home. We did discuss a long list of things to change about our camp setup and training, but for today, we will just take it easy and enjoy the fall weather.