For the July 4th weekend, we headed to Maine for the Horses Across Maine Firecracker Endurance ride. Horses Across Maine is a Non-Profit organization that plans various riding events in an effort to raise funds for and awareness of various issues facing Maine veterans and animal awareness. We drove up on Friday, 7/2 with the travel trailer to the Waterford, Maine fairgrounds. This was a very small ride with only 10 entries in the 30 mile Limited Distance event and 7 entries in the 50 mile event. The horses were able to be stalled in cattle barns and other fairgrounds facilities, which was wonderful on the second night when it was pouring rain.
We had 4 entries in the 30 mile event: Rob on Mojo, Alex on Amira, Quinn on Eli, and Amanda on Huey. We arrived early on Friday afternoon and quickly got camp set up since we didn’t have to prepare paddocks for the horses. While they do have electric hookups at the fairgrounds, we decided to park our travel trailer next to the barn where the horses were stalled and the electric was off there. Luckily, we had decided to bring our Honda generator just in case. It was a little wet on Friday so we vetted in the horses, hung out around the trailer, attended the ride meeting, and went to bed early. We did drive out to the away hold location so Anna wouldn’t get lost on Saturday.
We got up at 4:30 on Saturday because the ride start was at 6. Everyone was a little slow getting moving and we felt a little time crunched for the start, but I don’t think getting up earlier would have helped. Temperatures Saturday morning were in the low 50s and light drizzle with a high around 60, which made it tough to decide what to wear. I went with short sleeves and the kids all opted to wear a lightweight rain jacket.
The course was about 14 miles to an away hold, 40 minute hold, then back to camp on a slightly different route. The trails were flat relative to what we are used to (less than 50′ of elevation per mile on average) and sandy in sections. With such a small ride, everyone started together, but it wasn’t crowded at all. Since the temperatures were low for the time of year and the trails were very forgiving, a number of riders were going much faster than us. We had a very comfortable first loop averaging about 6.5 mph. The horses were drinking and eating fine, so we really didn’t have any concerns on the first half of the ride.
At the vet check, Mojo and Eli were under the required 64 bpm pulse as soon as we arrived. The family has become accustomed to the fact the Amira and Huey will require more time and cooling, so we have gotten in the habit of splitting into pairs for the vetting instead of trying to get everyone to the vets at the same time. This allows us to get 2 horses through the vets quickly and then assist with sponging and holding horses if needed. It took less than 10 minutes for Amira and Huey to be cooled off and they passed the vet check just fine. The 40 minute wait allowed everyone to eat some snacks and take a break.
The second loop was relatively uneventful. Mojo is quite fit, but if he doesn’t have horses to compete against, he gets lazy. To combat that, we took turns having Amira and Eli lead the group some. At one small creek crossing, the horses enjoyed the fresh grass and drank their fill.
We did slow down some on the second loop. At the finish, my watch showed 27.5 miles in 4:37 for an average of 6.0 mph. There was no need to race to the finish, so we walked the horses in the last .3 miles. Again, Mojo and Eli were ready for the final vet check immediately and Amira and Huey were ready in about 10 minutes. Everyone passed the final vet check without any drama or issues. Mojo and Eli were both certainly doing well enough they could have been in the 50 mile ride that day, but we don’t want to rush Eli’s first full season of competition.
Since there were only 10 entries in the 30 mile ride, we all qualified to stand for Best Condition. We don’t make the kids compete for BC, but it is a good opportunity to get some experience with that portion of the sport in a small ride. Standing for BC requires weighing in with all the weight the horse carried (saddle, rider, helmet, bridle, etc.). The horse is returned to the vet 1 hour after finishing and given another evaluation for heart rate, gait evaluation, muscle tone, gut sounds, and the other portions of a vet check. The trotting portion includes trotting in circles instead of just a straight line. After all the evaluations, there is a formula the vets use to determine who wins BC that accounts for the amount of weight carried relative to the others who stood for BC, time factor compared to the winning time, and the vet exam. Alex opted to not do BC with Amira, but Mojo, Eli, and Huey were all entered for BC.
In the end, Mojo was awarded Best Condition for the 30 mile ride!
After the horses were settled in to recover, everyone showered and the kids took a nap. We had planned to stay over Saturday night because we didn’t need to rush home. Amanda got out our hammock and decided to sleep in it all night next to the horses.
It rained all night and into the morning, so it was a soggy mess getting out on Sunday morning. We hit the road and made the 240 mile ride home in good time. Overall, the Horses Across Maine group put on a good ride, the facility was nice for a ride camp, the trails are forgiving, and everything went well for our weekend. I’m sure we will be back for more miles in Waterford, Maine in the future. Next on the ride calendar: Pine Tree in Fryeburg, Maine.
At the start of last week, temps in CT broke 90F. We were running AC units in the house and debating heat strategies for the upcoming New York Adventure ride. However, a cold front moved through that started the rain on Friday and kept going all weekend. Heat was the exact opposite of what we had to deal with.
I took Friday off work and we printed out all the packing lists. It takes a logistics plan to get 4 horses, 5 people, 2 trucks, and 2 trailers loaded and out the door on time. With the rain setting in Friday evening, we wanted to have everything loaded before dinner (~8pm at our house in the summer) so we could get to bed early.
Saturday morning, horses were fed, travel mugs filled with coffee, and sleepy kids loaded into the trucks. We were on the road at 6:30 for the 270 mile drive to upstate NY. We made it to ride camp about 12. It had been rainy a lot of Friday and continued with some on-off showers, which made the hay fields we were camping in slick. We got the trailers unloaded and camp set up before heading to vet in.
Now would be a good time to explain that we were not all entered in the same event. Anna, Quinn, and Amanda were riding in the 30 mile Limited Distance endurance ride. As of when we headed to the event, I think there were 56 riders entered. We expected some would probably scratch due to the weather. On Sunday morning, there were 50 starters in the LD – definitely the largest field we had ever ridden in.
But that’s not what Alex and I were doing; we were entered in the 30 mile Ride and Tie. A ride and tie is when 2 people share 1 horse, but only 1 person can be mounted at a time. So, someone is running, and someone is riding at any given time, however, there are times when the horse is tied to a tree and both team members are running (one away from the horse and one towards the horse). There were only 3 teams in the 30 mile ride and tie and 1 team in the 12 mile ride and tie.
I was already awake when the alarm went off at 4:30 Sunday morning. We had some coffee and a light breakfast. Alex and I started at 6:15, while the rest started at 7. It was clear with temps around 40F as we got Mojo ready to go. We decided I would start on Mojo since he is usually ready to rock at the start of a ride. True to form, Mojo was ready to rock.
We were fortunate to start with a more experienced R&T team, so we decided to just match their plan for the first few miles. Janice was the other rider and Jennifer was running with Alex. We only went about 3/4 mile before doing the first tie. A tie is when you hop off the horse, tie them to a tree, and take off running. Janice and Jennifer planned their ties more based on time. Throughout the day, Alex and I alternated between time and distance as our metrics for ties.
I knew we would not be able to stay with Janice and Jennifer for too long without burning ourselves out, so by about 4 miles into the first 12 mile loop, we backed off the pace and let them go on about their way. It didn’t bother Mojo to be without the others. Mojo figured out the game with no problem. When one of us would untie him, he would run down the runner until we tied again. As we ran off, he would give a little whinny to say goodbye. A few times as I approached, he called out to me, encouraging me to keep up the pace. When riders in other distances passed me, they commented on how amazing it was that my horse was willing to wait, tied to a tree. They were right, it was amazing to witness. At one point, Anna, Quinn, and Amanda were coming off a trail onto the road right as we were passing by that trail. Mojo was a little confused on why we didn’t link up with them.
We finished our first loop at a faster pace than I expected. As were headed in to the vet check, the first place team was headed out. Ride and Tie doesn’t have a hold because the horse gets rest while tied. There is also a mandatory switch at the vet check. I ran in, so Alex topped off his water and ran out while I was handling Mojo, who had no problem making pulse criteria. We spent about 15 minutes at the vet check, which could have been shorter, but I didn’t want to rush things for our first R&T.
The second loop for us was advertised as 18 miles, but turned out to be a little over 19. The second loop sucked. It was muddy. It was raining. The trails were slick and torn up from the previous riders. At least it wasn’t hot. I didn’t take any pictures on the second loop due to the rain. The leaders of the 50 mile ride were overtaking us since they were on the same loop as us. Mojo loved it when they would come by and he could sprint with them, then wait on a tree for a little while. Mojo never lost his go. The longest run Alex had ever done was about 7 miles – 1 week before the event. On race day, Alex did more than a half marathon as we split the running about 60/40. We completed our 30.8 miles, with 4300′ of elevation, in 6:35 for a second place finish.
Anna, Quinn and Amanda started their first 18 mile loop at 7 am. They headed out at a walk for about half a mile to let all the front horses and hot crazy antics settle. Amira feeds off of other horses’ behaviors and does best with other settled horses or in her own group.
The first loop soon turned out to be a challenge. Most of the loop, that was actually 19.5 miles, not 18 miles, according to GPS, was muddy single track. There were stretches of road here and there, but mostly single track with deep boot sucking mud. It was cold and raining on and off.
The most amazing part of the first loop was that all of Huey’s boots stayed on. Huey wears 4 Mini 3 Scoot Boots and while the gaiter protectors got a little torn up they did not come off or cause rubs.
The group maintained roughly a 5.0 mph average, trying to trot wherever they could without sacrificing the horses legs. Not going to lie, it was rough going. Somewhere in the middle of the loop Anna and the kids encountered Mojo and Rob on a slim chance while the red and pink loops crossed. Talk about coincidence!
Anna and the kids came into the hold at 10:42. Anna could tell Amira was hot. A quick pulse check had her at 80bpm, and only dropping slowly. The pulse criteria was 64. Being a non-arab (mustang), she doesn’t pulse down as fast as is desired sometimes and we are still dialing in her electrolyte needs. It became obvious she needed electrolytes and had not had enough grazing time on trail.
Anna pulled her saddle, gave some electrolytes and started sponging. Quinn ended up having to hold Amira to keep her from eating, while Anna worked on cooling her. Amira’s pulse increases if we allow her to eat while cooling. In hind sight, Quinn and Amanda should have vetted through, as Eli’s hind quarters got cold and he was almost pulled with a cramp, and if Anna had been pulled the kids would have had a better chance finding a sponsor for the last loop. Anna finally got Amira cooler and she made 48 pulse at 11:06 (has to make it within 30 minutes of arrival). Amira’s gut sounds were only good in 2 quadrants and her CRI was elevated, so she was held for a recheck for gut sounds before she could head out on the second loop. Anna set her in front of her mash and she started chowing down right away. We had decided to use Lyte Now tubes of electrolytes this time around instead of mixing our own, and they were so stiff and hard in the cold weather they were hard get into the horses. Looking back, considering Amira spit out most of her morning electrolytes, and not stopping to electrolyte mid loop, was part of the problem for the vet check. Anna ran off to the trailer to mix up some more liquid electrolytes to give and take on trail. This caused Quinn to get overwhelmed trying to handle all three horses and Amanda at the hold resulting in an argument. Phew, this is fun, right?!
Amira passed her recheck, and Anna and the kids headed back out at 11:51. The second loop was advertised as 12 miles. In reality it was a bit less according to our GPS. Cut off time for the limited distance 30 miler is 7 hours and 15 minutes (2:15 pm). With the extra time spent at the hold cooling Amira, Anna and Quinn knew they had to keep a much higher average on the second loop, all while still allowing the horses to grab and go grass more than on the first loop and make a stop for extra electrolytes.
Anna set out at a steady trot, stopping every 3 miles or so to let the horses get some grass. Due to the intensity and stress of the hold, none of the people had eaten well at the hold, and a few disagreements and arguments happened along the second loop. They stopped to give some Enduramax electrolytes just past the midway point.
Anna started feeling a little tightness in Amira’s hind end toward the end of the ride, and pulled her rump rug over her and kept down hill trotting to a minimum. Quinn convinced Eli to lead the group for a while as Amira was starting to lose her go. The group walked in the last 3/4 mile. Anna hopped off Amira, and walked her in to help her out.
In the last 1/4 mile, Huey and Eli were chased by a great Dane coming out from a private property and they both took off cantering. Luckily, they stopped when they reached Amira just ahead.
Anna and the kids reached the in timer at 2 pm. Quinn untacked and Eli made pulse at 2:08, Huey at 2:10 and Amira at 2:13. They all completed. Amira had a beginning cramp in her right hind, and got a B on gait and impulsion, but her CRI was 48/50 this time and her gut sounds were back. Anna was the last rider to complete the 30, and therefore got the turtle award. The kids got the junior turtle awards. We have a collection of those at home. To finish is to win, right?!
The rain was steady at this point and Anna and the kids put coolers and winter blankets on the horses, gave them food and water and went to get dry and eat some lunch.
After the ride, everyone cleaned up, ate, and rested in the trailer. We stayed over an extra night to let the horses recover and enjoy the trip without the pressure and stress of getting home late. We slept in until almost 7 Monday morning, then broke camp and drove home.
While there were times of stress and maybe some raised voices, in the end, we all got completions. Considering that there were about 84 horses that started the ride, and only 66 completed, I’m thrilled with our 100% completion rate for this ride.
Endurance riders are always tweaking their equipment. One thing our family has settled on is Orange Mud hydration packs. At this ride, all 5 of us were using Orange Mud packs. Alex and Rob had coyote brown Endurance Packs, Quinn had a black Endurance Pack, Amanda uses a green Gear Vest Pro, and Anna uses a black Gear Vest Pro. check out the selection at Orange Mud. The packs sit higher on the back so they don’t interfere with the saddle and you can choose the amount of water you want to carry. The pockets make it easy to store gels, chews, or other snacks and the bungee cords on the back hold layers when you need to shed a lightweight jacket mid-loop.
How do you know you have found the right sport for your family? After the ride, Quinn and Amanda were in the travel trailer eating lunch, still wearing their wet, dirty ride clothes. They looked at me and together asked, “When is our next ride?”. The rest of the day and ride home kept coming back to when we would be at the next ride camp and which horses would do a 50 miler instead of LD next time. Stay tuned for more adventures throughout the summer.
This past weekend four of us drove to Cornish, New Hampshire to attend the 30 mile limited distance ride at Verda Bare Bones. Amira came in on Friday with a nasty bite to her flank and could not go.
I asked Rob if I could ride Mojo instead, because it was, after all, a Mother’s Day ride. He agreed. So, we loaded the trailer, got the groceries, and put the three horses in to go. Eli, Mojo, and Huey. Alex was staying at home to work and take care of the farm. Alex has been mostly riding and conditioning Mojo this year, since Teddy is recovering after his bout with EPM last year. Alex didn’t mind getting some time to himself, and we needed someone to keep an eye on the brand new baby goats.
Quinn worked Saturday am and we left with the horse trailer and travel trailer for New Hampshire around noon time . The Verda ride is only a short three hour drive from home. We made it to camp a little after three PM. The field for camping was almost full as we arrived due to some construction at the fairgrounds, but we managed to squeeze in and get set up. We use hard panels for Eli and Amira, but with Amira not going we used them for Huey instead. Hard panels makes me feel a bit more confident in the horses’ accommodations and helps me sleep at night. We made an electric pen for Mojo, powered off the charger run by the horse trailer battery; he camps just fine in electric.
We vetted in the horses and spent some time making up electrolytes and feed for the next day. The temps were dropping fast, so we blanketed the horses. We saw friends we haven’t seen in a bit. We ate dinner and went to bed early to get up at 6 am for an 8 am ride start.
Sunday morning came and we tacked up. Rob helped us all get ready. Mojo was ready to go! I was a bit concerned he might be naughty, but he never was. He did however act like a freight train the whole first loop of 15 miles. Next time I will ride him in the pelham bit for the first loop to save my fingers. Letting Mojo run was not an option as we need to pace properly for Huey to complete. Rob’s saddle rubbed my knees a bit, but not too bad. We maintained between a 6 and 6,5 mph average for the first loop.
The mid ride vet check was fine. The horses passed with no issues. Mojo was in the 40s by the time we made it up to the check. This ride had only a 30 minute hold, so getting the horses some mash and going to the bathroom was really all we had time for.
The second loop went by a bit slower. Mojo lost his Mojo a bit as he lost sight of other horses in front of him and the excitement of the ride wore off. The horses have a little extra weight from eating rich second cut this winter and our conditioning has not quite been what it should. Our goal was to finish and so we rode accordingly. Mojo is the leader of the bunch and I had to motivate him to keep moving along. We settled on a 5ish mph pace, and finished the second loop 15 mile loop in a little under three hours.
The post ride vet check was uneventful. We had walked the horses in and the Arabs were at pulse immediately, and Huey shortly after pulling his saddle. The horses all passed. It was the first LD completion for Quinn and Eli and Amanda and Huey’s 8th LD ride.
I am blessed to be able to ride a ride like this with my kids on Mother’s Day. Thank you to my husband, who took a nap, went for a 6 mile run while we were out riding, and helped us crew for the horses. Thank you to VERDA for organizing the ride and discounting entries for juniors! Thank you also to the vets and all the volunteers.
Below are a few pictures from the day. The covered bridge marks close to the half way point on the 15 mile loop, and is very quaint. Some of the photos are courtesy of Ranelle Kohut.
Nothing gets me moving like registering for a race. I’ve been in a slump, so today, the whole family registered for the NY Adventure Endurance Ride. But there’s a twist.
Last June, Teddy was diagnosed with Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM); you can learn about it here if you have never heard of it. . He was treated for a couple of months and has been recovering. The problem is, EPM never completely goes away. EPM is what eventually killed King after 2 years of treating it. Horses with EPM are at risk for relapses and stress is a trigger for such a relapse. Endurance rides are stressful (trailering, camping, racing/excitement on trail, trailering again, etc.). It is unlikely that Teddy will ever compete in an endurance ride again, but time will tell. Regardless, Alex has outgrown Teddy, so if Teddy does make it back to competition, it will probably be with Amanda.
With the weather in the upper 40s, it was a horse riding kind of day. This morning, Quinn took Eli out on the trails and Amanda got to tag along on Huey, they only did about 3.5 miles, but they they rode (together).
After lunch, Anna and Amanda took Amira and Teddy out for a 4.5 mile ride today. Teddy was sound and spunky. Amanda will ride anything.
But this is really about Ride and Tie. The NY Adventure Endurance ride is in late May and is likely the first opportunity for a ride we will have. With Teddy out of competition for now, we only have 4 horses for the 5 of us to ride at events. Enter, Ride and Tie. From www.rideandtie.org: “The sport of Ride & Tie combines trail running, endurance riding, and most of all, strategy. The objective is to get all three team members (two humans and one horse) across a 20-100 mile cross-country course by alternating riding and running. One team member starts out running, the other starts on the horse and rides down the trail as far as they think their partner can run (or walk) and still keep up a decent pace. At that strategic point the rider stops, dismounts, ties the horse to a tree or fence post, and continues down the trail on foot. The team member who started on foot gets to the horse, unties it, mounts, and rides to catch their partner up ahead. When they get to their running team member they can either stop and exchange (which is called a “flying tie”), or ride further up the trail and tie the horse and then continue running. When, where, and how a team exchanges is up to them and this is where the strategy lies. Every trail runner has their strengths and weaknesses, and the same is true for horses. Factor all this, along with weather conditions and the topography of the course, and you can understand why Ride & Tie is as much mental as physical.”
Ride and Tie events have been slowly making their way into New England and the NY Adventure Endurance ride is also sanctioned as a Ride and Tie event. This morning, Alex and I watched the AERC webinar about R&T and then discussed options about NY Adventure (there was a scenario where we could have borrowed a horse for the ride) to make sure Alex understood what was involved (I have been interested in R&T for a couple of years). Alex agreed, that using Mojo for a R&T sounded like more fun than a standard endurance ride. So this afternoon, we did our first training session.
We started with changing some of the riding attire to make it more comfortable for both riding and running. I previously switched to using my Altra trail running shoes for riding (we use caged stirrups), but Alex has been riding in paddock boots. Alex switched to a pair of Topo trail running shoes that I had that in the closet but didn’t particularly like (since he is the same size shoe as me it was an easy trial). Alex elected to still use his breeches while I rode in my running tights (we both chose tri-shorts underneath). We saddled up Mojo in the Big Horn saddle. We chose the Big Horn because it has synthetic fenders that won’t rub our legs, it has a tree and will be more stable with lots of mounting and dismounting, and it has a lot of places to tie off packs or other items. Another benefit of your son growing up is we are the same height, so our stirrup length is the same.
We started our training ride together, I was on Mojo and Alex was on foot. We went about 1/4 mile and then decided to try the first tie. Since we had never done this with Mojo, we weren’t sure how he would react. Alex stopped just out of sight and I tied Mojo to a tree and then went down trail out of sight. Alex waited a minute and then went to Mojo, untied him, and mounted up. Mojo didn’t care about being tied. We went anther half mile and then repeated, this time Alex executing the tie and heading off down the trail. Again, Mojo didn’t care.
Next we decided to step it up a little. I rode away from Alex and cantered Mojo up a hill. At the top, I hopped off, tied Mojo, and took off running. Alex was within sight, about 100 yards away. We were on a more open section of trail roads and we were able to start moving at a faster pace. Alex rode about 3/4 mile, passing me along the way, tied Mojo and headed out to our turn around point.
At the turnaround, we did a flying tie (just a hand off between riders) and then headed back. On the way home, we did 2 more ties. Unfortunately, after the last tie there was a miscommunication about the planned route home. I went the way we came out. Alex took an alternate trail. Since he never caught up to me, I got worried and back tracked. Eventually, I called the house to send Quinn out to the barn where they found Alex arriving. Clearly, better route communication is going to have to improve.
The day was an overwhelming success; Mojo was a rock star. We covered 5 miles, completed 6 ties and 1 flying tie. We did have some technical issues with the lead rope coming loose from how we tied it to the saddle between ties, so we need to work on our plan for how we will handle that. As we did more of the exchanges, Mojo seemed to figure out that he was supposed to chase down the runner. We also need to make sure Alex has his cell phone when we are out practicing R&T. We have 3 months to increase the running mileage and get ready. I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s called Northeast Challenge, not Northeast Walk-in-the-park” -Dr. Art King, as quoted by Sue Niedoroda
First, I want to say a huge thank you to Sarah Jack for stepping up and being the ride manager this year. Without her willingness to volunteer to take over from her parents, we wouldn’t have had a ride to attend. That said, Sarah outdid herself with emphasizing the “Challenge” portion of the ride legacy.
Riding endurance with a whole family is all about the logistics. I took Thursday off work to load the horse trailer and the travel trailer so we could leave on time. In this case, we were taking 2 tow vehicles and 2 trailers for 4 horses and 4 riders. Since Teddy is still recovering from EPM, he wasn’t attending the ride. Alex stayed home with him to take his SAT test, but that was cancelled due to COVID, so Alex had the weekend to just hang out at home with Teddy and the dogs.
Northeast Challenge is held in Buckfield, Maine, which is only about 235 miles from our house. The Jack family generously hosts this event in their hay fields and marks the trails on surrounding public and private land.
On Friday, 8/28, we hit the road about 9:00 and headed towards Maine. Our lunch stop at a rest area took longer than desired, but we were on track to make the trip with only 1 stop and about 5 hours of travel time. Unfortunately, about an hour from the ride, we got a flat tire on the horse trailer. We use a Doran 360RV tire pressure monitoring system for our horse trailer. Coming home from our first endurance ride in 2015 we got a flat tire due to a broken valve stem. It turns out you need to have solid valve stems if using a TPMS on the end of the valve stem. We had that corrected, however, when we bought new trailer tires 2 years ago, the tire shop changed out one valve stem to a rubber one and I never noticed…. until we got a flat in Maine. I figured out a long time ago it pays to be ready for flat tires. We travel with a Jiffy Jack in each trailer. I also invested in a Ridgid impact wrench and set of impact sockets that travel with us. So, when Anna got the alert on the TPMS that a tire was losing presssure, she was able to pull off the road before it went fully flat and ruptured. We had the flat off and spare on in about 12 minutes. We dropped the flat at a tire shop that was 20 minutes from ride camp to get a new, SOLID valve stem, and then continued on to camp.
When we arrived at ride camp, we discovered there were only 21 entries for the ride (10 for the 50 miler and 11 for the 30 miler) including our family of 4. Needless to say, there was plenty of room to set up camp. We chose a site next to our CT friend Mary Palumbo and Stacey Stearns. We set up the hard panels for Eli and Amira to share since they don’t respect electric and electric pens for Mojo and Huey.
We went to the vet-in and all horses were just fine to start the ride. I took a trip back into town to pick up the repaired trailer tire. We attended the short question period (not a ride meeting), had dinner, and started tucking into bed a little after 8pm. Reveille was held at 0430 because the ride started at 0630.
Now would be a good time to discuss the weather. All week we had been watching the forecast, as Hurricane Laura made her way up towards New England. The predictions had ranged from 50% to 80% chance of rain for Saturday. As of the ride meeting Friday evening, the estimate was rain showers in the morning with about 0.5″ throughout the day. Since temperatures Friday night were close to 50F, we decided to put light blankets on the horses because they hadn’t been gettting that cool at night. We were pleased to wake up to about 52F and cloudy skies, but no rain.
Tacking up for the start was uneventful. We had eggs and bacon with plenty of coffee for breakfast and were ready to head out when the trail opened at 0630. We walked the horses for about the first mile to make sure we didn’t have any issues since it was Eli’s first ride and the trail started with a climb uphill. The whole day was basically spent going up or down; there were very few flat areas.
The 50 mile riders and 30 mile riders were all riding the same first loop, but since the field was so small, everyone spread out pretty quickly. Our family of 4 was basically alone for most of the loop. The horses were all moving well, however, we were struggling to maintain speed. The area we live in doesn’t have significant hills for climbing. While we can average around 100′ of elevation per mile, Northeast Challenge had multiple climbs of 300-500′ at a time and totaled over 4100′ of elevation. Overall, we weren’t too worried (yet) because we only had a completion as our goal for the day. The horses enjoyed the stops for grass and the cool weather was very pleasant.
Then it started to rain. We had less than 4 miles to go on our first loop when the rain started. It wasn’t very heavy at first, but the temperature immediately dropped back below 60F and visibility was reduced. Right about this time, we started riding around a corn field and we lost the trail. In the end, we rode over a mile back and forth trying to figure out where the trail was supposed to exit the field. The problem was a turn marker had blown away and a ribbon had tangled in some brush making it hard to see. As we were riding back and forth, Amira spooked as some other riders came around a corner in the field and Anna had an unplanned dismount, landing on her left hip. She was dirty, but able to continue the ride. We eventually called the ride manager and found the exit from the field and headed back to ride camp for the vet check.
We don’t have any pictures that we took after this point, because it rained the entire rest of the ride, which was about 5 more hours including the hold. Less than a mile from camp, there was a creek bed to pass through. This had been discussed at the pre-ride meeting and there were 2 options. 1. Go through the mud and rocks. 2.Cross a wooden foot bridge. Anna took Amira through the creekbed. I took Mojo across the bridge. Vicki and Amanda followed me. Eli spooked on the bridge and slid off the left side of the bridge. It didn’t seem significant at the time, however, when we arrived at the vet check, Eli was quite lame on his right front. My theory is when he slipped, his right hoof actually slid to the outside and stressed his shoulder. There were no visible injuries to his leg and no swelling. Unfortunately, even with some icing, Eli was too lame to continue and he was pulled.
We had an hour for the hold after the horses met the 64 beat per minute pulse criteria. It was pouring rain. We put fleece coolers and blankets on the horses to keep them warm. They all ate mash and hay. We grabbed some food and hot coffee (prepped at breakfast and stored in a thermos). Some of us changed into dry clothes, but that only lasted a few minutes. Mojo had a sore back (got a B from the vet) at the vet check. This was my first competition using the Ghost treeless saddle and I had brought an extra saddle just in case. I made the risky decision to change the whole saddle and saddle pad for the second loop. I put a Skito pad with Big Horn endurance saddle on him as we tacked up to leave.
Due to temperatures (now in the mid-upper 50s) and constant rain, we put rump rugs on Mojo, Amira, and Huey to keep their upper leg muscles warmer for the second loop. As we headed out of camp, it was miserable. The rain was creating constant runoff and the mud was making it slow going. Our pace suffered and after an hour of riding, we had barely covered 4 miles. Anna and I were getting quite concerned about the ability to finish within the allowed time (7:15 total elapsed time, including the 1 hour vet hold). There was nothing to do but keep pushing and make up time where we could.
Eventually, we hit a relatively flat area and were able to pick up some cantering and consistent trotting. Gradually, our average speed picked up and we became more confident in the ability to get a completion. The loop was lasting longer than we hoped and around 2.5 hours, we had to convince Amanda to eat some extra food and keep the calories going into her. I personally felt the impact of the fatigue and decided to consume about 300 calories in short order though a combination of Sport Beans, gels, and Honey Stinger chews. The calorie boost worked for everyone and suddenly we found ourselves rounding the last corner and back at ride camp! We made it with a total elapsed time of 6:53. Almost exactly as we crossed the finish, the rain stopped (much to the relief of the 50 mile riders who were still competing).
Mojo, Amira, and Huey all passed the final vet check without issue! Huey had a great cardiac recovery index (CRI) of 52/48, which means his pulse dropped by 4 beats per minute from the initial check to after a trot-out, which is awesome. Additionally, Mojo got an A for his back score after the second loop and didn’t had any of the soreness he exhibited at the first vet check.
We spent the rest of the evening drying out, resting, eating, and hanging out (at least 6′ apart) with endurance riding friends. We camped over and headed home on Sunday morning. The drive home was uneventful (except for the extra 45 minute detour when Anna got on 95N instead of 95S). On Monday, the front brakes on the F350 failed at our house. If our drive had been 40 miles further, we would have broken down with the horses in the trailer (I got the brakes replaced without any issues). Count your blessings!
Wanda Clowater was at the ride taking photos and got some good pics of us. We will be buying some of her images. You can check out her photos here. Check out pages 3, 4, 6, 11, 13-15, and 18 for pics of our family.
I’ve been at endurance rides where I see parents putting their young kids on these full size horses and hitting the trail. We have always stepped the kids up through various size ponies until they graduated to full horses as teenagers. Until Amanda. She is the 3rd child, so rules tend to go out the window. Amanda has been spending time riding Mojo on short 2-3 mile trail rides with Anna. She rides Mojo in the arena at the walk, trot, and canter. But she wanted to give Teddy a try. So, this evening, I was planning to go out for a training ride with Mojo and I decided to let Amanda join me on Teddy. Of course, Rusty went too. It was her first time riding Teddy on the trails and she loved it. Teddy was a rock star.
We did 11 miles with lots of trotting. Of course, when we hit the nice open flat road, Amanda was begging to let them run, so we did. At one point, I looked down at my Garmin to see Mojo and I were moving 17.8 mph and Amanda and Teddy were passing me. Post workout analysis reveals we exceeded 24 mph this afternoon. Not bad for a 10 year old girl on an Arab.
As we rode, I kept thinking “So this is what it’s like to trust a horse.” Teddy isn’t perfect, but he takes care of Alex and now it seems he takes care of Amanda. Maybe Teddy will be Amanda’s next endurance mount (Huey isn’t done yet). They grow up so fast; the kids do too.
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.
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.
The kids and I took Mojo and Duchess over to Ann Bowie’s Horsepower Farm to participate in her derby this afternoon. We have not done much jumping this year, maybe one or two rides over a few cross rails in the arena so we played it safe and the kids rode in the pre-elementary division. Horses were good and the rain held off. Alex was a little closer to the ideal time than Vicki, but both rode the course without any penalties.