Tevis – Against the Odds

After completing Race the Wild Coast in Oct 2016, it was time to consider the next adventure.  Sam Jones (Aus – Winner of Mongol Derby 2014 & 2nd Race the Wild Coast 2016) had ridden and completed the Tevis Cup in 2016.  Hey!  That’s in my own country!  Maybe it’s time for a domestic adventure.  I’ll ride Tevis!  Tevis is 100 miles in one day with a total ascent of ~15,460 feet and total descent of ~21,400 feet.

But I needed a horse.  December 4, 2016, I saw that a Derby friend of mine, Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Murray, was going to South Africa for a year and needed to find a situation for her promising young endurance mare.

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And the Road to Tevis 2017 began.

Horse Acquisition & The Training

I flew to Pennsylvania to pick up the truck and visit my parents; drove to Virginia to visit my horse family, Foxhunt for Christmas, and pick up the trailer; drove to Michigan to pick up Stevie, Sparta, Gilbert, and all the tack and gear to go with both horses; and we drove across the country.

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I had zero AERC miles.  I had never trained an endurance horse.  Sparta wasn’t backed until she was 8 years old and had done 3 rides in 2015 (25,25,50) and 2 in 2016 (30,50).

I reached out to my endurance Gurus as I would need their guidance.  The main ones being  Stevie, the mare’s owner of course as well as Amy Wallace-Whalen who had started the mare and Connie Burns-Caudill, a distance rider and vet.

I joined the AERC.

Bought a cot.

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And racked up my first 50 on Jan 28th.

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I started learning about training schedules, nutrition, metabolic functions, shoeing, and mares.  Smart 1/2 Arab 1/2 saddle-bred mares.  Our second ride was 65 miles at 20 Mule Team.  The morning after a 5th place finish, we prepared to present for BC and Sparta wasn’t 100% sound.  She was slightly stiff in her right hind.

I dropped her off at her ‘vacation home’ at Kingsway Farm in Temecula where I take her after a ride to go out in the big field with the mares and just be a horse for a few weeks.  By the time we got to the farm, she was sound (of course).   After Sparta’s break, I stepped up our flatwork to continue building the muscles for evenness and self-carriage.  I also contacted a friend and horse chiropractor/masseuse who is based at Kingsway, Debra, to arrange a session and also for her to teach me.  I wanted to know what I could do during a ride at holds to stretch, massage, check, and otherwise help Sparta.

One of the things Debra showed me was poll massage.  I decided I could use this in my routine as a tool to help the mare relax in stressful situations.  It became the first thing I did when I got to the barn and every time I entered her stall, the last thing I did when I left, and everywhere in between.  Sparta soon began to anticipate and enjoy it.  Now, as soon as I touch her poll, it’s her signal everything is ok, to relax, and she drops her head.  It is useful for faster heart rate recovery walking into vet checks too!

My next ride (not Sparta’s) was in Florida!  Amy, one of my Gurus, was there with her daughter Annie (who by the way has earned a place on the Young Riders team going to Italy this year!!)  Amy arranged a ride for me and as it was also an FEI event weekend, I would have the chance to watch some of the best.  The Olsen’s were kind enough to provide me with a great mare as well as a crew!!  They had a lot of horses going, and I was just added to the mix!  It was so amazing/weird to do be descended upon by a horsey pit crew at camp after each loop.  My vast experience so far had been all ‘away’ vet checks where we weren’t even back at camp until the end; not to mention the different muscles I used cantering on flat sandy terrain for 50 miles vs. mountains.  As a bonus, I got to meet Connie who had agreed to be a resource having never met me, and got to see Lynne (who I knew was there), and Kathy Broaddus (who I didn’t know was there).

In the week leading up to the next ride I’d planned to do at home, I bailed.  I was really undecided because I logically couldn’t define something wrong.  It was a long drive, I was feeling draggy, and Sparta seemed to feel the same way.  I went out for a training ride that weekend and when we got back, she was sneezing.  By the next morning she had a runny nose.  Over the next 2 weeks, she never ran a temperature and kept eating.  We spent a lot of time hand grazing (the farm close to my home doesn’t have turnout).  The runny nose cleared up and for another week we just walked the trails as she was still sneezing a bit.

At the end of May, we completed another 50.  And again, there was a slight stiffness in the right hind after the finish that again disappeared almost immediately..  Knowing Tevis was coming fast and twice the distance, I had a full lameness workup done by Mark Silverman, a former farrier and lameness vet.  We decided to tweak some shoeing issues and also start a preventative maintenance regime of a daily supplement, Platinum, and monthly Adequan injections.

At the invitation of another Mongol Derby friend you all know, Sarah, I flew up to Ontario and Ashley was kind enough to let me ride Splash.  It was my first incomplete ride due to excessive Bonus Miles.  I apparently have a problem following a marked trail and this was a reminder that I’d want my GPS for Tevis.

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Final Preparations

The last pre-Tevis event was the Educational Weekend (The Horse is Fine, The Rider Is Crazy) where I would have the opportunity to ride sections of the Tevis (Western States) Trail with a mentor.  It was well worth it for the people I met as well as a better understanding of the logistics involved in this 100 mile ride.  I talked with a lot of people and the typical responses I got along with skeptical looks were, ‘You chose Tevis as your first 100?’, ‘You know only ~50% of riders complete this every year?’,  ‘It’s your horse’s first 100?  And your first 100?’, ‘You know many horses don’t complete their first time, especially Tevis’, and lastly, ‘You don’t have any crew!?!  You need crew!’  My response was that we’d give it a try and see, but I also knew I had good advisers and was putting everything in place, for the things I could control, to be successful.  None of this prevented me from contacting my gurus with a variety of last minute worries that got progressively stranger as the ride got closer…

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I put out a call for crew.  And Rosie Campbell, owner of Freedom Fields Farm in Virginia, MFH of Bull Run Hunt, card carrying badass, and my horse mom, answered the call.  Her husband Chris (horse dad), took Friday and Monday off work to watch the farm and Rosie booked a flight across the country to Reno and would meet up with me at start camp Friday, the day before the Ride!

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Two weeks out I had arranged to have the farrier out.  He came…but didn’t put on the Impak pads in the front that I needed, nor did he do the hind shoes.  I begged him to come back and he came and put the pads on the front, but still didn’t do the hinds.  Her toe was long and catching the fronts a bit. I called but the farrier didn’t come.  The interference was intermittent, the front shoes were tight, and I decided to leave it.

Monday evening I was all packed, loaded the mare, and pulled out of the farm at 7 pm for the 11 hour haul to Auburn, CA (speed limit with a trailer in California is 55 mph).  At 5:30 AM Sparta and I arrived at Eve’s Tux Hill.

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Sparta immediately fell in love with Tux (as usual, hoebag).  And I could barely believe my luck that my mentor Eve, who had only met me on one weekend, during which I had a screaming meltdown, had invited me to stay with her.  In the short 3 days before heading up to start camp in Soda Springs, I got to learn more from Eve about nutrition, the trail, my ride plan, the logistics, and a million other details including what was going into her kit (as she was also riding Tevis on her friend’s horse).

Friday I loaded up and we caravaned up to start camp.  Space was non-existent, we were on gravel, and got parked in.  I checked in.  Rosie arrived, looked at the mare, and asked if I knew she was missing a shoe.  WHAT?!??!  She was in fact, missing a HIND shoe.  A HIND SHOE.  Her foot wasn’t torn up, it was just gone.  She had it that morning.  It wasn’t in the trailer.  But a HIND shoe?  Seriously?

There were 4 farriers across the street and even after some very kind people brought their horses over to where Sparta could see them, it took all four of them to get back shoes on her.  She wasn’t really handled until she was 8 and had come a long way with the farrier…at home.  As I watched horrified, I saw my ride ending before it even started.

The farriers were so kind and did an amazing job so if you know who they are, thank them.  I was a little to frazzled at the time to get names.  Miraculously, we left the farrier station with only a few cuts and scrapes to go with the new hind shoes (and the shorter toe I’d wanted).  I checked the schedule and it said I had until 6 pm to vet in but it was a 2.5 mile walk.  We squeezed between a giant RV, a pen, and some horses butts to get over to the trail to the vet area.  At 5:15 when we got there, they were packing up to leave having been told they were finished.  Interesting.  I tried not to look annoyed in the mug shot they took.

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I was filthy, had a bath, and settled in to attempt to get some rest before The Big Day.

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The Big Day

At 3:30 AM I gave Sparta breakfast & got dressed.  At 4 AM I tacked up.  There was barely any space to get out, so Rosie and I walked Sparta around toward the wood-lined strip of dirt road that was the start ‘pens’ for the 170 horses entered.  To say the mare was wound up, with 170 horses converging in the dark on a small area, is an understatement.  With a reluctant bystander sort of holding Sparta, Rosie managed to give me a leg up as the mare was leaping about.  We walked into the woods on the dirt road in the dark through a mass of milling, fit, wound up horses to check in.  Our placings in the rides we had completed already bought us a ticket into Pen 1.  It was slightly less chaotic with most of the 60 or so horses in pen one making a long skinny loop walking up and down the stretch of road.

After what seemed like forever (45 minutes or so), Pen 1 was finally released for the ‘controlled’ start; where all 170 horses would walk, staying on the road, for about 3 miles where we would cross a wooden bridge single file before being released.  Immediately, a horse near the front reared and the rider came off.  The horse flew backwards and we scattered.  She remounted and barged through to get back near the front (obviously crucial placing for a 100 mile race that would take us most of 24 hours).  I noticed the horse in front of me dancing around swinging it’s butt, and noticed that it wasn’t getting bumped and crowded…so I gathered the reins, put my leg on, and proceeded to put our flatwork to good use appearing to have sketchy control and buying us some breathing room.

With the bridge in sight, I noticed a woman working hard to keep her horse from charging ahead.  I said something like, ‘You can run into our butt if you need to!’  We were instantly friends.  She was glad to have someone to tuck behind and I was glad to have a friend for Sparta.  We crossed the bridge and were set loose!  It didn’t take long for me and my new best friend Melissa to realize we had a similar riding style and sense of humor.  It was beneficial and a good fit for both horses too.

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We ate dust on the first leg and riders were still bunched up.  We’d spread out enough by the time we came to Cougar Rock that there were only two people ahead of me and I decided to go over to get the iconic photo.  I was told to wait until the horse ahead went over the top.  Instead, Sparta reared, I yelled some profanity, and up we went!  No problem. Then on to the first vet check, Red Star, at Mile 20.  Both horses came into the check pulsed down, drank, and passed the vet check.  We let them eat hay for a few minutes, then picked up handfuls of hay for the horses to nibble as we walked out of the check.  We had to keep moving.

Sparta doesn’t stand well for me to get on.  It’s a work in progress.  There was some regression and rearing before I was mounted up to move out again.  This next piece would take us down through Duncan Canyon to Mile 36 at Robinson Flat, the first (of two) 1 hour holds.  It also included, in the last 6 miles coming into Robinson, an elevation gain of ~1300 feet.

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As we approached Robinson, I told Melissa I didn’t know if I’d have a person, but that my stuff (courtesy of Eve’s coordination) would be there (grain and electrolytes for Sparta, Anti-Monkey Butt Powder for both of us).  She had lots of crew and offered their help.  I was SO grateful to have a hand to help pull my tack off, hold it while I vetted, and then help me find my stuff amid the chaos of crews for 169 riders (not including me here).  It was drizzling and a bit chilly so while Sparta ate, I put her saddle pad over her back and butt to keep her muscles warm as best I could.  A typical Tevis year, it’s really hot and dry.  It was 112 deg F the weekend of the Ed Ride.  I didn’t have a cooler or sheet.  I guess I looked pretty pathetic crouched by Sparta nibbling my granola bar because Melissa came and asked if I had anything to eat (apparently the bar didn’t count) then had one of her crew hold Sparta and sent me over to her area with a shout to her crew of, “Feed this rider!”

With 20 minutes until I could head out, I tacked up and started walking around making frequent passes at the water tanks.  At 10 minutes I got on with little fuss.  At 5 minutes, I still didn’t see Melissa even though our out times were only 1 minute apart.  The timers released me and I set off alone hoping Melissa and her horse were ok.  We got water at Dusty Corners and cruised through the vet check and halfway point (50 miles!) at Last Chance before dropping into the next canyon, then climbing out gaining ~1400 feet in about 1.5 miles.

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I jogged down leading Sparta, took a quick dip in a fork of the American river, crossed the Swinging Bridge, and tailed (held her tail to pull me up as I walked behind) up as it gives the horse a break and is much easier for them to pull a bit than carry a rider up a mountain.  We passed Devil’s Thumb and vetted through at Deadwood.  The volunteers at all these places with limited access and no crews were amazing offering food and water to both horses and riders.  Michigan Bluff is a little tiny town and we ride through on the main street.  There were people out to watch, crews, and I dismounted to let Sparta drink and have a bite to eat…but she wanted no part of any of it and dragged me through town.  A mile or so out of town, I had just finished having a little chat with Sparta about standing next to stuff so I could get on (I was running out of holes to tighten her girth) when along came Melissa!!  Boy was I glad to see her.  It turned out her horse had a scary but short choking incident delaying her departure from Robinson Flat.  He was recovered and quite perky as we joined up again.

At mile 68, Foresthill, we had our second 1 hour hold.  I was excited coming up the road to see all the crews and spectators as I looked for, and found, Rosie! My Crew!!  A face I knew! After passing the vet check, she led me to where she had set up my things along with Eve and her camp.  The ice boots went on and both Sparta and I dug into the food!  All too soon, it was again time to tack up and ride out into the quickly fading light of the evening.  Again, Melissa and I had come into together, but she wasn’t to be found as I left.  The trail was marked by glowsticks and I also had the GPS track.

I puttered along in the dark, sometimes in the company of another rider, but mostly alone, trusting Sparta to see and pick her way and pace.  It was an almost full moon, but still very dark in the canyons.  I sang, and talked to Sparta, and may have howled at the moon.  At Francisco’s the 85 mile vet check, Sparta was ravenous and devouring the mash a volunteer brought to us.  I was so excited she was eating, I forgot to go directly to the vet to trot out in case she stiffened up at all.  Someone I’d met before came over and reminded me.  Sparta was less than enthusiastic to leave the food.  Our trot out was lacking impulsion and we trotted a second time.  The vet saw a little something intermittent, possibly her right front?  I suspected it was her right hind and massaged and stretched her before heading out.  I slowed her down, put my leg on, and did trail dressage to keep her supple and to work different parts.  I stopped posting when we trotted and stood in the stirrups to be as even as possible.  I got off to jog down the small canyons.  And I worried.  But she felt good.  At the river crossing we got a lead at the steep entry.  Normally it would have been no issue, but Sparta was clearly questioning my sanity departing yet another place with lights and people to go into a river.

I could see the lights of the Lower Quarry vet check at mile 94 for what seemed like forever as we wound our way toward it.  She trotted out totally sound (whew!) and we were in and out quickly and on to the last 6 miles!

The trail wiggled all OVER those last little canyons and those 6 miles felt like another 100.  When we came to a good area to trot, Sparta still volunteered most of the time and I may have groaned as I stood up.  When she didn’t volunteer, I clucked and then she’d groan and trot.  At one point she stopped and spun, but she was right, I’d missed a water tank that didn’t have any glow stick on it.  We passed some kids at the end of a dirt road making out in a car.  Then FINALLY came to the timed finish!!  It was totally anticlimactic.  I dismounted, loosened the girth, dropped the bit and collected a small scrap of paper with my number and time.  3:54 AM

The ‘photo’ finish line was in the stadium and I could see the lights…but there was no indication which way to go to get down to it.  Seriously?  I picked a way and walked down the hill to the stadium looking for Rosie.  Someone told me I had to get back on to do a victory lap and go under the stadium finish.  I may have been less than totally polite inquiring if I’d still have my completion if I walked as there was no way in hell I was going to tighten the girth, get back on, and ask that amazing mare to carry me one step further (she could have, but seriously.)  So I stalked around the area vaguely hearing the announcer announce something about me to the 3 or 4 people in the stands.   My finish photos are pretty lame, but we did it!!  Almost.  We vetted out and then were officially complete!

Against all odds, we tackled The Tevis Cup, and with a combination of hard work, good advice, and some luck, completed in 22 hours and 39 minutes!

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About the big pink elephant in ride camp….

Last week I wrote about a horrifying accident that occurred on trail to get across the point that your choice to not wear a helmet doesn’t affect only you, but your loved ones and fellow trail users.  For the most part the point got across and it has sparked lively debate about the use of helmets in our sport.  There have been lots of shared stories of either similar events, or other points raised such as who takes care of your horse if you suffer head trauma, or are your family prepared to care for you if you become a vegetable?  The other side here was that even on your bombproof horse, you are not necessarily safe because accidents happen.  Horses are not robots, and neither are humans.  Things happen.  This accident really had nothing to do with the rider not wearing a helmet (she certainly didn’t deserve what happened because she made that choice), or the fact that it was technically a competition (see below), or that the horse was very green (most well broke horses I know would also panic if a rider was tossed underneath them), however I can certainly say, as I was hit by trees, I certainly wished I was on a horse with more buttons… it could have easily resulted in my demise too.

There was also a sub-point that most people picked up on too – the value of paramedics on scene.  It’s something I am going to be advocating going forward because frankly our sport is well behind the other riding disciplines when it comes to caring for the rider.  Care for the horse, we got it!  Care for the rider… who cares about the rider? Not enough people, I can tell you that.

There was a third aspect here that came up in the comments, and that’s the safety and or lack of conditioning concerns that taking a green-broke horse into competition raises.  I would like to address those before I get into the real meat of this article.

The article was intended to scare.  It was a terrifying accident and it certainly changed the way I viewed helmet use (before I just went along with the general view that its their choice and it doesn’t affect me… it does).  I purposely wrote it a certain way and excluded certain details so I would have an impact.  Watering it down wasn’t going to get my message out there.

So why did we think it was ok to take out these horses?  For starters, we were the only horses in competition that day.  Not just our division, but literally the only 4 horses on trail at all.  It was a multi-day competition where most riders did a 2* or 3* on the first 2 days, and had either wrapped it up or left camp entirely by day 3.  We had also ridden day 1 and 2 on these trails, knew them well, and the horses were on home turf.  These riders were also experienced with breaking young horses and working with problem horses.

A green horse has to leave the ring at some point and get on trail.  With vets, officials, crew, babysitter horses and paramedics on site, it was a better opportunity than at home alone.  We all agreed before that there was no pressure to complete the ride.  If the horse’s showed any signs that they weren’t ready whether at mile 1, halfway, or even at the end, we would quit while the experience would still be a positive training tool.  We continued after the accident because following the trail was the fastest and safest route home.  Yes we got credit for completion, but were 6 minutes away from disqualifying ourselves.  By no means were we ever racing.  We also felt the horses would be fit enough because they do 10-15 miles in their field to get food and water on a daily basis and the riders were fit enough that if required, we could get off and run the full 25 on foot to save our horses.

So as soon as the online attacks began, I put this information out there.  A few wise friends advised me to just put my defense out there and butt out, let the internet duke it out among themselves.  Of course, I didn’t listen.  When the attacks became personal, I became defensive.  It’s hard not to. Things got out of control.

So this has me thinking a lot about bullying in our sport.

Most people will tell you this wonderful story about how nice endurance riders are.  We aren’t going to make fun of you for using borrowed equipment or not having a fancy horse.  True!  But bullying still exists, and its masked under the veil of horse welfare.

“I just want to see you be successful and I am concerned for your horse”

It’s something I heard a lot when I started the sport, and I hear it a lot either directly to a new rider’s face or behind their backs when a mean comment is made.  It’s one of those cop outs that we use when we are putting down another rider.  I have been guilty of it, and I feel bad for ever being that person.  If I did this to you, I am sorry. It still horrifies me when I see it happen and when those words come out of my own mouth.  None of us are perfect.  It makes us feel superior and we can reward our “concern” for the horse with a pat on the back and go on riding in our happy bubble.

Given we like to do a lot of educational and informative posts on this blog, I want to share with all you new riders advice I tell people behind the scenes – these people don’t know you. (and this goes for experienced distance riders too!)

They don’t know what you have put into it.  They don’t know how many hours you have spent on trail and in what form.  They don’t know how many articles you have read.  They don’t know who you have consulted.  They don’t know how you have prepared.  They don’t know if you take lessons at home, or if you have been successful in another sport.

They are likely going to assume you know nothing and have done everything wrong.  That you can’t tell which end of the horse bites and which one kicks.  They are going to give you a lot of unsolicited advice and some of it isn’t going to come to you in a positive way.  They do feel like it comes from a good place, and it probably does, but in thinking about the horse, they haven’t thought about the rider and their feelings.  They haven’t thought about how the way they tell a rider something can come off as offensive, or how offensive advice no matter how good will be automatically rejected.  It implies you don’t care about your or are too stupid to care for your horse.  You do care about your horse, its probably why you entered this sport and that’s why these words are probably going to sting even more than being bullied in another sport.

For those of you who want to make a difference by commenting on my post, or “helping” another rider who may or may not have been successful, can I give you some advice too?  Stop and think before you post.  Does your comment add value?  Do you know the whole story? Is it in hindsight? If so, chances are if they are sharing the story, they have already suffered the consequences, learned their lesson and you are just punishing them again for no reason.  If that’s the case, you are just being mean.  Comments like “you should have known better” are just as hurtful as “you are an awful human being.”  There is no reason to criticize someones intelligence or their decency.

Lastly, I would like to make the point here that I do not recommend anyone go out, hop on a green horse, and take it into competition.  I think most of you are scared enough from my article that you aren’t going to.  GOOD! It’s not impossible to take a green broke horse out on trail in competition, but there has to be a lot of conditions to take into careful consideration before it should ever be attempted.  We certainly didn’t jump into the competition before weighing all of our options and our capabilities.

Accidents happen, learn from them, forgive them, forgive others, and keep it positive.  We all want to see happy horses and happy riders returning to the sport and enjoying long careers.

I have seen plenty of amazing riders and horseman get put down simply because of the assumptions and doubt others cast on them.

Listen to what the professionals say. The vets who see your horse through your competition.  Your certified coach, who is improving your riding and horsemanship skills.  Your home veterinary team who can see the big picture.  Your farrier. Your chiropractor.  Literally any person who is certified and qualified to give you an objective review.  The internet will always give you mixed results.

Find a great mentor, someone who gets to know the real you and will celebrate your successes and discuss your failures with a kind heart and an open mind.  Someone who is willing to learn from you as you are them.  We are all learning, always.

Remember, sometimes nothing you say or do will ever be good enough for someone else.  Its a good thing you aren’t doing this for them.

Happy trails. Sarah.

You Can’t Ride With Me

“I can’t have them cleaning two riders off the ground” was all I could think as the freshly broken mare I was riding leaped and bucked and ran through the trees as branches pulled me every direction. I don’t know how I managed to stay on, perhaps it was the will from my previous thought, perhaps it was skill, or perhaps it was just because the trees were so dense there was nowhere to go. I do know how I stopped… the mare and I got wedged between chest high trees, fallen into a V shape. We were locked in like we were in the stocks.

Without any way to dismount or escape or even see the other riders, I sat and listened.  Silence made my stomach sick.  Not true silence, no, if anything the opposite.  I could hear her mother and sister screaming her name and crying, but she was silent.

I waited

and I waited

She is surely dead, I have killed this young girl.  

Perhaps only 30 seconds had passed since the initial wreck, but it felt like an hour before Makayla screamed “My leg, its broken” and wailed in agony.

She’s not dead, I haven’t killed her. It’s surely a miracle.

With the extra commotion, the mare surged through the downed trees and back onto the trail, I dismounted and approached.  Not close, just enough to alert myself to everyone and see.

Makayla was lying on the ground screaming and crying in an awkward lump, but she was alive, and was not a vegetable.


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Several hours earlier I had mounted the young mare who had been backed a handful of times in the pasture, with the intent of doing an easy 25 mile Limited Distance ride.  Ariel, Makayla’s sister also hopped on an equally green horse and we were accompanied by two experienced babysitter horses ridden by their Mother, Tara and Makayla.

This is where it’s important to note, Makayla declined to wear a helmet.

A few rodeos (from my mare) well stuck and 23 miles down the trail, things were going well.  We were close to the finish and the baby horses were now being called “broke”.

That’s when Makayla’s horse (one she had been riding for 13 years) spooked sideways and I watched her fall. The first thought in my mind “She’s not wearing a helmet”

She fell in my direction, and her horse spun around and ran into mine. She was already nearly beneath our hooves, and my mare panicked, with horses and forest blocking every direction, she bounced up and down on top of Makayla until I kicked her hard enough to bolt into the dense forest.

I watched the mare’s hoof hit Makayla’s bare head.  I will never forget it.  It haunts me.


There is a bright side to this story.

  1. Makayla wasn’t dead or a vegetable, she didn’t even have a concussion, the hoof must have just grazed her head.  As far as we know, she didn’t even have any broken bones (that we know of) and was able to ride the last 2 miles to the finish line… eventually.  She IS very sore and bruised.Image may contain: one or more people
  2. We were being crewed by a paramedic in their paramedic vehicle.  He literally drove down the trail (cleared some double track for us!) to our rescue and was able to properly check her.  He also took care of her for the rest of the day
  3. Makayla recognizes how incredibly lucky she is and has vowed to always wear a helmet.  She realizes that no matter how calm and steady your horse, accidents can happen to anyone.

So here is my vow, if you don’t wear a helmet, YOU CAN’T RIDE WITH ME.  No exceptions.  

 

 


Addition after original post: I have been asked why we would even consider taking a green horse out in competition.  Good question!  We were literally the only 4 riders entered that day and with crew and vets we were well set up to give the horses a positive training experience, so we took advantage.  We treated it like a training/pleasure ride, going slow, giving lots of breaks and of course, patience!

It’s like barrel racing, but with guns

It sounds pretty redneck but it is one of the fastest growing equestrian disciplines.  A horse, guns, balloons, and a stopwatch and BANG! You have cowboy mounted shooting.

I have been wanting to try this sport for a few years now.  While I was participating in the St. Tite Rodeo in St. Tite, Quebec with the Canadian Cowgirls drill team, the cowboy mounted shooting  association in Quebec gave a little demo.  If you’ve never seen it before, it is thrilling! The general gist of the event is to race around a pattern, shooting balloons in a certain order with the best precision and fastest time.  Seconds are added for missing balloons, going off course, knocking over any barrels, etc.

Why haven’t I tried this before? Well Ontario has much stricter gun laws than the US and most of the other provinces so there is a lot of red tape to cut through. Arenas need to be licensed as shooting ranges and many venues are not willing to put the time or effort in.  Thanks to Britt Needham, a cowboy mounted shooter from Saskatchewan who now calls Ontario home, this sport is getting its start in this province!  I attended a 2 day clinic just north of Orangeville to get a feel for what the sport is like and to learn more about it.  (Side note: one of the rules for Ontario is going to be that you have participated as a rider in one of these clinics before you are allowed to compete in Ontario. I highly suggest giving the Ontario Cowboy Mounted Shooting Facebook page a like so that you can keep up to date on upcoming clinics and events. https://www.facebook.com/ontariocmsa/)

cowboy mounted shooting

 

Day one of the clinic focussed on rules, regulations, and just getting a feel for the guns.  You might be interested to know that Mounted Shooters use .45 caliber single action revolvers like those used in the late 1800’s. Single action revolvers must be cocked each time before firing by drawing the hammer back.  They also shoot brass cartridges filled with black powder that can break a balloon up to about 15 feet.  No live rounds are used and are prohibited at competitions. Any one and any horse can compete.  There are men’s and women’s divisions from levels 1-6. There is also a youth division.  They ride the same pattern that the grown-ups do, but they may shoot Hollywood cap pistols, engaging each target as if they were shooting real blanks. They then shoot the real McCoy (.45’s with blanks) at balloons, from the ground while standing stationary with mom or dad at their side.

Day two got participants learning about patterns and getting to ride a mock one. Even though Splash was having a bad day (it started off with a rodeo as soon as I put the saddle on so you can imagine how the rest of the day went), I had a ton of fun, learned a lot, and met some great people.  Even if you don’t think you will ever compete in a mounted shooting event, it is really neat to try out a different discipline, especially one like this, in a safe environment with knowledgable instructors to help set you and your horse up for success.

How to ride an OPH

What in the world is an OPH?!?  The acronym, coined by my friend Linda is for Other People’s Horse.  The OPH comes in handy when your horse is out of commission or you are between horses, maybe you are a first time distance rider and some “friend” conned you onto an OPH to get you hooked, maybe you want to travel and need a race to justify the plane ticket, maybe you need some  more rides to qualify for a certain event.  Whatever it is, the OPH is not like riding your own horse.

I got my start in the sport thanks to the existence of OPHs.  I have flown across oceans to sit on top of OPHs.  I have begged and pleaded for OPHs when Bentley is NQR.  I have even flipped the coin and offered Bentley out as an OPH when we need a RNT sponsor or I have a friend coming to visit.  Having been on both sides of the coin, I have compiled some tips for the aspiring OPH rider.

Jack (Vanoaks Freedom Rings) with me at the Massie Autumn Colours ride, 2016

1. Do your homework

Don’t expect the owner of the horse to do all your paperwork.  Whether you ask for the ride or they ask you, make sure you have all your memberships and insurance up to date and complete.  Check with the owner of the horse if they would like to submit the entry or if you submit the entry.  Who is paying for the entry fee?  Are you paying for anything else? (day lease, shoes, any additional horse paperwork?).  If time allows, work this out several weeks in advance.

Me and… I think it was The Hamster (or possibly Friend) in Iceland 2015

2. Arrive Prepared

Talk with the owner of the horse in advance to find out what you need to bring.  Does the horse have it’s own tack or will you need to bring yours?  Is the owner bringing an enclosure? Food? Electrolytes?  If you are flying overseas to ride, what is provided for you?  Do you need to bring your own food, arrange accommodations or bring a tent and a bedroll? Is there a crew kit that you can use or do you need to bring that too?  Don’t forget to print out all that paperwork you have already done so!

 

 

On Secret Trails, Coates Creek II 2017

3. Ask all the questions

Whether you are riding with the owner of the horse or alone, have crew or not, its important to ask questions about your horse prior to mounting.  You can never ask too many questions and you can never ask a stupid one… its just not possible.  Here are some of my standard Qs:

  • What are your expectations for us?
  • What is an average finish time for this horse (and/or last finish time)?
  • How quickly do they tend to recover in these weather and terrain conditions?
  • Do they have any common “Not normals” which are ok (IE inversion, saddle slipping to the side, fussy eater, doesn’t drink at first trough, or certain things on the vet card that could be usual – like a minus on a certain gut quadrant, or maybe their skin tent is slower than the average horse)
  • Do they have any common “Not normals” which need to be managed or could indicate a problem? (are they prone to thumps, do they trip or get crooked when tired, do they get girth galls or interfere on the legs easily, etc),  How honest are they in telling you something is wrong?
  • Does the horse have a preferred pace, gait, and or place in the group?
  • Are there any terrain factors that you need to accommodate?  Things like running by foot down hills, walking gravel roads, are they likely to kneecap you on a tree in the forest?
  • Does the horse have any friends, enemies, or frenemies that they need to avoid?
  • What is your electrolyting protocol?  Holds only?  In food or via syringe? Before or after eating?  Do they like their elytes so much they may just chow down on the syringe and fingers attached?  Is there a certain routine the horse is used to following in the crew area?
  • Do they eat, drink, pee, poop well or will I need to dress up the food with extra yum yums?  Do they prefer water from troughs or puddles or streams?  Do they pee when you whistle?  Are they going to slam on the breaks and launch me when it comes time for #2?
  • Is there anything I might do that will get me dumped or have them hate my guts for 50 miles? (think things like putting a jacket on while mounted, getting caught in the pack at the start, how much contact with their mouth, will they walk through a puddle, will I get kicked if I sponge between the legs?)
  • Anything else I need to know?
On the horse I called “Electro”, Mongol Derby 2014

4. Be the rider you want on your horse

None of us are perfect, and add Rider Brain into the equation and we probably aren’t our best selves.  That being said, while you should always treat your horse with dignity and respect its even more so when you are riding an OPH because you are not the one who will suffer the consequences down the line from a poor ride.

Imagine the person you would want to put on your horse – for me its someone who is bold but kind, and will always put his needs first while not being afraid to discipline when he takes advantage.   Whatever it is for you, be that rider!

Its very hard to trust an animal you have only just met to carry you 50+ miles, likely in foreign territory.  Its also very difficult to get through the mental hurdle of disciplining or pushing a horse that doesn’t belong to you (which you will have to do, no owner wants to get a horse back that has learned to be pushy or other new bad habits from a lousy rider). There is a fine balance, but I find if I just go back to this guiding principle when I experience a bad moment, I can make it work… you can too.

One last note on this too – being the rider also goes back to homework.  Take lots of lessons at home, enroll in every clinic and training session available, volunteer and learn from everyone.  Your education is paramount on an OPH.

Ramkat, Race the Wild Coast 2016

5. Be Thankful and Grateful

It should go without saying right?!  Its important to smile and thank the owner for allowing you to climb aboard their 4-legged furbaby (even if furbaby acts like an idiot for 50 miles or you get pelted for 8 hours with dime sized hail).  Make sure to thank them lots and gifts don’t hurt!  They don’t have to be big: a bottle of wine, a souvenir from your home, a gift card (If anyone’s asking I like Starbucks!), or something special from the heart – like an Eat Sleep Ride Repeat shirt – just sayin’.  Leave any attitude at home, don’t act like you are doing them a favour, and offer to help wherever you can.

 


If you have the pleasure of being offered a ride on an OPH, take my advice and go for it!  It may be a little scary at first, but its a wonderful way to improve your skills as a rider and see the world.

Until next time… I will be in BC riding some OPHs!  Happy riding guys!

-Sarah

The Horse is Fine, The Rider is Crazy

Riding is easy.  People and logistics are hard.  I’d love to be able to say I’m calm, cool, and collected and much of the time I am.  Except when I’m not.  

*Apologies in advance for the lack of photos, most did not survive the death of my phone in the American River.

The weekend of July 7-8 I attended the bi-annual Tevis Education weekend.   And I got educated.  For a short summary list of the changes I’ve made based on what I learned skip to the end.  For the full story of the weekend complete with my personal challenges, read on.

My awesome dad flew out from Pennsylvania to help me.  He’s not a ‘horse person’ but is great company, can drive anything, and is willing to help.  I packed up everything for me, my dad, and Sparta and we departed Southern California for Northern California at 1 am Friday morning.  After managing to scoot past LA before major traffic, we climbed to the high desert and drove.  And drove.  And my dad noticed the semi trucks were religiously going 55-60 mph.  I’d seen the signs saying ‘Speed Limit when towing 55 mph’ but in my travels so far, it had been a non-issue and traffic moved along at 70.  Until now.  I looked online and it turns out there is some historical pseudo science that was proved to be wrong shortly after causing this stupid law in California and now the entire trucking (and horse trailing) industry in California is stuck crawling along at 55 mph.

As the sun rose, temperatures climbed into the 90’s and then the 100’s.  Over a 600 mile trip, going 55 mph makes a 9 hour drive into an 11 hour drive.  I took the chance and was passing the big rigs one at a time….until I saw, too late, the cop car behind me, swerving as he checked his computer to run my plate. The lights went on and I pulled over.  I was polite and somehow got off with a warning which totally shocked me as I never seem to get away with anything.  Good thing I resisted the desire to inform him of the science and actual research proving the law is stupid and doesn’t do what it’s intended to do anyway.  Rose’s Brain – 1, Rose’s Mouth – 0.

With temperatures around 107 deg F, we arrived at camp around noon, sweated, set up camp, and sweated some more.

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I caught up with two ladies I knew who had coordinated trailer shuttle rides and had a spot for me.  Our shuttle driver was also the water guy so we arranged for my dad to go along with him the next day so he’d have something to do.  We attended the vet talk, then the ride briefing.  After the ride briefing we realized that mentors weren’t assigned, it was an unannounced insider trading type free for all that we’d totally missed.  Deep breaths.  Ok.  One of my friends took the lead to get it sorted out and I stood by and tried to chill.  The organizer grabbed some random kid in shorts who hadn’t intended to mentor and voluntold him he would be the mentor for the 3 of us.  He didn’t seem thrilled and was interested in how fast we could go (his horse needed to go fast) and going line dancing that night.  Ok.  No problem.  The real benefit of the Ed Ride weekend was seeing the terrain and layout firsthand and networking.

When I returned to the trailer after the ride briefing Sparta had taken down the non-electrified, wrapped around trees, electric fencing and was standing with the paint gelding, Tonka, next door.  Happily.  His owner got back and we decided they’d be happier together and moved him into my ‘back yard.’  

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The First Day of Riding

In the morning, I couldn’t find the coffee. I tacked up, shipped to the start and off we went.  The mentor’s horse was a head flipper. It started out badly and got worse.  He dropped back behind us and we all agreed and thought that’s what he’d told us to do, assuming he wanted to have a private work with his horse.  We’d slow up and check that he was back there every so often.  At some point he caught us and seemed all annoyed and said he’d been yelling and trying to get us to wait up.  Coming into the first vet check the mentor dismounted and asked us if his horse looked lame (maybe?  Not noticeable) and jogged on foot into the check.  We were assigned to a different mentor group and within 20 minutes of coming into the vet check his horse was dead lame.  We later found out it possibly had a history of abscess issues (among other things).  Our new group was actually two mentors and a Swiss girl.  We had a lovely ride and the new mentors suited me very well.   

The Second Day of Riding

In the morning I managed to find the coffee.  Of course I’d then lost the drip thingy to support the filter.  The upside down top of a gatorade bottle was sufficient.

But then as my mentor and I were ready to leave, we were missing the Swiss girl. It turned out she had the times wrong and thus we left late and behind a lot of groups.  Not that it was a race, but we’d been warned it would be a miserable day if the faster groups were behind the slower groups on essentially 20 miles of single track cliff trail.  And it was.  We asked to be allowed to pass when it was possible only to be ignored.  There were pile ups 40 horses back on single track cliffs while people fussed to give their horses a drink or tried to get them to cross tiny bits of running water.  At one point, Sparta’s entire hind end fell off the cliff and she cut her hind leg scrambling back up while we were dancing around on a cliff, while inconsiderate people who wouldn’t let us pass before, now held us up while their horses refused to cross a creek. (Yes, I realize it’s my problem for having a horse that won’t stand still, and yes, I did come home and reschool WOAH and STAND.)

I was not happy.  And being at the back, Sparta wouldn’t drink because the groups in front of course didn’t care to wait long enough for the last horse to have a drink.  I asked them to wait.  And they didn’t.  And I less than politely asked again to no avail and completely lost my marbles.

The Part Where I Lose My Marbles

I yelled that I hated this sport (as it exists in the United States) and was only doing this because I had committed to doing it for the horse which belonged to a friend.  I took to hanging about 1/2 mile back so I could maintain some sort of forward motion instead of the horrible caterpillar start and stop.   Down in a canyon near the American River, I caught up to the caterpillar, turned around, and went back to a place where I could wade in the river.  It cooled and rinsed the cut on my mare’s leg and was time well spent.

Luckily, it was a short ride that day.  I got my lift back to camp, packed up, and got on the road.  There was nothing more to be gained here and I wanted to be on the road while it was cool and not in the 100+ degree heat the next day.  After about 11 hours on the road, I dropped my dad off at the hotel, dropped the mare off at the barn, and went to sleep.  

You might be thinking the drama is over.  But it’s not.  My phone died while I was cooling off in the river.  My dad tried to reach me on my work phone the next morning but I was dead to the world until about 9:30 am and at this point he was worried.  I dragged my exhausted carcass up, went by the barn to check the mare and make her a mash, and went to pick up my dad.  At this point, if I’d had any sense, I’d have come right back home and gone back to sleep.  But I didn’t.  I tried to function.  I tried to get my phone fixed since going to the cell phone store is always a relaxing experience….and ended up screaming at my dad and essentially having a complete meltdown.  I sulked in the yard for about an hour, we made up, and went to get noodle soup at the Chinese grocery store.  

I dropped Dad off at the airport the next morning and went home to change for work….and instead slept for 14 hours.

Stuff I Learned

  • Gate & Go.  Come in pulsed down, get in and out in 3-5 minutes.  Walk out carrying hay so your horse can eat while you keep making forward progress.
  • Woah is crucial.  And standing. Standing still.  On command.  The mildly annoying refusal to stand still becomes potentially life threatening on a narrow trail that drops away down a mountain.  A reminder day followed by two ‘remember what we did yesterday?’ days have been very effective.
  • The hindgut must be fully loaded and that takes 2-3 days.  I decided to drive up earlier than originally planned since 11 hours not eating well in the trailer just won’t cut it.  Besides, research was presented showing 1% dehydration per hour shipping (under ideal conditions, not 112 deg F).  We want to start fully hydrated.  
  • Pads for impact protection.  There will be more road than usual this year in addition to it being 100 miles.  With the many options, I’ve chosen to go with an Impak pad (under the shoe only)  in the front under the steel rim shoes we’ve been wearing.  
  • And ice boots.  I tried out some versions made for horses last night and talked to people.  The cold blanket ones I put on with polos were heavy, sagged, and didn’t stay super cold.  But the freezy pops I brought were just the right length, stayed cold, had good contact, are cheap (I’ll need enough for two holds and 4 legs per hold), and I can eat them.  
  • Accept help.  I was deadset, “I don’t need crew, I’ll be fine.”  Reality is I did desperately need at least someone to drive my truck & trailer from the start to the finish.  

I have the ability.  I have the knowledge.  Now if I can just keep from coming totally unhinged and get all the bits to the right places at the right time….

Bring it on Tevis Cup. #89

The Greatest Sportsmen on Earth

It’s not that I didn’t know it before, but this past weekend proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Endurance riders are the Greatest Sportsmen on Earth.

I say this not because of their athletic abilities or their commitment to their horse(though they are both great), but because of their commitment to the sport and their fellow riders.

The ride this past weekend offered several distances – there was something for everyone starting from those crossing the line on their first ride, up to those who are trying to be selected for national teams for the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

With Shore to Shore in mind, my initial plan was to try 2 days, 50 miles each day on Bentley.  Unfortunately, Bentley was not 100% sound.  We have been dealing with Arthritis in his fetlocks since the start of the season. I am still not sure whether the arthritis is already bothering him again (after an aggressive treatment in the spring) or he just tweaked something in the field, but he was only about 98% sound.  I know, it sounds like its good enough right?  Nope!  I am sure he would pass the vet check, but something is Not Quite Right and I am not willing to put his future at risk – this sport demands too much to go in without 100% confidence!

It has been very frustrating, I would really rather him have some big gash or something obvious – at least we know what we are dealing with and how to fix it.  NQR can drive a rider crazy.

So it was time to switch to plan B.  I had seen a few riders posting on Facebook groups that they were looking for riders for FEI horses.  As I am qualified, I approached one who I had heard nice things about through friends (and we had 500+ mutual friends on Facebook!) and we decided to go ahead and enter the 2*.  Woo hoo!  I won’t have to sit around camp feeling sorry for myself and fielding the “Why aren’t you riding?” questions!  I am always thankful that these sort of opportunities come around, it takes a special person to offer a horse to a stranger – even with results, references and reputation!

I won’t get into details here, but all was going kinda-sorta according to plan, when the day before the ride I got the bad news – the paperwork was filled out incorrectly and the horse would not be able to cross the border.

Crap! I was really looking forward to this!

Plan C time! Knowing how last minute it was, I decided to put out a call anyway, posting in a few groups seeing if there were any riderless horses out there.

In only a few short hours, my post had been tagged and shared a lot, as well as comments with condolences and well wishes.  Before I knew it, I had been offered several horses at several distances.

I nearly cried. I was so moved by these efforts.  I don’t think anyone even really knew HOW much it meant to me.  It has been a rough few weeks between Bentley and some personal problems, and to feel the community rally for me – well, I am really speechless!

I won’t delve into the ride much (hey, if I am potentially done for the season, I will need something to write about again later!), but I will say I became even more astonished at the trust and selflessness of our group.

Thank you so much for Emma Webb for loaning me Secret to ride Saturday in the 50 miler.  She also trusted me enough to take care of her mare alone overnight.  It wasn’t the easiest ride I have ever had – she gave me some of the mare ‘tude, but it wouldn’t be fun if it were easy right?

Thank you to the Llop family who brought Milo for me to ride on Sunday.  Unfortunately Milo had a bit of an accident in the trailer on the way up and despite being sound, we decided he was best to take the time to recover (on a related note, Splash also gashed herself up this weekend and did not start… she could have, but Ashley made the right call and saved her horse for another day).  What really made this special however, is that they (more specifically Anne Dewar)  offered me to take over the ride on her 100 mile horse.  I was overwhelmed at their generosity, sacrificing their own “fun” ride for me(I use quotes because I have never done a hundred, but I imagine its more fun after its done lol).  I declined – doing another 50 was definitely within my capabilities, but I felt I wouldn’t give my best ride in the 100.  This was partly due to my knee being a little crunchy, but also because I had all of 45 minutes of sleep on Friday night (sleeping with an OPH is stressful!).  Counting down the hours of sleep I could get before the 5am start (with potentially up to 24 hours of riding), I would be beyond exhausted and that’s not fair to the poor horse trying to carry me.

Also thanks to everyone else who approached me at the ride, asking if I had found rides, offering rides for next time, and genuinely happy to see me up in the saddle. Sometimes its great when everyone knows everyone else’s business!

I cannot think of any other sport where people epitomize “Sportsman” more.  I am so thankful that I have been accepted into this family.  The care that everyone has for each other is one of a kind.  We celebrate each other’s victories and mourn each other’s losses.  When things go South, we offer assistance and community.  It is because of this family I am able to keep the cheerful demeanor that people know me for.

“Why are you always so happy?” People ask me.

Endurance. ❤

 

The (New) Greatest Show on Earth

Thanks to a contest run by Horse Canada magazine, I found myself to be the lucky recipient of two Gold VIP tickets to Cavalia’s Odysseo.  I had the opportunity to see the show a few years back, the last time it came to Ontario. This time, however, I was going to be treated to a gourmet buffet before the show (with open bar!), desserts and coffee at intermission, VIP lounge access, meet and greet with some of the performers, a stable tour after the show, souvenir program, and VIP seating.

cavalia

If you’ve never seen Cavalia before, the best way to describe it is like Cirque de Soleil with horses.  Along with high energy acrobatics and aerial stunts, and stunning high-tech theatrics, audience members are also treated to liberty acts, trick riding,  and beautiful displays of horsemanship.

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La Grande Aventure / Credits : Dan Harper

As all horse people know, horses have a mind of their own and don’t always follow the script.  There were a few times some of the liberty horses tried to steal the show but the cast never once reprimanded them; only incorporating it into the act, letting the horse’s personalities come through.

cavalia
LIBERTÉ / CREDITS : JAK WONDERLY

 

Having been an equestrian performer myself with the Canadian Cowgirls, it takes a lot to impress me now, having seen many acts from all over the world. Cavalia kept me captivated the entire time and my heart was in my throat for a few of the trick riding moves.  (Skip to about 2:12 in the video to see a tease of why!)

After showing this video to my very non-horsie boyfriend, I was surprised at his reaction that it was something he would enjoy going to see.  Whether you are a horse person or just a lover of horses, I can’t recommend this show enough.  The show is on until July 16th. You can purchase tickets here: https://cavalia.com/mississauga/#anchor-calendar.

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VIP Lounge

Fun facts: Cavalia travels with 65 horses (16 of which are stallions!)and they are rotated throughout the touring schedule.  When travelling, they eat the same Quebec hay they would get at home and the team has the same farrier which they fly in when needed.

10K tons of stone, dirt and sand are required to build the massive 17,000 square foot stage. An underground drain system creates an impressive 40k gallon lake. At the end of the tour, the sand is often donated to a local equine charity.

cavalia
CAROSELLO / CREDITS : DAN HARPER

The iconic white Big Top ten is the equivalent size of an NFL football field!

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13 breeds are represented in the show, including the Appaloosa, Arabian, Quarter Horse, Canadian Horse, Canadian Warmblood, Holsteiner, Lusitano, Paint Horse, Percheron Hanoverian Cross, Selle Français and Spanish Purebred

Bonus Miles

Top ten was less than a mile away when I made a wrong turn.

I saw the 5 mile marker.  And the 4 mile marker.  And the 2 mile marker.  I got off to jog so Splash could hopefully catch her breath a little more easily in the humidity.  Each ride revealed another long stretch of lovely path in the green tunnel.  I remounted and kept watching the kilometers ridden on my borrowed watch creeping up.  Thinking I must just be a little further.

There were still blue ribbons on the right.  Things started to look a bit familiar….but this was my first time here.  Maybe I was confused.  Yup, blue ribbons still on the right.  Hm, I think I ducked under that branch before.  Maybe it was on the red loop I did first?  Yup, blue ribbons still on the right.  Wait, this is the water trough field….really?  At this point I realized I’d gone wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Near the end of the blue trail, it crosses itself.  I had somehow gone out on the loop again instead of going home.

As I was sponging Splash at the water and berating myself I had some useful thoughts. I have never really considered a time limit for a 25 mile ride.  I knew you got 12 hours for a 50…was it then 6 hours for a 25?  Probably.  And even if that wasn’t the case; it was hot, humid, and buggy.  My horse was tired and not catching her breath as well as I’d like.  A pair of set speed ladies gave me electrolytes for Splash and offered to ride the rest of their loop with me. I got on and we set off.  Within minutes I realized Splash’s breathing was too heavy for hot, humid, ‘you’re already dead last’ conditions.

The only thing left to do was get Splash home in good condition.  So we set off walking. Everyone who passed us made sure we were ok and I sent along the message that we’d be back eventually.  At the walk, Splash was still breathing hard so I figured I’d walk until she was breathing more easily.  We stopped for grass here and there to make sure she still had an appetite and digestion was still happening.  We jogged down hills together. Swatted bugs.  And talked of many thing: Of shoes—and ships – and sealing wax –of cabbages—and kings.

Let the self doubt and self berating begin.  Many of you have been there and during the walk in and back at camp there were many understanding condolences.  But that didn’t stop the record playing on my long long long walk in.  How did I not realize?  How did I not realize for SO LONG?  The blue ribbons were always on the right…right?  Should I just get back on and make Splash trot?  What’s the point of taking that risk when it’s humid like this and we’re well out of it already?  Does UBER pick up horses?  Can I send Splash back and just sit down and die right here?  Why do I even DO this?  It was dumb to leave my camel pack behind.  I should have paid more attention to the map and compass.  Well, I did want to slow down and enjoy the scenery.  Maybe not this slow.  Oh, someone dropped a sponge.  Oooo, it has a huge slug in it.  I’ll take it anyway.  I wonder if I’ll just keep going around and around forever….

This is part of what makes endurance hard.  Whether it’s that last push up, or the last 5 seconds holding that yoga pose, or that last 10 km you’re walking because you made a wrong turn.

I was certainly happy to see Lily walking towards me about a mile from camp (the second time) with a bottle of water.  And laughed to see what Sarah and Ashley had left for me at that last turn where I’d gone wrong before.

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I’d like to blame something.  Bentley, my original ride tweaked something so it’s his fault.  The trail crossed itself and wasn’t clearly marked.  I had rider brain (tired brain).  I’ve never been here before.   Splash knows these trails, why didn’t SHE tell me…wait, really?  I’m trying to blame the horse?  There’s always something to blame or some excuse.

At the end of the day, I made a mistake.  And I was lucky the only thing harmed was my pride.   I really would have liked to finish top 10 and knowing we ‘could have’ isn’t quite the same.  I choose to learn from my mistake.  I choose to go on and keep putting one foot in front of the other.   I will always carry hydration.  I need to pay more attention to the maps, particularly where a trail crosses itself.  And I would do well to carry my GPS so I can see my track and look at it when that nagging voice says, ‘Um, Hey…Rose….we’ve definitely seen this tree before.’

The support and camaraderie of OCTRA members helped me keep my chin up when I really wanted to curl up in the corner of the trailer and cry.  In a social media world where every invisible person feels justified in dissecting and criticizing your every choice, in person, the endurance community showed me the best of itself;  smiles, words of encouragement, understanding, sympathy and empathy.  Despite my error, I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend.

Thank you Sarah, for inviting me, arranging a horse, crewing, feeding me, and being an amazing hostess.  Thank you Ashley for letting me go for an unexpectedly long ride on your mare Splash. And thank you OCTRA for being helpful, welcoming, and running a wonderful event in beautiful country.

 

 


Side note from Sarah:  I hope you all enjoyed Rose’s story!  While this is a bit of a crossover episode (she runs a blog too!) we have had long, deep conversations at the pub and have decided to merge the blogs!  Rose is training with the hopes of competing at Tevis this year and will be sharing her adventures in SoCal with our followers… so grab a popsicle… you are in for a heat wave!

Ecogold CoolFit Pad Review

When you think of the brand “Ecogold”, eventing is usually what comes to mind. But these pads are versatile enough for any discipline.

I’ve been using Ecogold pads since first starting in distance riding as I enjoyed having something that was non-slip (especially while moving quickly over varied terrain, while still being breathable). Something that is high quality is key as endurance riders put their equipment through a lot and we need it to hold up. The cheap stuff just doesn’t cut it, and that goes for all equipment I use.

 

Last year I found out that Ecogold makes a CoolFit pad.  From the Ecogold website: “ECOGOLD has integrated smart textiles in its CoolFit™ Saddle Pad to create an intelligent saddle pad. Smart textiles are materials that can sense and react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical, electric or magnetic sources. Thanks to the innovative smart textiles, the CoolFit™ saddle pad senses the sweat of the horse and reacts by reducing its temperature, providing a healthier and more comfortable ride.”

Yes, you read that right.  This pad reacts to your horse’s sweat and helps to cool it.  Now I know you are probably saying that this is what sweat does. Sweating is a cooling mechanism. But have you ever taken your saddle pad off of your horse after a hard ride or one in the heat and you can feel the heat coming off of your horse’s back?  Endurance riders want to keep their horse cool as that means lower heart rates at the vet checks (among other things). Like many things geared to the horse market, I was a little skeptical at first as to if this pad does what it claims to do. Endurance is one of the most grueling equestrian disciplines which made it perfect for testing the performance of this pad. If it worked, this would be my go-to saddle pad for distance rides.

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Photo credit: Teresa Finnerty

My first endurance ride using the CoolFit pad was last October at  Lopin Larose in the gorgeous Larose Forest. With it being late October, Splash was just beginning to grow her winter woollies and the temperature was warmer than average for October.  Perfect testing conditions! The terrain on this ride is flatter than some of the others I’ve been to so I couldn’t really put  the non-slip properties to the ultimate test, but overall, my saddle did not move. Upon coming into the first vet check, my crew made the comment while removing my saddle and tack that the saddle pad felt really cold.  Perfect!  I took my horse’s heart rate and could immediately tell that it was way below the maximum threshold so we walked on over the vet minutes after getting there. I’ve used this pad on a few rides since then and every time, I am able to pretty much walk right into the vet check after coming in and removing tack.

Not only are these pads cooling, they also come with shock absorbing, removable foam inserts. The inserts are 100% breathable, allowing your horse to continue experiencing the benefits of the CoolMax layer on the underside of the saddle pad even while the shock-absorbing inserts are in place. The inserts come out and the whole pad is machine washable (bonus!) They also come in different styles and a wide variety of colours to match your flashy endurance colours of course!

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Cooling has always been a struggle for us since Splash is a very non-typical endurance type horse.  Arabians are bred to have the leaner muscles and thinner skin to allow for faster, more efficient cooling. My “built like a bulldog” stock horse just can’t compare! For anyone out there doing endurance with a thicker built horse, I highly recommend getting your hands on one of these pads.  It will make your cooling efforts much easier.

It is coming up to prime hot and humid riding season up here in Ontario and I’m actually looking forward to riding in the heat since I know I’ve got extra help in keeping her cool.

Equestrian Appare | Adventure Blog