All posts by ashleytomaszewski

Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program

As you may remember from a previous post, Splash and I joined the Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit (OMSSU). From July 14-16 , we participated in the first clinic of its kind in Ontario: the Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program.  While this clinic was open to anyone, it was mandatory training for members of the OMSSU and we had equitation and obstacle/sensory testing that we needed to pass in order to become full members of the unit.

Many topics were covered throughout the weekend.  Friday evening, Wendy Swackhammer of Wellington County Livestock Emergency Response gave us a crash course into what goes into livestock rescue, from seeing all of the various tools used, to learning different techniques to putting strapping on a horse to help it move, to how to contain a loose horse safely.

omssu

Saturday and Sunday were both mounted portions.  First thing Saturday morning, we had formation riding instruction with Toronto Mounted Police officers Constable Houston and Constable McCarthy. Luckily Splash remembered her drill riding training however, I did initially find it difficult to learn the new commands as police drill training had different names for things than we did on the Canadian Cowgirls but once I understood what was being asked and I could translate back into what I knew, we were good to go! An excellent way to start the day!

omssu
Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Next was an equitation session with retired RCMP Jerry Mayo, which we had both days. While I had initially expected these sessions to be basically a demonstration of what he wanted us to do, then to us go practice it and to have him assist if we were having difficulty, they ran more like a question and answer period.  While there was not as much riding and practicing in these sessions as I had hoped for, it was interesting to watch people work through specific issues they were having and to watch their progression as they utilized the instruction Jerry was giving them.

After this, Captain Lisa Rakes of the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police walked us through self defense on horseback, particularly useful to me as I often ride alone. We learned what to do to keep us as safe as possible and what to do if someone tries to attack.  One thing I found interesting about this was if someone grabs your leg to push you off your horse, stay flexible and don’t stiffen up. The more you stiffen and try to brace yourself, the less balance you have and are able to be pushed off easier.

After lunch we had an obstacle course ride/test. While the pattern was relatively simple, the end goal was to test how calm and maneuverable your horse is. Last session of the day was fire prevention. One of the exercises on Friday as part of the large animal rescue session was to walk around the barn at the REACH Centre and pick out the good, the bad, and the ugly (an excellent practice to do in your own barn!)  While the REACH Centre is fairly new, it was shocking to all of us that although they have a state of the art sprinkler system installed, there wasn’t a fire extinguisher to be seen! In the light of recent barn fires in the area, there were many good takeaways from this session and the one on Sunday, including having a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach of every exit and to have a plan established and practised should there ever be an emergency.

A dinner reception was held Saturday evening to swear all of the new OMSSU members in. The dinner was delicious and catered by a member of our own team (thanks Dee!). A professional chef on the team is a great asset as we know we will never starve!

omssu
Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Sunday was one of my favourite days as we participated in a search and rescue training session and an advanced obstacle/sensory class.  Search and rescue was one of my main reasons for wanting to join the OMSSU and we will be partaking in Canadian and National certification in the spring.  For this particular session, we were given an in-class debriefing on the different type of search techniques that can be implemented and what sort of things to consider when participating in a search, then we set out to do a mock run. It was amazing how much ground we could cover in such a short period of time and we did find our missing target! Horses can be such an asset to searches as they can cover ground faster and can go many places that people, vehicles, or atvs can go!

The last sensory session of the day proved to be interesting as Splash decided that she didn’t want to have any part of anything, even though she had done almost all of the obstacles previously.  While it can be quite frustrating, we just took it as another training opportunity. Horses can have off days too and it is good to know what tools and tactics you have and are useful if this ever happens again. Once she decided that life wasn’t so bad, she happily tried her best at the various obstacles in the ring.  She really surprised me when she quickly understood what was being asked of her when she was presented with the riot cart (designed to simulate having to push through a crowd), considering her initial mood and that she had never seen one of these before. With only a little bit of coaxing, she quickly figured out that all she had to do was push it with her chest and the cart moved.

omssu

This weekend was not only fantastic for training but to get to work more together with the team as a whole (as we are spread out all over the province) and to see what we need to work on before Kentucky.

Thank you to all of the incredible instructors and to Cindy Fuerth for having this vision. I’m super excited to see where this takes us and lots of things are already in the works.

If you are interested in participating in this one of a kind workshop next year, the dates have already been set for June 22-24, 2018 at the REACH Centre in Clinton, Ontario.

The (New) Greatest Show on Earth

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

cavalia

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

cavalia
La Grande Aventure / Credits : Dan Harper

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

cavalia
LIBERTÉ / CREDITS : JAK WONDERLY

 

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

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

cavalia
VIP Lounge

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

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

cavalia
CAROSELLO / CREDITS : DAN HARPER

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

cavalia

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

Ecogold CoolFit Pad Review

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

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

 

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

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

pad1
Photo credit: Teresa Finnerty

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

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

ecogold cool fit

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

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

Grand River Raceway Open House

I’ve attended the races at Grand River Raceway in Elora before and while I have an idea of how the races work, I’ve never been behind the scenes at a race track before.

Grand River Raceway hosted its ninth annual backstretch Open House on May 28 and had their highest attendance yet! More than 500 people of all ages came for a rare glimpse of horse racing behind-the-scenes.

 

A full tour of the Open House stations included: a tour of the judges’ stand and announcer’s booth; a tour of the paddock, testing areas, starting car and track maintenance vehicles; a blacksmith station which included free horseshoes for kids compliments of System Fencing, Stalls & Equipment; a booth hosted by the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame; kids’ crafts and facepainting, and local reinsman Bob McClure hosted a station explaining the role of a racehorse driver.

Click on the picture below and hold and drag your cursor to get a 360 degree view of the paddock where the horses get tacked up and ready to race!

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The most popular activity of the day was the unique opportunity to drive a racehorse with the Hands On Horses Program and the Ontario Harness Horse Association.  If you’ve never done this before, I highly recommend it (and it’s free!!)

Grand River Raceway’s 2017 live racing season kicks off on June 2 at 6:35.  Even if you’re not into horse racing, Grand River Raceway has a ton of other fun activities like their popular weiner dog races (coming July 7, 2017) and Industry Day (August 7, 2017).

Visit http://grandriverraceway.com/ for more information on these events and many more.

How Endurance Cross Training Can Help Your Performance Horse

Reposted from On The Horse Magazine 

Cross training has proven its benefits in human athletics but did you know it’s good for your horse too?! Like a human, horses need cardiovascular and muscular endurance to be able to perform, especially in equestrian sports like eventing, jumping, and dressage. Although, every horse benefits from a good exercise program! Endurance riders seem to have this down to a science and it’s not uncommon to hear of horses competing well into their 20’s.By incorporating endurance training into your program, your performance horse will benefit in a number of ways.

Longevity

Time is something we all seem to lack but need in endless amounts. Most Endurance riders have time to condition and campaign only one horse, which means we want to do whatever it takes to keep a sound, happy horse working for a lifetime.

Longevity is one of the greatest honours in competitive distance sports with many local and national organizations giving special awards for Decade Teams, and some riders have even reached the rare, but possible achievement of a Double Decade Team. So how do these distance riders do it? The secret, is LSD.

Yup, you read it right. Ok, well you interpreted it wrong. Long Slow Distance is the greatest building block in young horse development and continuing trail success. Take a look at the below chart.

From “Is Your Horse Fit? The physiology of Conditioning”, Lori Warren, PhD, PAS

As you can see, it takes a significantly longer period of time from when your horse becomes “cardio fit” to when the muscles, bones and tendons develop.   So while your horse may be raring to run, their legs are not ready! By taking a conservative approach early in your horses’ career like a good Endurance rider, you are building solid structures that will help them stay sounder in their later years. Competing in lower level distance events can set a good foundation for your youngster.

Fitness

Does your horse lose a bit of pizzazz after your second dressage test of the day? Does your jumper lack that little extra “vroom” in the jump-off? One of the main reasons that humans utilize cross-training is to increase strength and aerobic fitness so that they can maintain athletic performance over a longer period of time. Endurance horses benefit from cross-training in dressage as it improves their coordination, increases suppleness, and improves their ability to carry themselves properly over miles so that risk of injury is reduced. A show horse that trail rides regularly or does the occasional distance ride will build up its aerobic capacity and endurance which help them last over the long show weekends.

Horses that are at a good fitness level will fit up better and faster after time off as well, giving you a head start on show season preparation. By using the same “long, slow distance” conditioning that endurance riders use, muscles are worked in a different way slowly over time which reduces overworking and overloading the structures of the horse. Cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength are also enhanced. Just hacking out benefits the performance horse by assisting in avoiding injury resulting in a longer career, and the mental break helps prevent “ring sour” behaviour.

Mental Health

Training at any level is stressful, and prolonged mental fatigue can lead to an increase in evasive behaviour. Imagine if you were only allowed to run on a treadmill. Not only would it get boring after a while, you’d probably start to resent it. If you were allowed to run outside occasionally, you’d probably look forward to running and where you were going to go that day. Taking your horse out of the ring will not only prevent arena sourness, but it can rejuvenate your horses work ethic.

Trail riding is a great way to still give your horse a workout, just in a different mental environment. Hacking is a great way to expose your horse to new things and get them used to being in unfamiliar situations. This can carry over to show day as your horse will be more confident and relaxed and your warm up can be better spent on warming up muscles and preparing your horse, rather than just trying to relax them. Getting out of the groomed footing of the ring and on to varied terrain also teaches a horse to think about where he is putting his feet, which will come in handy if your horse gets a tricky distance coming into a jump.

Horsemanship

The more you ride, the better you get to know your horse. You get to know what is normal for him and you become a better judge of his fitness.

You can also take those hours spent on trail and use it to improve your riding. Set a focus for the ride. It could be an improvement on equitation, or perhaps a skill you would like to master. You have hours on the trail to keep coming back to it and work on bettering yourself as a rider.

Then you add in the competition element, which adds more dimension. Get out to an OCTRA ride this year and you will learn so much so fast – electrolytes, cooling, nutrition, pacing. The list is truly endless. There are millions of techniques competitive riders and vets have studied and developed because they want to be better – better than their competition, but mostly better than they were last time; and Endurance is the perfect testing grounds.

On that note, taking on a distance challenge is a great way for you to take responsibility for your horses’ care. This is not a sport for the lazy or closed-minded and adding some pressure will give you a chance to rise to the occasion. Your success in this sport has nothing to do with the price tag of your horse or the colour of your jodhpurs, but the sweat equity and education you put into making it happen.

Whether you think Endurance might be your “Thing” or are just looking to add a little extra to your training program, the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association (OCTRA) hosts several events across the province in a wide range of distances. As a novice rider dabbling in the sport, you can enjoy “Set Speed” rides of 10km to 40km with maximum and minimum speeds to help gauge your training progress, and veterinary judges to help ensure your horse’s safety and that you are well equipped to achieve your goal.

April showers bring…soggy endurance riders??

The plan for the first ride of the season was to do the 10km ride n tie on Saturday and 40km LD on Sunday.  We would have liked to do the 80km endurance ride but boyfriend and I moving into new house and my truck and trailer were needed to move the larger furniture.

Saturday was chilly but fortunately no rain; perfect running weather! Clayton was determined to beat Splash as he did at the last ride n tie we did together at the Summer’s End ride last year in the Ganaraska Forest. It was going to be interesting because he’s been training on flat roads and the Dufferin Forest is sandy and full of hills.

I love a horse that knows its job.  Splash knows the ride n tie course at the Dufferin and even when I’m not competing in ride n tie, any time I’m on the part of the trail that the ride n tie uses, she tries to GO!  She was nice and quick to our trade off point and stood still while Clayton mounted up. She walked into the vet check calmly for him and was quiet while he dismounted and ran off.  Pulsing down pretty quickly (and Splash knowing the course) allowed us to catch up to the team that had passed us during the vet check.  I caught up to Clayton who was still trucking right along a great pace, although starting to feel those hills.  I passed him but slowed down as we were coming out of the forest as I could see Wendy (the ride photographer) ahead and wanted a picture of the two of us.

ride n tie
Photo credit: Wendy Webb

Not far from the finish line, Clayton broke into a sprint to try and beat Splash so we cantered alongside him for a bit (just to get his hopes up) before we pulled away and crossed the finish line before him. Next time, Clay! I will update this once I unpack my truck and find my scorecard, but we finished in roughly 55 minutes, which is a personal record!

Sunday was a miserable day.  Cold and wet weather is no fun for anything, especially riding.  However, we are distance riders and unlike many other horse events, ours are not cancelled for rain. Days like these have their own sets of challenges.  While the cooler weather helps with bringing the horse’s temperature down, you also have to be cautious of horses stiffening up, much like humans can when exercising in cold, wet weather.  The ground is also slicker, especially with all the fallen leaves still in the forest.

The only goal we had for today was to finish (which is always a goal, but sometimes I will have others such as better heart rates, faster speeds, etc.)  as I haven’t been able to ride as often as I wanted to and was just using this as a training ride.  We ended up riding with Dominic and Liza the whole way as the two paints seemed to get along and match each other’s pace well. It was nice to have someone to talk to as it makes the ride go by a lot quicker and it keeps morale up, especially with the weather!

paint
Paint power! Blurry because we were moving so fast haha.

Although Splash drank well at every opportunity, she was still receiving B’s for her hydration levels at the vet checks.  She didn’t pee all day until the end of the ride which means although she was drinking, her body was using everything she was taking in.  Even though it was a cool day, I should have kept upped her electrolytes to encourage her to drink even more. Electrolytes are almost always a bit of experimenting and this is where knowing your horse and what is their “normal” comes into play. Lesson learned and we have something to work with for the next race to improve that hydration score!

 

The neat thing about this ride is that it is the first time an LD (limited distance) ride was offered in Ontario.  Although I do find the set speed discipline great for teaching pacing, especially for those new to the sport,  I really enjoyed the LD format for where I am now in my distance riding career. For the days I don’t quite feel like riding 80km, the LD provides a great alternative without having to really alter our 80km routine. We can go our pace without having to worry whether we are too fast or too slow for the set speed time (the 6 hours to complete the LD is more than enough time), plus we get the AERC miles in addition to the OCTRA ones.

 

Again, I’ll have to pull my scorecard to see what the actual final results were but we did finish somewhere in the top ten as we stood for BC (best condition) for the practice more than anything.

 

While everything is drying out, planning for the next event is taking place, the first of two Coates Creek rides. The plan is to do the 40km set speed ride on the Saturday and the 80km endurance ride on the Sunday, making this the most miles we’ve ever completed in one weekend.  If we manage to complete both of these rides successfully, it will also put us over our lifetime distance mileage of 500 miles!

 

If you haven’t already, head over to our Facebook page for another great contest! All you have to do is like our page, and like and share the post. Easy at that! You have until the end of the week do enter.

LIKE AND SHARE TO WIN US (1)

Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit

In addition to endurance, Splash will soon be holding another side job as a member of the Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit (OMSSU).

ontario mounted special services unit

The OMSSU offers the following services:

  • Wilderness, rural & urban/suburban searches for missing/lost persons
  • Disaster response ground teams & manpower assistance
  • Assist with large animal rescue that results from natural or man made disaster
  • Mounted Perimeter Patrols for large restricted access areas
  • Community Relations and Safety Events
  • Wilderness Educational Programs
  • Private functions
  • Honor Guard / Funeral Ceremonies
  • Emergency Response
  • Trail Patrol

 

In addition to training throughout the year, the OMSSU is excited to be attending the Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program this July 14-16, 2017 at the REACH Centre in Clinton, Ontario.  Training will be offered in obstacle, sensory, equitation, self defense on horseback for trail riders, search and rescue/recovery and, large animal technical rescue.  Auditing is available for the weekend.

ontario mounted special services unit

 

In September, Splash and I will be heading down to the Kentucky Horse Park for the National Mounted Police Colloquium for further training and to compete against other mounted police units in equitation and obstacle courses.

https://www.kyhorsepark.com/events/national-mounted-police-colloquium-0

 

If you’d like more information on the OMSSU or to have them attend your event, please visit their website (http://www.omssu.com/)  and Facebook page.

The OMSSU is also selling commemorative keychains to celebrate Canada’s 150 Birthday for $10 each as a fundraiser for their group. Pick up, delivery (within reason) and shipping (at your cost) are all available. Send an email to info@eatsleepriderepeat.com to place your order!

ontario mounted special services unit

Never A Dull Moment

If you’re a regular follower of the blog, you will know that Sarah and I can never have just a “normal” ride together. This past weekend, despite the forecast, our goal was to do a long training ride of 40km (25 miles). Fortunately the rain held off on Sunday and we had a dry ride.

mario
Mario Kart on horseback?

Unfortunately though, the ride did not really start off well. Bentley decided that there were invisible monsters everywhere and would periodically throw Sarah a very jarring spook to the side, as well as forget how to travel in a straight line.  Splash had no ambition to go forward and also forgot how to go in a straight line as she was mesmerized by everything  happening in (empty) fields beside her rather than watch straight ahead. About 20 km in, Splash found her brain and we started having quite the pleasant ride.  Bentley, however, had decided that the water running through the ditch beside us was terrifying and wanted nothing to do with it.

Feeling a little frustrated, we decided to start heading back towards home. We had just been doing road riding and thought maybe a shortcut through one of our usual road allowances would be more stimulating for the horses. At the very least, the scenery is much nicer.  This particular allowance happens to go right through a cattle pasture so occasionally the farmer has electric fencing up, making the road allowance unpassable. If we could not get through, at the very least there was a river where the horses could get a good drink.

At the river, the horses have a drink and we start to cross. Only a few steps in., Splash comes to an abrupt halt.  A few seconds later, I feel her lift her back end and start to pee.  As I’m asking her why she couldn’t have done this a few minutes earlier when we were on land, I hear Sarah laugh and pull out her phone to take a picture. Clearly no one told Splash she’s not supposed to pee in the pool.

pee
At least her pee is a nice colour!

Carrying on our way, we do find that the farmer has put up electric fencing across the path that we need so we continue on down the creek to loop back to the road. Our loop takes us through a back field which always seems to be riddled with bones (most, if not all, belonging to cattle as I am assuming the farmer buries his deadstock back here). I have stopped to retrieve neat looking bones in the past but I made the comment that I’d only stop today if I found a skull. We went for a trot around the field and as I was nearing a corner, I saw a large white object ahead.  I assumed it was garbage of some sort but because of its size, I went to go investigate. I was quite delighted to see that it was full, completely intact cow skull. I called Sarah over as I was going to have to hand it to her so I could get back on my horse. To my surprise, it was heavier than I had expected and I was trying to figure out how I was going to get it back as we were still about 10-15km from home.

skull

 

Carrying it under my arm was going to have to do. Luckily Splash was absolutely perfect all the way home (which made up for the first part of our ride!) and now I have to decide what I want to do with this skull.  I’m open to suggestions!

carryingskull

Next weekend probably won’t see any riding as Sarah and I are at the Can Am Horse Expo in Markham and Splash will be moving to her temporary home closer to me until we get everything set up for her to move to our new house in May! If anyone knows of any good trail systems in the Listowel area, let me know! I’m always up for exploring and making new trail riding friends!

6 Reasons to Get Out and Try Distance Riding

Thinking about trying your first distance ride this year or are a bit nervous to? Here are a few reasons why you should get out and try one!

More bang for your buck

Horse shows are expensive.  You pay hundreds of dollars for a few minutes in the ring for a ribbon. If you’re looking to still experience the competition but at a cheaper price, consider trying competitive distance.  Your entry fee gets you riding for a few hours, camping, dinner (most of the time), at minimum 2-3 veterinary checks throughout the day (plus the vets are there if you think something is not quite right after the ride), and some sort of token of achievement (certificate of completion, ribbon, t-shirt, medal, whatever ride management decides. Heck, I’ve received a small turtle patch once for coming in last in a 50 mile ride!)

camping1

 

Any horse can do it!

Distance riding is not just for Arabians.  Yes, they are purpose-bred for this sport but any horse is capable of doing distance riding.  At OCTRA rides you will see everything from kids riding ponies, to western riders and their trusty stock horse, to even draft and draft crosses!! If you are riding regularly, you should be able to handle a shorter set speed ride. For reference, in a regular 45 minute dressage lesson, my gps watch usually tracks me as having ridden roughly 4-5 miles. You can make the maximum time allowed in a bronze level set speed ride by just walking and trotting at a good working, forward pace.

You can compete against yourself or other riders

ride2

The most often heard concern I hear from other riders is that they are nervous to try distance riding because they don’t want to race.  Distance riding (and even endurance riding) is not all about racing. In fact, the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), one of the distance riding sanctioning bodies, has the motto “To Finish Is To Win”.  You get to choose what you want to make this sport.  It is not always a race.  There are different disciplines within distance riding depending on what your goals are.  With Set Speed, you are only competing against yourself and a grade of fitness. Can your horse complete X distance, in X range of time, with the lowest heart rate. CTR steps up the competition a little more with every horse travelling at the same speed over the same distance. The winner of a CTR is the horse that completed the course in the allotted time, in the best condition as determined by the total point score following the post-ride exam. Points are deducted for such things as bell boots and protective boots, rubs, girth galls, soreness on the horse, etc.) Ride n Tie and Endurance are races by definition (first over the finish line wins) BUT horses still have to pass through a number of veterinary checks before, during and after the ride and their heart rates must come down to a certain level in a set amount of time or else you are disqualified.

Excellent cross training

Preparing and training for distance riding is a great cross training tool for both you and your horse.  A fitter horse means a better jumper round or dressage test as your horse won’t tire as quickly and he will have better ground manners as your horse will have to get used to different people touching him (pulse takers, veterinarians, etc.). You will also be more fit which will help you not tire as quickly on those long horse show days. You will also learn to problem solve quickly as anything can happen out on the trail when you are out there for that long and you will gain mental toughness.  A hunter course will seem like a piece of cake after doing a distance ride!  Trail training will also help prevent burnout/boredom for you and your horse. Going around and around a ring with the same four walls can get boring after a while.  Getting out on the trail gives you and horse a mental break and can rejuvenate your riding. Riding over different terrain is also good for your horse as he will use different muscles and learn to think about where he is putting his feet.

Boost your horsemanship skills

 Does your barn have a stethoscope and do you know how to use it? Do you know what your horse’s normal heart rate is? Not only will this help you in distance riding, but it could also mean the difference between a major and minor health issue.  At a distance ride, your horse will have to pass a number of veterinary checks to ensure your horse is fit to continue. The vets will check things like capillary refill time, mucus membrane, jugular refill time, skin pinch test for hydration, soreness in the back, anal tone, gut sounds, heart rate, and lameness. Knowing what is normal for your horse is important as if you catch a problem early enough, most of the time it is easier to fix. For example, at a ride last year although I completed the ride successfully and the vet didn’t see anything unusual at my last vet check, I knew something wasn’t quite right.  I asked the vet to recheck and sure enough my horse was in the early stages of a gas colic. A quick shot of banamine and some handwalking and everything was fine.  This does not mean the vets are not doing their job at the vet checks.  They only get to see your horse for a few minutes out of the entire day and everything could be fine at that moment in time.  I take care of my horse at home, and I’m with my horse all day so I have a better idea about what is and isn’t normal for her.  Don’t ever feel like you are discounting the vets by returning to them to double check something. That is what they are there for.  Sarah’s horse Bentley likes to squeeze out every last drop of pee so even when he is fully hydrated at home, the last little bit out is a darker colour.  Normally this would indicate that a horse is severely dehydrated but since Sarah sees Bentley often and knows that he does this every time, it is not too much of a concern. She knows the normal colour and can tell the vets this.

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Photo credit to Ian Haggerty
You will also learn how to fit up/condition a horse properly. You can take these skills and carry them over to any discipline to ensure your horse is in shape enough to perform the required task and as an added bonus, they are less likely to hurt themselves than if they were unfit. Additionally, you will learn how to calm your horse and lower his heart rate quickly. There is a lot going on at a distance ride with horses coming and going in the pit crew areas, horses being trotted out in the vet checks, and people walking around. While fitness is the biggest factor in lowering the heart rate after exercise, there are a few tips and tricks that distance riders use to gain their horse’s focus and get him to relax and be calm.  Sometimes those few extra beats can make or break your vet check.

The people

There are always going to be bad apples everywhere but distance riding seems to attract really good people who care about their animals, are out for a fun time, and enjoy helping others,  When I showed up to my first distance ride, I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as the ride secretary asked me if this was my first ride. She paired me up with an experienced rider who had put forth their name as someone who would assist new riders to the sport.  It made my first ride much less stressful. I had someone to talk to on the trail to ask questions as they came up and showed me some tips along the way. A great way to get into this sport is to volunteer at an event first. Not only will you get to see how they are run, you will be introduced to people who are willing to act as mentors. This sport is built on mentorship.  By finding a mentor, you will have all of the knowledge of an experienced distance rider to help you with a training and conditioning program, what feed, supplements, electrolytes to use, help with entering rides, and if your mentor is close to you, a riding buddy! You will also find at rides that pretty much everyone is willing to help you out and answer your questions.  When you sign up for a ride, mark on your entry form that you are a first time rider or just new to the sport and put a green ribbon on yourself and your horse.  People will find out that you are new and are more willing to assist you if you need it.

The great thing about this sport is that family and friends can get involved too though pit crewing, volunteering, or even as ride n tie team members. It’s not unusual to see entire families out at rides enjoying the outdoors, horses, and camaraderie.

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If you’re curious about trying a new exciting sport, please contact the Eat Sleep Ride Repeat team at info@eatsleepriderepeat.com.  We’d be more than happy to give you more information and put you in touch with a mentor in your area.  We will also be at the System Fencing 30th Anniversary sale so come by to talk with us and watch some helmet cam videos from Sarah’s adventure to South Africa for Race the Wild Coast,

 

 

OCTRA AGM AND AWARDS BANQUET

This past weekend, OCTRA held their annual AGM and awards banquet in Coburg, Ontario since this is pretty central to most OCTRA members.

The vendor area was full of fantastic tables with many items available and people to talk to. We had the Eat Sleep Ride Repeat table all set up with our merchandise, copies of On The Horse Magazine with Sarah gracing the cover as feature rider and Ashley’s article on ride n tie (which were all snapped up quickly!) and Sarah’s computer running helmet cam footage from her Race the Wild Coast experience.  It was great to catch up with many members and see some new faces.

The AGM part of the day was well attended, most likely due to some hot issues on the agenda. Personally, I find it great that this club is made up of members who are passionate about this sport and are looking for ways to change and improve it.

The banquet was delicious, as always with enough food to feed a small army.  No one ever goes hungry. A big shout out to the awards committee for organizing the awards part of the evening. The ribbons, plaques, trophies, etc. are always gorgeous and make for great ways to remember the achievements of the year. A very big thank you to Wendy Webb of Wendy Webb Photography for the stunning photographs of all the award winners!

The Eat Sleep Ride Repeat team took home a number of recognitions.  Ashley and her brother Alex were recognized for their provincial championship ride n tie win. The team also took home second place for overall senior ride n tie team.

Sarah and Bentley received new badges recognizing their 1000 miles in competition.

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Both Bentley and Splash received an award for top ten overall high point horse (10th and 6th respectively). In order to qualify for this award, horses must compete in three out of the four distance disciplines: set speed, ride n tie, competitive trail riding (CTR) and endurance).

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Even though proxy voting is now allowed, you’d really be missing out if you don’t attend next year! Even if you are not up for any awards, it’s still a great opportunity to catch up and reminisce about the past season, plan for the upcoming season, and just have a good time!

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