Saturday, August 14, 2010

Has it been so long?? Really?!? ((LONG!)) Part 2

(Not the best shot of us, as he fought me most the way here and looks tired and sweaty..but gaiting well in the pic! This was about 1.5 miles from the vet check... Photo by Barry Thorpe)

So to the ride we went. Got up there on Fri before the ride, started unpacking, and realized: no electric fence! Ack! Oh well :( So he was going to have to just get tied to the trailer the whole ride. We vetted in fine (got a nice comment from the vets about how nice he was...even THEY had to look to see he was a stud, LOL..score!), then I decided a both would be good, since it was a relatively warm day and we had access to water. This would be his first bath in who knows how long! It made him nice and shiny and soft...sighhh...purdy horse! ;)

(This is after the vet check...much better, he has settled down and is much more relaxed and got to rest for 1/2 an hour. I am riding with Elicia Kamberg and her nice gelding and we'd done a training ride together earlier too, so these boys were happy to ride the rest of the way home together. Photo by Barry Thorpe)

Tied him up again and all was well...til that evening after the ride meeting. During the day I had him on a sort of 'zip line' on a rope hooked up inside the trailer, tied to the inside tie rings, rope fed out through the windows. Worked great, and gave him a little more room to move around. Problem was, the metal runner loop would clang around on the trailer. No way I was sleeping (or NOT) with that all night. So I decided to just tie him to the corner tie ring overnight. Tied him, went to get some mush for him, after which I was going to move his water tub (to block the bottom of the door-corner...) and hay bag. Came around the corner with his mush bucket, and his head was down eating grass...rope under the corner...uh oh! Sure enough, he sees me, up goes the head...well, 6' where it is stopped by the corner. Course all hell proceeds to break loose! Storm is flipping out, setting back on the halter. Rope is going NOWHERE (stout rope, good snap, rope halter=a stallion that stays where he is parked all day/night). Trailer is rocking, I am on the wrong side of the trailer from the knot (which, btw, I tied a different one from normal, that is SUPPOSED to be a better quick release than my normal fare). My friend Vanessa was on the other side, and she couldn't get the knot to release (from now on, back to my other knot). I was trying to calm him down, yelling at her to find a knife (of course, this WOULD be one of the few times I was NOT carrying one on my body...sighhh...Murphy strikes again). Finally, after several attempts at undoing the snap (bullsnap, hard to do anything with, let alone with 1100lbs of horse on the other end setting back) while he would set back, come forward, set back, I finally got him to give his head enough to unhook the danged thing! All three of us were adrenalined up at that point, and it took a while to settle down. I retied him (even SHORTER..just barely able to reach his water and mush), got his water bucket moved to the corner, and checked him over. Had a little scrape on his cheek from the halter, but 'seemed' fine. In the morning (it was dark by now and most ppl were in bed), I'd have the vet check him over (he REALLY was set back hard...on a rope halter too) before I went off on the trail.

Went to sleep, though woke up at every little sound of course, since I was now tuned to trouble. So didn't sleep well. Good thing it was only an LD I'd have to get through. Took him back to the vet (who also is into chiropractory) before taking up to make sure he was still good to start. He was a little sore in his poll, but not bad and got the green light to go....goody! So I tacked up and got set to go. He was nice and mellow, even with all the 50's leaving and the LDs getting read to go and wandering around camp. So that was a great sign. At the start, we all kinda hung back, no one wanting to be 'first', LOL...lots of hotshoes in the LD, huh? ;) The starter practically had to kick us up onto the levy to head out, LOL. I hung back and hand walked him to the actual trail head, then mounted up. He was calm walking and mounting, but spooked like a dork at the trail head sign (which he has seen a dozen times at least and never spooked at! What a dolt!) and then.... a MONSTER on my hands! Not sure what he did when he set back, but must have sparked some little competitive streak that was up til now hidden in him. He would NOT walk! (I walk up the first 1.5 miles of this trail usually, as it is a significant hill and didn't want to tucker him out at the start) He kept pulling and wanting to gait out or canter and catch other horses...not like him at all! This proceeded not only up the first hill (which I THOUGHT would wear him out...riiighhhttt...nope), but for the next 16 miles...basically all the way to the vet check! What a ding bat! He'd pull and try to run, I'd circle him, he'd try to run, etc. When the footing was good or there was a nice stretch of trail, I would ASK (after the pull/circle cycle of course) him to move out... and OUT he would go! What fun! a super smooth and fast gait and just zip zipping around switchbacks, trees, etc... kinda crazy, but thrilling :) He was never out of control, mind you. If I really need to say ENOUGH and WALK, I could circle him to a stop easy, then let him just STOP for a minute and get his head on, then we could go on again. It was just that he wanted to really GOOOOOO! Which he normally doesn't (lazy SOB usually!). If I knew he were in shape to go fast, I'd even ask him to keep that up. Since he's not though, I kept asking him to rate back a lot, which he really wasn't happy about, but somewhat complied.
Finally, near the vet check turnoff, I met up with my friend Elicia (we'd done a training ride together on our two horses before, so the boys really liked hanging with each other) who was doing her horse's first LD and was trying to slow it down as well. The rest of the way to the VC (bout 1.5miles) we finally were able to slow gait or walk on a loose rein...aaahhhh...bout time! So after getting all hot and bothered most the way to the check, I was able to get Storm to slow down, which hopefully would mean we could actually pulse in in a decent amount of time. Both Elicia and I were figuring out the VC plan, thinking we'd have to strip tack and do lots of sponging to get the ponies pulsed in (as both had gone a bit faster than their normal pace). 1/4 mile from the VC, we dismounted and loosened the girths...Storm was around 72 on his HRM and then it quit (doesn't like loose girths). WE got out our vet cards, handed them to the checkers, and since nobody was around, the pulse takers came over to check us (this was at about 1 1/2 mins into the check) way did I think Storm would be ready, but since no one was in line, figured I'd see how 'close' he was..... DOWN! says the checker (and he's a long-time e-rider, not a newbie volunteer either, so I knew if he said we were good, we were!)...he hands me back my card, and Storm is at....56!!...well, so much for thinking we were going too fast! Hmmmmmm...... Elicia's horse was down a minute later too, so not a problem :) We decided to hang together and ride the rest of the ride together from there on.

I led the horses to a nice shady area and set the boys up with hay (we provide hay for riders at the RW rides if they want it) while she went to find her crew bag. Then she watched the boys while I got mine. Both ate like crazy and drank well, and of course each wanted the OTHER horse's mush and hay. Her horse was constantly in Storms dish, nose to nose, and he pretty much coulda cared less... what a good pony :) Just before we were ready to leave, we packed up the bags and then went over to the vets. It was only a 1/2 hour hold, so tack was left on and we barely had enough time to get ourselves fed, but I like shorter holds as it gives you more time on the trail to take it easy, and if you NEED to stay longer, you sure can, so no big deal :) Anyway, we went over to the vet, and she did a CRI. Basically you take a pulse, trot the horse out for a set distance, trot back, wait a minute....usually during which the vet checks the rest of your horse....and then pulse again. This goes back to the important RECOVERIES thing I talked about want the second pulse to be the same or within a few beats at most higher, than the first. If it is lower, all the better, and of course the lower the actual number of both (48/48 vs a 56/56) is even better... This indicates how fit the horse is, and how tired at that point in the ride the horse is, or other things that may be wrong. Not all vets at all rides do this, so it was kind of fun to see what Storm was at. I figured in the 50's I'd be happy, and if he was the same pulse, really happy :). What was his CRI???? 44/44......NO WAY!!! I thought I had misheard her! She also gave A's on everything, A- on guts, which was fine with only a 1/2hr hold and what he had at the pre-vet anyway... Handed my card back, and yes! 44/44! WOWZER!!!!! You really can't appreciate how excited I was about that one, as I thought a) he was still not in such good shape (guess he'd only fooled me with his laziness at other rides) and b)he had gone too fast to the VC (guess not...seems he was ok to handle that), and c)even for Arabs that was a darn good CRI, let alone a gaited horse that "those don't do endurance well"....Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm... Elicia's horse vetted out fine as well and we went to mount up and head home.

The plan was to walk more and relax on the way back...bout 11 miles tops. Well...we know how plans go, right? Storm knew we were heading home (problem with riding on the home turf) and he was wanting to GO again...especially after having rested and refueled. The first few miles were on a nice, open, flat, good footing logging road as well. So I let him out a little and we cantered quite a bit and gaited a little. I also knew the next two miles after that were DOWN hill and flat, before it finally went uphill again. What FUN it was! Elicia's horse and Storm were kinda egging each other on as well and feeding into it all... At the downhill it turns into a less maintained two-track, then into a single track. We walked most of it with a little slow gaiting and then walked the really steep downhill. This led into another flat, old logging road that we gaited on, and walked the bad spots (some bogs and ditches and stuff you have to negotiate). Then UP UP UP for the next 2 miles until you get to what we call the Alder Trail. A fun, single track, rolling whoopie-do trail that takes you for 2 miles to the big switchback hill that you come up in the morning. We flew down that again (poor Elicia had me slow down the pace a few times, as Storm really, REALLY knew that the Alder Trail meant we were close to home and he was feeling GREAT!) at a good pace, then finally popped back onto the trail for home. Both E and I decided to get off at the 'cave tree' and lead the rest of the way back down (another 1.5 miles or so) and get the boys to settle down. At the bottom of the trail, we hopped back down to ride the last 1/2 mile or so on the levy to camp. The hand walking seemed to have worked, as both were mostly content to walk on in on loose rein. E and I were bummed we were doing an LD, as it would have been fun to 'race' (trot/gait..neither of us wanted to go hell bent for leather or anything) in to the finish, just for the heck of it , but since LDs don't finish til the horses' pulses were down to 60, we didn't want them to go flying in. Oh we strolled across the finish line instead. We hopped off and got our pulses taken right away, and Storm was again at 56... great! All done! E's horse was down too :) After untacking (Storm didn't even seem bothered by leaving E's horse and going to his own trailer, though her horse whinnied back at us a few times I think), we came back for a final vet out.... All A's again, except guts, which were still at biggie :) And a GREAT score card. I know the cards really don't mean that much, as they are just a brief glimpse into what your horse is doing that very minute, and you really need to just pay attention to what he is doing all day.... But (esp since he was doing so well all day and had lots of energy to spare at the end) it is still nice, when you get that 'straight A' report card :):)

After vetting, I let him eat and relax for an hour, then took him down to the creek for a good role in the sand, a drink out of the river (he tanked there..he loves running water over trough/bucket water any day), along with standing his legs in the cold water for 10 mins (even better than ice boots!) and then grazed him for a good half hour on the nice grass out there. Then back to the trailer to have the rest of the day off, while I relaxed a little myself and waited for the 50's to come in. All in all, this was an excellent ride for Storm, and I was extraordinarily pleased. :) Now I am thinking we'll do his first 50 sooner than I had thought, since he came through this ride so well!

In the 'Cave Tree' while out trail marking...Storm and I all decked out in ribbons.. :)

Has it been so long? Really?! (LONG!) Part 1

(Hoanna, my 13yo Morgan/QH mare, on her first 50 at of my most favorite pics of her!)

Looks like it was April since my last post. APRIL! Holy cow! I know I have had a busy spring/summer, but really... Sorry all! Anyway, I suppose I will backtrack and post some of the fun things Storm and I have been doing this spring and summer, before I head to Bryce Canyon with him (and hopefully! do his first 50 there....). I am REALLY excited about taking him to Bryce. This is one of my most favorite places in the world to ride, and I have shared it with every one of my riding horses so far, even the dingbat 5yo, Eowyn, who got to do some trail riding there last year. It was also where my mare, Hoanna (dingbat's mom) did her first two 50's as well, with no problems whatsoever. So let's hope that good luck rubs off on Storm and all will be well :)

Anyway, back to an update. I will start with a recent event, then work my way back. We have a great, local endurance club here...Redwood Empire Endurance Riders (REER), and every year we offer 4 endurance rides in this beautiful county of ours. Chalk Rock, near Bridgeville, Ca in June, offers a ride on a private cattle ranch in the coastal mountains. Redwood 1 and Redwood 2 (the second I have been conned into managing for the last 3 yrs, so don't get to ride it, but that is ok!) in Orick, Ca in July and August, offer some stunning riding in the Redwood National Park. These are the ONLY AERC endurance rides held in the bounds of a national park. You get to experience pristine, old growth redwood groves and scenery straight out of Jurassic Park (in fact, one of the 3 JP movies had scenes filmed not 10 miles from this ride, and I believe parts of the 3rd original Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi, was also filmed near here, or in the Redwoods State Park not too far south...either way, similar scenery :) ). Even living 1/2 hr away and getting to ride these trails as often as I want, I never tire of these majestic trails. Riding through the giant trees and fern carpets, I feel the breathe of eons past tickling my hair, and expect a dinosaur to pop out from behind a tree at any moment. If you ever have a chance to make it out here for the ride, DO! Or just come on up whenever, and Storm and I will give you a tour :) The final ride, Cuneo Creek, is held near Honeydew, Ca in September, in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Cuneo is a great horse camp (with corrals and real toilets/showers), with a fun variety of coastal redwood groves and more warmer weather loving trees like madrones...and the only ride we have with poison oak! ICK... This is a great ride as well, and now is a 2-day event, so if you can't justify coming to a one-day ride, come on out for Cuneo and you still get to see some great trails!
(Some pics from riding around on the Redwood 1/2 trails a few yrs ago....this is how it usually looks, fog included :) )

Ok, this ends your commercial interruption, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I was just returning from taking Storm to another ride (that will follow in another post) and didn't feel up to taking a horse out to Chalk Rock, so I helped out at that ride instead. But Redwood 1 was plenty far away (July 17), so I thought it would be great for Storm to do another "real" (as opposed to the non-aerc Duck Miles we did in May, which will be in another post) LD and earn his keep as an endurance horse :) Since I have been taking him up to Orick occasionally for training rides, we'd be on home turf and I knew he could do this ride if I took it easy (I thought he wasn't quite in top shape yet, but as you'll read later, I was being fooled by his lazy attitude!), despite some good hills on this trail Really! Don't laugh! This ride has some hidden terrain that you wouldn't expect on the coast... and the humidity can really knock a horse down on race day if you go faster than you are used to or think just because it is 'cool out', you will be fine...heat index is a big factor here as it never drops below 70% humidity, often being 90%+ with the trees literally raining on you.

But before the ride, the trails had to be marked and I thought it would be a good gauge to see how Storm was feeling (since I hadn't done much but putter on a few short trail rides since June) and make a final decision about whether I'd ride him, or ride Cheyenne on the 50 (my original intent and the horse I had sent the ride entry in with). We did a 12 mile trail on one day, with mostly walking (my marking partner's horse was way outta shape, so we took it really easy) and he was fine there of course. Then we went up to what is the Vet Check, to mark the 'far loop' for the 50's. This was about 18 miles and my partner for this trip had an in shape horse, so we did a mix of walking, gaiting (and her horse trots pretty fast, so he had to really gait up and at times would choose to canter instead...), and canter/galloping. The latter was about 3 miles of it on a nice logging road that takes you back to the VC at the end of the loop. We would trot a tiny bit, then fall into a canter (or even a gallop as her horse likes to GOOOOO and when the road looked clear, would just take off without telling us, Storm learned to go for a good run too) for a little while, til we decided another ribbon needed hanging. Than BRRRTTT! Brakes on, find a suitable tree branch, hang ribbon, walk a minute or so, then repeat the cycle. Great fartlek training as the books call it. Get the heart rate up a good bit, rest a little, heart rate back up, etc.

Luckily I actually had a working heart rate monitor on him (was not working well at ALL at the June ride) and was able to see how he was really feeling. Gaiting along at a Runwalk, he was usually in the high 70's/low 80's range. At a rack (trying to keep up with the bigger trot of the other horse), he'd be more in the 150-140 (the high end when he was REALLY working to keep up...this would be when he'd willingly pop into a canter, and the HR would then drop...good!) range. In his mellow, rocking-chair canter (and I am LOVING that he is finally 'finding' this gear! It is so smooth, and fun, and keeps his HR lower too!), he'd be in the 120's. Then of course in the gallop, he'd up into the 150+ range. Now for the key though...what about recoveries? Those of you not into endurance (skip this if you are, or are bored by all this! LOL), a horse's fitness is measured more in how fast he recovers from working, vs how high his HR is during work. Though there are 'averages' for where you want a resting and working HR to be, all horses are different (and most averages are written by ppl with Arabs/TBs...a whole different animal than most these gaited horses!). Some have low resting HRs (in the low-mid 30's) and some are higher (in the 40's). Some 'work' at a lower rate (high 90's-low 100's are what some ppl are looking for), some higher (1oo's-120's) and it really isn't that important. What IS important of course, is knowing what is normal for YOUR horse, then going by that. Say for example with Storm...if he is over 140 while 'working' (faster gait/slow canter), then I know I am quickly approaching the anaerobic zone (meaning we are burning energy too fast..we want to keep e-horses in the aerobic range instead, to slowly burn energy over time, and not wear themselves out before the ride is over). Ideally for him, I would like him to stay in the 120's (oh, and this is all in Beats per Minute...or bpm) at his highest, with of course the lower, the better. As a horse gets fitter, this can of course be improved upon, but some horses just never get as low as others...and that is fine! (Too many 'new to endurance' ppl are scared off cause they think there horse isn't fit enough for e-riding...usually they are comparing their horse to a very fit horse of a friend, who may be a totally different breed/body type on top of it!) As long as your horse is doing alright for what is normal for him. Now..back to the magic word, RECOVERIES. This tells you much more about a horse's fitness levels (or if he is getting tired at a ride, sick, hurt, etc..even before more evident signs are noticed). Basically, at most rides, we the criteria for a horse to get into a vet check or complete (LDs don't get to finish til this HR is met, 50's 'finish', but must meet the criteria within 1/2-1hr of finishing, depending on the ride) a ride is 60bpm (some rides have higher or lower, but for training purposes this is a good 'set goal'). So when training, you see how long after raising the horse's HR by working, it takes to get the horse back down to 60bpm (or lower of course...the lower the better!). You can do long/slow training (lots of gaiting in the aerobic range) or fast/high HR, ie fartlek, training (lots of cantering/pushing HR up into the anaerobic range). This is all the cliff notes version, so I am leaving lots out (masses of books have been written on this, LOL), but for myself, if the horse takes more than 5mins to come down (without using water or any cooling method on the horse, and still tacked preference), you are seriously out of shape... if it takes more than 2mins to come down, then you still have work to do. 0-2mins is great, esp if it is warm out (all this has variables accoriding to speed/terrain/temp of course...again, cliff notes!). Sooo, what this boils down to, is that I want to see Storm recover to 60bpm or less, in less than 2 minutes after 'working'. We tested this a few times on the trail, and he was always dropping to 60, or below within a few minutes, or right away if we were not doing much (walking, slow gaiting). Final test was after that fartlek stretch...we walked the final 1/2mile into the vet check are (where our trailers were) and it was in the full sun, so about 75 deg that day (which for us is hot!). The last water on the trail had been about 5 miles back, and no water (to drink, let alone cool off the horse with) at the trailers (we have to haul it up there for the actual ride). So to test, I just took the bridle off, left tack on (just loosened the girth a tad), and looked at my watch, while watching the HR...bit by bit, it was dropping (at a ride of course, I'd toss water on him if needed, strip the saddle, etc...we train more extreme than we need to be at a ride, so it will be easier AT a ride :) ). As it got around 62-3, we were a minute 2 minutes he was at 58! Whoo hoo! At 5 mins he was at 52. I called it good and stripped tack at that point :) Great! So not too shabby and out of shape after all! I promptly called up the Ride Manager for RW1 that evening, and told her to switch my entry to riding Storm in the 25. This was about 4days out from the ride.
More in the next part....