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Your First Competitive Distance Ride

Article originally appeared in the October issue of Equestrian Ontario (formerly On The Horse) Magazine. See it here or pick one up in your local Ontario tack shop today!

 


 

If you have been following along with our series, you may be keen to load up your trailer and hit the trails with Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association (OCTRA) for your first ride.  Great! Can’t wait to see you there!  By now, you should have been preparing yourself and your horse by:

  • Reading and understanding the rules for the specific discipline you are entering
  • Attending a training clinic and/or reading lots of articles about endurance riding
  • Conditioning your horse with LSD (Long Slow Distance)
  • Training trail and vet check skills
  • Reaching out to a mentor for advice and/or volunteering at a ride to see how it works
  • Compiling all necessary paperwork
  • Picking a beginner friendly ride

If you haven’t checked all of these boxes, make sure you go back and do so!  You can find good tidbits in our previous articles, on our website www.EatSleepRideRepeat.com and on the OCTRA website www.OCTRA.on.ca

Fill out your Entry

The OCTRA website has a calendar of events with ride flyers for each upcoming event.  Take a look through and find a ride that appeals to you.  For your first ride, you may want to consider doing only one day and keeping it close to home so you are not required to camp.  An inexperienced horse may not camp well and you want your first ride to be a positive training experience for him.  Keep it short, fun and as easy on him as possible – the riding is the easy part!

From the ride flyer, you will get information about how to enter.  Some rides will have online entry, others you will need to print and fill out a form and either mail or scan and email to the ride secretary.  Make sure to read the flyer carefully to make sure you understand the entry fee and whether you must add on any fees such as day membership, camping fees, extra meal tickets, or late fees.  Send your payment along with your entry.  Also in the package you send, include a scan or photocopy of your negative EIA test, your insurance card, and any required memberships.  Oh, and don’t forget to make sure you tick the box that says you are a rookie/first time rider!  

At the Ride

Once you have arrived at the ride site, take the time to find a good parking spot.  For your first time, we recommend that you stay away from the main camping and vetting areas as they can get pretty chaotic and could upset your horse for his first time.  There are often signs or people who can direct you.

Once you have parked and unloaded (or if your horse isn’t ready to be left alone while tied, he might still be aboard the trailer), take a walk of the grounds.  Take note where the following important areas are:

  • Secretary and registration desk – look for a horse trailer with no horses… and a line of people out the back
  • Vetting area/lanes and pulse timer (usually right beside each other) – look for a large rectangle of flat ground, marked with cones.  You will see lanes for trotting, and an area on one side where the horses will line up and be vetted
  • Crewing area – look for water troughs with lots of buckets and pop-up tents set out near them, usually close to the vetting area or start/finish lines
  • Starting line and finish line timer (often the same place) – look for signs, a single pop-up tent with a big clock in it.
ridecamp
A Google Earth view of what a typical ride camp would look like.

Register with the secretary

Now that you know where they are located, grab your binder of documents.  Yes, you should have a binder!  Even if you sent in a complete entry in advance, keep a paper copy on you just in case.  It will help you breeze through registration!

The secretary will give you a ride package.  This will typically include your ride card, information about the schedule (such as when ride talk is), your meal tickets, informational brochures from the rides, sponsors, and sometimes charts that you can use to calculate your ride times.

Ask for a green ribbon for your horses tail (and maybe one for you too!) to let other riders and volunteers know that you may need a little help along the way.  

Attend the Ride Talk

This is where the ride manager and members of the management team (such as vets and trail managers) will sit down with riders and talk about the course and expectations for the day.  The important information you will receive here is

  • How the trail is marked and in what order to do the trail (often loops marked with different colours of ribbon on the right)
  • Veterinary parameters for your particular ride
  • Hold times
  • Any particularly challenging aspects of the trail whether it be obstacles or navigational
  • Ride camp etiquette – things like where to dispose of your manure, and other do/do not’s

Does your ride package tell you all that stuff in a pretty brochure?  Attend anyway.  Sometimes things change last minute and the vets will change requirements to suit the weather or trail conditions.  Also this is your chance to meet other riders, ask questions to ride management, and maybe even find someone to partner with on trail (a mentor – look for someone with an orange ribbon or bandana).

Vet your horse

We are going to dedicate another full article to this, so check back in the following issues of Equestrian Ontario Magazine.  The short version is to bring your ride card and your horse to the vetting area where a vet or lay judge will check your horse’s vitals and assess their gait to ensure that the horse is fit to start. If you have any concerns, ask the judge questions – they aren’t there to penalize you, but to ensure your horse has the best possible conditions for completion. Once your horse has been approved, ask for your number to be put on your horses flank (find this on your ride card).

Get your ride time

You will be required to find the timer at the start or finish line and register with them.  Show them your completed vet card.  Some rides are a shotgun start and some are staggered.  Find out what time you will be out and what the process for starting is.

Set up your crew area

Another article we will get to later!  Keep checking back

Get Riding!

Tack up, mount up, warm up, offer your horse water at the trough, check-in with the timer again.  

Breathe.  Ride.  Enjoy!

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11 Reasons to Love Love Love Autumn Riding

  1. The colours (duh!)

Do I even have to say anything here?  Yeah green is nice and fresh, but nothing beats the vibrant reds and yellows of the season.  Plus, it goes with all my tack.

2. The BIG trot

Cooler weather + endurance season fit horse = wheeeeeee!!!!!!!!  The giant gaits and frisky snorts are pretty much my favourite thing ever.  Catch that air!

 

3.  Chase the spotlight

The days are short.  Change out those old batteries in your headlamp and hit the trail in the dark.  It may seem scary at first, so stay close to home, but the feeling is unbeatable.  Bentley and I play chase the spotlight, I just point my light where I want to go and he goes (of course at the big trot).  For all the times your coach reminds you to “look where you want to go, not at your hands.”

4. Flannel, Wool and Pockets

Don’t get me wrong, I love my summer clothes, but once the weather dips enough for me to put on a sweater, I relish all the pockets that come along with them.  Seriously, why don’t they make more (and affordable) riding tights with good cargo pockets.  Give me like 20 down my legs please!  Vests, hoodies, jackets, so many options for storing phones and treats!  Then add in the cozy comfort of a nice flannel or wool baselayer or jacket and…. oh I am melting with comfort.

5. Change of Focus

Winter I think of my upcoming season and set my goals.  Spring I am implementing the training plans I made in winter, bringing both myself and my horse up to condition.  Summer is compete compete compete.  Fall is just about fun.  We play around in other disciplines (Bentley loves to jump and seems to know once Oktoberfest is done, he goes jumping!), go for leisurely rides, and just hang out in the paddock and play.  What a relief!

 

6. Halloween

Bentley got to be a big bag of garbage for Halloween this year. Not insinuating anything here!!!

No animal in my household is allowed to get past October 31 without being completely humiliated.  As an adrenaline junkie, I like to push my limits of how much I can get away with before said animal turns around and bites me in the ass.

7. No Stirrups November

You mean you DON’T love this?  Whats wrong with you?!  Maybe I am a little masochistic, maybe I am just addicted to the great feeling that comes with improvement.  Either way, my advice for those of you thinking about how sore your muscles are going to be tomorrow: that’s tomorrow’s problem.  Pull those leathers right out, lube up your thighs and lady bits with some body glide, and stock up on painkillers.  You can do this!

8. Hunts, Hunter Paces and Fun Shows

Going to a real hunt is still on my bucket list… maybe this year we will get there, but I have been to hunter paces and love it.  I think Bentley did too, despite being very confused.  I could practically hear his thoughts through the back of his head “Oh boy, time to ride!  Wait, who cleared this trail, they did a lousy job, all these big logs to jump.  Weird place for a hold, here’s my left leg forward… where is your stethoscope?  Isn’t it early to start drinking Sarah? I haven’t even dumped you yet.  What, its over already?  Can I go again… and like ten times faster?  That was fun!”

9. Fur Coats & Blanket Season

Nothing cuter than when all the horses get their furry winter coats… thick enough to bury cold fingers in. Mmmmmmm.  Add to that blankets… oh yes they are a pain when you have to change them as quick as the weather changes, or when they shred them to bits, but if you have a grey horse like me, you appreciate how clean your horse remains from the neck down November through March.

10. Apples and Carrots

Ever notice that in Autumn you can get giant bags of carrots super cheap?!  Not to mention all the free snacks growing on the trees down the trail.  Bentley knows where every apple tree is on our route and will drag me to them… even in the dark and I have no clue why he’s beelining it into the woods.  Cheers my friend, get your winter potbelly on.  You have earned it.

11. Critters

Cute chubby animals are everywhere (not just beneath our saddles).  Deer, coyotes, grouse, turkey, porcupine, skunks, raccoons… I have seen them all within the last few weeks.  Every time I go to the forest I swear the chipmunks have multiplied at a rate that could only be explained by mitosis.  Once I saw one pop out the side of a very steep hill (poorly placed exit you idiot) and roll a good 20 feet down the hill, desperately grasping at all the loose leaves on the ground with no avail.  I laughed.  I laughed so hard.  Nature can be so stupid, thank goodness its not just us people!  I will treasure that memory.  Busy critters make for great entertainment, and there is no busier time of year than Autumn.  Plus, the mosquitoes are (mostly) gone!

Competition extended – come visit Sarah at the Caledon Tack Swap or Ashley at the RAM Rodeo Finals in Newmarket

Scroll down… like… farther… read that post just before this one then come on back.

Check?  You know whats going on?  Cool!

I’m popping in here to let everyone know that time has NOT yet run out on our contest.  You can still post photos of you wearing our ESRR gear for a chance to win.  If you missed out on the Erin Fall Fair last weekend, we are giving you a third way to win!

Take a photo at the ESRR table at the Caledon Tack swap this weekend, or take a pic of you repping ESRR at the Dodge RAM Rodeo Finals in Newmarket, share it on our instagram or Facebook (see directions in previous post) and you are entered to win!  That easy!

PS its supposed to be cold and rainy, and I am in the notoriously cold Agriculture building… so make sure you dress appropriately (or you know… invest in an ESRR hoodie!)

Do you like to win?!

The ride [competition] season is over for many of us… not long now and we will be curled up in a blanket dreading going out to chip ice off water troughs.  Gross.

We want to cheer you up a bit, because we still have lots of good riding time left before the snow flies, we want to treat one of our followers to a ride card holder and hot pink socks (or equivalent credit in our store).

You can enter unlimited times, let me tell you the many ways…

  • Post a photo (or many many photos!) of you wearing your ESRR branded gear on Instagram.  Tag us @team_eat_sleep_ride_repeat and use the hashtag #esrrcontest
  • Post a photo (or many many photos!) of you jumping over the ESRR jump at the Erin Fall Fair this weekend on Instagram.  Tag us @team_eat_sleep_ride_repeat and use the hashtag #esrrcontest
  • No instagram?  No problem!  Email us your photo at info@eatsleepriderepeat.com with your permission for us to use it on our social media channels.

Good luck everyone!

Racing the Wild Coast – Movie Coming Soon!

Do you have goosebumps yet?

In October 2016, team riders Sarah and Rose rode in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast from Port Edward to Kei Mouth in South Africa.  Throughout the race, they and ten other riders were filmed on their journey… the product of which will be coming soon to your screens!  Stay tuned here and at the Rockethorse site and we will keep you informed of the release date as it becomes available!

What was it like to be filmed while riding this epic race?

 

Sarah and Asad being filmed during vetting later in the race. Photo courtesy of Rockethorse Racing.

“I am not going to lie, I avoided the film crew at first.  I was worried that taking time to interview with them on my holds would slow down my vet checks – and having efficient vet checks and horse changes was my strategy for the race.  Any time I saw them approaching I would make myself busy… fussing over my horse or my pack.  Once I had my routine down later in the race, I took some time to let them in.”

-Sarah

Sam and Monde catch up to Sarah. Photo courtesy of Rockethorse Racing.

“We would be riding on a goat track the edge of a cliff with a hundred metre drop straight to the ocean.  Then we would hear the whip whip whip sound of the helicopter approaching and just think ‘oh crap, what is coming next?’  ‘don’t spook, don’t spook, don’t spook’ and of course ‘don’t look at it you fool, they told you not to and wave at the cameras.  Slap a smile on your face and pretend that your chafed damp legs aren’t stinging like a thousand wasps got in your pants.  You are having fun remember?’  Later in the race when I was alone fighting to keep Asad moving, the familiar sound of the chopper told me that Sam and Monde were closing in.  It was a telltale sign that something exciting was about to happen.”

-Sarah


Jamie following Rose on her second horse Eclipe into a vet check. Photo courtesy of Rockethorse Racing.

“My headlamp turned out to be water resistant, not ‘swim rivers’ water proof.  The second morning, getting ready in the dark, I was quite happy to have the camera crew following me around with their bright lights.”

-Rose

“At a certain point, I found myself looking for the camera crew when something hilarious or frustrating was happening.  It started to feel like a natural extension of whatever it is that drives me to blog in the first place.  Sometimes when I’m trying to write a blog and reconstruct an event and find the right pictures, I think how much more convenient it would be if I just had a camera crew.  That said, I don’t like seeing myself in photos or on video.  Seeing myself on video, I can’t help wondering if I look that goofy all the time.

-Rose

 


And if you are feeling motivated and inspired by the video, why not apply for a spot in the 2018 race?

Can’t make it for one reason another?  Not to worry, Ashley will do it so you don’t have to.  Help her fundraising efforts by purchasing an ESRR tee or hoodie!

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.

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!

About the big pink elephant in ride camp….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy trails. Sarah.

You Can’t Ride With Me

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

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

I waited

and I waited

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


There is a bright side to this story.

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

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

 

 


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

How to ride an OPH

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

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

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

1. Do your homework

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

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

2. Arrive Prepared

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

 

 

On Secret Trails, Coates Creek II 2017

3. Ask all the questions

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

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

4. Be the rider you want on your horse

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

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

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

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

Ramkat, Race the Wild Coast 2016

5. Be Thankful and Grateful

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

 


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

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

-Sarah