You Might Be An Endurance Rider if…

*cover photo courtesy of Wendy Webb photography

Well, I did have the idea to write a humorous “you might be an endurance rider if” article for you, a la Jeff Foxworthy, but the recent issue of the AERC magazine has me changing the tone.

article

I’ve been humming and hawing about whether or not to renew my AERC membership this year as I have been a little disappointed with what views the organization has chosen to support.

When I first discovered this sport, I was in love. It seemed like everyone was so welcoming and we could work at our own pace (which for the most part it is, in my region anyways). I couldn’t tell enough people about endurance/distance riding and how awesome it was. But the more I delve into it, the darker it seems to be.

“We want to encourage new members, but they can’t be top tenning because they must not know enough about conditioning and pacing.”

“We want new people to try out this sport but we have to tell them they aren’t tough enough or not cut out for it because they don’t want to ride 50 miles or they don’t want to ride in the rain.”

I thought this was just the opinion of a few endurance riders but the president’s letter in the recent issue of Endurance News has prompted me to write this.

I thought his letter was going to be a cute little fluff piece, much like my originally planned article was going to be. However, one line in his letter made me do a double take.

“We need to look at the negative signs that a person is not suited to the sport of endurance.”

Why? Why do we need to look at the negative? Why not look at ways of how can we make it fun for new people and make them want to try it. A two hour training ride is going to be a bit much for some people who aren’t used to it. Why not start them out smaller? Once they get their feet wet at an intro 6 mile ride, maybe they’ll be bitten by the bug and want to try an LD, and maybe a 50 miler after that?

Paul Latiolais, you claim that this is a good time to recruit new members but you are pushing many away with your attitude that seems to be shared among many members of your organization.

No, not everyone is going to enjoy distance riding. But that is the beauty of the horse world. There are so many disciplines to choose from. Believe me, I’ve tried almost all of them. But we need to be encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and at least give it a try rather than putting them down and calling them weak.

It’s not just equestrian sports that is suffering a decline in participation.  This article from CBC looks into why youth enrollment in sports is declining, but it can be applied to why sport enrollment in general has decreased.

The basic gist of the article is that there is too much focus on the elite athletes and not enough support given at the grassroots level. Sure the upper levels of any sport are exciting, but those athletes had to start somewhere. If those athletes didn’t get the support and encouragement they needed, would they have gotten to the level they’re at.

*Personal side note: as a child, I was terrified of animals to the point of being scared to go to the park to play because of squirrels.  Two years ago, I completed my first FEI endurance ride. Without the right support, who knows if I would have even been in the horse industry.*

From the article, “Nearly three quarters of Canadians — 73 per cent — agree, saying that children’s sports have become too focused on winning at the exclusion of fun and fair play, according to the study.”  We see this in the horse industry. Kids (and adults) are pushed to get into showing or competing, they burn out because it’s not fun, and they leave the industry entirely. Would these people still be in the industry today if they were told that they could try new things out and just have fun?

We need to be encouraging people to try out distance riding instead of pushing them away. I can only speak for my region in Ontario as that is the only location I have done distance riding, but the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association offers 6 mile “training rides”. It is a fantastic opportunity for people to try the sport.  Anyone, and I mean anyone, can do a 6 mile ride if they ride regularly. I’ve worn my GPS watch in a regular 1 hour dressage lesson and I easily go 3-4 miles in that hour. They even offered a “first ride free” program for the lower distances last year to get people to try it.

One of our ESRR members, Sarah, was at the University of Guelph Equine Symposium this past weeked, where youth engagement and retention in horse sport was discussed.  We can’t wait to hear the results of this conference and will be sharing them with you guys as well.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

I would love to hear what other regions (and other discipline associations) are doing to encourage increased participation in equine sports. Either comment here or on our social media channels with your ideas.  Let’s work together to help keep this industry flourishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I don’t bring my horse with me

As a forward – We have been growing Eat Sleep Ride Repeat on Instagram.  If you want more of us, make sure you follow both the team and myself.  Both accounts get daily posts with news updates, great photos and lots of video/helmetcam.

Its through the feedback there that I came up with the idea for this post – any time I post photos of my adventures, I get one or more comments “I would love to take my horse to do this!”

Alas, not all adventures can be seen from the back of your own horse, but that shouldn’t discourage you.  In fact, this should excite you!  Opportunities abound!

Here are some of the reasons why I love to ride strange horses when I go to strange lands.

Thula and me in Iceland, 2015

Import Restrictions and Cost

First and foremost, the reason to go find a strange horse to ride could be because the country that you are visiting will literally not allow horses to enter the country.  Banished!  This was true when I visited Iceland, we even had to buy new boots to prevent contamination (as you can imagine, I just HATED having to get some cute new riding boots).  Icelandic horses are completely disease free and they take their health very seriously!  We were told how bittersweet it is when the Icelandic horses leave their country to compete, even if they win the world championships, the horse can never return to their native soil.

Related, is the sheer cost of travel.  You think a human plane ticket is expensive?  In most cases, you could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars to ship your horse.  That’s all well and good if you are competing for money, but an adventure rarely yields monetary returns (unless you find pirate treasure).  Leasing a horse is a much more financially viable plan for us peasants.

Riding in British Columbia in 2017

Improve your skills

Riding another horse, whether at home or abroad will always help riders improve their skills.  This could mean working with greenies to improve your communication skills and your guts, or trying out party tricks on a schoolmaster.  Maybe you can do piaffes and passages on your horse someday if you work at it (or are already a kickass dressage rider), but why not have a little fun when you are visiting the land of Haute Ecole too?

Checking Ramkat’s mud rash before dawn during Race the Wild Coast 2016, Photo Rockethorse Racing

Learn about foreign horsekeeping

There are some pretty clever tips and tricks you can learn when you travel and ride.  There are a lot of standards across the board – mount from the left, don’t haul on the horses face, try to remain on top of the horse.  The fun part comes in the little things people around the world have developed to suit their individual horses needs.  Climate, breed conformation, available resources, discipline/use, terrain… all things that affect how the horse should be managed.  Keep an open mind and pick and choose your lessons, there is lots that you can take home both for mounted and unmounted trials with your furbaby.

Riding in the 2014 Mongol derby, photo Richard Dunwoody

Appreciate that these horses were literally built for this

One thing I find so cool, is taking a look at conformation of the horses versus the terrain.  Particularly in remote areas where the horses live wild, feral, or on large pasture, the rule of survival of the fittest reigns supreme.  These horses have evolved certain traits to help them cope with the local conditions.  In Mongolia, we saw the typical conformation of the horses change as we moved from grassland into the mountains.  So to be fair, your horse might not be as well equipped for a trek through a foreign land as his domestic counterpart.

Taking Gerber down the stone steps during Race the Wild Coast 2016, photo Rockethorse Racing

They were probably trained for this too

In South Africa, we had to lead the horse down these incredibly steep stone steps.  We had maybe ridden our horses a total of 3 hours in training and competition before we approached this obstacle, and we just had to trust that the horse would do it.  I know for sure, if my horse had seen this, he would have fired some choice curse words in my direction, plant his feet, and probably try to whip me around like a lasso at the end of his lead before leaping down the bank like it was Rolex.  Then there was Gerber, the Boerpoerd I was riding… stepping casually down the stairs as if it were just another ride.  He’s seen things, that horse.  Thank goodness for that!

All the riders/BFFs at the finish line of Race the Wild Coast 2016, photo Ian Haggerty

You learn to trust yourself and strangers

Before I went to Mongolia, it was me against the world.  Well, maybe a few family and friends.  Travelling and riding strange horses has opened me up in a way I have never imagined.  There is something surreal about getting on a horse you have never met and trusting him to take care of you, and earning his trust back.  Its an excuse to act brave, even if at first you are faking it cus “you gotta do what you gotta do,” eventually, you will just be brave on your own.

Then there is the support crew and the people you meet along your adventure.  Your parents always told you not to trust strangers, and that’s mostly good advice.  Sometimes however, you need to knock on the door of a random yurt and hope they will be kind and let you crash on their floor til morning.  It’s a big hurdle, asking for help isn’t easy, but it does get easier.


What exotic lands have you ridden in?  What did you learn through your adventure?

If the world were a logical place, men would ride side saddle – Rita Mae Brown

With the popularity of shows like “Downton Abbey” depicting glamorous and exciting hunting scenes with women riding sidesaddle, the discipline is seeing a resurgence in those looking to learn how to ride as a beginner, to those more experienced riders wanting to be able to hunt sitting aside.

Thanks to the Ontario Sidesaddle Association hosting a clinic this past weekend, I (along with many others) were able to bring our own horses and learn all about fitting and riding in sidesaddles.

The clinic was held at Hopewell Creek Stables in Breslau, just outside of Kitchener. Participants were divided into groups of 4-5 in 2 hour-long sessions, which started out with fitting the saddles.

The organizers brought a number of saddles to try on and make sure they fit both horse and rider. It’s difficult in a clinic situation to have something that perfectly fits every horse and rider but small adjustments could be made so that both horse and rider are comfortable.

Saddles were placed on a saddle stand to allow riders to get a feel for how to sit properly in the saddle, so as not to give the horse any discomfort. If you have any holes or bad habits in your riding, they will come out when you ride sidesaddle! If you lean or are a crooked rider, it is amplified in a sidesaddle. fitting

One of the hardest things for me to get over was that while your left foot (the one in the stirrup) keeps the normal “heels down” position, your right foot is meant to be “toes down”. My muscle memory kept wanting to revert (as you can see in the picture) but the different positioning allows you to “lock” yourself into the saddle better. It was explained that if you lifted your left thigh into the block, pointed your right foot toes down and put your right shoulder back, you could ride a buck all day and be laughing (luckily we didn’t have to put that to the test!) but just trying it out while sitting there, you felt more secure in the saddle.

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After finding saddles that fit the rider, saddles were fitted to the horse.   While some came with a specific girth, most of them used a regular jumping saddle girth. Different from other saddles, a side saddle also includes an overgirth that holds the flaps down and a balancing strap to provide stability.

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Mounting also proved to be a challenge as the sole stirrup is designed to break away from the saddle with weight. A leg up is the easiest way to get on, or a short horse and really tall mounting block!

Once mounted, we all proceeded to walk around the arena, getting used to the saddle while sitting astride (note, these saddles are not comfortable when riding normally!) Once horse and rider were ready, we swung our legs over.  For those that know Splash, she can be incredibly lazy and requires a lot of leg to ride. This proved to be challenge as I lost half of my aids but using a whip as a leg when needed helped. We worked on our equitation, sitting straight and square in the saddle and keeping our legs in the proper position. When we all felt comfortable, we picked up a trot.

Luckily Splash’s trot is like sitting on a couch so we didn’t get jarred around too much. Sitting trot is much easier than the posting trot so kudos to those that ride side saddle on a springy horse!

We also got to try a bit of canter, which was really hard without that extra leg on the side, we managed to get a few strides.  Funny enough, the canter was much easier to ride than the trot, I’m guessing because of the motion.  It almost felt as if it was locking you into the saddle even more; making you feel more secure.

apron

We also got to play dress up and try on a few riding aprons, just to complete the look.

If you ever get the chance to try out one of these saddles, I highly recommend it.  It really gives you an appreciation for those that do it and make it look so easy (I’m talking to you fox hunters!)

The Basic Trail Guide for a First Time Distance Rider

Article originally appears in Equestrian Ontario Magazine, December 2017 (pick yours up at your local Ontario tack shop today… FREE!)


If you have been following our series, you are likely now on your horse, looking down the open trail from the start line, about to embark on your first 6 or 12 mile distance ride!  Congrats!  Now all you have to do is ride!  Right?

Oh my friend, we still have a long way to go in this series!  First, put down the magazine, you shouldn’t be reading and riding.  Just kidding.  Silliness aside, I am going to take you through some of the things you will need to know while on the trail.  Of course, be sure to visit www.OCTRA.on.ca to make sure you read the full rulebook.

How the trail is marked

During the ride talk, the trailmaster will tell you how the trail has been marked.  Usually this is with a certain colour of ribbon, and if you are lucky, your ride will consist of more than one trail.  Pay attention that you follow the ribbons in the correct order (ie do the pink loop then the white loop, not the reverse!).  Turns may be marked with arrows or sometimes different colour ribbons.  Make sure you know what to look for.  At most of the rides here in Ontario, ribbons will always be on your righthand side and turns marked with arrows.  This will help you to follow the trail in the correct direction.  You don’t get credit for riding the course backwards!

Where did the ribbons go?

Oh dear, are you lost?  It happens to the best of us, particularly as you compete more often and become complacent… I get lost way more now than when I first started!  In any case, if you all of a sudden find that you are off trail, or you just haven’t seen a ribbon in a while, turn around!  Retrace your steps until you see a ribbon in your colour. Look around to see if you missed an arrow.  If you don’t see a turn, ride forward, back on the path you were already on… very slowly!  Pay close attention to look for additional ribbons and if you see trail crossings, quickly look down them to see if you can spot a ribbon.  The trails in Ontario are marked wonderfully, but nature and nosy neighbors sometimes remove or displace markings.  I once made a turn onto private property because the neighbor had spotted our horsey arrows and re-purposed them to direct us off trail and down the driveway to their garage sale.  At that point, I wasn’t in a mood to purchase the used halter they were offering us haha!

Other riders on Trail

One of the unique things about our sport is that all distances will run concurrently.  That person that just passed you on trail might be a Team Canada rider or have 40,000+ miles in competition.  How cool is that?!  This does however pose a small threat to new riders and horses.  First, be aware of what other distances are on trail that day.  Is it just the other 12 milers?  Or is there a FEI world qualifier running alongside you?  FYI, that second one is probably not the best place for your first ride.  Knowing what other rides are happening will give you an idea if any riders may be racing.  Whether they are going for gold or not, common courtesy is for them to call out ahead that they are coming and ask if its ok to pass and at what gait.  Let them know it’s your first ride and what you are comfortable with (this is where your green ribbon comes in handy too).

If your horse wants to run off after the other horse you can use it as an opportunity to school your dressage.  Ask for lateral work, turn the horse around and ask him to back up on the trail, anything to engage his brain again.  If you are nervous, you can get off and handwalk down the trail in most disciplines.  This is why I always recommend distance riders to cross train with Dressage lessons!  It’s nice to have buttons on trail.

Figuring out your distance

You are going to get tired, and your poor brain is going to start asking you questions like “are we there yet?”  Being able to estimate your distance will also be a valuable tool as you start trying to improve your performance by balancing your speed with your horses recoveries (which is the founding principle of all competitive distance rides).

The easiest way is to carry a GPS sportswatch, but you don’t need this and those things are expensive!  You can use running apps on your phone as well, but given it’s your first ride, you may have your hands full with an excited steed!  The best way is a simple watch and homework.  If you have mapped and tracked your training rides, you should have a good idea of the speed your horse walks and trots at and what your usual pace is.  If you usually travel 4mph at home and you intend to do this at your first 12 mile ride, you can expect it will take you 3 hours plus any time holds in the middle.  Some of the better marked trails will even give you a countdown… 5 miles to home… 4 miles to home… and so forth.


Hopefully this quick guide will keep you on track for your first ride.  Things will never go completely according to plan, but if you prepare with education and training you are off to a great start!

15 Types of People You’ve Definitely Seen at an Endurance Ride

1. The Old Hat

The distance between this rider’s legs doesn’t change when they dismount, and they have more miles under their girth than a migratory bird.  Their horse never seems to break from its perfect 10mph trot and never seems to be all too taxed.  The fountain of youth may be dry, but the fountain of knowledge is overflowing.  They can still outride their younger counterparts and never seem to complain.

2. The Child Prodigy

They may not yet be tall enough to ride a rollercoaster, but that won’t stop them from riding 50 miles on the back of their plucky pony.  Chances are, they still have more riding experience than the riders triple their age. They campaign the social media forums looking for a sponsor – nab them up ASAP and enjoy sing alongs down the trail.

3.  The Student

This person may be short on practical experience, but they have read every article, every rule, and been to every clinic offered for the past 5 years.  They have a notebook filled with training notes and guides that they may even carry in their saddle bags.  They have been dreaming of this for years and finally have the means to bring a horse out to a real ride.  While they may look a little tired and physically overwhelmed, they know exactly how their scorecard works, what their cutoff or optimum time is, and will happily share their booksmarts with newbies and old hats alike.

4. The Socialite

This rider knows every other rider, volunteer and official on site and makes a point to visit everyone before the weekend is over.  They stay out late at the campfire with a thermos full of wine and a bag of snacks to share. They also the one organizing the fun unofficial events and parties before the ride starts and during the off season.  Watch out newbie, The Socialite will notice you the moment you arrive at ride camp!

5.  The Dabbler

With their matching embroidered saddle pad, fly bonnet, polos and glittering Charles Owen helmet its clear this rider is out for their first taste of trail.  They may not have a crew kit or a suitable enclosure for their 17h warmblood, but they are keen and smiling and their perfect equitation will save them grief through the next 12 miles.

6. The Ride Mom/Dad

This rider always notices when someone is having a bad day and offers a welcome hug and sympathetic ear when things aren’t going your way.  They also have the best food and makes sure that everyone within a 50m radius of their campsite has food and shelter, and has probably already topped up your horse’s water for the night.

7.  The Celebrity

The rider with the Je Ne Sais Quoi.  They warm up and everyone stops to stare.  Not only are their dressage skills on point, they also always look composed and put together.  They probably smell fabulous and seem to never sweat or get beet pulp in their hair or clothes.  They never seem to talk to others, but watching them in a hold is like a live action mineral water commercial.

8.  The Livestreamer

You don’t know how, but this rider manages a steady stream of social media updates from the back of their horse – mileage countdowns, selfies, between the ear shots, placings, vetting results, and deep realizations about themselves and the world around them… getting deeper the more miles whiz by.  You never actually see them on trail but you follow their updates religiously.  They also seem to know and post where any other rider is at any given time.  How they stay on top of it is a mystery to all.

9. Mr./Ms. I’m in the Zone

This rider has everything planned and timed to a tee.  The moment they see the timer they get a steely focus and everything flows like clockwork.  They have already managed to clear the vet check and are reviewing their scorecard before you have even remembered which pocket you stuck your vet card in.

10.  The Riding Couple

They are #relationshipgoals of every rider with an unhorsey spouse.  While they are technically two people, you will never see them separate on trail or at a check and they may even rider option their own ride when the other fails the vet check.  Four legs are better than two, and eight is just perfect for these riders.

11.  The Slightly Absent Minded

Arrive late? Check!  Forget a major piece of equipment?  Checkaroo!  Rides 6 miles of the trail backwards?  You better bet that’s a big fat check too!  This rider seems to come completely unprepared but manages to get through the ride through pure dedication and effort.

12. The Observer

This rider never seems to actually ride, but is always present… whether crewing, volunteering, or just out for the party.  They have been in the sport longer than anyone else and is watching everyone come through camp armed with tips and advice for riders.  Thank goodness for this person to cut through your Rider Brain and smack you upside your ego when things are starting to get NQR.

13.  The Turtle

This rider paid good money for a full day of riding and will damn well get it.  Maybe they will get warnings from officials and be lapped by the front runners, but  they carry along their merry way and enjoy the ride.  They notice things the other’s don’t along the trail, stop to bring home fruits and mushrooms foraged from the forest floor, and spend a little extra time in their holds scritching their animals.

14.  The Dream Team

The rider or group of riders who show up with a full squad of support crew.  Everyone is dressed in team colours and everyone is assigned a specific task, the crew area looks like something out of Nascar.  Chances are, the horses all look alike and maybe the riders do too.  They line up before the race for a photo that can only be taken in full panorama mode.

15.  The Fashionista

You better bet this rider has everything in matching colours – tack, clothing, buckets, saddle stand, trailer, grease pens.  Everyone knows this is HER colour and wouldn’t dare replicating the look.  Like a superhero, shiny bright spandex plays a large role in her success… in fact, you are pretty sure you once saw her go into a portapottie and come out Wonder Woman.

 16. The DIYer

This person always seems to travel alone, probably cavalry style with everything they need for the race and the night attached to their bodies.  They live off next to nothing, yet somehow they have everything you could possibly need and most likely forgot stuffed into their saddle bags.  Crew? They don’t need no stinkin’ crew!  They’ve got this.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

It’s that time of year where you see tons of companies doing giveaways and contests on social media so we here at Eat Sleep Ride Repeat jumped on the bandwagon.  We gave away an awesome Icebreaker Merino baselayer and a tshirt to one our lucky social media followers. Watch the video below to find out who won:

 

Not our lucky winner? You can still score a great deal on Eat Sleep Ride Repeat Clothing.

*BOXING WEEK SPECIAL*

Pick any two items from our current inventory and the second is half price* when you pay with etransfer or cash. Email your orders to info@eatsleepriderepeat.com before January 2nd to qualify. Everything is first come first served! Don’t wait!

https://squareup.com/store/eat-sleep-ride-repeat
*discount taken off of lowest price item*

 

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more fun stuff and future contests!

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Be Prepared for Natural Disaster: Equine Evacuation

Many of you know Southern California is on fire. I am near San Diego and last Thursday Dec 7, a fire broke out in North County, about an hour north of San Diego. That afternoon I was on my way to the Fox News studio around 2 pm for an interview about my attempt to get a spot for the dogsledding thing when I heard about the fires on the radio. After the interview I saw on facebook there was an urgent need for equine evacuations.

I got home and pulled the furniture (just moved) out of the trailer, left it under a tree, hooked up the truck…and waited. I wanted to jump in and go help evacuate horses…but information was scattered, cell signal was spotty, and it was starting to get dark. It seemed like a bad idea to go out with a rig, alone, in the dark, with a fire moving fast, roadblocks changing, and information coming from a few different sources. A few times, I got in the truck and almost just went as I listened to Zello, the walkie talkie app and heard one facility was unreachable and setting horses loose.

By 10 pm, I secured a co-pilot and headed out. The major equine evacuation effort at that point was focused on a horse rescue with a few hundred horses. They were not in the current path of the fire, but the Santa Anna winds were blowing and shifting. If the wind changed, they would be overtaken quickly with no hope of evacuating from their remote, hill top, single lane road access location.

There were trailers lined up at the bottom of the hill by the road to the farm, staged to load up and take horses to Del Mar Racetrack. It took hours to reach the front of the line where volunteers loaded 2 horses into my trailer.

It was the wee hours of the morning when we arrived at the emergency stabling to leave off the horses.

With no news of urgent need for more trailers to evacuate anywhere, I headed home at 4 am. Around 7 am, I was about to pull out of the driveway to head to the office when I heard on the walkie talkie app that a few trailers were being let past the roadblocks. I put out a call for a co-pilot and let my boss know I wouldn’t be in. My copilot was a vet-tech. As we approached the roadblocks, she was in communication about a horse that was apparently injured too badly to be moved. A vet was on the way. We were possibly closer. We were cleared through the roadblocks and entered the evacuation area.

We got a phone call (off the zello radio channel) that the horse was ‘burned from nose to tail.’ I parked the truck and trailer on the side of the road.
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The vet arrived just after we did.  I put a buff over my nose and mouth and we followed a crying young woman through ashes, burned brush, fences, and trees to where a bay mare stood by a large live oak tree. The owner explained that the mare wouldn’t load and they had to set her loose and leave. The mare was shaking and in shock. The hair on her whole body was singed and curled.

Her muzzle was covered in oozing blisters. Her coronet bands had cracked open and her hooves were smoking.Burned

My co-pilot and I provided shoulders to cry on and hugs as the vet quickly explained that the kindest thing was to euthanize. Quickly. The young woman begged her mare’s forgiveness, thanked her, and said goodbye.
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As the vet turned away,  I saw tears on his cheek below his sunglasses.

We walked back toward the driveway. The young woman’s parents were by the ashes of a house that was burned to the ground. I heard the mother saying something about, ‘I didn’t think it would come HERE.’
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Natural disaster is a new experience for me. Seeing this was life changing. I might have been one of the, ‘wait and see’ people in the past. Thinking the wind wasn’t blowing my way and about how much of a pain in the butt it would be to evacuate if I didn’t have to. But fire is fast and wind changes.

My plea to all horse and animal owners.
Have a disaster plan that includes your animals.

Specifically for fire, evacuate early especially if you need to coordinate a lift for your horses with emergency personnel or if your horses don’t load well. Your plan should include where and how you will set your animals loose if necessary. In the tragic scenario I witnessed, while the horse was ‘set loose’ it was still on a fenced in property and clearly didn’t find it’s way down the driveway. If you are in the path of the fire and either don’t have a trailer or the horse won’t load, roll down the car or truck window and lead the horse at least far enough to escape if you must set them loose. If there are multiple horses, tie them together and lead one. Even if they ‘don’t lead like that’ just do it. Some equine bickering or a kick is manageable. Burns and smoke inhalation may not be. Also make sure your emergency information is posted in the barn or near the animals. If you aren’t home or can’t get home, rescue animal personal may need to reach you to get permission to evacuate your animals.

Here is another really great resource:

What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake

 

This booklet evolved from the original information contained in “What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake?” initiated by Rod Bergen and compiled by Stephanie Abronson and the members of the Monte Nido Mountain Ridge Riders, and originally published by the Monte Nido Paddock of Equestrian Trails, Inc., Corral 63, since 1992. The previous printed version of this booklet in a revised edition was by the City of Los Angeles and Stephanie Abronson, March 1997.

*I am not yet part of any official disaster response, but I am working on it. I just got my amateur radio operator (HAM radio) license and plan to get involved with Amateur Radio Emergency Communications. I also hope to get training this coming year and become part of an official emergency animal rescue network.

9 Really Good Reasons Why Endurance Riders Need To Embrace Dressage

flatworkPoor, much-maligned dressage.  It’s the very antithesis of everything an endurance rider holds dear.  Who wants to celebrate the anality of the quest for the perfect 20-metre circle, when you could be heading down the trail, tackling the terrain and coping with the weather and never being judged on what you’re wearing and how many fussy little braids are in your horse’s mane?

It’s true.  Dressage sounds stuffy, boring, and more than a little OCD to lots of people.  It’s not just you.  I’m an eventer (and a certified coach, for the past 30 years or so), and I get it.  I do.   Historically, dressage was the part of eventing that you had to suffer through in order to get to the good stuff:  the running and jumping, hell-for-leather parts.

But here’s the thing.  Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that it was the dressage which enabled me to live to see dinner on a cross-country course.  And that’s a wee revelation I’d like to share with more endurance riders.

Loosely translated, dressage, after all, means simply, “training”.  Think of it as installing some buttons on your horse.  Buttons which improve his rideability, and make him a joy to ride instead of a struggle.  I don’t know about you, but the longer I am in the saddle on a given day, the more I want my partner to be a pleasure, not a pain in the tuckus!  buttons

You can definitely do long-distance riding without knowing a single, solitary thing about dressage.  Many do.  Thanks to my students, some of whom are competitive endurance riders, I have been dabbling in the sport myself over the past few years — it’s great conditioning for my event horses — and I can generally spot the riders for whom dressage is a foreign concept, as well as the ones who know a bit about it.

Guess which ones generally look like they have a truly rewarding partnership with their horses?

I’m aware that the very reason some people get into endurance is that they can’t stand riding in an enclosed ring.  (By the way, you can just as easily incorporate dressage out on the trail — you do not need to be trapped in an arena!)  But I’d like to give you some food for thought.  Herewith, nine reasons why you should consider incorporating some “stress-age” into your preparation for any long-distance ride, competitive or otherwise.

#1:  Comfort:  Dressage teaches your horse to willingly accept the guidance, or aids, of your legs, seat, and hands.  With dressage training, he learns to push with the big muscles of the hindquarters, lift and engage his ribcage and his spine to better support your weight, and softly accept contact.  The end result is a horse who isn’t fighting your hands all the time, doesn’t have his head in your lap or tucked up against his chest in an effort to avoid the contact, and goes willingly forward in a straight line.  Bliss!

#2:  Communication:  A horse who moves ‘from leg to hand’ and softly accepts contact with the bit, is way, way easier to steer and to stop than one who doesn’t understand contact or has learned to avoid it.  And one of the aims of more advanced dressage is to teach your horse to position his shoulders, his barrel, and his hindquarters independently, so you can show him exactly where you want all his body parts to be.  Imagine how useful that might be on a narrow, cliffside trail or a steep hillside where there’s really only one safe route up or down!  Or here’s a more common scenario:  How about being able to safely pass other horses on the trail (or have them pass you), without your horse swinging his quarters to kick or crowd your fellow competitors?

strength#3:  Strength:  Dressage is largely about teaching your horse to use the ‘engine’ of the hindquarters to propel him forward, and lift and carry himself as well as you.  Left to his own devices, your horse carries about 65% of his weight over his front legs, and only 35% over the hind, but shifting that balance back has huge benefits when he’s being asked to carry a rider.  A horse who’s pushing from behind also lifts his belly and rounds his spine (again, supporting your weight better), arches his neck and flexes at the poll.  He seeks and reaches for the contact instead of doing everything in his power to avoid it.  All of this builds essential muscle along his topline, from head to tail, making him stronger and more up to the task of packing you over hill and dale for miles and miles and miles.  He’s going to work longer, with less fatigue, than a horse who hasn’t had this strength training.

#4:  Balance (His):  One of the other building blocks of dressage is teaching your horse to carry himself in balance and with straightness.  Horses are ‘sided’, just like humans, and also like us they are inherently lazy:  they don’t want to work the weaker side, and given their druthers, will avoid it.  But you can gently persuade your horse to make that weaker side just as strong as the one he prefers to use (most horses are left-‘handed’).  That means he’s going to push more evenly with both hind legs as he sends both of you forward.  And when he’s pushing evenly with the hind end, he’s sparing some concussion on the front legs — and that can mean fewer soundness problems than a horse who’s always pounding his front joints.  It also means he’s going to have an easier (and safer) time going up and down hills, and handling slick footing.

#5:  Rhythm:  In the sport of eventing, you quickly learn that a horse carrying himself at a steady, rhythmic pace fatigues himself far less than one who’s asked to sprint, throttle back, and surge forward again repeatedly.  The same is true for endurance horses.  Some horses naturally have better rhythm than others, but dressage can improve the awareness of rhythm (which goes hand in hand with balance), so that wherever the trail allows, you can let your horse cruise along at a steady pace, taking as little out of himself as possible.

bad-habits#6:  Balance (Yours):  I’ve seen some wonderfully intuitive, balanced riders in the sport of endurance … and I’ve also seen some who ride like a 250 lb. bag of bricks.  You are doing your horse no favours if you are not a) over his centre of gravity (which runs more or less through the heart-girth, just behind the scapula and the front legs), with b) your weight evenly distributed on either side of his spine.  Leaning in on your turns, collapsing your weight over your active leg, habitually shifting harder into one stirrup than the other … all of these take their toll on your poor horse, who has to constantly compensate for your imbalances.  Dressage is wonderful for teaching you to sit in the middle of your horse, distributing your weight accurately and evenly, with your legs underneath you, not out on the dashboard or so far back that you are pivoting on your knees and tipping over your horse’s shoulders.  It also strengthens those all-important abdominal core muscles, which enable you to keep that balanced position, longer.  (Full-time dressage riders have crazy core.)

#7:  Maneuverability:  The afore-mentioned ability to position your horse’s shoulders, barrel, and hindquarters independently comes from practising lateral work, the blanket term for any movement where you ask your horse to move sideways.  In terms of endurance horses and riders, I don’t really care whether your shoulder-in is textbook perfect and would get a 9 from any dressage judge in town — but I do care that your horse understands the basic principles of moving away from leg pressure.  If you ever find yourself having to open and close a gate from horseback, you’ll immediately appreciate that your horse knows enough dressage to maneuver that obstacle — especially if you’re short, like me, and would really rather not dismount!

#8:  Cross-Training:  Another thing that eventing has taught me is the value of cross-training.  Because eventing has three separate phases, there’s always something to work on — and as a result, event horses rarely get ‘sour’, either mentally or physically, unlike horses who are drilled day after day at one thing.  Even a long-distance horse can benefit from different kinds of stimulation for his brain and his body.  A little ring-work, every now and then, is an excellent complement to those long conditioning rides.

free spirit#9:  Getting Rid of Nasty Gadgets:  Maybe this sounds judgey, but when I see a lot of harsh equipment on a horse — severe bits, tight tie-downs, leverage nosebands, draw reins, and such — I assume that’s a horse (and probably, a rider) who hasn’t had much correct training.  I’m not so much of a fanatic that I insist that every horse in the universe should go in a plain loose-ring snaffle — but 90% of dressage (up until the very highest levels, where double bridles are introduced) is done in a basic snaffle, with no martingales, shanked devices, or other gadgets allowed.  With correct training, you shouldn’t need any of those.  And really, if a relaxed, confident, and happy partnership is what you’re aiming for, wouldn’t you rather put the time in on learning to communicate with each other, rather than using adversarial equipment?

If anything I’ve said here has persuaded you, then consider seeking out some dressage lessons over the winter, while you’re waiting for the competitive season to start up again.  Look for a coach who’s not too pedantic and has some understanding of the demands of your sport, and how dressage can be adapted for your needs.  You might just find you forge a stronger relationship with your horse in the process.  Let me know how it goes!

 

Karen Briggs is an Equestrian Canada certified Level II coach based in Alliston, Ontario.  She has been coaching and training since the mid 1980s (eek!), and is available on a freelance basis to help you get your dressage on — contact her at ridexc@hotmail.com.  She’s also a freelance journalist who has written for most of the world’s English-language horse magazines at one time or another; her sometimes-NSFW blog is Writing From the Right Side of the Stall.

 

 

Take advantage of cold and flu season – show your helmet some love!

Us equestrians are a tough sort.  All that time in the barn getting filthy and we get to brag about how our immune system is almost that of a superhero.  But alas, every superhero has a kryptonite.  Mine is children, so when exposed to the young’uns at a family holiday gathering, I immediately fell into a shell of myself.

Also, like most equestrians, I cannot sit still for very long.  Even if I am sick.  Netflix binge and afternoon naps will only get me so far.  It’s hard to entertain a sick equestrian.

So I finally got around to something I have been putting off – decorating my new helmet.  I will have to say, this is a bit of an emotional time for me (the DayQuill highs were not helping) as my current helmet has seen me through so many fond memories.  Its hard to put away, even though I know that all those fond memories means the helmet will not perform as intended (its old and has taken a lot of branches).  I have had this unblemished new helmet, exact same make and model as the previous, sitting on the shelf since International Helmet Awareness Day in September.  Not quite ready to say goodbye.

The design had been in planning for a while.  After I purchased my new helmet, I set about the internet to find decals that would easily adhere to the helmet without damaging it.  My previous helmet, I had made a stencil and cut out duct tape (Red Green style) to make a giant maple leaf in the back, but this time I wanted something a little more foolproof.

I found decals on Etsy, and messaged the seller about getting custom decals – both in sizing and colour.  She could do it, and the price was great!  The decals arrived in the mail shortly after and of course, they sat beside my untouched helmet for a while.

I highly recommend the decals, they were super easy to apply, looked great and are difficult to remove.  The gold has a nice shine to it and it makes the job look a lot more professional than my duct tape!

Its like a temporary tattoo for my helmet!
Cutting the base of the decals helped to make it look more natural around the visor

If you are ready to customize your helmet, here are a few tips:

  • Clean your helmet with soap and water first to remove grime then wipe the entire area with rubbing alcohol and let dry before applying anything with an adhesive
  • Be aware of different materials – the visor and or vents may not adhere as well so you will likely want to avoid them
  • Plan your design and cut your decals according to the vents and curves that you are accommodating.  Make sure to buy or make extra decals in case you make mistakes cutting
  • If you are using raised decorations like rhinestones or studs, be careful where you place them – of you deflect a lot of branches with your helmet, they are more likely to be removed.  Put these more along the side or back of your helmet.
  • If you plan on using paint, make sure that the chemicals will not degrade the materials of your helmet – you want to stay safe.
  • If you are nervous or unsure of your design, practice with an old helmet first – remember, you should be replacing them at least every 5 years anyway!
  • The dollar store has lots of great colours of tape, adhesive rhinestones, and other decorations that will help you make your helmet as unique as you are, and keep the price low!

Happy decorating everyone!

-Sarah

@esrr_sarah

Cures to beat the winter blahs

The end of daylight savings time is the bane of my existence.  My work schedule only allows me to ride in the evenings and on weekends, and even then, I am at the mercy of the weather gods as I do not have an indoor arena. Keeping my horse at home means I am, more often than not, riding alone. Needless to say, I need to get creative this time of year, otherwise, I’m going to go a little crazy!

 

First things first, my trusty headlamp comes out of storage. Riding while holding a flashlight becomes a little cumbersome, plus if your horse decides to spook, having your hands free to grab the reins is always a good idea!

winter riding

In terms of clothing, Kerrits Pro Fleece Cross Over Breeches and my Eat Sleep Ride Repeat merino base layer, paired with my Ariat Bromont boots, are my go to’s to keep toasty on those chilly rides, because as long as is it not a blizzard, you can bet I’ll be out there riding!

winter riding

If your riding area is limited (or if you are not comfortable venturing out into the dark on your own), arena exercises by yourself or with barn mates are a great way to break up the monotony of just going around in circles in the arena.  Find some dressage patterns to practice and master or create a pas de deux to music! Build some obstacles (Pinterest has a ton of great ideas) and work on desensitizing. Set goals each time you work with your horse so that it gives you something to work towards. It could be as simple as just having fun!

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