Calabogie Boogie

 

I’m always excited to see new distance rides pop up in Ontario. Not only does this mean new trail to ride, but it means the sport is growing.  Last year I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Madawaska Highland Pioneer Ride and Lopin Larose (unfortunately scheduling did not allow for me to attend either of these rides this year).  Now, new trail is enough to get me out to a new ride but ride manager Pauline went above and beyond to attract riders.

This ride location was about 6 hours from me but having driven to the Eastern Ontario rides before, having a traveling buddy, and the enticement of a chocolate fountain all made it worthwhile. Something else that made this ride fun was that both mine and Sarah’s significant others agreed to come.  The area surrounding Calabogie had enough to keep the two of them occupied while we rode; golfing for Lee and off-roading trails for Clayton.

Friday morning we picked up Sarah and Bentley on our way to ride site and Bentley was very happy to see his girlfriend, even though he had just seen her the weekend previously when we went up to visit for a ride in the Dufferin Forest.

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The plan was to ride 25 miles each day but due to Splash’s headshaking rearing its ugly head again, we opted to ride in the 10 mile training ride and help with the clinic and play it by ear for the second day.

The weather for the first day of riding was lovely and ride started out great. The trail for the 10 mile ride was a mix of field, bush, road, and a bit alongside a golf course. We were told at the pre-ride talk that there was going to be a pasture to ride through (with people manning the gates at the entrance and exit) that was home to cows and a donkey. I didn’t think too much of it since we’ve ridden through cow pasture before and Splash’s best buddy at our previous barn was a mini donkey.

When we got to the first gate into the pasture, said donkey was there and kept trying to rush the gate so we waited for someone to arrive to hold the donkey. Unfortunately donkey escaped the hold on its halter and proceeded to find us in the pasture and follow the horses, spooking some of them in the process.  I will use this as a reminder to riders to request or take a picture of the important phone numbers (ride manager, trail master, farrier) in case something happens out on trail. Thanks to quick action on part of the ride manager and trail master, the trail had been rerouted around the pasture.

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PC: Wendy Webb

We finished the first 5 mile loop by ourselves with Splash’s heart rate almost at resting (probably due to slow traveling speed and the break in the middle to donkey wrangle, even though it was a warm day and she was tossing her head quite frequently).  On the second loop (same as the first), we rode with a rider on her first distance ride. We received completion for the day.

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I had no idea what the background was behind me until I saw this picture! PC: Wendy Webb

Pauline did not disappoint with the awards thanks to so many generous sponsors, even volunteers received something.  Something fun that was added to the ride courtesy of Rick Fleming and Highlands Golf Course, the VIP use of a golf cart each day was awarded to two lucky people, for which I won on Saturday night for 24 hours.

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Day 2 was rainy and while I have no problem riding in the rain (see every other ride this season!), with the slippery conditions and the head tossing, it may not be the safest so we rider optioned and volunteered to vet scribe instead (as much as I wanted to see the other trails that boasted water to take the horses in and galloping across the gold course, but I guess that means I have to come back next year!)   It is often suggested that you volunteer before your first ride but I’m of the thinking that it’s good to volunteer periodically throughout your distance riding career, not only to give back to the sport, but to keep you in touch with everything the vets are looking at.

Again, the awards/dinner was well done. It seemed like everyone walked away with something.

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This is just the prizes for ONE DAY!

Dinner provided by the onsite food truck was delicious and of course, the infamous chocolate fountain was in attendance. The festivities were held in a beautiful done up barn with a stage, sound system, bar, and games. It was a nice place just to hang out to warm up and get out of the weather.

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PC: Wendy Webb

Thank you to everyone who made this ride happen and the Jastremski family for their hospitality in hosting us and letting us ride on your land. It was an absolute blast and well worth the drive.  This ride is already on the list for next year.

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PC: Wendy Webb
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Why Did She Poke the Bear?

I poked the bear because I wanted to share my experience.  I did it publicly because I believed and still believe the proper channels are broken.  While others rightfully fear retaliation and want to ride sanctioned events enough to tolerate the issues, I don’t.

I’ve been struggling all week to write this blog.  I’ve been so disillusioned.  The ‘ideas’ article isn’t quite done.  So what to post?  I wrote this as an email to some close friends and have decided to share it.  I hope you can at least get a chuckle out of it.  I did when I went back and read it today.   I really never was any good at ‘shut up and color.’


The disagreeing with me I welcome.  The agreeing, more-so.  And certainly the good conversations from both sides.  The opinions are fine.  Even the personal attacks are mostly fine.  But to call me ‘just a jockey’.  That was the last straw.  Even if I didn’t have a lifetime of horse experience and hadn’t spent 8 months researching everything endurance and training a horse for it’s first 100 mile ride and making every decision from nutrition, to shoes, to exercise schedules, to the long slow rides; to imply getting a horse through their first 100 is ‘just’ a jockey?  There’s no just about it, even IF that were the case.   The overwhelming attitude is not one that tells me this sport wants to grow or be helped.  It tells me the thin veneer of welcome to newcomers only extends to those who submit to the unwritten rules.

  1. Thou shalt not be in the top 10, or god forbid, win, your first 2-3 years.
    • If you do, you are riding too fast.
    • Or worse, racing.
  2. Thou shalt not ask that trail be marked better.  By the time you earn the right to be in the front, you’ll know the trail.
  3. Thou shalt complete a season volunteering and perhaps riding a couple LDs before you are ready to ride a 50.  Then see Rule 1.
  4. Thou shalt smilingly listen to the pontification of those with more miles than you on all thing as they are helping you. Miles = knowledge.  You know nothing.
  5. Thou shalt not speak up about any issues you see until you reach some magical number of miles, have been a ride manager, and can prove your own actions are beyond reproach.
    • Should you express an opinion prior to that, you are a whiner, you are weak, and you don’t belong in this sport.
    • Groveling and extensive listening per Rule 4, can mitigate some transgressions of Rule 5.
  6. Should you somehow tolerate paying these ‘dues’ for long enough to gain the prerequisite miles, have proof you have hand raised your horse and done all long slow miles yourself, and if you have somehow managed to keep your eyes open and not just say, ‘well, that’s the way things are’, perhaps you’ll be in a position to administer CPR and fluids to a dying sport.  Or perhaps you’ll enjoy your, ‘the rules don’t apply to me anymore’ status and your power to give your friends a free pass too much to want to change.

At the end of the day, it’s the attitude that got me.  I invited it in.  I poked the bear.  And the bear ate me.  I most likely would have quit anyway, in silence, like many I have heard from.  This way, I just got to see the true colors more quickly and clearly and saved myself time and money investing in a sport that doesn’t want to change.

The reality is it’s just a few who are rotten, but a few bad apples are enough to make the entire basket look unappetizing, especially when the rotten ones are on the top,

I didn’t follow the unwritten rules.  You told me to ‘shut up and color’ and I didn’t.  I thought I could speak out and drive positive change at the expense of some ruffled feathers.  I thought I could weather the expected abuse and personal attacks.  But I couldn’t.

Some warped, optimistic, misguided part of me thought I could make a difference.  But a bigger part recently learned a lesson.  The part of me that cried last night.  The part of me that doesn’t care anymore.  That part is now in charge.

I’m sorry.


I thought the bear had eaten me for a short time, but it turns out I was only maimed.  My next ride is hopefully going to be the Red Rock Rumble in Nevada….on a RACING MULE!!!

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HEY!  I BET YOU THOUGHT THAT WAS THE END….BUT IT’S NOT!

 

BONUS MINI-BLOG

by Ashley Tomaszewski

It seems endurance is not the only discipline that is participating in a dialogue around changing and improving the sport.  If you don’t follow the hunter/jumper scene, popular equestrian news source The Chronicle of Horse published an interview with legendary rider Katie Prudent , in which she rips American show jumping a new one.  While her main point does have to do with riders “buying” their way to the top, she also touches on the “dumbing down” of the sport.  “When I was a kid, you did junior hunters, and that was 3’6″, which is a little more than a meter. And if you wanted to do jumpers, you did the junior jumpers. But there was not low children’s jumper, children’s jumper, modified children’s jumper, low junior jumper. The way it’s been dummied down in today’s world, it’s amazing that anyone can ride at all. The sport has become for the fearful, talentless amateur. That’s what the sport has been dummied down to.”

The interwebs exploded with discussion both for and against Katie’s comments, with one letter from one of those “amateurs” really sticking out for me . Jennifer Baas put herself and her opinion out there, going up against the opinion of one of the sport’s great riders. While Jennifer said in her open letter, “I’m just Jennifer Baas. You’re Katie Monahan Prudent. You’re a legend, a leader—you can impact change.”, little did she know that her voice was the voice of many and that change is starting to take place.    In her follow up letter, she mentions that Murray Kessler (USEF President, successful businessman, father to US Olympic rider Reed Kessler), reached out to her to listen to her feedback, and give her a forum to help move her ideas along.

This is not unlike the explosion of the endurance community after Dear AERC.  Just a low mileage new rider speaking out against the legends.

I’m just Ashley Tomaszewski.

  1. just because it’s the way you used to do it, doesn’t make it right or the only way to do something. We need change and evolution; that is how things grow and become better.  Why did the dodo bird become extinct? Because it didn’t adapt to its environment.  Horse events and even disciplines could disappear if they don’t adapt to the environment around them. To quote McLain Ward, “The sport has had to change internally and because of external pressures, and the greats of any generation will adjust to what the sport is.”
  2. If someone wants to stick to the lower levels with no intention of moving up, who cares? They just want to enjoy their horse. If that’s not at least part of why you ride, you may want to reconsider your hobby choice.  Be happy they even chose the same discipline as you..  These lower level riders are the bread and butter of the industry. They are what help to fund the upper levels.
  3. If people don’t have the resources, they could have all the talent and work ethic in the world and still never make it to the big leagues.  To those that complain that LD stands for “luxury distance” or that you’re not a real distance rider unless you’re doing 50-100 milers, are you going to give me the money to buy an endurance –bred horse so I don’t have to ride my chunky cow pony?
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    Photo credit: Wendy Webb

    or are you going to add more hours to my day so that I can condition for longer rides? I didn’t think so.  You are very fortunate to be in the position you are in and some people may only ever dream of being in your shoes, so please do not look down on the riders who only do the shorter distances. They have their reasons for doing so.

The point I’m trying to get at is, put your opinion out there!  There are most likely others that are thinking the same thing you are but don’t know how to say it. Provide feedback, give suggestions for how things can be improved.  Getting the conversation started is the first step to evoking change.

Summer’s End Ride

August 19 and 20th I packed up my car and headed to Solstice’s home, at the Ganaraska Forest for the Summer’s End OCTRA ride.

This is a particularly special ride, as it started as a training clinic a few years ago and has grown both in popularity and in size as generous landowners allowed the trail to cross their properties.  I was astonished when I drove into ride camp and saw all the rigs.  It had tripled in size since I had last attended as a volunteer in 2015.

Again, I would be volunteering.  Unfortunately, until I buy a truck and trailer, I am at the mercy of those I can carpool with.  Not to get down of course, I had volunteered to be a scribe on Sunday which would have me training toward my Lay-Judge certification.  To make the weekend even sweeter, Carissa offered me to do the Ride N Tie with her.

The Ride N Tie was on Saturday, we set off with Carissa on her horse Cannon and me running alongside.  The intention was that we would trade every mile or so and stay together (to avoid leaving Cannon unsupervised!) but poor guy was having a bit of a meltdown as his girlfriend sped away ahead of us.  Long story short, while we met each other a few times on trail for our mandatory midpoint tie and once when the entire RNT race made a wrong turn, I didn’t see the pair until the end of the race when they caught us just for the finish line.  I was pretty darn proud of myself for running the full 10km trail myself, no walking, and even technically outrunning our horse!  All that training in the gym is paying off!

From there I was recruited to do Set Speed scoring and secretarial work, it was interesting to see how the computer calculated the scores and the various reporting measures that ride managers must do.

On the Sunday, I scribed for the vetrinary judges, learning the ropes in hopes of one day earning my Lay Judge credentials.  It was a great day for this, as unfortunately for the riders there were a lot of pulls for a lot of different reasons.  As I said, this was good for me because I got to test my eye for lamenesses, see some metabolic warning signs, and even a few surface factor pulls.  Needless to say, I learned a LOT.  Good news too, is despite high pull rates, there were no treatments required, things got dealt with before they became a larger problem.  The vets and riders should be proud.

Another interesting thing about being behind the scenes is seeing how riders treat the volunteers – whether things were going great or difficult.  Lots of riders are sunshine and rainbows, but there are also a lot who are outright rude to the judges.  I understand we are having trouble keeping volunteers in our sport and this would be why.  Riders, please!  Volunteer at least once as a timer, pulse person or a scribe and see it from the other side of the looking glass.

I know we get caught up in competition, dehydrated, tired, impatient, hot and cranky, but always slap on a smile and muster a “thank you” for those volunteers and judges.  Remember, in our sport the judges aren’t there to pick at you and find reason to pull you, they want to see you succeed!  If they are telling you something is going wrong or has the potential to go wrong, listen, thank them, and apply their advice.  Your horse will thank you and your performance and knowledge will improve greatly when you engage every tool in your kit – your vet checks are critical!


Thanks to Dominic Glisinski for the video of the Summer’s End trails and Myriam Zylstra for the photo of me volunteering at the ride.

5 Ways Distance Riding is the Best Horse Sport for your Money

It’s no secret that the number of participants in the horse industry has been dwindling.  Recently in Ontario, it was announced that the Cornerstone Dressage shows held at Caledon Equestrian Park are no longer going to be running due to low entries and increasing costs.  The Ontario Horse Trials Association had a sad number of entries in all divisions at their championship show this year.  Local saddle clubs are disappearing because of the lack of attendees.

There has also been commentary recently (especially with the issues surrounding Equestrian Canada), about costs to enter shows. Horseback riding is an expensive sport, unfortunately, but we need to support our local shows and associations or else they are going to disappear.   If you are looking for a cost-friendly discipline to do with your horse, look to distance riding!  I have shown at schooling shows for almost every discipline, and nothing gets you a better bang for your buck than distance riding.

 

  1. Free entry! Yes you heard that right. This year OCTRA ran a “first ride free” promotion (with some restrictions). http://www.octra.on.ca/docs/OCTRAPROMOTIONS-FirstTimeFreeRide.pdf  What other riding association gives its lower level riders a free entry fee?????

 

  1. Cheap entry fees in general. Let me break down some numbers for you.  Assuming that you don’t qualify for the free entry, here is what a normal distance ride will cost you.  Entry fees roughly run between $40-150 depending on what distance you enter. What is included in that fee?  Aside from your riding time (could be anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours), you get a minimum of two to three times where a vet checks over your horse, your camping (you provide the horse containment. Sometimes there may be a nominal fee on top of your entry to cover camping but rarely does that happen), usually a meal of some sort (I’ve had everything from potluck, to chili, to chicken parm to stir fry), a certificate of completion, a ribbon or other prize for completing (yes, just for completing you get something! I’ve received t-shirts, camping chairs, beer, candy, stickers), water provided for your horse, and getting to ride on some awesome territory that no one else may have access to!

 

  1. Low cost paperwork requirements. To attend any OCTRA ride, the bare minimum that you need to ride is proof of insurance (it doesn’t have to be OEF, as long as you have $1,000,000 coverage), a negative EIA/coggins test, and an OCTRA membership ($45) or pay the day membership of $20.

 

  1. You can use the equipment you already have! No need to go out and buy all new clothing or tack. If it fits you and your horse and is in good repair, you can use it! The minimum requirements are a helmet, appropriate footwear, a saddle and some sort of bridle (be it traditional, bitless, or a halter). A stethoscope, stop watch with seconds (or your phone), a sponge and a bucket are all you need to crew your horse at the vet   Yes, there is technology and fancy equipment out there but you don’t have to make the investment when you are just starting out. Find out if you and your horse enjoy the sport first.

 

  1. You can grow with the sport. The thing I love most about distance riding is that there are many options to be involved depending on your goals. Want to ride for team Canada at the World Equestrian Games? You can do that. Want to spend time with your family? You can do that (either compete with them in ride n tie or have them crew for you!) Want to stay at the lower levels and just enjoy time on your horse? Do that. Want to compete for year-end awards? Do that. Want to use this sport as cross-training for your other disciplines? Do that. Unable to ride but want to learn more and help out? You can do that too (and our volunteers get awards as well!)  The possibilities are endless.

 

There are only a few rides left in the Ontario ride season but now is the perfect time to put this on your radar for next year.  Visit the OCTRA website  or join the OCTRA Facebook page  and find a mentor in your area to answer your questions, and help you plan and prepare for your first ride.  You’ll wonder why you didn’t try this sooner!

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Dear AERC

Usually I just write a blog and post it.  This one…I don’t think I’ve been through so many drafts of anything since my thesis.

At the recommendation of one of my editors, I’m going to start with this bit which I originally had at the end.  Since I’m a new writer for eatsleepriderepeat.com it’s a good chance to introduce myself so you know where to throw your stones.

Who Is This Girl?

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Well, my first endurance ride was the Mongol Derby in 2014 where I finished in the top 10 with no vet penalties.  Followed by the inaugural running of Race the Wild Coast in 2016 (3 horses over 250 miles of South Africa) where I also finished in the top ten (ok there were only 13 of us) with no vet penalties.

I have since done a number of 50+ rides in the southwest, a 50 in Florida, a 25 in Ontario put on by OCTRA, and just completed Tevis (first 100 for both me and the horse).  Aside from Tevis, they were exceptionally well run.  OCTRA in particular is growing and with good reason.

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Prior to endurance, I evented successfully at the Preliminary Level, I foxhunt and have whipped in, and have exercised horses for the track.

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I have a lot of fun.

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Original Article on My First AERC Ride (Not Published When Written)

I chose not to post the following article on my blog.  I decided I didn’t want to be crucified.  Little did I know until I had been to a few rides run by groups other than the one who ran my first ride and talked to some people just HOW crucified I would have been.  If I had posted the following article, I would have been banned from an entire series of rides and expect to be now. 

If you have done any distance riding, you have been lost or taken a wrong turn.

I rode my first sanctioned ride in early 2017 in the Pacific Southwest.   I met up with 2 experienced riders who I planned to (and did) ride with. I was so excited I woke up every hour from 2 am on thinking, ‘Is it time to get up?!’

The start was very relaxed.  In fact, as we were trotting down the road we had driven down coming into camp, I asked my friend where the start was thinking, ‘maybe we hack to the start as a warm up.’  Nope, we started back at camp.  But what about vetting in? Oh, that car sitting there had a vet in it who watched us trot as we left camp?  Hm. Ok.  There were a couple pods of riders in front of us and behind us.  Everyone in sight turned right.

A few miles later, we saw the vet car on a parallel road and heard honking.  We all wondered what they heck they could possibly be honking about.   The car cut across and came toward us on the trail.  You guessed it, we missed a turn.  Keep in mind it’s the dessert, there are no hidden side trails.  We were assured that there were at least 3 pink ribbons and it was well marked and we had just missed it.

As we backtracked we discussed.  Had we been talking?  Were we paying attention?  Where was the actual trail?  The actual trail, it turned out, was running parallel and about ¼ mile away from the trail we were on.  I was informed by my experienced friends that I would be disqualified if I cut across.  I was annoyed.  And frustrated.  And angry because it was clearly NOT clearly marked.   And I hadn’t brought my GPS.  I felt my mare start to get skittish and realized my tension was impacting her.  I took a few (ok a lot) of deep breaths and decided I would have a good time.  It was the beginning of the day.  Shit happens.  Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention.  Maybe I had relied on the lead of others and needed to take more responsibility for myself.

We managed to get through the rest of the ride without to many extra miles and I completed my first AERC 50 mile ride!!

After getting the ponies all wrapped, fed, blanketed and generally pampered, we went to the ride meeting for the 25 on Sunday.  Being all positive, I thought to myself, ‘Ok, I’m going to pay super close attention and be sure to watch the trail markers tomorrow.’

We set off the next day and went about 18 miles…then the discussion went something like this. Hm, there’s camp.  We’ve looped back around to where we came out of camp at the beginning.  There’s the paper plate that tells the 50 to go one way and the 25 to go the way we went.  And an arrow on the ground for outbound riders.  There are hoof prints everywhere!  What do the instructions say?  They say turn at unmarked road.  Does that mean no ribbons?  What’s our mileage?  18?  No way is this our turn, the mileage doesn’t make sense.  Are there any ribbons?  One little one.  Is that from the outbound trail?  I don’t know.  Does anyone have a GPS?  Yes, but the batteries are dead.  Well, if we go around that hill, the mileage will be about right.  It must be that way.

Guys?  I don’t think this is the right way.  But we haven’t seen any other turn offs.  And the instructions say, ‘unmarked.’  Ah shit, we’re wrong.

Everyone I’ve talked to has gotten lost or gone the wrong way for various reasons.  It happens, right?  It’s just part of the deal, right?  I need to pay better attention, right? (That is certainly true…see Bonus Miles)

Now we come to the ticklish bits which will have long time AERC riders bristling and new riders maybe nodding.

I replied to a post on FB that began with this,

“While the carnage in endurance racing in the ME (Middle East) sickens me, and we need to stay vigilant and persistent in our disdain for it, I also believe there is much we can do here within our own AERC ranks…regarding horse welfare. As an AERC Mentor, my main objective is to not only see that new riders have a safe and fun introduction to our sport, but more importantly, that their horse does, too.”

It then goes on to imply that new endurance riders are going too fast and don’t understand horses.  But it did mention wanting to help new riders have a safe and fun introduction.

I thought, hm, it would certainly be safer and more fun if the stress of a badly marked trail and being miles off course were removed.  The anxiety of retracing your steps, the extra distance for the horse…it would be great if trails were marked well. I couldn’t resist posting (knowing I’d be crucified) .

“as new rider, aerc could mark trails better. a lot better. and “like last year” is not helpful.  there are innumerable excuses. aerc sanctions rides. if the quality is such that new riders are traumatized and have a miserable time, that is the problem of the organization if it hopes to have healthy growth”

Yup, crucified.  Here is a sampling.

“Aerc doesn’t mark them, that’s up to ride management. Getting lost happens to the best of us. I find it’s best to ride alone or not talk too much when attending a new ride lol… And then there are those who sabotage trails :(“

Most of us just roll with the punches. Sometimes you have good luck; sometimes bad. Our ride managers do their best to provide an interesting trail and fair play for all, but they cannot control everything. Most of them welcome help before a ride and appreciate input afterwards. I don’t know if you have had one bad experience or many, but if you are truly traumatized and miserable, maybe this isn’t the sport for you. Most of us love it even though we get lost, fall off, get injured, lose shoes, pay vet bills, etc., occasionally. It’s a risky sport, but there is great joy and satisfaction when it does work out, which is most of the time.”

Wow, maybe she’s right.  Maybe this isn’t the sport for me.

Or maybe this is the kind of Pink Elephant personal attack Sarah talked about.

Everyone I talk to has at least one story like mine.  The people already committed to the sport just brush it off often saying something to the effect of, ‘it happens to all of us.’  All I hear is, ‘I went through it, now you will too.’  That sounds a lot like hazing to me.  The senior members of a group wanting to see the new members suffer like they had to suffer?  Yup, definitely a form of hazing.  I have listened to and been told of ride briefing with no better instructions than, ‘just go the same way as last year.’  One lady told me that when she asked for more detail, she was told to just follow the footprints and that if she was in front, well, she probably shouldn’t be, after all, a new rider couldn’t possibly be leading.  I have heard myself and from others the derogatory remarks about LD being ‘luxury distance’ and ‘not real endurance’.

So instead of quitting, I’m going to poke the bear.

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I support my horse habit as an aerospace engineer and my job involves process improvement.  Root cause analysis.  Corrective action.  My evaluations are often not appreciated…initially.   I will be doing a follow on article with ideas for improvement and hope to redirect the energy from this post into a constructive conversation. (I’m an eternal optimist)

This is a risky sport with many factors outside our control.  Horses lose shoes and get injured.  They come in from the field the night before a ride with a puffy leg.  We fall off.

But there are things we can control.  The concept of reducing risk is to address the things you can control.  Trail marking falls into the category of, “You can control.”  At the end of the day, I’m willing to ‘roll with the punches.’  I’m going to vote by not attending any rides put on by this group.    I hope that the AERC as a whole is not so defensive and stagnant as to be closed to improvement.

To the FB ‘Mentor’?  What can you do to help new riders and their horses have a safe and fun experience?  One thing you could do is stop hazing and be open to improvement.

To the AERC.  I hope I have succeeded in communicating my desire to be constructive.  I worry as a new member, I may be banned from rides if organizers don’t like criticism or feel that I’m somehow attacking them.  I hope this is not the case.

To my fellow ‘Green Beans’ and all the ‘Luxury Distance’ Riders.  I encourage you to speak up.  You pay your AERC dues like everyone else.  You may be new to endurance riding and you might be new to riding in general, but you aren’t stupid, just new.  Don’t get discouraged and be selective about who you go to for advice.

Revisiting the Issue After Completing Tevis

My experience with the Pacific Southwest series as my first ride was apparently not unusual, and actually went quite well considering that I’m an ‘outsider.’  I have since listened to stories of others’ experiences.  One friend from the east coast with a few thousand miles including FEI international called and was told, ‘this probably wasn’t the ride for her.’  Another crossed the finish line and there was no one there.  She rode back to camp and finally found someone.  At awards, she was placed incorrectly.  She asked that the mistake be fixed and was told, ‘no one saw you cross the finish line’ and threatened with a non-completion.  Others have been banned for criticizing.  Formal protests with AERC have been rejected.

The rules don’t apply to these rides.  They are ‘grandfathered in’ and one of ‘the originals’ and ‘can just tell if a horse has a problem (from inside the car as 12 horses trot down the road together).

Maybe the AERC doesn’t know these rides they sanction don’t follow the rules, I thought.  The reality is ½ the board members are part of what is really looking like a cult.  And a few of the ones not drinking the Kook-Aid know about it and essentially said to just sit tight, it’ll change slowly and eventually.  Maybe this article will help it along.

To the Pacific Southwest Series:  You are doing your sport a disservice.  The horse welfare may be fine.  The inner circle may know the trails.  And people can learn to use a GPS.  But there are rules of the AERC and you choose to publicly not follow them and still expect to be sanctioned.  At the risk of spreading rumors, I have heard from enough people to report that this ride series has threatened to leave the AERC and start its own club if it isn’t allowed to do things their way; ie: not by the rules of the governing body that sanctions the rides.  And you ban riders who don’t agree with your deviation to the rules.  You are a bully.

AERC, by giving that sanction knowing the rules are not being followed is disgraceful and a stain on American Endurance Riding.  It appears the AERC is being held hostage on the threat of a bully.  Someone who will take his marbles and go home if he can’t play by his own rules.  If you agree with the modified rules, change your own rules.

From a new rider.  I have since attended some exceptionally well run rides.  Thankfully, the 12 or so rides put on by this group are not representative of the AERC.  I love this sport.  I feel this story must be told so it can grow and improve.

I might not have crew, or a fancy RV, or my own horse, or 8 million AERC miles, but I have seen enough to know WE CAN DO BETTER!

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In Response

To the Newbies and Potential Newbies!  Please don’t be deterred!  Come out and ride!  If you followed the discussion on North America Endurance Green Beans, the conversation took a constructive vein for the most part (yay!)  And if you followed the one on AERC…well…that’s life.  Change is hard and scary.  Don’t let the few keep you from this amazing sport.

Not every ride will suit every rider.  The terrain and the associated challenges are totally different.  A 50 mile ride in sand on flat ground in Florida is always going to different than mountains and desert. The diversity of this sport is part of what makes it so unique and amazing.

On the Duck Rides

  • I have no horse welfare concerns. These rides are in beautiful places.  There is a lot of work that goes into them and it is a foundation stone of American Endurance Riding. And there is a lot right.    I love that GPS tracks are available (now that’s a lot of work!).   Heck, if I’m not banned, I’d still attend these rides.  If I need my hand held, at least now I know who NOT to ask.
  • I don’t think any of that makes them exempt from the rules if a sanction is to be granted.

2.1.4 Each equine will receive a substantive physical examination of metabolic and mechanical parameters before the ride,at control points within the ride and after the ride. All AERC sanctioned rides must use an AERC approved rider card for the control judge(s) to record the results of their examinations

Why didn’t I (or don’t I) file a formal complaint?  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the rides.  I am totally on board with, as one person put it, ‘ navigation/survival’.  I think the problem lies with the AERC and the attitude.  I also didn’t have any confidence a closed door conversation would be effective based on

  • Did I vet in?  No.  Did I get mentors?  Yes.  Did we all go attempt to vet it on Friday?  Yes.  Was anyone around?  No.  Is this typical.  No.  And I’m not saying there wasn’t a check, just that no one was around when we went to try (a few times).  Was I concerned for my horses welfare because of this?  No.  These rides clearly state you need to be self sufficient and responsible for your own horses welfare.  I had no doubts my horse was fine.  And no doubt the 12 checkpoints on the official (but required) vet card don’t take the place of experience and a good vet can certainly tell at a glance if there’s something truly wrong.  The experienced people I was with didn’t seem concerned about starting anyway so I went with it.

On Hazing and Being New

I’m thick skinned.  I’m not offended if high milers want to say LD riders aren’t doing real endurance.  In fact, I’m not offended by much of anything.

But I see and hear things.  And some of those things make me sad.  Some of the stories I received yesterday of people who are ‘taking a break’ or who have left the sport soon after joining make me sad. 

The conversation on the AERC group on facebook actually makes my point better than I did.

“Before you go pointing fingers at an organization and others within the sport, in a public forum; please make sure your own actions and behaviors at rides are above reproach. Or at the very least at a socially acceptable level….you shouldn’t violate rules and then call others out publicly for it. You won’t find me casting that first stone, but I’ll definitely catch it and toss it back!”

“She has not gone to many rides check her ride record and by her own account her experience is limited”

“I would encourage newbies to check ride records on the individuals making comments before drawing conclusions!”

“I think your in the wrong sport…. Like I said maybe those rides aren’t for you. Those rides are an adventure”

“..get over it. 25 miles is a training ride, not endurance.   I am perfectly aware of what LD vs endurance is. I have done both. Although I have have done LD, I still do not consider it true endurance. It is perplexing that a new person would be so critical of a sport that she is not acquainted with…”

There was some mention and many insinuations that I’ve somehow not paid my dues.  What are these dues I apparently didn’t pay?  I paid my AERC membership and ride entries.  If it’s sweat and time shoveling, I spent my childhood riding my bike to the farm and doing any and all work for the chance to ride.  More recently, I wake up before work, go to the barn, work, go to the barn….so basically Eat Sleep Ride Repeat but with the addition of Work Full Time & Do All That Other Adulting Stuff.  Am I implying you don’t do those things?  Or that huge amounts of volunteered time from very busy people goes into rides?  Nope.  Just wondering which dues it is I’ve missed.

Am I going to quit and go home to cry?  Not likely (unless I’m banned from the AERC entirely for choosing to publicly share my experience and opinion without the magical prerequisite number of AERC miles that would bestow upon me the right to an opinion).

Am I going to get more involved and do I want to see (and contribute to) positive change and growth in the sport?  Definitely.

Stay tuned for the next article on some of the ideas ESRR has for improvement as well as some of the great ideas already in place around the country.

Titanium Run 3 Day Endurance Ride

If you follow along, you may know that I am addicted to adventure.  There is nothing I love more than hopping on a plane and exploring a new place by horseback.  This is what led me to reach out to the MacLeod family to attend their 3 day ride in Fort St. John, British Columbia.

I arrived at the airport and was met with the smiling faces of Makayla, as well as volunteers and officials also fresh off the plane.  That’s another great thing about travelling and riding OPHs, you have time and opportunity to get to know the people behind the scenes that make it work.

I had signed up to ride 3 days on 3 of the MacLeod’s horses (from Gone with The Wind Arabians), totaling 180 miles.

We ran some errands in town and drove up to the ride site at the Doig First Nations Reserve.  When I told everyone at home that I was riding in BC, they pictured mountains, but being as far east and north as it was, it was lots of flat pasture land with rivers cutting through, and surrounding forest.

We had a day before the ride and went out for a test ride, me on their lovely black stallion, Zorro (also known as Big Daddy!)  He was to be my mount for 75 miles on day 3.  We rode up to the beaver dam and had a bit of a swim, with Ariel hopping off to lasso a few logs that might pose a problem for riders on trail in competition.

The first day, I rode 50 miles on Medina… the black mare in the paddock (here’s the thing… they were almost all black mares lol!).  I had the pleasure of riding the full distance with Angie Lavalee from Manitoba and we had a blast.

The trails were a combination of flat and fast mixed with mud bogs through forest.  Typically the course is very fast but with the recent rain, we had to ride much slower to preserve our horses.  My instructions were to not ride faster than 5 hours, and we finished in a little under 7.5 hours instead!  Can’t change what Mother Nature throws at you, you can only ride accordingly!

I enjoyed seeing different vegetation – tall white poplar trees, bright red smurf home mushrooms, and fragrant purple wildflowers.  We even saw an elk on day one.  The ride felt less like a race and more like an adventure ride.  It’s what I had been craving for months!

After we completed, we helped crew Tara and Ariel who were riding the 100 mile 3* race.  Katja Leverman was also riding one of their horses and completed the 75 mile 2* race, earning her Elite status. The rides were all very slow, but the smart riding by everyone locked in 100% completion on day one for Gone With The Wind Arabians.

Day 2 I rode Talena, the rare bay mare in the field!  She had come into heat that weekend and was generally unenthusiastic about the whole riding 55 miles thing.  No matter what I did, she refused to trot much faster than 7 mph… even if her friends were disappearing around the corner.  It wasn’t the easiest ride, but having Tara and Ariel riding with us made it fun and we just focused on caring for our horses and enjoying the second day of sunshine.  We even rode through a herd of wild horses, saw a black bear, and got spooked by a beaver splashing in a pond just beside the trail.  Like being on a big Canadian safari.  We enjoyed another 100% completion rate for Gone With The Wind Arabians and Talena returned to her field happy to change into her comfy pants and grab a pint of Ben & Jerrys (so to speak)

Funny thing happened this evening… the Rodeo was going on down the road from the ride site and two poor drunks got dropped off at the ride site thinking it was the rodeo and weren’t convinced they were wrong.

Another great thing about the rodeo, we had crew pick us up Banac Burgers while we were out riding.  OMG, Banac Burgers are the most delicious thing ever.  I wanted to smuggle them home Jaques Clouseau style.  The food the entire weekend was wonderful – from Moose roast to chili and home made Banac.  Seriously, yum!

Day 3 was supposed to be Zorro’s ride, but he had banged himself up on the trailer and he just wasn’t quite right.  Instead after some deliberation we decided to take out the greenies who had been brought to the ride site for exposure.  I rode Drift, a big baby with a nice mind.  There were a few baby moments when the saddle slipped forward on our first trot, but after a bit of a rodeo, she settled right down.  I was impressed how maturely she behaved – she certainly didn’t dwell and her “spooks” were casual glances.  We liked to imagine her with a low calm voice (hear Morgan Freeman narrating) “I see that stump… it was unusual”  

We did have an accident toward the end of the ride which cast a shadow over the fun of the day, I have already written about it extensively so I won’t go back into it.  Overall, it was a successful ride and we all completed – this brought our total completions for the weekend to 12, on 11 horses (one horse did 2 days), 100% completion.  We were very proud as the overall completion rate for all rides was rather low.  Likely due to the mud and the above seasonal temperatures.

Overall, the 3 day ride was fantastic.  It felt great to get out on new trails and meet new riders.  I was seriously impressed at how far people came to compete, I had taken for granted how many rides are within a half-day’s trailering distance from where I live in Ontario.  The commitment these people have to the sport is commendable.  Also, I was amazed how Tara and clan were able to put on a 3 day FEI ride with almost no help, and ride it.  They are some seriously tough and talented women.  The ride itself had a lot lower attendance than I was used to, which meant we got personal attention from the officials and really got to know each other.    Whether you are looking to COC (which is totally possible on this course) or just looking for a bit of adventure: load up a trailer or lease a horse! This ride should be on your radar!

These are few of my favourite things

Wine, horses, food, and friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Now in its 3rd year, the Waterloo-Wellington Hunt Club Peller Estates Wine Ride is one of the club’s most popular fundraising events, with all money raised going to support the club’s hounds.  Despite having such a wet summer in Ontario this year, the sun shone down on 40 horses and riders as they enjoyed good company, beautiful scenery, outstanding wines and a spectacular meal, while raising over $3,500 for the hounds.

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Photo credit to Alison Gittens

Riders were treated to a stirrup cup and toast to hosts Jeff Peller and family on the Peller Estates Winery lawn. After a photo shoot commemorate the occasion, the ride took participants down lovely scenic trails, past Fort George National Historic Site, down the Niagara Parkway trail along the Niagara River to Riverview Cellars Estate Winery where riders were treated to taste a variety of wines, paired with meats and cheeses.

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Next on the tour was a stop at Frogpond Farm Organic Winery, where the hospitality continued, with riders being presented with various wines to taste, and snacks to keep rider’s appetites at bay until the next meal.

And what a feast it was!  Back at Peller Estates, riders were treated to a delicious 3 course gourmet meal created by Chef Jason Parsons, which consisted of a pickled beetroot, goat cheese and arugula salad and potato and black kale soup for the starter, choice of either spring salmon or angus beef striploin for an entrée, and a bittersweet ganache bar for dessert (with all courses being paired with an appropriate wine from Peller Estates, of course!)

peller estates
Photo credit to Alison Gittens

Many thanks to the wineries for their hospitality, Alison Gittens for capturing the day in beautiful photographs, and Jeff Peller and family for being such wonderful hosts and for putting this event on.  It’s already on my calendar for next year!

 

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.

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