2021 Distance Riding Awards and Review

The weather is warming up and we are riding more. Our horses get most of January and February off, as it is cold and yucky out and it takes enough energy just to take care of all our critters. It is also a good way to rest those little aches and pains we all get, both horses and humans.

As we start our 2022 riding season we would like to go back and evaluate our 2021 year. Last month we received two American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) jackets in the mail; one for Amanda and one for Quinn. Amanda got an award for 1st place Northeast junior mileage in the limited distance category and Quinn got second place in that same category. I get such a kick out of seeing that Dartmoor breed (Huey) up there on the list. Huey certainly is a one of a kind PONY.

Amanda in her new AERC jacket

Amanda and Huey had a good year, logging lots of miles in training and competition. Huey really needs to be well conditioned and ridden smart to do well at distance riding. He’s one of those ponies that lives on air and keeping weight off of him is really challenging. He eats a handful of ration balancer and timothy pellets. And hay. And never vets into a ride below “moderately fleshy” aka body condition 6. The struggle is real. But he motors down the trail and is safe for Amanda to ride and handle herself. Amanda and Huey had 195 miles together in Limited Distance (25-30 mile) events during the 2021 season. Our family attended 5 rides this year, and Amanda completed 7 rides, 3 of them at one event over 5 days (Pinetree).

Amanda and Huey at NEC, photo by Wanda Clowater
Quinn SO excited about me taking their pic

Quinn rode four 30 mile LD rides on Eli this season and one 50 miler, their first 50. Quinn gave up one LD ride to let her brother ride Eli, since Alex had been riding all the horses this year and doesn’t really have one of his own anymore.

Quinn and Eli
Alex and Mojo at NEC photo credit Wanda Clowater

Alex rode 4 LDs this year, on four different horses (our three big horses and a catch ride), and was the main conditioning rider for Mojo. Without Alex, Mojo would not have had enough miles to safely compete as much as he did. Rob and Alex also did their first ride and tie with Mojo which was 30 miles at New York adventure.

Alex and Rob before the start

Rob rode 3 rides in 2021, two LDs and one 50, all on Mojo, in addition to the ride and tie with Alex. Rob let me ride Mojo at the Bare Bones Ride in May, when Amira was injured the day before the ride, since it was on Mother’s day.

Anna and Mojo

Amira and I rode 135 LD miles last year. Alex rode her 30 miles at the Firecracker HAM ride, and she completed 75 miles in three rides over 5 days at Pinetree this year. I am very pleased with how she is turning out.

Anna and Amira

So, what is in store for 2022?!? Well, life is alive and well and we are battling some hurdles. Eli finished the season with a sore back and saddle fit issues along with a mystery stifle/hind end asymmetry. Eli had rest, we have remedied saddle issues and done chiropractic and are pursuing some imaging and injections to hopefully finish resolving his issues. Quinn has been struggling with sciatic nerve pain caused by some spinal facet joint swelling, so they are on the rehab train together.

Alex and Rob are sharing Mojo, and heading down to Foxcatcher to attempt another ride and tie. Alex has a 12 week internship this summer, so his ride availability will be limited, though I am sure he will ride when he can.

Amanda is quickly growing out of Huey, both sizewise and capability wise. He is turning 21 this year and is probably retiring to recreational driving later this year. He doesn’t appreciate riders over 80 lbs and Amanda just reached 70. She wants to take him to the milestone of 500 LD miles, which is another 5 25 milers or 4 30s. She also wants to ride a 50 on one of our horses this year. Not sure yet who, or when that will be. She rides all 3 of our big horses at home, but at a ride horses are always a little bit spicier.

Anna’s right hip

I am looking at a hip replacement or two in the not very distant future. My right hip in particular is done for. That said, I am hoping to complete a number of rides this season and I am contemplating trying a 50 miler in the fall at a cooler flatter ride. Planning to have surgery later this fall.

Our new horse Fiona will spend the summer in training (with us) but will not be competing this year. We hope to have her out at pleasure events this fall.

Introducing E.B. Farms LL Regal!

It’s kidding season and some of our does will kid soon, however, the first kid of the season arrived today from Exponential Blessings Farm in MD! E.B. Farms LL Regal was purchased to breed to the does we have kept out of Yoshi next fall. We don’t plan to allow outside breeding to Regal for this year.

Regal has a great pedigree that we are sure will help improve our herd.

The human kids are enjoying having a bottle baby in the house.

Introducing Fiona!

Fiona

In the fall, we decided it was time to start looking for another horse to add to our herd. We were all over the place with our criteria and considered a lot of different options: fully trained and competition ready endurance horses, yearlings, green but mature mares and geldings, and so on. We looked at local horses. We looked online at horses throughout the country. We considered trips to the West coast to look at horses (but didn’t go). Ultimately we settled on wanting a horse that was well-bred with a strong potential for endurance. That led to us having conversations with breeders from GA to ID and others in between. We found ourselves primarily looking at untrained mares that we could train, compete, and potentially breed in the future.

The searching led us to find Sun Arab Stables in Verona, KY. Daunna Sellers is in the owner and has bred Shagya Arabians for decades. We visited Sun Arab Stables in December during our holiday trip to Alabama and decided to purchase SA Fiona. Fiona made the trip from KY to CT this week and arrived late last night. Fiona is an 9yo, 15.1hh, bay Anglo-Shagya mare. Fiona’s sire is a well-known Shagya stallion, Bayram. Daunna owned Bayram for many years and he was a big part of her breeding program. Fiona’s dam, Flo Jo, is an Anglo-Arabian (half Thoroughbred, half Egyptian Arabian).

We talked with some others who also purchased horses from Sun Arab Stables over the years, and everyone had great things to say about Daunna and her bloodlines. One prominent endurance rider has actually purchased 9 horses from Daunna over the years and owns Fiona’s full brother, who is currently competing in endurance.

Fiona is green. She has had a saddle on her a few times, but is not trained to ride. We look forward to training Fiona to shape her into the horse we want her to be. She has a quiet demeanor and is very willing, hopped right on our trailer last night after riding in a different trailer for two days. She has a lot of the TB traits, including the classic thin coat – hence she got a blanket as soon as she arrived last night.

Shagya Arabian are essentially a different branch of Arabians and are a distinct breed from what most people refer to when they say “Arabian”. There are multiple Shagya registries in the United States, but the North American Shagya Society (NASS) has a great explanation of the breed here: https://shagya.net/shagya-arabian-breed. Fiona’s registration with NASS will be as a part-Shagya, since only her sire is a Shagya.

Fall hunting!

Fall is my favorite season and November is my favorite month of the year. While I don’t love the earlier nights, the cool weather and changing leaves make spending time outside awesome! Anna gets mad because riding horses takes a back seat to hunting. Today was about as good as it can get.

I didn’t have to drive any kids to school this morning (election day) and temps dropped into the 30s last night. I headed out into Pachaug State Forest from our house and was in my spot in under 10 minutes. I had been in place for all of 3 minutes when I heard deer moving towards me through a creek. I took the shot with my crossbow the minute shooting was legal and recovered the 7pt, ~180lb buck 30 minutes later. Not bad for my first deer hunt of the season.

Since the hunt was so short, I decided that I would do a little work for the day, but I couldn’t resist another hunt in the afternoon. This time, I decided to take Rusty over to some state forest where pheasants are stocked. It was a great afternoon for a walk and Rusty did his job finding some nice birds.

Life is too short to spend every day in the office!

No More Hooves

For 10 years, I have operated a part-time farrier business on nights and weekends. I started out just doing trims, but eventually moved into limited shoeing as well. This month marked the end of that business. While I have always loved working with clients (who mostly became friends), the wear and tear on your body takes a toll. I decided it was time to stop before I was so worn down that I couldn’t enjoy life.

This weekend was spent running with friends, doing some work around the farm, taking an easy ride on the horses, and just enjoying life. We ended today with the family around a campfire, eating bowls of chili with smores for dessert. We used apps on our phone to map the stars and planets before everyone went back inside. Life is good.

Northeast challenge 2021

This past weekend we traveled to Buckfield, Maine to ride the 30 mile Limited Distance ride at Northeast Challenge. This was the third time we have attended this ride. The ride has a very welcoming and encouraging atmosphere and offers a substantial discount for juniors and young riders. It is hosted by the Jack family and Sarah Jack is the ride manager for this ride. We left home early Friday morning and drove up to Maine with 4 horses and two dogs. We arrived around noon time and started to set up camp.

Rusty likes to help navigate

The camp at Northeast challenge is in a big hay field; wide open with a couple of porta potties. We chose a spot within a reasonable distance of the vet check so we could just crew out of our trailer.

The plan for this ride was to let Alex ride Mojo, since he has been conditioning him all year and had yet to ride an actual ride on him. They are a great match together. Rob volunteered to crew so Anna riding Amira was the designated sponsor for Quinn and Amanda. Quinn and Amanda are responsible for finding the markers and turns, because we all know Anna is going to convince herself they missed a turn.

Friday afternoon we vetted in the horses. They got their pulse taken and all their hydration parameters checked along with soundness checks. Huey vetted in with a pulse of 36!!!

Dinner was a pig roast for the riders and landowners who allow us to ride on their land for this event. It was delicious. Pork, chili, three bean salad and more.

Rob and Anna took the dogs for a walk to check out the last bit of trail before the hold and then we went to bed early.

We got up at 4:30 am to feed horses, eat breakfast and tack up horses. We got on about ten minutes before the 6:30 start.

At the start of the ride

The course at Northeast challenge is moderately hilly and includes gravel roads and lots of snowmobile trails. The trail also passes through several fields of hay and corn. There are a couple of steep up and downs, so not a fast, flat and easy course.

The morning started out with some excitement when Huey decided he was feeling spunky and decided to test out Amanda’s riding skills, dropping his head and bucking. We recently changed Huey’s bit for a jumping hackamore, so Amanda had even less leverage pulling his head up. We decided to just move on out when the trail opened and Huey settled down in the first couple of miles. Alex got in the lead on Mojo followed by Eli, and Huey and Amira alternated being in the last spot.

The first loop was a little over 14 miles. The terrain is very pretty and for the most part the footing was good. A couple of rocky sections, but nothing really crazy. There were a couple of normal incidents along the way that slowed us down a bit, two pee stops, Eli’s breast collar came apart, another horse came running through and the rider broke her stirrup in two, and Amira got stung by a yellow jacket. But overall, we made forward progress and made it back to camp in about 2.5 hours. The kids have decided that all ride photos now have to include at least one t pose. There were several during this ride.

At the mid point vet check Eli was a bit back sore and had to do a recheck at the end of the hold. We had changed his pad and had his saddle reflocked after Pine Tree due to pressure points and a slightly sore back from the sand there. The pad we use now is a Toklat Matrix with ortho impact inserts and we decided to take the inserts out for the next loop to see if less foam was better. We gave him some electrolytes and CMPK, hoping that maybe the increased elevation climbing caused some muscle tightness along the back that could be relieved. We kept a cooler on him for the hold and he passed his recheck. The plan was to take our time and change up gaits a bit for the second loop to get completions for everyone.

The second loop was also a bit over 14 miles and we basically trotted most of the way, broken up with a few miles of cantering, and walked half of all the hills. The strategy seemed to work and we finished the second loop at a similar pace to the first loop. We got off the horses and walked in the last quarter mile or so. The second loop was pretty straightforward except for an argument about two pointing at the canter between Quinn and Anna and an encounter with cows. Quinn argued they cannot two point in a dressage saddle, while Anna thought it may help Eli out…the joys of having teenagers… Amira is pretty certain cows should stand still and not run up to the fence and make noise. Amira practiced her laterals going down the road while keeping a close eye on the noisy monsters.

We completed the second loop with about an hour to spare. The total elevation change for the ride was in the 3300 ft range, which is about 1000 ft less than when we first rode this ride in 2017 due to course changes. Last year we rode this ride in the pouring rain, an aftermath of whatever hurricane was coming up the coast and it was miserable. This year the weather was in the 70s and it was very pleasant. The horses vetted through. Alex and Amanda tied for 9th and Alex stood for BC, which means best condition. The top ten riders are eligible, and the formula consists of a combination of vet score (recovery pulse and Cardiac Recovery Index, gait score, wounds etc), rider weight and time (first rider gets highest score, points deducted for x time off that time). It involves a vet exam one hour after your finish and gives you insight into how your horse is doing after the ride. Amanda chose not to stand as she has no shot at BC weighing in at just over 60 pounds.

We let the horses eat and rest for a while, had lunch, and then it was time for LD awards. We got an assortment of completion awards and junior and young rider awards. Our friend Connie Walker won the LD and BC on her TB mare Miss May.

Sarah Jack at the awards

We had promised the kids to drive home Saturday night to help everyone get ready for school starting Monday and to allow Alex to get his college homework done. He had started college classes on Thursday and had to skip a lab on Friday to attend the ride. Alex is learning about the homework load associated with the 22 credits he is taking this fall. It was a tough drive home due to fatigue, but we made it by 10 pm.

We had fun. We met some new friends and visited with old friends. I admire everyone for the time and dedication they put into their horses and their welfare. Distance riding is a great way to spend time with your family and your horse. Some of the pictures in our blog post were purchased from ride photographer Wanda Clowater. Thank you Wanda for capturing the antics! Thank you also to the Jack family, the ride vets and volunteers. We sincerely appreciate you all.

Pine Tree 2021

Last week we made our annual trek to Fryebrug, Maine for the Pine Tree Pioneer Endurance ride. The event is held at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds and includes 5 consecutive days of endurance rides. 2 of our kids had their first endurance rides at this event in the past, so this is a special event for our family and is the big “vacation” before school starts. This is a long post, but here are some stats up front:
11 starts and 11 completions
325 miles of competition (all 4 of our horses rode 75 miles and we borrowed 1 horse for 25 miles)
61 hours and 16 minutes of saddle time

Mojo is very tolerant of Rob’s antics

Some of the photo in this post were purchased from Wanda Clowater. You can see all her ride photos on her website at http://www.clowaterart.com/. Support your ride photographers and buy the images you want to share on social media!

My parents left Alabama on Friday and got to our house late Saturday evening. This is the 3rd time they have driven their travel trailer up from Alabama to join us for a week in Maine. We hit the road Sunday morning about 7:30 and made it into ride camp at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds at 12:30. We were able to get the horse pens set up and camp established by mid afternoon. Monday was a day off, so we went for a 3 hour float down the Saco River.

Monday evening, we vetted in the horses and tried to get some sleep.

Tuesday morning we got up at 4:00. Rob and Quinn started the 50 mile ride at 6, while Anna, Amanda, and Alex started the 25 mile ride at 6:30. This season has been great for Eli who already completed 3 30 mile rides with excellent vet card marks and great recoveries. Quinn decided it was time to try a 50. Quinn had attempted a 50 previously on Duchess, but was pulled for lameness in the first loop so there was definitely a little anxiety going into the ride.

Our first loop on the 50 was 20 miles and we averaged 6.6 mph. Mojo and Eli did great and passed the vet check with ease. They both ate and drank during the hold before we headed out on loop 2. The second loop was 14.9 miles and our average for that loop was 5.4 mph. The horses were slowing down some as the temperatures rose, but nothing to be concerned about. It was hot in the fields and we were happy to cool off a little crossing the river headed back to camp.

During the second hold, everything went well except I got distracted and forgot to give the horses electrolytes during the hold. Anna realized this as we were saddled and heading back out on course. I thought both were still eating and drinking well so we would just give them another dose mid-loop. In hindsight, I should have given them a dose before we left camp, because Mojo in particular was starting to fade. I ended up stopping about 3.5 miles into loop 3 to dose the electrolytes. I have started taking a quart ziplock of senior feed and Outlast and the horses eat it right after the electrolytes. I think this helps prevent issues with the electrolytes causing an upset stomach. Mojo didn’t drink on the 3rd loop until we had been 10 miles, while Eli drank at every water stop along the way. Mojo finally started drinking and was perking up, so we were able to increase speed. We had only managed about 4.0 mph for the first 10 miles, but by the end of the 16.8 mile loop, we had come back up to a 4.7 mph average.

We finished our 50 miler at 5:50; we had 10 minutes to spare. Both horses passed the vet check and were “fit to continue.”

While Quinn and Rob were tackling the 50, Anna, Amanda, and Alex were riding a 25 miler. Alex was “catch riding” on a 20 year old Appaloosa mare named Cinco de Mayo that our friend Lilly Becker brought from NY for him to use. Alex is old enough that he can ride alone, but he still prefers to ride with the family. About 5 miles into the first loop of 11 miles, one of Alex’s stirrups broke. Anna got out some vet wrap and they did a temporary repair to try and hold it together. During the repair, Rob and Quinn actually came along and joined the rest of the family, as both distances overlapped for another 6 miles. 2 miles later, the second stirrup broke. At that point, we had to split up. Anna and Amanda had already ridden ahead, because they had the least slack in the day to make up time. Rob and Quinn headed out while Alex continued on foot. It’s a good thing he has been doing some running recently.

Anna had called our crew (Rob’s parents) who had gone back to camp to get a bin of spare tack. Ken was able to meet Alex along the road so he could switch the stirrups and get back into the saddle. Alex made up time coming into the hold. While Anna and Amanda departed the hold ahead of Alex, he caught up to them about 3 miles into the 15 mile second loop. Everything held together for the second loop and they finished with about 10 minutes to spare.

Tuesday evening we learned there are skunks in the field outside camp…Rusty took off after something in the dark and came back covered in skunk smell. A quick trip to Walmart for supplies and a few baths later, he was not as stinky anymore. Phew!

We took Wednesday off of riding, but Rob, Liz, and Amanda volunteered at the ride. Amanda walked around the hold area assisting any rider who didn’t have crew by holding their horse while they untacked, took a bathroom break, or just had a few minutes of rest.

Anna and Amanda rode in the 25 mile ride on Thursday. The day started out overcast, hot and humid and ended sunny/bright, hot and humid. The ride out to the hold in the fields was in dense fog and it was hard to see. Anna was glad to be wearing contacts as many glasses wearers were complaining they could not see a thing due to the humidity at nearly 100%. We keep a steady long rein trot “mustang shuffle” except when the munchkin calls out for “a little faster”, or we have to walk. Our typical average speed is somewhere between 6-7 mph. We got to the hold after 12 miles in a little under 2 hours. The last few rides Anna has started adding potassium chloride to Amira’s regular electrolytes and dosing her immediately upon arriving at the vet check. This practice has helped Amira pulse in and cool down much faster at holds. After a near elimination midride at NY Adventure earlier this year due to electrolyte issues, Anna has been experimenting with different protocols for Amira during training rides and this new strategy appears to be working. This week Amira consistently pulsed at 48 or even 44 bpm.

Anna and Amanda headed back out on trail the 15ish miles back to camp after the 50 minute hold. This 25 miler was actually more like 27…The second loop consisted of a mix of fields, gravel road and forest trails, thankfully mostly in the shade, as the sun was starting to beat down the closer we came to mid day. The pair stopped at “the house in the woods” where a couple has a tub and a hose out for cooling horses, and electrolyted mid loop. Anna and Amanda finished the ride and the horses completed with no issues. Ride number two done for Amira and Huey.

Since we only have 4 horses, we have to take turns with the riding (although Amanda gets Huey to herself). On Friday, Rob on Mojo and Alex on Eli rode the 25 miler. Alex has only ridden Eli a few times, but like on his catch ride, he just gets on and goes. We planned to ride a slow ride and just make sure we got completions on both horses since they had done a 50 miler on Tuesday. The horses had other plans. Right from the start both Mojo and Eli were ready to race. They were at the front of the pack and showed no signs of fatigue from earlier in the week. We didn’t let them overdo it, but we completed the first loop of 11ish miles with a 7.9 mph average! Both horses made the 60 bpm pulse criteria in under 5 minutes and ate and drank throughout the hold.

We got back on trail for the second loop and slowed down some, but the horses were still flying down the trail. We completed the 25 miles with a 6.9 mph average, which is one of the fastest LDs we have ridden. Again, both horses cleared the vet check. Mojo had some minor girth rubs and Eli had some minor back soreness (which may have been from the deep footing), so we decided not to take a risk with another ride and gave them Saturday off.

Friday evening it was time for the annual lobster dinner. Anna, Rob and Quinn all had lobster. Also included was corn on the cob, salad, potatoes, and butter. Yum!

Friday before the lobster dinner Rob and Anna got Amira and Huey out and evaluated their movement and attitudes. We agreed that Anna and Amanda would try to ride a third day. Amira looked slow and pokey as usual, but sound, and alert, while Huey really looked same as always, with a little ‘tude to go with it. We said “Let’s give it a go”.

Saturday morning came and Amanda was dragging a bit getting up and Anna’s hips and knees were complaining, but both got on their horses and rode off on the first loop. The fields were not as foggy as on Thursday morning and there was even a rainbow as we came up from the river.

At the hold the horses pulsed down, passed the vet check and ate mash and grass. Rob and Alex helped crew, along with our friend Mary.

The ride back to camp was uneventful. We kept on keeping on and finished the ride in a pretty steady manner. The horses were pretty tired, but somehow we managed to be in the top ten coming in. Both Amira and Huey finished three rides of 25 miles this week at Pinetree, which for them is quite the accomplishment! In fact, each ride through the week was faster than the previous!

We always enjoy going to Pinetree for the friendly, easy going, and encouraging environment. This week we saw some old friends, rode 11 rides, helped out others, made some new friends and acquaintances. Our family would like to thank all the vets and volunteers, along with those special people (you know who you are), who help us out when we need it. A special thank you goes to Susan Niedorora for keeping the ride going despite all the headaches.

Thank you also to Liz and Ken, for coming to see us all the way from Alabama, filling in the needed gaps and feeding the family(and getting the peroxide, baking soda and dish soap to clean the Rusty).

Now the horses get some time off before heading out to Northeast Challenge at the end of the month.

$500 mistakes

This is a public service announcement.

If you leave your electronic key on the roof of your car, the car will still run, but at some point on your way to work that key will lose it’s battle with friction and find a new resting place. In the road. But you probably won’t notice until you get to Dunkin a few minutes from the office and go inside to get a muffin. That’s when you will realize you can no longer re-start your electronic ignition because you forgot the key on the roof, and it clearly isn’t still on the roof. Luckily, one of your coworkers will be able to pick you up (thanks Rob H) and then your wife will bring you the spare key from home. You will be able to get home and go running after work to look for the missing key. You will probably find it, about a half mile from home just after the first 90 degree turn.

Keys that come of the roof of a car on a road where people drive 50+ mph will get run over. When you find the key, it will be in pieces. On both sides of the road. Spread out over 50 yds. And it won’t work anymore. And that is a $500 mistake, because electronic keys are stupid expensive.

The story of our lives with horses